Youth Time announced exciting news - this year's International Youth Summer School will be held in Reykjavik, Iceland. But why Iceland? A country with no forests and an average temperature of 9°C in June? There is so much to see and so many natural places to explore! Iceland was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans. Despite this, Iceland now has a population of 364,260 and, according to Icelandic Tourist Board,, received over 2 million visitors in 2018. Some of the world’s most majestic waterfalls are in Iceland, along with architecture like nothing you’ve ever seen, the world’s most famous natural mineral spa, and so much more!
The Great Geysir
The geysers in Iceland are a must see, so add them to your bucket list today. Geysers are a rare phenomenon, because specific hydrogeological conditions are needed for them to exist. They are basically springs that turbulently eject water and steam. All geysers are unique, and the ones in Iceland each have their own characteristics. They have different frequencies of eruption, different water temperatures, and different heights in their eruptions. The geysers in Iceland are all special in their own ways, but the Great Geysir is probably the most spectacular.
The Great Geysir happens to be 10,000 years old. It was the first geyser ever documented in print, and it’s where we get the word “geyser”! Although it is no longer actively erupting, it reached a height of 170 meters (560 feet) in 1845. You can still go see the geyser, but you’ll be more impressed by its neighbor – a geyser that still erupts and does so frequently. If you visit in the winter time, the steam from the geyser will actually warm you up a bit as you stand at a safe distance. Geysers, however, aren’t the only exciting geothermal activity in Iceland.
One of Iceland’s most popular attractions, the Blue Lagoon, is as beautiful to look at as it is to relax in. Surrounded by black lava fields, the 39°C (102°F) milky-blue water is always the perfect temperature for bathing. In the winter especially, steam rises from the surface, making the Blue Lagoon especially enchanting.
Condé Nast Traveller has ranked the Blue Lagoon as one of the top ten spas in the world. It is also considered to be one of the top 25 Wonders of the World by National Geographic. Although it is, in fact, man-made, the water in the Blue Lagoon is all natural and full of healthy minerals. Other man-made additions are the swim-up bars that offer anything from soda to champagne. There are also mud stations that offer visitors free samples of healing mud to use as face masks. Visiting the Blue Lagoon is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
Iceland is well-known for its beautiful waterfalls. There are literally dozens of spectacular waterfalls scattered throughout the country. You can find glacial waterfalls, lava waterfalls, incredibly powerful waterfalls, easy to get to waterfalls, super tall waterfalls, and a waterfall that you can walk underneath. Basically, each waterfall has individual attributes that make it worth a visit.
The tallest one is 240 meters high and is on the edge of Morsárjökull glacier. You could spend days traveling from one to another and it wouldn’t get old. One of the most visited waterfalls happens to be Gullfoss Waterfall, located on the Golden Circle Route. The waterfalls are at their most powerful and exciting in the summer. However, they can also be beautiful in the winter, especially when they are half frozen.
Ring Road vs. Golden Circle
Iceland is the 17th smallest country in Europe, which isn’t saying much. There is actually a road that loops around the entire island. It takes about 12-13 hours to complete the circle, covering a distance of approximately 1,333 kilometers (828 miles). Driving the Ring Road is a bucket list item of its own, and it takes you to see some of Iceland’s most amazing sights. If you are stopping along the way, this would be an adventure lasting several days. A much shorter road trip, preferred by tourists on shorter stays, is the Golden Circle.
The Golden Circle is a less intense route that takes just three hours without stopping. It is 230 kilometres (140 miles) long and it is a well-travelled route between Reykjavik and three popular attractions. These include Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, the Great Geysir and Strokkur Geysir, and the Gullfoss Waterfall. There are also other optional stops along the way, including the Blue Lagoon as well as a geothermal greenhouse. It is definitely possible to make three or four stops plus lunch and get back in one day.
The capital city of Iceland is Reykjavik. While it may not be as obviously exciting as Iceland’s natural wonders, there is definitely a lot to see and do there. Reykjavik is home to the National and the Saga museums. These feature Iceland’s fascinating Viking history. Another tribute to the Vikings can be found next to the Sæbraut road. This large sculpture’s name means ode to the sun. It represents the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.
One of the most unusual structures in Reykjavik is Hallgrimskirkja. This is a Lutheran parish church that happens to be one of the tallest buildings in the entire country. It is 74.5 metres (244 ft) tall and has a viewing area that overlooks the entire city. The view is truly beautiful, and it’s worth the wait for the elevator to take a look. The church has a unique design from the outside and is a great starting point for a day of exploring Reykjavik. Keep in mind that daylight plays an important role in the opening times of restaurants, museums, etc. If you visit during the winter, you’ll find the locals sleeping in to wake up closer to the afternoon sunrise.
Enjoy the Wildlife (and Tame Animals, too)
Despite being so isolated, Iceland has some amazing wildlife. It is mostly known for its puffins and whales, both of which can be seen on specific tours. There are short, hour-long tours that will take you as close as possible to the North Sea and Iceland’s smaller islands. These are home to puffins and an impressive 377 other species of birds. There are also whale watching tours if you come between April and October with the peak season in June, July and August. Finally, you can enjoy tame animals such as horses. You can book a tour to ride one through the most beautiful landscape imaginable.
There aren’t too many places on Earth where you can witness the northern lights. Northern lights are also known as polar lights and auroras. They can primarily be seen in high-latitude regions, and they are the result of disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by solar wind. These lights look like wisps of colorful clouds that are mostly green. They are among the most spectacular natural sights that one can witness.
While northern lights are an ongoing phenomenon, they can be hard to plan to see. While it is possible to catch a glimpse between May and August, your best bet is to see them during the winter months. Certain other conditions also need to be just right for prime northern light viewing. Clear and crisp winter nights are the best time to have a chance to enjoy them. They can surprise you on almost any night, though, which is just another reason to visit Iceland any time!
Icelandic experience this summer
Iceland is a wonderful place to visit, with so much to see. The natural landscape, the animals and the unique architecture make it a top contender on most people’s bucket list! There are so many waterfalls, geysers, hot springs, amazing fields and, of course, the unique architecture in the capital city, Reykjavik.
You can witness some of the Icelandic wonders yourself already this summer! Check out the International Youth Summer School in Reykjavik and don’t miss the chance to spend an exciting yet educational week in Iceland! The deadline to apply is on May 30th, 2020.
Check Youth Time article on Universities in Iceland.
Photos: Olena Kagui
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