Iceland is a mysterious land that tells stories of elven folklore (“the hidden people”). It is a land of contrasting beauty unmatched by anywhere else we have seen so far. It is a truly remarkable country full of waterfalls, hot springs, mud pools, volcanoes, glaciers, geysers and geothermal vents which need to be seen to be believed.
The scenery is breathtaking, its people humble, incredibly friendly, very knowledgeable but more importantly, resilient! We could seriously run out of adjectives to describe the beauty of this place!! An island made famous by the singer Bjork and World’s Strongest Man and Game of Thrones star Hafthór “The Mountain” Björnsson, we will try and convey what makes the world’s youngest country so alluring.
We spent a magical Christmas in Iceland, one that I would say was the best I have ever experienced. This could be because we were knee-deep in pristine white snow that fell silently on Christmas Eve. Try to imagine it ... close your eyes ... transport yourself to a vision where you look out of a window early Christmas morning, and all you see is a blanket of fresh, thick, crisp snow laying on the ground; huge flakes falling in front of you. It’s a sight that every child at Christmas dreams of ...... and our dreams had just come true!
What this means for the people is very cheap electricity bills, in fact, it’s so cheap that in wintertime when there is snow, some paths in Reykjavik were heated... this, we clearly noticed!! Most of the homes in Iceland are also heated by the geothermal power stations. The hot water from the power stations is pumped to the houses as a by-product of using geothermal energy – heating bills are virtually non-existent!
Iceland also has an excess of electricity production, to the point where they have their own Hydrogen plants – this nation is also making its own Hydrogen powered cars and, should you be lucky enough to own one, you can fill up with hydrogen fuel for FREE at any of their fuel filling stations. They are so certain that geothermal energy is the way forward that if any other nation in the world is suitable and interested, Iceland will send the engineers and provide the technology for free. We found this honestly inspiring, the world needs to take note!
As there are nearly twice as many sheep than there are humans in Iceland this makes them a plentiful food source! Iceland doesn't allow the import of any live animals, so the free-range, grass-fed, home grown lamb eaten today is just like the lamb eaten hundreds of years ago.
Therefore, eating a hot dog is preserving an ancient tradition and it would be rude not to!
Moving on from hot dogs, let me tell you the 10 sights we visited....
1. Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavik
Take a walk up Skolavorduhaed Hill to see Hallgrimskirkja church. Although its architecture is unique, during the day it is rather plain... but taking a lift to the top to check out the impressive panoramic view of the greater Reykjavik area is a must.
2. The Perlan (or The Pearl)
Although this is a rotating glass dome built on four tanks which store the city's water supply, it is worth a visit. Make your way to the top balcony for one of the best viewpoints of Reykjavik.
The main Perlan building also houses the Saga Museum which is moderately priced and worth a look. It recreates key moments of Icelandic history, and towards the end, you can try on Viking costumes. Pick up your weapon of choice and see whether or not the Viking look suits you!!
The Golden Circle
Prior to our arrival in Iceland, we had booked airport transfers and a couple of day trips with Iceland Guided Tours (http://www.igtours.is/) and we cannot rate them highly enough! As they are a small family run business, every tour felt like a private tour – plus the driver was very informative and passionate about his Country; we didn’t realise we would be educated as well as “chauffeur driven”.
3. Gulfoss Waterfall
“The Golden Circle” tour is one of the more popular tours in Iceland and a must for everyone. Our day started by visiting a waterfall called Faxi, then on to the much bigger and more impressive Gulfoss Waterfall. Water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon offering a spectacular view. The sheer scale of this waterfall is a sight to behold.
4. The Great Geysir at Haukadalur
The name derives from the Icelandic verb geysa, "to gush" because that is basically what it is - a periodically spouting hot spring. When we arrived, we were met with the simplistic beauty of the land but nothing much else was happening. All of a sudden, we heard a noise and gasps from people behind us as the geyser spouted out of the ground, we were left wondering “Darn, we missed it! When will it happen again??”.
There was a wooden bench near the geyser so we decided to sit and wait patiently. We stared at the bubbling blue-hued hole in the ground poised for the next eruption. After about 10 minutes, our patience was rewarded! We watched with amazement as boiling water was catapulted around 12 metres into the air. This really was a remarkable natural phenomenon!
The final part of the magnificent Golden Circle tour was the dramatic landscape of Thingvellir (meaning Parliament Plains) that lies in a rift valley marking up the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This is the place to observe the effect of two tectonic plates drifting apart above sea level. This location is where the oldest existing parliament in the world first assembled in 930 AD.
Iceland is a relatively young island formed around 20 million years ago from a series of volcanic eruptions on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It lies between the North American and Eurasian plates which are separated by a glacial valley and form spectacular cracks in the earth. No single place epitomizes the history of Iceland and the Icelandic nation than here. If you want to see the jewel of nature, then come here.
Eagle eyed Game of Thrones fans may recognise this UNESCO World Heritage Site from season 4 when it was used to show Arya and Sandor Clegane's journey from village to village in mid-Westeros.
Waterfalls and glaciers …… the icing on the cake! South Coast tour.
We loved The Golden Circle tour so much we needed to see more of this breathtaking Country; The South Coast tour was booked for the following day. In our off-road super-jeep there was just the four of us… Sy, me, a lady named Jen whom we met on the Golden Circle tour and our guide Odin. For the entire day, we felt like a group of friends on a road trip.
Heading South on Highway 1 takes you close enough to see Iceland’s most famous volcanic glacier Eyjafjallajökull – remember the volcano that erupted in the summer of 2010 stopping air traffic in most of Europe for three weeks? Well that’s the one! It can be referred to as the “Big E” to save pronunciation embarrassment.
What a magnificent sight!! At 60 meters high and a foot path behind it at the bottom of the cliff, it is the only known waterfall of its kind because it is possible to walk behind. It was such a picturesque and quiet spot and we enjoyed sitting on the bench admiring its charm.
We know this is a controversial subject in the UK, but in Iceland, horse is regularly found on the menu. We had no problem with that and whilst there, we enjoyed a platter of various meat which included very tasty, lean horse meat. When you see horses running wild in the way they do in Iceland, you appreciate the natural and free life they lead so we didn’t feel guilty at all about eating one. Horsemeat is consumed in many parts of the world and other nations don’t bat an eyelid, but in the UK, it appears to be a no-no.
7. Reynisfjara near the village of Vik
This place was visually spectacular with a stretch of beach made up of black volcanic sand. It’s surrounded by basalt columns and in the wild, stormy sea lay stacks of basalt rock, remnants of an extensive cliff line battered and eroded by the ocean. We were fascinated with this dramatic coastline and the contrast of black land against a foaming white sea and soft white snow.
8. An ice glacier
For some reason, it never crossed our mind that we would walk on a glacier so when we stopped at Solheimajokull it was a real treat! We didn’t know what to expect when gingerly walking across a frozen lake, knowing that if it cracked, we could plunge to an icy death into the freezing waters below (hmmmm, maybe that is a bit dramatic as some glacial ice is 1,000m thick!).
We walked to the top of an ice cave and climbed down to get a closer look. Once inside, we looked up through a blue tunnel – it was an ice hole – Wow!! And WOW again is about all I can say. The vision before us was like none we had ever encountered – they say a picture paints a thousand words, as that’s the case, I will let these pictures speak for us! The glacier was an amazing experience and highly recommended.
In the winter, Iceland doesn’t have a lot of daylight hours. During December when we were there it was averaging around four a day so before we lost the light, we had one more attraction to see – one of the biggest and most beautiful waterfalls of the island with an astounding width of 25 meters and a drop of 60 meters. It is worth the visit and it was a truly spectacular way of finishing off this incredible day packed to the brim of the most stunning natural beauty we have encountered in such a small area.
10. The Blue Lagoon
Iceland possesses one of the steamiest hot water lagoons in the world and once you have been there, everywhere else pales into insignificance. You can’t go to Iceland and not visit its top attraction!
The secret lies 2,000 metres below the surface; geothermal seawater is pumped into this man-made marvel, all of which is powered 100% by geothermal energy. This outdoor thermal spa at first glance is captivating and you are swept up in the romanticism of the milky white water, picturesque bridges and crisp snow enveloping it all.
We will visit Iceland again, but next time it will be in the summer months. We want to see how green the land is, experience the midnight sun but first and foremost, we want to feel it’s allure once more.
- The official currency is Icelandic Króna.
- The official language is Icelandic and remains unchanged from ancient Norse (which means 1,000-year-old texts are still easily read), however English is widely spoken.
- The three colours of Iceland's flag represent elements that make up the island. Red is the island's volcanic fires, White is for the snow and ice fields, finally blue is for the ocean.
- Credit cards are accepted pretty much everywhere – even in taxis.
- A food specialty is "Hakarl" - rotten shark meat (no, we didn’t try this!)
- Nearly 80% of Icelanders believe in elves.
- Icelanders do not have to pay school fees as all education is free of charge.
- The Icelandic police don’t carry guns. Crime in Iceland is very low and violent crime is practically nonexistent.
- There are no forests in Iceland.
- There are no surnames or family names in Iceland – Icelanders use the traditional Nordic naming system where the last name is derived from the father's first name.
- In the telephone book everyone is listed by their first name – including the President!
- The world's first female president was Icelandic, elected in 1980 she governed for 16 years.
- 11% of the country’s surface is covered with glaciers.
- A third of the worlds’ lava flows are in Iceland and the fields make up about 30% of the land.
- There are more than 20 active volcanoes.
- The largest volcano is called Vatnajokull and covers 8% of the country.
What attracted us to Iceland was the snow! We wanted a “white Christmas” and had always been fascinated by the mystery of this land and didn’t know anyone (at that time) who had been.
Some of the many tourist attractions:
- Solfar (Sun Voyager) Sculpture
- Whale watching (humpbacks are May – September only)
- Puffin watching
- Harpa Concert Hall
- Glacier Hiking and/or ice climbing
- During winter (November – March) the Aurora Borleaus aka Northern Lights (weather permitting)
- During summer - the Midnight Sun by Grótta
- Go on a free City walking tour
- Horseback riding tour
- The National Museum of Iceland
- The Icelandic Phallological Museum (world's largest display of penises - 280 from more than 90 animals are displayed!)
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