5 Reasons Why Iceland Should Be On Your Travel Bucket List

The new direct flight from PDX to Keflavik is calling.

By Kristin Donahue June 3, 2015

Hawaii? Totally old news. Your next island destination is in the opposite direction. Icelandair now offers direct flights from Portland to Keflavik, Iceland—about a 7-hour journey—making this island paradise very accessible to the people of Portland.

Start planning your trip with this roundip of reasons to visit Iceland, home of our Nordic hipster brethren.

1. There’s nature aplenty.

Portlanders love nature. Icelanders love nature. From every street and vantage point within the bounds of Reykjavik, one is surrounded by water and mountains. For the adventurous, short jaunts outside of the country's most populated city lead to hiking, glacier exploring, geyser and waterfall viewing, snorkeling, scuba diving, whale watching, and fishing. 

At Iceland’s national park, Thingvellir, visitors can see the continental drift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. A fissure that runs between the two plates has become the lake Thingvallatan, where visitors can snorkel and dive in the clear, cold waters (with a drysuit).

2. The Food(ie) Scene.

Friedheimer tomato gardens

The last five years have seen a huge boon in Iceland’s food scene. The farm-to-table movement has arrived with a unique twist—greenhouse farm to table. The majority of Iceland’s produce is grown in large greenhouses using geothermal heat. Ready to dig in? Have lunch at the Friedheimer tomato gardens, where sweet, vine-ripened tomatoes are turned into soups, jams, chutneys, and best of all, bloody mary mix.

Another movement hitting the Icelandic food scene is a look back at ancestral recipes. At new restaurant Matur og Drykkur (translation: food and drink), the kitchen is recreating recipes from traditional Icelandic cuisine, some dating back as far as 1000 CE. Cod head, anyone? (It’s delicious.)

Matur og Drykkur

An elf dwelling


Iceland is rich in history and folklore. The Icelandic are descendants of Vikings—and many can trace their lineage back to which Viking vessel their ancestors arrived on. They’re also descendants of a rich history of folklore. Trolls and elves still inhabit much of Iceland’s undeveloped land, and their habitat is taken into consideration when developing. And, if you ask an Icelander if they really believe, all you’ll get are winks and shy smiles. 

4. The Music

As one Icelander put it, “We need to have something to do in our dark days that brings us joy. People create here. It’s a part of our culture.” Iceland produces a lot of musicians for such a small population—maybe you’ve heard of Bjork, Sigur Ros, Of Monsters and Men... And the country is not just a draw for local talent. Every fall, bands from around the world come to Iceland for Iceland Airwaves, a 5-day music festival, and even when Reykjavik isn’t throwing a huge music party, live music can be heard most nights of the week.

Airwaves Music Festival

5. The Nightlife

The weekends in Reykjavik pulse after hours with live music, DJs and dancing. Here’s your guide to surviving a night on the town:

  • Saturday night is the night for dancing and drinking. (Keep this in mind if you only brought one “going out” outfit. Don’t waste it on a Thursday or Friday.)
  • Though Iceland can out-hipster Portland on most days, they do know how to dress up. Men wear jackets and button-ups, the women are seen in dresses and skirts, along with heels or boots.
  • Don’t expect anything exciting to happen before midnight. Most bars and clubs don’t fill up until late into the evening…or early morning.
  • Check out a local DJ on the weekends and a band on the weeknights (marked as “troubadour” on the nightlife guides).
  • Don’t expect for the evening to wind up before 5 am. Dancing and music goes all night long. (So if you’re staying at a hotel in the center of things, bring earplugs.)
  • After all of that, grab a famous late-night Icelandic hot dog from the food carts. 

Still not convinced? If you choose to fly via Icelandair to mainland Europe, Icelandair offers a free stopover up to 7 days. Even if Iceland isn’t your final destination, it’s certainly worth a detour.

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