Iceland seems more like a dream than an actual vacation destination. Having spent a week driving across the southern coast of the country, I can vouch. With waterfalls literally around every corner, black sand beaches just begging for a photo op, and floating glaciers setting the slow, steady pace of the day, it's hard not to fall in love with The Land of Fire and Ice.
You could spend a lifetime living next to a bubbling waterfall—and many do. But it's easy to miss the constant chatter of sidewalk talk, bar close, and meal times at restaurants that you become so accustomed to in a more urban setting. Reykjavik is the perfect balance for travelers (or locals) looking for a bit of civilization. From tapas restaurants to sushi bars serving up the freshest of fish on a conveyor belt, there's a level of global culture you'd never expect in a country so small. That being said, you can't skimp on the local legends: a lean slice of whale steak is downright delectable, puffin is a surprising treat, and fermented shark is one for those looking to put a check on their bucket list.
Even the hostels rival the highly starred hotels: Kex Hostel is a must-visit for hip globetrotters looking to make a friend at the bar (which is popular even for the locals!) and Loft Hostel comes with a prime near the foot of Reykjavik's main street—each inn channeling some major Pinterest board decor inspiration and offering some of the city's best live music. And those are only the two hostels I personally experienced.That being said, Iceland knows how to do luxury. The iconic Ion Hotel—which is located between a number of mountain ranges in Thingvellir National Park—has been named on of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. The best part: the staff will ring you in the middle of the night if the elusive light show happens to make an appearance—an amenity I was lucky enough to experience during my visit in mid-March.
A trip to Iceland during the winter and early spring months isn't all about the Northern Lights. Iceland is a country of many bucket list experiences: snorkeling between two tectonic plates, driving among active volcanoes, riding Icelandic horses through streams in a field made of volcanic rock, attending a secret concert in a dormant volcano, exploring the every-changing architecture of the Crystal Caves, finding the abandoned airplane wreckage of the DC-3 flight on Sólheimasandur beach—the list goes on and on. During the summer, the country's tourist high-time, you can better explore the rugged terrain minus a few layers of clothing.
The following drone photos show a different side of the country—from above, dangerous snowstorms become a gentle filter between you and the volcanic rock below. On the road, well, trust me: You don't want to be stuck driving any distance once one of the country's infamous weather turns hits. The unofficial Iceland motto is, after all, "If you don't like the weather now, wait five minutes." While it's hard not to take a gorgeous photo of Iceland, the following images take wanderlust to the next level.
Erika Owen is the Audience Engagement Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @erikaraeowen.