10 Wellness Reasons To Visit Iceland

Credit: Thinkstock – TomasSereda

The Blue Lagoon, a 98-102°F pool of emerald silkiness is a world-renowned thermal spa and Iceland’s main claim to fame. But this tiny Nordic European island, 1800 miles south of the North Pole is not just a one-night show…she can offer the savvy, wellness-minded traveler a plethora of healthful pleasures:

1.To breathe the crisp, polar air. It’ll be the first thing you notice when you step out of Keflavik airport. There’s no pollution. There’s no smog to block your view of the midnight sky. Indoors, feel free to delight in the clean, Mother Nature-inspired, geothermal heat.

2. To drink the Icelandic water.  It’s the purest water in the world. And now it can be enjoyed in North America as well, in the first ever carbon-neutral bottled water, called Icelandic Glacial. It’s all about the natural filtration through the lava fields, a process perfected by thousands of years of untainted snow melt and rain passing through the Ölfus Spring. And for those of you who might occasionally want more than a sip of water to ‘stimulate’ the senses, try imbibing the Reyka Vodka, made to adhere to the same standards of excellence. If you so desire, you’ll be able to attain an “all-natural” state of inebriation.

3. To dine on organic foods. For breakfast, stir fresh fruit into a carton of skyr, Iceland’s answer to yogurt, only better.

For lunch, eat a hearty Íslensk súpa (Icelandic soup), made with vegetables grown in special greenhouses powered by the abundant energy simmering just below Iceland’s surface.

When dinner rolls around, be sure to taste the lamb. Free-roaming in the summertime, across the Icelandic plateaus, the sheep graze on the plentiful grasses sprouting out of the volcanic soil; it’s what gives the meat that wild-game taste.

Now if you’re a fish-lover…well, nowhere else on earth can serve up your favorites such as cod and haddock like the Icelanders. Fishing tradition has been passed on down through the centuries–not just the ‘know-how’, but also the pride in the quality of the catch.

On the weekends, near the Old Harbour, check out the Kolaportið flea market for bargains and fresh produce. Sample the salted, dried codfish–the local snack. If you’re staying in an apartment, buy some horsemeat; it makes a fantastic stew. Take a pass on the hakarl (fermented shark) and pickled sheep’s testicles, those traditional Norse delicacies. Coaxing out the Viking within does not mean you have to eat like one. 

4.  To get genuinely athletic.  From the unsophisticated to the extreme, adventure sports abound.  Go snowmobiling or mushing with your sled dog across the snow-packed surface of Langjökull.  Strap on your crampons and trek across a glacier face at Mýrdalsjökull.  Saddle up a purebred Icelandic horse and experience first-hand their unique ‘fifth’ gait.  Or tone it down a notch and just try ice-skating on Tjörnin Pond in downtown Reykjavík.

5.  To get in touch with your inner child.  Iceland is an enchanted land where over 50% of the locals admit to believing in trolls and elves.  Take a guided tour to Hafnarfjördur, reportedly the largest settlement of dwarves and ‘magical spirits’. Dare to discover these ‘hidden folk,’ as they are called by direct translation from Icelandic.

6. To break in those hiking boots.Iceland is a pristine wilderness, just waiting to be explored. Traipse along the wooden boardwalks at Seltún to see the boiling mud pots and fumaroles of sulfur. Hike near the scenic black basalt cliffs at Arnaastapi and Hellnar for a symphony (or should I say, a cacophony?) of chattering kittiwake gulls nesting high about the surf. If you’re really adventurous, tramp through the snowdrifts along the trailhead at Dritvik, amongst the lava formations, past the marooned ship, all the way to the ocean. If you’re visiting in the summer months, hike ‘behind’ Seljalandsfoss, the waterfall made famous by CBS’ The Amazing Race.

7. To find your own spiritual awareness. Go to Iceland when you want to be alone with your thoughts. There are plenty of wide-open spaces. You can sit at the base of a volcano to contemplate the great mysteries of life…it’s doubtful there will be another soul in sight. Meditate from your perch atop an enormous boulder of lava rock on the South Coast near Dyrhóley. Better yet, be completely lulled into a trance by the hypnotic pounding of the waves at Vik.

8. To put on your walking shoes. Reykjavík is the perfect city for going out for a stroll. With its multi-colored rooftops, angled at varying degrees to offset the weight of winter’s snow, it’s a picturesque capital. And as you wind your way along the avenues, take advantage of all the interesting photo opportunities, as well. Pose next to a troll on one of the side streets…feel dwarfed by the statue of Leifur Eriksson at the Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church…sidle alongside a stuffed polar bear at one of The Viking kitschy souvenir shops. You know you’ll want one of those whimsical resin warrior statues with the ‘real’ hair to take home. Even in the worst wintry weather, Reykjavík’s heated sidewalks will help keep your walking shoes relatively dry and clean.

9. To stimulate the senses with art and culture and history. Iceland has always been a front-runner on the music scene, with its annual Airwaves Festival held the 3rd week-end of October, to showcase the newest Icelandic and international talent. Fashion, likewise, is always on the fast track. For appreciating art, there’s the National Gallery of Iceland, The Arni Magnusson Institute, The Reykjavík Art Museum, and the Reykjavík Museum of Photography, just for starters. As for culture and history, nothing compares to the National Museum of Iceland. Through interactive displays and thousands of intriguing relics from the days of yore, it brings to life Iceland’s 1200 years of Viking sagas. The museum showcases her modern-day emergence as a cosmopolitan island nation on the cusp of high-tech environmentalism and ‘Save the Planet’ ideologies.

10. To take a swim and simmer in the thermal pools like an Icelander. In this northerly island country too close to the Pole to ever permit warm-enough temperatures for beach frolicking and forays into the Atlantic, rest assured that the folk here have found a solution for their lack of tropical waters. Swimming is a way of life for the Icelanders. They have heated swimming pools scattered all across the capital city…all across the island for that matter. Each and every one of these pools is chemical free. And each one is deliciously heated to the consummate stewing temperature by that abundant geothermal energy burbling just below the topsoil. Go on, strip down and shower off (those are the rules and someone WILL BE watching to ensure you follow them)…jump back in your suit and head on out to the local gossip party. Dip your toes into that tepid water and let your body slowly ease on in. Join the lively conversation–almost all the Icelanders speak impeccable English–or just soak to prunish perfection. Either way, it’s a win-win situation.

And, if that isn’t enough reason to move Iceland to the top of your ‘bucket list’, there’s always the Blue Lagoon.