NGT Guide: 9 Of The World’s Best Backpacking Destinations For 2016

With expert tips on how to make the most of your budget. | By Julian Smith  
Hikers Patagonia Argentina
Two hikers on the Fitz Roy trail in Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia, Argentina. Photo: AZAM Jean-Paul/ Images


Rainbow over the Gullfoss waterfall located in the Hvita river canyon in southwest Iceland. Photo: Eric Girouard/Corbis

Rainbow over the Gullfoss waterfall located in the Hvita river canyon in southwest Iceland. Photo: Eric Girouard/Corbis

Of the handful of places that truly deserve the adjective “otherworldly,” Iceland ranks near the top of the list. It’s a geological work in progress, packed with glacier-covered volcanoes, jagged fjords, and multicoloured landscapes of moss and stone. It’s also a lot more affordable than it was before the 2008 banking collapse.

Start in Reykjavík, home to about a third of the island’s 3,30,000 inhabitants, all of whom seem to know each other. Here, new restaurants, bars, and nightclubs are frequently popping up to meet visitor demand. The 3.2-kilometre waterfront path toward the lighthouse on Grótta Island offers views of the Mount Esja across the harbour.

East of the capital, the 250-kilometre Golden Circle route leads to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, occupying a rift valley on the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. (You can dive or snorkel above this intercontinental crack at Silfra on the country’s largest lake. Visibility in the crystal-clear water can extend hundreds of feet in front of you.) Keep going through the geothermal active Haukadalur Valley—birthplace of the word “geyser”—to reach the Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall), where the raging Hvítá (White River) seems to disappear into a 105-foot-deep crevice.

An even more alien encounter awaits on the Reykjanes Peninsula west of Reykjavík: the ice cave into Langjökull, Europe’s second largest ice cap. Opened in 2015, the man-made tunnel leads nearly a quarter of a kilometre to a cavern carved out of blue-glass ice. (Like it? You can even get married here.)

How To Get There Keflavík International Airport is served by most major transatlantic airlines, and is the hub for Icelandair and budget carrier WOW Air.

How To Get Around Public buses serve Reykjavík and the main Ring Road that circles the island, but renting a car offers much more freedom. Camper vans are another good option to explore the backcountry.

Where To Stay The retro-hip Kex Hostel fills a former biscuit factory in downtown Reykjavík with dorm beds and private rooms. It’s decorated with vintage and salvaged goods and has a popular gastro pub called Sæmundur í Sparifötunum, where you can enjoy a local beef burger and Nordic craft beer overlooking the waterfront.

What To Eat Or Drink Near Reykjavík harbour, the bright and airy Forréttabarinn serves small plates with an Artic twist, like cured wild goose with terrine of reindeer. Gear up for a taste of the city’s legendary nightlife—courtesy of the long northern nights—at MicroBar in the City Center Hotel, offering local microbrews such as the bright and hoppy Gæðingur Brugghús IPA.

When To Go Summer (June through August) is peak tourist season—understandably so, since it’s the warmest and daylight lasts almost 24 hours. Prices are the highest as well.

Helpful Links

Currency Krona

Language Icelandic, English

Don’t Miss Public thermal pools and hot springs abound in Iceland; the Blue Lagoon is the country’s most famous, set in a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula. And don’t leave without trying a hot dog from Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, a red-and-white stand open since 1937 near the Reykjavík harbour. Loaded with everything from remolaði (remoulade) to sweet Icelandic mustard, it’s practically an Icelandic national dish.

Fun Fact With a landscape this magical, it’s not much of a surprise that a survey taken in 1998 revealed that more than half of Icelanders reported believing in huldufólk, or “hidden people,” magic beings linked to the natural world.

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