Three Perfect Days: Iceland
Story by Diane Vadino | Photography by Adrienne Pitts | Hemispheres May 2019
Not long ago, Iceland was a spectacularly beautiful but seldom visited wonderland of waterfalls, volcanoes, and geysers in the lonely North Atlantic, still finding its national feet after centuries of Norwegian and Danish rule. Then, an unlikely confluence of events: The economic crisis of 2008–09 turned the country upside down—and paradoxically made the once prohibitively expensive destination affordable for visitors. A year later, the air traffic–halting eruptions of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano landed Iceland, in all its geothermal splendor, on news broadcasts around the world. Now, the word is truly out, and the supremely photogenic country welcomes so many tourists—2.3 million in 2018—that visitors outnumber residents by a ratio of seven to one. How to find a place for yourself, away from the crowds? Make a break for the majestic north, where whales sidle up to sightseeing boats, and the aurora borealis can be viewed from the comfort of geothermally heated pools. Then cap things off with a day in the picturesque capital, Reykjavík, home to a world-class art and dining scene, dramatic seascapes, and a pretzel that's possibly worth the trip itself. These days, the sun barely sets. The lupine is blooming. Paradise awaits.
Tailing whales across Skjálfandi Bay
The GeoSea Geothermal Sea Baths
All is quiet, and all is magnificent.
We have sailed west, into the center of Skjálfandi Bay. Everything around our ship—land, sea, sky—is some variation of gray, except for our full-length, cherry-red survival suits, which resemble the gear crabbers wear during blizzards on Deadliest Catch. My seasick fellow passengers, unsteady on their feet, haul themselves to the guardrail and peer stoically into the distance.
Naustið, a restaurant in Húsavík
At first, the wildlife is limited to birds: gannets, Arctic terns, black guillemots with white patches on their wings.
But we are not here for birds. All of us—I hear Japanese, French, English, German, Scandinavian languages that I can't distinguish from one another—are here for whales.
The whales cannot be trusted to appear on cue, our North Sailing guide says over the ship's loudspeaker. We rely on their favor. This is the North Atlantic, not SeaWorld.
And so we wait. I email my landlord, my boss, and a woman who wants to buy an antique pitcher from me. But then we hear it: a whale surfacing, blowing air through its spout, and, all at once, it's magical. (It sounds like a massive, wet poof.) We hear it again. Then, suddenly, we see the source of the sound, as a slick black tail flips up and then down into the water. Everyone on the boat rushes in the direction of the whale, slipping on the wet deck, jockeying for a place at the rail. The whale, a humpback, skims the surface desultorily before diving again. It's soon trailed by a boat from a competing tour company, whose passengers look exactly like us, except their suits are black and fluorescent yellow. At times, the whale swims just below the surface, perhaps 50 feet from us and sinking fast, so we see only its massive outline. Another boat arrives, its passengers clad in neon orange. The boats follow the whales. Sometimes we get the best view; sometimes another boat does.
A stuffed hooded seal at the Húsavík Culture House
A rhythm establishes itself: tedium, the majesty of whales, tedium, the majesty of whales. The majesty, though, is cumulative: Before we turn and head back to the small port at the town of Húsavík, Iceland's whale-watching capital, we have seen a dozen of them (or the same whale a dozen times; who can say for sure?), flipping and swimming and turning tail in the water. As we disembark, I feel strangely euphoric, enchanted. I want whales everywhere to be happy and safe.
In summary, my dominant impulse is not to eat them. I discover at the nearby Húsavík Whale Museum that not everyone shares this response. “People go on the tours, come into the museum, and ask where they can eat it," says Garðar Þröstur Einarsson, a whale specialist and former guide. “Sixty percent of the minke whale meat in Iceland is eaten by tourists."
We're surrounded by exhibits that testify to the immense humanity of whales. “That is bananas," I reply.
No restaurants in Húsavík serve whale meat—certainly not Naustið, with its bright, mid-century mariner design. What it does serve: potatoes and wild arctic char, caught that day in a lake named Kálfborgarárvatn. (When Naustið's owner tells me the lake's name, I write down “K-???????" in my notebook.)
“Then we hear it: a whale surfacing blowing air through its spout, and, all at once, it's magical."
From there, I drive to the other end of Húsavík, to the GeoSea Geothermal Sea Baths, a brand-new pool complex perched on a cliff above the harbor. Pools are central to Iceland's idea of itself—as primary to its national identity as pubs are to Britain or cafés are to France, according to Icelandic author Alda Sigmundsdóttir. The Blue Lagoon, a massive bathing complex near the airport in Keflavík, is the best known, but it's just one of many in towns large and small across the country. None are as beautiful as Húsavík's.
Or, at least, I think they're the most beautiful. By the time I get to the pools, it's pitch-black. (It's hard to imagine a better place to view the northern lights, though the optimal viewing time is late September through March.)
The air is cold, so I sit as low as I can in the naturally heated water. The Icelanders are less delicate, walking between the pool and the bar, picking
up beers through a service window and drinking them at leisure.
I have seen my fill of whales, but I know that it should be possible to hear them from the pool, so I stay in the water much too long, waiting for another of those spouting poofs.
The GeoSea Geothermal Sea Baths
Pool EtiquetteOf the wide array of Icelandic souvenirs—from the ubiquitous wool sweaters to every iteration of puffin memorabilia—none will offer a window onto the national view on visitors like Alda Sigmundsdóttir's The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland, a collection of essays on local sensibilities. If you heed just one of her advisories, let it be this: Before entering a public pool, take a shower. (No clothes. Not optional.) “You need to shower, naked, at the pool before going in," she says. “It sounds kind of facetious and silly, but not showering really does upset the local population." Swimming pools, Sigmundsdóttir says, are crucial to the culture—and their customs must be respected.
A pair of waterfalls and Iceland's biggest toy box
The grand Goðafass waterfall
I've been to Iceland several times before, but like many visitors, I stayed in and around the capital, Reykjavík, exploring only as far as the Golden Circle. The attractions on this well-worn circuit—Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir—are spectacular. They are also very, very popular, meaning that they are in some ways victims of their own exceptional success.
A ram at Deplar Farm
So, instead, today I've decided to embark on a self-drive version of the north's equivalent of the Golden Circle: the Diamond Circle tour. (There is also a Silver Circle tour, near Reykjavík; Iceland will run out of gem names before it runs out of scenic excursion possibilities.) To see as much as I want to today, I leave at 6:30 a.m., before anything (including Húsavík's bakeries) is open.
The spa at Deplar Farm
I begin with a 50-mile drive that meanders north (and then south) to Dettifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall by volume and the location used for the opening scene in Ridley Scott's Prometheus. It is staggering, monumental. From there, I head south to the Ring Road, which circles the entire island: If I turn east and go about 500 miles, I'll hit Reykjavík. I go west, though, to Mývatn, a wild expanse of a lake that looks broody and Scottish when the sun ducks behind the clouds and like a sparkling turquoise field when it emerges. My third stop is Goðafoss, another waterfall. It's more approachable than Dettifoss—literally, in that it seems less like the sort of thing you fall into by accident, never to be seen again. All things being equal, I prefer Goðafoss (pretty) to Dettifoss (existential).
North Atlantic salon at Depler Farm
My fourth stop is the reason for my non-leisurely pace: Deplar Farm, an unassuming yet gorgeous hotel in the Fljót Valley run by Eleven Experience that's a magnet for the sort of finance executive or celebrity seeking a no-expense-spared vacation. “You're going to Deplar!" a guide I meet at Mývatn exclaims when I share my itinerary. “They've got the biggest toy box in the country." Justin Timberlake, he adds, is a fan.
I don't understand what “toy box" means until a couple of hours later, when I see it while trailing behind my guide, a mountaineer/artist named Thorlakur Ingolfsson. He goes by Laki, which is pronounced “Loki," like the god/Avengers villain. (Tom Hiddleston has some serious competition.) Guests at Deplar are paired with a guide, and I am lucky Laki is mine. The lodge offers myriad activities, from helicopter skiing in the winter to salmon fishing and kayaking the nearby fjord in warmer months. Equipment for all these activities is stored in the “toy box," a hut stocked with snowmobiles, hiking boots, snowshoes—anything you might need for expeditions big and small.
“Imagine the adventure you'd have if you just rent a car and follow the weather."
The grand Goðafass waterfall
Not feeling particularly sporty, I opt for an easy hike into the surrounding hills, followed by a very late lunch of North Atlantic salmon with lentils and beets at the property's Ghost Farm. This gives Laki and I plenty of time to discuss the best way to travel through Iceland. “The weather has such a huge impact on what you're able to do here," he says. “Really, the thing to do is check the weather in the morning and go where it's good." That's easy, I say, if you're not coming from far away and if you didn't have to make hotel reservations six months in advance. “If you can, being flexible is better," he replies. “Imagine the sort of adventure you'd have if you just rent a car and follow the weather, if you truly go and explore a world that's beautiful, pristine." I can imagine it.
Afterward, there is yoga, a massage, and the opportunity to soak in an outdoor pool. (Clouds scupper my northern lights ambitions.) Dinner is served at 9, and it is tremendous: beef medallions with beets and sunchokes, all locally sourced.
I've stayed in hotels all over the world, and Deplar just might be the best. Even before I fall asleep, I am sending imploring emails to my friends, with pictures of the property—even in an all-day mist, with low, gray clouds, it is stunning—asking them to return with me.
Reykjavík from land and sky
In the morning, I leave Deplar Farm with regret, after a breakfast of delicious, crepe-like Icelandic pancakes with powdered sugar and berries. From here, it's either a tidy helicopter ride or a straightforward drive to Reykjavík. Not being Justin Timberlake, I opt for the latter: a five-hour trek I make under sullen skies. Even without any sunshine, the scenery is dizzying; I have to fight the impulse to pull over and take photos at every turn.
A green corner at the Coocoo's Nest in Reykjavik
Reykjavík is so compact that it's easy to see a lot, fast. I begin with the city's most distinctive landmark: Hallgrímskirkja, which looks somehow both Art Deco and ancient. The exterior is striking—it looks like a fighter jet sitting upright or, equally, where elves in a Tolkien book might worship—while the interior resembles the Lutheran churches of my childhood (read: like a suburban hotel ballroom). It's well worth the wait to go to the observation tower: At 240 feet, it offers superb, 360-degree views of Reykjavík, the harbor, and the mountains to the north.
Smoked beef fillet at Moss
Two hundred miles of driving followed by some intense church viewing means that I'm both (a) ready for a walk and (b) starving—so I head toward Grandi, a onetime industrial, now up-and-coming area by the harbor that's home to a popular ice cream shop, Valdís, and a buzzy brunch spot, Coocoo's Nest, as well as Reykjavík's oldest restaurant, Kaffivagninn, where I have a plate of light and crisp fish and chips (basically the official meal of Reykjavík).
Sufficiently reenergized, I head to my second stop in Grandi: Studio Olafur Eliasson. If you don't recognize Eliasson's name, you may know his work: He installed waterfalls that seemed to hover 100 feet above New York City's East River in 2008—and, later, above the Grand Canal at the Palace of Versailles. He is also the author of my favorite book about Iceland, a collection of 35 images, submitted by Icelanders, of their cars stuck in rivers (title: Cars in Rivers), and the designer of the glass facade at Harpa, Reykjavík's concert hall.
“If there's a problem with Iceland, it's that the spectacular becomes everyday."
The studio, which is open to the public, is at Marshall House, a former fish factory. I wander past Eliasson's works, including Untitled (Spiral), a tall spiral of metal spinning up (or down), and then I see the artist himself. (If you couldn't tell, I'm a fan.) I know it makes sense that an artist would be working in his own studio—and would be involved, it seems, with the taking down of one installation or the setup of another—but it is too great. I stop and stare and then run away as quickly as I can, before anyone catches me staring.
A statue of Leif Erikson in front of Hallgrímskirkja
I have one more stop in Reykjavik: Brauð & Co., which makes pretzels that might be the finest anywhere in the world. I buy three (one for now, one for the very near future, one I will save for a post-dinner snack) and head to the heliport. The weather has cleared, and the sky is cloudless for my flight with Reykjavík Helicopters, which I share with a British woman and her teenage daughter. We fly from the city to a geothermal area, with burbling hot pots and steam vents. Sheep cling to the side of a hill, undoubtedly enjoying the warmth: It's like standing above a laundry vent, except it smells of sulfur instead of fabric softener. The Brits and I trade travel suggestions (as well as seats on the way back so that both the daughter and I have a chance to sit in the front, next to the pilot, an Austrian who trained in Oregon). They report particular enthusiasm for their northern lights tour. “We saw them the first night, and it was nothing special," the mother says. “But the second night—truly one of the most wonderful things I've ever seen." They show me an app that provides a positive forecast for tonight's aurora: Like the whales, the northern lights may appear. Or, they may not.
Iceland by Cruise
Have nine perfect days to spend in Iceland? Circumnavigate the country on Hurtigruten's expedition voyage and explore every aspect of the wild landscape, from the Westfjords and northern volcanic lakes to picturesque coastal towns like Bakkagerði, where some of the 100 or so residents might regale you with tales of elves and trolls. Onboard, enjoy in-depth biology lectures and a photography workshop (gotta get that whale shot!) along with locally sourced meals. There are also on-deck hot tubs and a sauna—this is Iceland, after all. From $4,444, hurtigruten.com
As we fly back to Reykjavík, we agree that it's all spectacular: the lakes and mountains, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in the distance. But is this more marvelous than the whales? The cliffside pools? The continent's most powerful waterfall? The other, less obviously murderous waterfall? The sheep, the hotel, the view from Hallgrímskirkja?
If there is a problem with Iceland, it's that the spectacular becomes everyday. (Confession: I spend the last 10 minutes of our time at this geothermal area, one of the most dazzling places I have ever seen, playing Candy Crush.) Can you burn out on natural beauty? Is there a point when too much is too much?
Inside the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík
As it turns out, I may be at that point. I head to The Retreat, the new five-star hotel attached to the Blue Lagoon, which offers a more exclusive experience of this exceptionally popular attraction. In the pool, I watch an Instagram influencer do a photoshoot, surely a daily occurrence here. Another vote for northern Iceland! At this point, I take my directions from the hotel's name and retreat to my room—specifically, to the tub positioned in front of floor-to-ceiling windows and the shockingly turquoise water outside—before going to chef Ingi Þórarinn Friðriksson's showcase restaurant, Moss.
Where to Stay
The Retreat at Blue LagoonThe minimalist 62-suite Retreat opened last year, offering a super-exclusive experience of the popular geothermal day spa. Retreat guests can enter the adjoining Blue Lagoon, but Blue Lagoon day-trippers have to pay for access to the Retreat, where every angle reveals an Instagram-ready vista of the turquoise, mineral-rich water or the surrounding lava field. The staff, four restaurants, and spa treatment options are all top-notch. From $1,350, bluelagoon.com
Alda HotelIdeally located on Laugavegur street, surrounded by the city's best shopping and restaurants, Alda is within easy walking distance of all of Reykjavík's attractions. In addition to the spacious rooms, this boutique property offers a sauna and outdoor hot tub, plus three buzzing spots on the ground floor: a design-y lounge, the busy Brass restaurant, and a hip, award-winning barber shop (book a cut in advance). From $135, aldahotel.is
Hotel BergNearly all foreign visitors arrive in Iceland through Keflavík, home to the international airport, but few stick around to explore the surrounding Reykjanes Peninsula beyond the Blue Lagoon. Ease your arrival by staying nearish to the airport at the super-stylish Hotel Berg, which offers a rooftop pool (ideal for northern lights viewing), free airport transfers, and a master class in Scandi design. From $131, hotelberg.is
Depler FarmAt Deplar Farm, an all-inclusive resort on the remote Troll Peninsula in northern Iceland, experience is the key word. The 13 rooms in the turf-roofed lodge are cozy, but visitors will spend most of their time taking advantage of the outdoor activities: heli-skiing, fat-tire biking, fly-fishing, and much more.elevenexperience.com
Remember the north.United offers daily service from New York/Newark to Reykjavík, Iceland, between June 6 and October 3. Visit united.com or check the United mobile app for details and schedule.
Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).
Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes
Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.
These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.
Australian wildfire relief efforts
Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.
Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.
These medical supplies will fly to MEL (Melbourne) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.
By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives
Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.
On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.
Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund
We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.
Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.
In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.
20. Spot Giant Pandas in China
In 2016, giant pandas were removed from the endangered species list, and China would like to keep it that way. This year, the country plans to consolidate the creatures' known habitats into one unified national park system spanning nearly 10,500 square miles across Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces—about the size, in total, of Massachusetts. —Nicholas DeRenzo
19. Follow in James Bond's Footsteps in Jamaica
When No Time to Die hits theaters on April 8, it marks a number of returns for the James Bond franchise. The 25th chapter in the Bond saga is the first to come out since 2015's Spectre; it's Daniel Craig's fifth go-round as 007, after rumors the actor was set to move on; and it's the first time the series has filmed in Jamaica since 1973's Live and Let Die. The Caribbean island has always had a special place in Bond lore: It was the location of one of creator Ian Fleming's homes, GoldenEye (which is now a resort), and the setting for the first 007 movie, 1962's Dr. No. Looking to live like a super-spy? You don't need a license to kill—just a ride to Port Antonio, where you can check out filming locations such as San San Beach and colonial West Street. Remember to keep your tux pressed and your Aston Martin on the left side of the road. —Justin Goldman
18. See the Future of Architecture in Venice
Every other year, Venice hosts the art world's best and brightest during its celebrated Biennale. But the party doesn't stop during off years, when the Architecture Biennale takes place. This year, curator Hashim Sarkis, the dean of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, has tasked participants with finding design solutions for political divides and economic inequality; the result, on display from May to November, is the intriguing show How Will We Live Together? —Nicholas DeRenzo
17. Celebrate Beethoven's 250th Birthday in Bonn
Catch a Beethoven concerto in Bonn, Germany, to celebrate the hometown hero's big 2-5-0.
16. Eat Your Way Through Slovenia
When Ana Roš of Hiša Franko was named the World's Best Female Chef in 2017, food lovers began to wonder: Do we need to pay attention to Slovenia? The answer, it turns out, is definitely yes. This March, the tiny Balkan nation about two hours east of Venice gets its own Michelin Guide. —Nicholas DeRenzo
15. Star- (and Sun-) Gaze in Patagonia
Come December 13 and 14, there will be no better spot for sky-watchers than northern Patagonia, which welcomes both the peak of the Geminid meteor shower and a total solar eclipse within 24 hours. —Nicholas DeRenzo
14. Explore Miami's Game-Changing New Park
About 70,000 commuters use Miami's Metrorail each day, and city planners aim to turn the unused space beneath its tracks into an exciting new public space, a 10-mile linear park aptly named The Underline. Luckily, the Magic City is in good hands: The project is being helmed by James Corner Field Operations, the geniuses behind New York's High Line. “Both projects share similarities in their overarching goals," says principal designer Isabel Castilla, “to convert a leftover infrastructural space into a public space that connects neighborhoods, generates community, and encourages urban regeneration." When finished, Miami's park will be about seven times as long as its Big Apple counterpart. The first half-mile leg, set to open this June, is the Brickell Backyard, which includes an outdoor gym, a butterfly garden, a dog park, and gaming tables that call to mind the dominoes matches you'll find nearby in Little Havana. “We envision the Underline dramatically changing the way people in Miami engage with public space," Castilla says. —Nicholas DeRenzo
13. Kick Off the NFL in Las Vegas
Former Raiders owner Al Davis was famous for saying, “Just win, baby." His son, Mark Davis, the team's current owner, is more likely to be shouting “Vegas, baby!" Swingers-style, as his team becomes Sin City's first NFL franchise, the Las Vegas Raiders. After years of threats and lawsuits, the Raiders have finally left Oakland, and this summer they're landing just across the highway from the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in a 65,000-seat, $1.8 billion domed stadium that will also host the UNLV football team, the next two Pac-12 championship games, and the Las Vegas Bowl. Construction is slated to be finished July 31, just in time for the NFL preseason—and just in time to lure football fans from the sportsbooks to the grandstand. —Justin Goldman
12. Celebrate the Suffragettes in Washington D.C.
All eyes are on the ballot box this year, but the electorate would look quite different if not for the 19th Amendment, which was ratified 100 years ago this August. Many D.C. institutions, such as the National Archives Museum and the Library of Congress, are honoring the decades-long struggle for women's suffrage with exhibits. In particular, the National Museum of American History unveils Sarah J. Eddy's portrait of Susan B. Anthony this March, before putting on a 'zine-inspired show on girlhood and youth social movements this June. —Nicholas DeRenzo
11. Go for a Ride Through Mexico City
If you want to get somewhere quickly in Mexico City, try going by bicycle. During peak traffic, bikes average faster speeds than cars or public transportation—which might explain why ridership has gone up almost 50 percent since 2007. And riding on two wheels is getting safer and easier. In 2019, the city announced plans to invest $10 million (more than it had spent in the last six years combined) into the construction of about 50 miles of new paths and lanes. Now, you can cycle on a two-mile separated path along the Paseo de la Reforma, from Colonia Juárez and Roma to Chapultepec Park and Polanco. Future plans include a route along the National Canal between Coyoacán (where Frida Kahlo once lived) and Xochimilco (with its floating flower farms). “The goal is to finish the six-year [presidential] term with 600 kilometers of bike infrastructure," says Roberto Mendoza of the city's Secretariat of Mobility. Time to start pedaling. —Naomi Tomky
10. Consider the Mayflower's Legacy in Massachusetts and Abroad
Before they came to America in 1620, the religious separatists now known as the Pilgrims lived in England and the Netherlands. This year, the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing will be commemorated not only by those nations but also by a fourth: The Wampanoag, the confederation of tribes that live in New England and whose role in this world-changing event has been at best left out and at worst distorted.
“We're challenging the myths and stereotypes," says Aquinnah Wampanoag author Linda Coombs, a board member of Plymouth 400, Inc., which is planning cultural events such
as an Ancestors Walk to honor the native villages pushed aside by settlers, as well as
an indigenous history conference and powwow (plus an $11 million restoration of the replica Mayflower II).
Kerri Helme, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag nation and cultural programs manager at Plimoth Plantation, says that “people want to hear the whole story." She notes that it's a commonly held belief that the Pilgrims were welcomed by the natives, when in fact their first encounter was violent, since the English had been stealing the Wampanoags' food.
“The Wampanoag are key players in all of this," says Charles Hackett, CEO of Mayflower 400 in the U.K. “It's a whole other aspect of this history." In England, a Mayflower trail will connect Pilgrim sites in towns such as Southampton and Plymouth, and in Leiden, the Dutch town where the Pilgrims took refuge before embarking for the New World, the ethnology museum will run an exhibit about the natives.
“The most important thing for us, as the Wampanoag people," says Paula Peters, a former Wampanoag council member, “is to be acknowledged as a vital tribe comprised of people that, in spite of everything that's happened, are still here." —Jon Marcus
9. Discover Lille's Design Scene
Previous World Design Capitals have included major cultural hubs such as Helsinki and Seoul, so it came as a shock when Lille, France's 10th-largest city, beat Sydney for this year's title. Judges cited Lille's use of design to improve its citizens' lives; get a taste for yourself at spots like La Piscine Musée d'Art et d'Industrie, a gallery in a former Art Deco swim center. —Nicholas DeRenzo
8. See Stellar Space in Rio de Janeiro, the World Capital of Architecture
Rio de Janeiro is renowned for the beauty of its beaches and mountains, but the Cidade Maravilhosa's man-made structures are as eye-catching as its natural features. For that reason, UNESCO recently designated Rio its first World Capital of Architecture, honoring a city that boasts such landmarks as the stained glass–domed Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, the fairy-tale Ilha Fiscal palace, and the uber-modern Niterói Contemporary Art Museum.
"Rio is an old city by New World standards, having been founded in the mid–16th century," says architectural photographer Andrew Prokos, who took this shot. "So the city has many layers of architectural styles, from Colonial and Rococo to Art Nouveau, Modernist, Brutalist, and contemporary." In the case of this museum, which was designed by perhaps Brazil's greatest architect, Pritzker Prize winner Oscar Niemeyer, Prokos was intrigued by how the 24-year-old building interacts with its surroundings. "The upward slope of the museum complements the slope of the Pão de Açúcar across the bay," he says, "so the two are speaking to each other from across the water." – Tom Smyth
7. Join the Avengers at Disneyland
This summer, Disney California Adventure unveils its Marvel-themed Avengers Campus, with a new Spider-Man attraction, followed later by an Ant-Man restaurant and a ride through Wakanda. If the hype surrounding last year's debut of Disney+ is any indication, Comic-Con types are going to lose their fanboy (and -girl) minds. —Nicholas DeRenzo
6. Listen to Jazz in Cape Town
Cape Town's natural wonders draw visitors from all over the world, but there's a hidden gem beyond the mountains, beaches, and seas: music. Much as jazz was born from America's diverse peoples, Cape jazz combines the traditions and practices of the city's multiethnic population, creating genres such as goema (named after a type of hand drum) and marabi (a keyboard style that arose in the townships). Cape Town has hosted an International Jazz Festival for
20 years (the 21st edition is this March 27–28), and now UNESCO is giving the Mother City its musical due by naming it the Global Host City of International Jazz Day 2020. The theme of the event—which takes place on April 30, features an All Star Global Concert, and is the climax of Jazz Appreciation Month—is “Tracing the Roots and Routes of African Jazz." During the dark days of slavery and apartheid, music became an outlet through which repressed people could express their struggle for freedom. What better way to mark a quarter century of democracy here than with a celebration of that most free style of music? —Struan Douglas
5. Take a Walk Around England
Many hikers love walking around England—but how many can say that they've truly walked around England? When it's completed, the England Coast Path will be the longest managed seaside trail in the world, completely circumnavigating the coastline, from the fishing villages of Cornwall and the beaches of Nothumberland to the limestone arches of the Jurassic Coast and the sandy dunes of Norfolk. Much of the trail is already waymarked (the 630-mile South West Coast Path is particularly challenging and beautiful), with new legs set to open throughout the year. If you want to cross the whole thing off your bucket list, be warned that it's no walk in the park: At around 2,795 miles, the completed route is 605 miles longer than the Appalachian Trail and about the same as the distance between New York and Los Angeles. —Nicholas DeRenzo
4. Get Refreshed in the Israeli Desert
Six Senses resorts are known for restorative retreats in places like Fiji, Bali, and the Maldives. For its latest location, the wellness-minded brand is heading to a more unexpected locale: the Arava Valley, in the far south of Israel. Opening this spring, the Six Senses Shaharut will offer overnight camel camping, off-roading in the surrounding desert, and restaurants serving food grown in the resort's gardens or sourced from nearby kibbutzim. While the valley is said to be near King Solomon's copper mines, the Six Senses is sure to strike gold. —Nicholas DeRenzo
3. Say konnichiwa on July 24 at the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, which plays host for the first time since 1964.
The Japanese capital plays host for the first time since 1964. This year, softball and baseball will return after being absent since 2008, and four new sports—karate, sport climbing, surfing, and skateboarding—will be added to the competition for the first time. Say konnichiwa at the opening ceremonies on July 24, which will be held at renowned architect Kengo Kuma's New National Stadium. – Nicholas DeRenzo
2. Score Tickets to Euro 2020
Still feeling World Cup withdrawal? Get your “football" fix at the UEFA European Championship. From June 12 to July 12, 24 qualifying national teams will play games in stadiums from Bilbao to Baku, culminating in the semi-finals and final at London's hallowed Wembley Stadium. Will World Cup champion France bring home another trophy? Will Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal repeat its 2016 Euro win? Will the tortured English national team finally get its first title? Or will an upstart—like Greece in 2004—shock the world? —Justin Goldman
1. Soak Up Some Culture in Galway
Galway has long been called “the cultural heart of Ireland," so it's no surprise that this bohemian city on the country's wild west coast was named a 2020 European Capital of Culture (along with Rijeka, Croatia). The title puts a spotlight on the city (population 80,000) and County Galway, where more than 1,900 events will take place throughout the year. Things kick off in February with a seven-night opening ceremony featuring a fiery (literally) choreographed celebration starring a cast of 2,020 singing-and-drumming locals in Eyre Square. “This is a once-in-a-generation chance for Galway," says Paul Fahy, a county native and the artistic director of the Galway International Arts Festival (July 13–26). “It's a huge pressure. There's a heightened sense of expectation from audiences, not just from here but from all over the world." Art lovers will no doubt enjoy Kari Kola's illuminating work Savage Beauty, which will wash the Connemara mountains in green light to coincide with St. Patrick's Day, or the Druid Theatre Company's countywide tour of some of the best 20th-century one-act Irish plays. Visitors would also be wise to explore the rugged beauty of Connemara on a day trip with the charismatic Mairtin Óg Lally of Lally Tours, and to eat their way across town with Galway Food Tours. But beware, says Fahy: “Galway has a reputation as a place people came to 20 years ago for a weekend and never left." —Ellen Carpenter