Is Iceland Overrated?
It's been dubbed the Most Beautiful Place on Earth, with impressive landscapes decorating a lump of rock most would deem uninhabitable. Yet millions flock to Iceland every year, and the number only seems to be rising. But why?
Let's go back a few years. In 2008, unscrupulous bankers all but destroyed the economy, leaving Iceland in a state of malaise many feared would be the death of it. But such arriviste practices wouldn't go unpunished, and it wasn't long before those responsible were jailed.
But with a system that once supported many of Iceland's 320,000 inhabitants all but gone, change was needed and as Iceland looks like a place dreamed up by a team of Nasa scientists, tourism soon became an integral part of the economy, and nowadays you can't step foot outside Keflavik Airport without hearing middle-aged Americans lamenting the 'bitter chill'.
Now, with the majority of Iceland's fiscal funds plowed into improving tourism, Iceland's desirability as a holiday destination has skyrocketed, and there are many reasons why. Its landscapes are breathtaking, with mythical hot springs, glistening waterfalls and spectacular views of the Northen Lights making it a prime destination for nature lovers.
Yet though its mythological-like settings are undoubtedly impressive, there comes a time in life where you compare and contrast countries to others and ask yourself if the experience was worth the time and money. For Iceland, there's a strong case for the answer being no.
If you don't already know, Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit, and it's not uncommon to hear of sandwiches being sold in tourist hot spots for as much as $20, which adds insult to injury after already contending with extortionate restaurant prices. Unless you happen to be a recently-released Icelandic banker, you'll likely have a problem on your hands.
Iceland isn't cheap, and though flights and accommodation may appear fair game for those commuting from Europe and the East Coast of America, you have to be prepared to spend big on just about everything else.
Take the price of excursions. Granted, you might have a chiselled tour guide who looks like Bridgette Bardot's love child, but you'd also have paid a hundred-odd just to see a waterfall on a wet and windy afternoon. Yes, there are worse things you could be doing on holiday than admiring a local's good looks, but if you want value for your money and a trip which offers more than just a string of Instagram-worthy photo opportunities, then Iceland isn't the answer.
And then there's the myth of it being one of the happiest places on Earth. At the risk of speaking on behalf of the locals, most would tell you that living in Iceland isn't easy, and just getting about day-to-day during the winter months can be neigh-on-impossible, so you'll hardly be surprised to know that Iceland's residents take more antidepressants than anywhere else on Earth. A well-run social democracy, it is. A place where everyone is happy; it certainly is not.
Now let's talk about its quaint capital, Reykjavik. It may be perfect for couples who still find each other attractive, but aside from the concert hall and the unfortunate-looking Hallgrímskirkja church, there isn't much else to do other than empty your pockets in a quasi-Irish pub.
Of course, visiting Iceland can prove an exceptional experience, and it's little wonder Justin Bieber's team filmed a music video taking in a range of the country's great locations, with the pop star even declaring it one of his favorite countries.
But taking the opinions of a brattish pop star to one side, Iceland is a country with a range of landscapes that aren't too dissimilar to other places; places which are considerably cheaper. Just take Scotland, for instance, or even parts of rural Canada. They may not have as many minimalist furniture shops, but they sure as hell have awesome scenery, and in some areas, the aurora borealis are visible.
Better still, locals will be more likely to talk to you and not feel overwhelmed by the growing cohorts of tourists. Icelandic people are often a shy bunch, and experiencing a sudden influx of tourists hasn't been easy for them. In some cases, you often feel mean just for trying to initiate a conversation with them.
In short, Iceland is easy on the eye, but it's also hideously expensive, and once you've seen the sights and purchased one of their $99 soccer shirts, you'll soon wish you stayed at home and went for a walk in your local park instead.
At least then you'd have enough money for dinner.