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As a resident of New York City, I’ll take just about every chance to indulge in nature that I can get. And Iceland, known as “the land of fire and ice,” is the perfect antidote to the urban blues. Rife with lush meadows, towering mountains, active volcanoes, and some of the largest glaciers in the world, this country is a living testament to how unbelievably beautiful this planet can be—and, therefore, how important it is to protect the earth by making sustainable choices and advocating for more climate-friendly industrial practices.
So when I had the opportunity to tour Iceland in Mercedes’ new EQE, a fully electric vehicle that doesn't sacrifice the comfort or luxury that the brand is known for, I was extremely excited. While I was there I also shopped a variety of unique, environmentally-friendly Icelandic brands and dined on sustainably sourced Icelandic food—all of which proved that the finer things in life don’t need to come at an environmental price. If you’re looking to explore this bucket-list-worthy country without worrying about disturbing the landscape, check out some of these absolute must-sees.
Where to Stay & Eat
Reykjavík is the capital and the largest city in Iceland, with 235,000 inhabitants in the greater urban area (significant, considering the country's total population is 344,286!). For this reason, you'll likely want to stay in this unique capital city for at least a portion of your trip, and The Reykjavík Edition is the way to go for a combination of luxury and convenience. The hotel sits on the shore of the city’s Old Harbor port so you can easily book a whale-watching or puffin-spotting tour, and, for a day (or night) out on the town, it’s just a short walk away from the city’s shopping and bar scenes.
Plus, if you’re feeling famished after a day of exploring, The Edition has its own luxury restaurant, Tides, which is the brainchild of Iceland’s first-ever Michelin-star Chef, Gunnar Karl Gíslason. Its menu melds traditional Icelandic cooking techniques and local fare together with a modern edge, using fresh, seasonal ingredients so you don’t need to worry about your meal’s carbon footprint. If you enjoy seafood, I highly recommend sampling the scallops or cod—both of which Iceland is known for. And if you’re a vegetarian, never fear: Icelanders have adapted to their country’s rocky, at-times infertile soil by developing climate-neutral greenhouses where they grow a variety of delicious, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.
What to Do
If, like me, you love adventure, the Icelandic countryside is a must. Check out the country’s massive, awe-inspiring waterfalls, the most famous of which are Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. The first of these sits along the southern coast of the island and features a path that leads behind the waterfall that results in stunning, incomparable views. Skógafoss' views, meanwhile, are enhanced by a towering set of stone stairs that lead to the top of the waterfall. But be warned: Both of these waterfalls will leave you absolutely soaked, so be sure to pack a raincoat!
Another of my favorite locations is the dramatic Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, characterized by its charcoal-colored sand, basalt rock formations, and rough surf (it is absolutely forbidden for visitors to step into the water—the undercurrent is too strong). Be sure to bundle up for this location, too: The area is prone to sudden rain, and the crashing of the waves against the rocks results in ocean spray that reaches several feet past the shore.
I visited all of these locations within two days, which meant spending several hours in a car. Admiring the scenery as we drove up and down hills, through meadows of Iceland's famous purple nootka flowers, and along the sparkling coastline was one of my favorite aspects of the trip. Traveling around in an electric vehicle was the perfect way to see Iceland’s gorgeous landscapes: Thanks to the longevity of the EQE's battery life (a whopping 300 miles!) we were able to cover a lot of ground without the same environmental impact as a gas-powered car. Plus, the car’s super luxurious features including temperature control, scents meant to calm or energize, and visuals displayed on the huge hyperscreen (the largest interior screen in any vehicle) made returning to the car after all my chilly, water-soaking adventures that much more enjoyable.
Finally, if you're looking for a more relaxing way to fill your time? Check out artist Tobia Zambotti's Reykjavík-based gallery. This Italian expat is famous for his artistic commentaries on climate change, my favorite of which is his piece Coat-19: A completely transparent, oversized puffer coat filled with discarded face masks that he found littered on city streets. When visiting his gallery, you can also see a couch made from the same design and sit on custom-made seats he created for an installation that draw awareness to waste and rising sea levels.
Where to Shop
I love shopping local, particularly when I travel. There's nothing quite like coming back from an international vacation with one-of-a-kind pieces that remind you of your time abroad, and Reykjavík more than delivered in terms of fashion, art, and beauty items for me to bring home.
As a fragrance lover, the first shop on my list of essential stops was Fischersund, a local perfumery that uses scent as a means of conjuring feelings of happiness, nostalgia, freedom, and childlike wonder. I highly recommend taking their private scent tour, where employees introduce each of the brand's signature scents through storytelling and immersive sensory experiences that include sights, sounds, and touch.
My next stop was the OG boutique for fashion brand Hildur Yeoman, which has been worn by Charli XCX, Kylie Jenner, Jorja Smith, Amelia Dimoldenberg and, of course, Iceland-native Björk. The brand takes much of its inspiration from the Icelandic landscape, incorporating greenery, floral motifs, and other geographic elements into its designs. My all-time favorite piece is the Goddess Dress, which nods to neo-classical art in its celebration of the female form.
Finally, I was absolutely entranced by the story, taste, and smell of Himbrimi Gin, a pure Icelandic spirit brought to life by artist Óskar Ericsson. Gin isn't normally my go-to drink, but I was thoroughly impressed by this brand, which takes its inspiration from the scents of the herbs that grow along Icelandic waterways and is made each summer in small batches using hand-picked herbs. Whether you're a gin aficionado or not, you'll adore this valuable addition to your bar cart.
Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things fashion and beauty. She's also written about politics, gender, and sex for publications like Bustle, HuffPost Personal, and The New York Times. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.
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