Top Tips… Iceland!

Top 3 Reasons To Visit  ·   Jack’s Bucket List 6  ·   Tales From Iceland

Iceland. A wild, rugged nation famed for its warm fires and even warmer welcomes. Situated on the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland has some of the most awe inspiring volcanic landscapes on earth, as well as countless untamed waterfalls and one of the largest glaciers in the world. Don’t forget to pack your thermal underwear.

Top 3 Reasons To Visit

1. Winter Wonderland

I can think of no other country I would rather visit during the depths and almost perpetual darkness of winter than Iceland. Reykjavík is built not just to survive, but to thrive during the harsh snowfalls, with public transport running all year round, and a palpable sense of joy from the locals when winter arrives. Outside the capital, the Icelandic wilderness transforms into an even more spectacular sight as the days get shorter and snowfalls more frequent – the desolation is stunning.


2. Lights In The Dark

Disregarding the obvious for now, the most appealing lights in the country are often those beaming from within the local Íslenski Barinns – the common pub to you or I. When night time arrives, and temperatures are well below freezing outside, the sight of warm, golden firelight from behind a steamy, glass window is joyous. Grab a tankard and join in the conversation, you are guaranteed to find someone who speaks English and is willing to tell an Icelandic tale or two. Oh, yes, they also have the Northern Lights (see below for more information).

3. Extreme Sports

More recently, Iceland has a become popular destination for adrenaline junkies in search of some of the wildest outdoor arenas in Europe. Extreme caving, diving, river rafting and paragliding have taken off (pardon the pun), whilst urban snowboarding and Arctic surfing are attracting people from all over the world to the land of fire and ice. With water temperatures a balmy 12°C in the summer, and a not so balmy 3°C in winter, surfing the Arctic waves is not as ludicrous as it may first appear – at least not in the summer.

Jack’s Bucket List 6

1. Find the Aurora Borealis – Anywhere outside Reykjavík (5 days at least)

Iceland is one of the most reliable places on earth to view the Northern Lights, as it has far less cloud cover than other Arctic nations. Although, this does not mean you are guaranteed to see them. If you are booking a tour, do so at the start of your trip because most companies will move you onto the following night’s excursion, free of charge, if you were unable to spot anything the first time around. You can also maximise your chances by visiting in December or January, with night time at its longest. Out of the five attempts I made, I only saw the aurora once, so temper expectations if only visiting for a weekend. Be sure to try every night from your day of arrival, they are worth the freezing wait. ( 4,900kr (approximately £33) for a tour from Reykjavík

2. The Golden Circle – Tours from Reykjavík (1 day)

My mantra has always been “Why book a tour when you can organise it yourself”. I stand by that 95% of the time, but the Golden Circle tour, especially in winter, is really worth paying the extra for. It stops at three major Icelandic attractions (Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss), and provides you ample time to take in each. Þingvellir is the location of Iceland’s (and the world’s) first national parliament, in 930 AD. The park also lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, with visitors allowed to snorkel in the freezing waters between the tectonic plates, even in winter. The Geysir geothermal area is home to Strokkur (see right): one of the most regularly erupting geysirs in Iceland. Strokkur erupts every five or ten minutes, and the boiling water it exudes usually reaches about twenty metres in the air – stand back. Gullfoss (or Golden Falls) is quite simply the most breathtaking geographical feature I have ever witnessed (see photo above). It is deafeningly loud, and located in a place that could easily be mistaken for the frozen gateway to the underworld – or something of that sort. ( 6,790kr (approximately £50) for a day tour from Reykjavík

3. Climb the Hallgrímskirkja – Reykjavík (1 hour)

The Hallgrímskirkja (try saying that with a frozen tongue) is the largest church in Iceland. The iconic structure took a staggering forty-one years to build, and comprises a 5,275-piped organ, and a viewing deck in its central tower – which has one of the best views of the capital, and of the surrounding whiteness (see left). From up here, you get a real sense of how small the city is, and just how close it is located to the vast expanse of the Icelandic frozen tundra – I find it quite astonishing that a city was settled here at all. In case you can’t read Icelandic, the statue directly in front of the church is one of Leif Erikson: the first known European to have discovered continental North America. Try to arrive in the morning as queues for the only lift to the top can get quite long during peak times. ( 1,000kr (approximately £7) to take the rickety lift to the top

4. The Blue Lagoon – Tours from Reykjavík (1 day)

Now, I am not generally one for spending the day at a spa resort, but the Blue Lagoon is not your average spa. Over the last few years, it has become one of the most photographed places in Iceland, with an incredible 32% of all tourists visiting it on their trips to the country. Whilst there is no doubting its beauty, not many people realise that the pool is not as natural as it’s made to appear – it was formed from the waste water of a nearby geothermal power plant, no less. And if, like me, you’re not that enamoured by the prospect of sitting in a pool of steaming geothermal waste, you can always take a stroll around the stunning grounds that surround the site. ( 11,500kr (approximately £83) for a day trip from Reykjavík

The Road Trip. Drive Route 1 – Reykjavík loop (10 days)

There’s only one epic road trip that I could mention in this section: Route 1. Completed in 1974, Route 1 is the only road connecting towns on the east coast, with the capital, Reykjavík. It is, essentially, an 800-mile ring road, that allows access to some of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland, such as the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, Dyrhólaey, and the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. It also allows access to some of the most remote fishing villages on the island, where traditional Icelandic culture is at its strongest. Hire a car from Reykjavík and give yourself at least a week or two to enjoy the journey. ( 24,000kr (approximately £172) for a week’s rental of a Kia Rio from Reyjavik City Office

Wildcard. Spot seabirds on the remotest of islands – Elliðaey Island (2 days)

Selecting a wildcard adventure for Iceland wasn’t straightforward, as most activities in this country are pretty wild to begin with. However, if you’re interested in really going remote, Elliðaey Island is the place for you (see below) – especially if you’re an avid twitcher. All of Iceland’s seabirds can be found on Elliðaey: the guillemot, gannet, kittiwake, Iceland gull, and puffin (which is the most common). The island only has one building, which is often described as the loneliest house in the world. It was rumoured that legendary Icelandic singer Björk was the owner, although this has recently been dispelled. The building is actually a hunting lodge, and has no permanent residents. Although, up until 2015 at least, it has been possible to take a boat trip to Elliðaey via a company called Ribsafari. They operate out of Vestmannaeyjar harbour, itself not an easy place to get to, although I’m not 100% sure that they still visit the island – making it all the more challenging. Let me know if you make it to Elliðaey Island, I would like to hear from you! ( 110,000kr (approximately £790) for an hour’s rental of a private boat for 12 passengers from Vestmannaeyjar harbour

Elliðaey Island

Tales From Iceland

Borealis Bounty

December 11th, 2015 Jack Noah Rees My final day in Iceland began with a forty-minute hop to the south-western corner of the island, in order to view another tourist attraction that has recently become synonymous with the country: the Blue Lagoon. Over the last few years, it has become one of the most photographed places in Iceland, with an incredible 32%…

The Golden Circle

December 10th, 2015 Jack Noah Rees After my first failed Aurora hunt late last night, it was rather difficult to prize oneself out from under the warm duvet early this morn. However, with only a few hours of daylight available, there was little other option. I quickly donned as many layers as I had in my suitcase, battled through the ceaseless…

An Icelandic Fairy Tale

December 8th, 2015 Jack Noah Rees A layover in Iceland is always a good thing because, with my long-haul from Canada refuelling in Reykjavik, I could ask for my bags, leave the airport, and book a different flight back to the UK in a week or so - which I did. Having just completed a four month road trip with Yugyeong,…

Updated: Spring, 2018.

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