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Exploring Fire and Ice in South Iceland

Everywhere you turn there is more to explore and the photo-taking opportunities are endless. For all these reasons and more, Iceland deserves -- no, demands -- a spot on your bucket list.
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Iceland is truly a land of contradictions. Look to your left and you'll see smoke spewing from the ground as active lava fields, volcanoes, and ash flood the land. Look to your right and you'll see snow-covered glaciers in the distance, waterfalls, and geysers. The landscape is quite mystical and it's easy to understand why Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice with its constant movement and energized activity. Everywhere you turn there is more to explore and the photo-taking opportunities are endless. For all these reasons and more, Iceland deserves - no, demands - a spot on your bucket list.

I've put together a primer of when to go, where to stay, where to eat, and what attractions you definitely shouldn't miss on your next trip to South Iceland.

When to Go:

Summer is peak travel time in South Iceland, so it pays to go at other times of the year to get better deals on hotels and attractions. However, the upside to going in the summer is the midnight sun, better weather, and everything being more green and lush. That said, the best time to catch the famous colorful dancing Northern Lights is from September to mid-April, or mid-August. Springtime also offers long bright days (although not as long as in June and July), decent weather, and easier traveling. Though, really, whenever you can go is when you should go.

How to Go:

Since the volcanic eruption in 2010 brought the country's tourism to an all time low, Icelandair has been offering deals that significantly decrease the price of travel. They offer seven-day stopovers for anyone traveling to Europe from America. It's a great way to see two places for the price of one. In addition, they give members of their frequent flyer club award points to make traveling cheaper and they give children 2-15 years old a 50% discount off Award Bookings. Also be sure to check out Wow Air, a new Icelandic airline that's offering deeply discounted fares.

Where to Stay:

If you're on a budget, Icelandair has a network of 22 budget-to-deluxe hotels all over the country. There is also a wide selection of unique accommodations that are bookable online. If you're looking for a quiet hotel close to the city center in Reykjavik, look no further than the Grand Hotel. It's quiet, clean and offers free Wifi (all the hotels do). For a place to stay right near Keflavik Airport and the Blue Lagoon, the Northern Light Inn is a convenient, cozy choice. There's also the A10 Deluxe Bed and Breakfast for a cheap and cheerful place to rest your head after arriving or before leaving Iceland. Just outside Reykjavik sits a beautiful hotel called Frost and Fire with bubbling geothermal springs in a town called Hveragerdi. Its owner drums up steamed carrot cake and bread in an underground oven. Hotel Rangá is a 4 star hotel, well-situated just 96 km from Reykjavík that provides stunning, picturesque surroundings, such as Mt. Hekla, Eyjafjallajökull glacier, and the Westman Islands.

Where to Eat:

Reyjakavik offers many options for foodies and with a little due diligence - either research online or get recommendations from locals - you can get scrumptious Icelandic fare. Grab a traditional langoustine sandwich or fresh fish at Hotel Keflavik near the waterfront. Matur og Drykkur's chef hails from Brooklyn and prepares Icelandic delicacies like fried cod croquettes, smoked salmon with char and salted cod. At another popular restaurant, Grillmarkaðurinn, you'll get Icelandic farm fare like brown bread with lava salt, lamb, beef, trout, quail, skyr, and honey. Kids will love homemade scoops of ice-cream at Valdis on Reyjakavik's waterfront. While traveling through South Iceland, stop at Hotel Ranga near Hella where they serve up excellent fish dishes. Hendur Hofn Kaffihus in Þorlákshöfn serves lovely meze, soup, and gluten-free dishes, and features a fabulous, personable owner and host. After dining, discover the owner's beautiful glass work and take some of it home. The Northern Light Inn near the airport also prepares fresh fish dishes.

What to Do:

From the airport, head straight to the Blue Lagoon, a popular geothermal spa. Its hot, mineral-rich waters are heavenly, soothing and will leave your skin shining. Give yourself free facials, go in the steam room, drink sparkling wine, and relish the revitalizing experience. Don't listen to anyone who says it's too touristy - even locals enjoy the Blue Lagoon. Hire a private guide such as South Iceland Adventure to take you to exotic landmarks such as Eyjafjallajökull, the glacier, and Seljalandsfoss, the waterfall, in a vehicle made for journey and a locally born guide with the knowledge and history you need traveling through Iceland for the first time.

If you're adventurous and fit, book Iceland Activities for an intensive Reykjadalur hike and geothermal bath in Hveragerði. The company is family-run and they know South Iceland inside out. At the heart of Hekluhestar is a horse farm in the vicinity of the volcano Mt. Hekla, bordered by the river Rangá, where you can take a guided ride through the countryside. Find out more about the famous volcanic eruption at Þorvaldseyri Visitor Centre and take part in a community tapestry project at the Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur. Rock & Roll lovers won't want to miss The Icelandic Museum of Rock & Roll in Reykjanesbær and whale experts (or kids) will love visiting Whales of Iceland, the newest museum in Reyjakavik.

This post was written by Holly Fink of The Culture Mom on behalf of Findery. Follow more of Holly's travel adventures on Findery.