One of the hottest destinations in the world right now. This land of fire and ice has so much to offer, from viking history, to stunning waterfalls, glaciers and spouting geysirs.
WHEN TO GO
I travelled here in the Winter (obviously), but Iceland is beautiful any time of the year. In fact, it could be considered as two very distinct experiences depending on whether you choose to go during the short, frosty days and spectacular aurora-lit nights of Winter or during the long, mild days of Summer where you can explore more of this fabulous island.
WHAT TO SEE & DO - WINTER
Winter somewhat restricts how much of the island you can access due to the snow and ice in the interior of the country, but it is by no means dull.
I would highly recommend
Take a wander around this chic city and enjoy its culture. From stylish shops and restaurants to stunning modern sculpture and architecture, there is plenty to enjoy.
Make sure to pay a visit to the elegantly minimalist, basalt-column inspired Lutheran church Hallgrimskirkja at the top of the city and the iconic Viking sculpture The Sun Voyager down by the harbour.
THINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
Thingvellir National Park is probably most recognisable as the frozen lands beyond The Wall in Game of Thrones. However, Thingvellir has a much more interesting history.
It is here that Iceland's first parliament, the Althing, was held. It is also one of the world's great rift valleys, lying between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It is not every day you can stand between two continents!
While you are in Thingvellir National Park, try taking a dip in the 2'C water of the Silfra fissure. This experience is not for the faint of heart, but for those who dare, it is simply breathtaking.
The Silfra fissure is a water filled gap between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates that is filled with crystal clear glacial meltwater that has filtered through the volcanic rock. Year round, it maintains a temperature of approximately 2'C (35'F), which means that this adventure requires a dry-suit. Several companies offer day-tours to either dive or snorkel through the otherworldly blue water. It is an alien experience to be swimming along through the intense blue water and to lift your face up to see a puffy white world of snow over the black volcanic rocks.
Waterfalls are a key feature of this beautiful country and there are quite a few that deserve a special visit.
Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall)
Found on the widely known and easily accessible Golden Circle, Gullfoss is an impressive waterfall.
Looking like a bridal veil, this pretty waterfall has viewing areas at both the top and bottom. I would recommend wearing spikes over your shoes if taking the stairs to the top in Winter as it can get pretty slippery, but the views are amazing.
This tall narrow waterfall has a beautiful cave behind it which can be accessed in the Summer months if you are prepared to get a bit wet.
Also on the Golden Circle, Geysir is the home of the original steam vent, Geysir (now dormant), from which all vents of this kind derive their name. This site is also the home of Strokkur, a reliably impressive geyser that erupts in an impressive plume of steam and boiling water approximately every 6 minutes.
Black Sand Beaches
With sand just as soft as any tropical island, a walk on a black sand beach in southern Iceland should be on your list. The sand on the beach at Vik is jet black, in keeping with Iceland's minimalist, monochromatic palette. Just don't turn your back on the waves as the surf gets pretty wild considering there is no land between these beaches and Antarctica! - (and yes, that is me wearing ski pants at the beach)
Why not learn about early settler life in Iceland by visiting the charming and very informative Skogar Museum. There is a series of reproduction houses that show the progression from simple stone huts with turf insulated roofs, to more elegant homes with glass windows. This museum is well worth a visit and, if you are lucky, the curator may just sing some early hymns for you (he has the voice of an angel).
FOR THE MORE ADVENTUROUS
Ice Cave Tour of Vatnajokull Glacier
For those looking for a bit of off-the-beaten-path adventure, a tour of a blue ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier might be just the ticket. Day trips are available that take you into the glacier, where you can explore inside an ice cave and marvel at the blue ice. If being inside a glacier is not your thing, then a trip to the glacier lagoon for a look at the blue icebergs that have calved from the glacier might be more your style.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
No visit to Iceland would be complete without a visit to the warm milky waters of the world famous Blue Lagoon.
After a very thorough shower, you can immerse yourself in the warm therapeutic waters of the lagoon to soak away your troubles and tensions - not that you should have any after spending time in this wonderful country. The mineral-rich water is said to heal all manner of ailments from eczema to wrinkles.
Hot tip - go after sunset when the mist rising into the chilly night air gives a magical atmosphere and you might be lucky enough to be graced with a display of the Northern Lights.
WHAT TO PACK
The Icelandic people are stylish, so you will need to pack some nice clothes for going out in Reykjavik. Black is the predominant colour, but the locals are not afraid of making a statement with their fashion. Think black leather jackets paired with miniskirts, black tights and ankle boots.
Once out on the tourist trail, layers are important as it can get very cold. The day I spent in Thingvellir was -15'C (5'F)
11 thoughts on “Destination Guide – Iceland”
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