Wait, isn’t Iceland just covered in ice?
First of all let me be completely honest and admit my naivety to everyone. Prior to the widely reported and dramatic eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in April of 2010, I wasn’t even sure Iceland was an inhabited place. I had recklessly placed it in the “rugged and only fit for the extreme traveller” pile. This it seems is a common occurrence, and indeed I believe the volcano sparked an interest in this crazy and amazing country. Only in 2014 did tourism overtake fishing as the largest industry in Iceland, and for a country that was bankrupted by its own government, the increase in tourism has been harnessed and encouraged in the most organised way. Now every year 1 million tourists visit Iceland, that’s three times the entire population. Iceland does has a very harsh and uninhabitable centre which is made up mostly of glaciers and extreme terrain, however I can assure that there is so much more to Iceland than just ice.
How did I choose Iceland?
I had been travelling for 4 months and seeing as I had some money left over and some more time on my hands I started to do some research on Iceland. Honestly, one Google search and I was hooked. An array of breathtaking pictures lit up my screen, plumes of violet smoke exploding from a volcano, bubbling hot springs, water of a breathtaking light blue, woolly sheep and green landscapes stretching off into the distance. There was no question I was going to Iceland.
5 days in Iceland
I was travelling solo and yet to have a full license therefore travelling around Iceland by car was out of the question, so I decided to join a bus tour. This turned out to be the most scenic and informative way to see Iceland. It was a 5 day tour that covered the south west of Iceland, following the famous ring road and covering the popular tourist region The Golden Circle.
Everyday was a gift. On the first day we saw the bubbling hot pools spewing sulphurous gas and explored the little fishing villages of the Reykjanes Peninsula. We finished off our day at the Blue Lagoon. It has unfortunately become a bit overrun with tourists, however I still thoroughly recommend it. The silky blue water is heated to a glorious temperature that is welcoming and relaxing no matter how cold it is outside.
We continued along the ring road the next day seeing two amazing waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss both of which highlighted the immense power of nature as I witnessed torrents of water pounding into the pools below. If you fancy a trip to the beach to enjoy the balmy 2-degree weather then head to Vik and its black lava beach. You might even catch a glimpse of some seriously brave surfers heading out into the steel coloured water.
The last day in the southwest took us to the geothermal fields to admire the spouting geyser Strokkur that shoots a 50m spout of boiling water into the air every 5 minutes. The people surrounding waiting patiently for the next show, gasping with awe as it erupts from the rock. Also, be sure to see the Thingvellir National Park where you can walk along the fissure that runs between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plate, and you get rewarded with an amazing view from the top.
Don’t Overlook Reykjavik
The tour ended with two days in Reykjavik and I urge you not to overlook it. Reykjavik is the pulsating capital city of Iceland, which is sadly sometimes overlooked by tourists who arrive and immediately head for the Golden Circle. Try to spend at least two days there and you will find yourself delighted by all that the small capital city offers. The main benefit of a capital city this size is that chances are everything you want to do is within a 2km radius of your hotels front steps, an easy and exciting walk. Reykjavik is packed full of little design stores in the adored Nordic style, minimal yet quirky. Vintage shops are dotted throughout the little streets; street art and well-planned murals are splashed across brick walls or shop fronts and bearded men with man buns and traditional Lopaeysa wool jumper walk casually to work. Don’t be fooled, these jumpers are not just a tourist scam, they are genuinely worn by most people in Iceland, made from the scratchiest but by far the warmest home grown Icelandic wool. If you enjoy a good cup of coffee then Reykjavik is perfect for you. Reykjavik coffee will shine through as some of the best I had throughout my trip of Europe. Be sure to check out Reykjavik roasters and Bakarí Sandholt. Last but not least spend a few hours trawling the galleries in Iceland for a mix of classic and bold Icelandic art. I can recommend the Reykjavik Art Museum, spread across three venues, the Enir Jonasson Museum and the Living Art Museum. For an extensive list of all galleries and museums, see here.
What time of year to go?
Its tricky deciding what time of year to head to Iceland, keep in mind even in the summer months the average temperature is still only around 13 degrees, which Icelandic people consider positively balmy. I went at the end of October and experienced temperatures ranging from 5 to -3 degrees. If you’re wiling to brave the elements you will be rewarded, between September and mid April the Northern Lights come out to play.
The Northern Lights
I was graced with their presence whilst staying in some rural cottages in Hella, South Iceland. Whilst on my way back to my little cottage to collect yet another jumper (I was wearing 2 and a coat) I saw them. It sounds clique but I truly did gasp out loud. The vision of the green lights dancing fluidly in the sky made me stop dead in my tracks. I stood and watched them for five minutes in the middle of paddock until just has suddenly as they had come they disappeared. If you want to search for these amazing lights then I definitely recommend bracing the cold and going in late autumn or winter. Keep in mind there are no guarantees, they require clear skies, high auroral activity and low light pollution but if things are meant to be you too will be graced with their presence. To track the activity and cloud cover over Iceland, be sure take a look at this handy website.
Getting around Iceland is very easy and well organised with shuttles from the Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik organised with every incoming flight, not to mention the huge range of tours and day trips you can take to see everything you desire. It is very popular to hire a car and road trip along the ring road. This is easily done as there are endless hire car options for you upon arrival, as well as DIY tours and helpful tips and tricks to make your journey seamless. Don’t fear the Icelandic language as nearly everyone speaks English perfectly, but don’t forget to give it a go. The Icelandic people are lovely and welcoming and I would like to thank the man who patiently waited for me to ask him if he knew where “Skólavörðustígur” street was.
Have I convinced you yet? Driving through the landscape of Iceland is an attraction in itself. At many times the sea races beside you on one side while on the other huge mountains bear down on you, the road ahead stretching beyond the green horizon. When people ask me how I enjoyed Iceland, I just look at them wide eyes and say “Please go, you will not regret it.”
Iceland: the land of fire and ice, and some of earth’s most amazing natural phenomena’s.