What words come to mind when you think about Iceland?
Cold weather? Snow? Northern Lights? Hot springs? Long dark days? That’s what we thought before we visited. Now we just think ‘Wow!’ Here’s why…
Driving away from Keflavik airport, our first impression was “It looks like Fuerteventura, but colder”. As we wound our way through the flat lunar landscapes towards our base in Reykjavik, shouts of “wow” and “stunning” filled the car as we caught sight of the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Reykjavik is more on the scale of a large town than a capital city so it’s easy to see on foot. It was clean, fresh, windy, and the people were very chilled out. The buildings on the main street, Laugavegur, are quaint New England style architecture. There are plenty of shops selling tourist merchandise, creative crafts, clothing and some lovely (expensive) restaurants. We had a delicious traditional Icelandic lamb stew in a local bistro before wandering back to our hotel feeling slightly strange given it was 11pm and still broad daylight!
We booked a walking tour of the capital organised by CityWalk. Our guide, Disa, knew her stuff and showed us all the sights including the Parliament, Iceland’s oldest cemetery, oldest house, and Hallgrimskirkja, the capital’s huge concrete cathedral. She explained the housing laws that state you can paint your house any colour you like, but you cannot modify it in any other way. This is the reason all the houses look so neat and beautiful! We learnt lessons in Icelandic history, politics, and volcanic activity. Best of all, the tour is free. But if you think the tour is worth it, you can choose to make a donation at the end, which we did.
Once you get over the odour of sulphur you can relax in the pockets of red-hot milky water that soothe all your aches and pains. It was much bigger and better than we had anticipated and we took full advantage of the quiet evening, free refreshments and mud and algae face packs – all included in the ticket price.
Thingvellir National Park is the site of the original Icelandic parliament where laws were decided and criminals punished. It’s also where the Prime Minister has his summer residence. There were stunning views for miles and lots of birds, including one that sounded like a wind tunnel!
Geyser is the home of exploding hot water springs. There are several hot springs on the site with some erupting every 4-8 minutes. It’s an incredible sight to see it for the first time. The height, heat and smell of the water were intense. It’s definitely one of the wonders of the world in our book!
Just a short drive from Geyser is Gulfoss. It’s hard to describe the power and beauty of these incredible waterfalls, the noise and the spray from the water coursed through our bodies – and they are not even the largest falls in Iceland!
Don’t ask us how to pronounce it! This is an enormous waterfall just off the No1 ring road, heading towards Vik, which you can walk behind. It was treacherous under foot but worth every slippery moment climbing up those rocks. The power of nature is unbelievable.
Vik is a small coastal town with a stunning black sandy beach and famous basalt rock columns. A photographer and climber’s dream! Legend has it the columns lined up in the water towards the end of the beach are the remnants of three petrified trolls who turned to stone when the sun came out. Nowadays they provide homes for artic terns and puffins.
A 5-hour drive from Reykjavik, the stunning Glacier Lagoon is well worth the trip. We went on a bright sunny day and took the amphibious boat on to the lagoon where 1000 year-old icebergs float around like candy floss in a bright blue pond. They even let you hold and taste a piece of the ice. If you’re lucky you might see a seal floating past on an iceberg! Across the road is Diamond Beach where the icebergs wash up on to the shore like diamonds basking in the sun.
Iceland has so many stunning “Wow!” moments to offer. It’s such a refreshing place with a mix of adventure, relaxation and culture. We will definitely be returning.
Where we stayed: Hotel Klettur, Reykjavik
When we visited: Mid-May. Visit between November and March if you want to see the Northern Lights.
What we loved most: The laid-back approach to life, the stunning scenery, the fresh air, the countless waterfalls, the long spring days.