Iceland is an island to the northwest of the UK, with a population density of 3.15 people per square kilometre, placing it number 8 among the world’s least densely populated countries. The land is riddled with several natural wonders, including geysers, volcanoes, black sand and lava fields – the perfect holiday destination for people looking for some peace and quiet whilst still wanting to admire the beautiful landscapes. It was once said that ‘it’s not how far you’ve travelled in life; it’s what you’ve brought back that counts’. So what memories and new experiences have I brought back from my recent trip to the land of ice and fire?
Day 1: having just arrived from an early morning flight and feeling slightly sleep deprived, my family and I decided it would be best to fill the first day with less engaging and more relaxing activities. After stopping at a beautiful little crepe place for lunch, the first item on our agenda was the Reykjavik (pronounced rey-kya-vik) city sightseeing tour. The infrastructure and layout of Iceland’s various cities is similar to that of Scandinavian countries, making Reykjavik the perfect place to witness this in full. We made many stops including the Harpa concert hall, Hallgrímskirkja church and the Perlan dome, perhaps my favourite part of the tour. Whilst our tour guide went on about the city’s top attractions, history and culture, I became fascinated in the beautiful architecture, so different to that of England and so diverse at the same time; no two buildings were alike, possibly a sign of the different influences from a number of countries? Going back to the Perlan glass dome, we were provided with a 360° view over Reykjavik, whilst also being able to visit the glacier museum and even getting the chance to enter a -15°C ice cave! Following the tour, we took to Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon for the evening, a huge public spa powered by geothermal energy. It was the perfect way to wind down after an exhausting 24 hours, and was made even better by the complimentary silica mud masks, proven to have cleansing and revitalising effects on the skin.
Day 2: this was the day for the famous Golden Circle classic tour, a tour of some of Iceland’s most famous land marks. Starting from Reykjavik, the tour first took us to Þingvellir National Park, arguably the most important site in Iceland in terms of history, culture, and geology. The national park is perhaps most famous for containing the boundary between the divergent tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. Next the tour continued to Gullfoss waterfall, one of Iceland’s greatest natural attractions. At the waterfall you can even take a short walk down a pathway and get right up to the powerful water, feeling the mist of glacial water on your face as it cascades down into the narrow Hvítárgljúfur Canyon – wonderful picture opportunity. Our final stop of the day was the famous Geysir area, which all geysers are named after. This area is an impressive collage of bubbling mud pools, hissing steam vents, and colourful algae deposits. Included is the Strokkur hot spring, which blasts out a column of heated water up to 20 metres into the air every 4 to 8 minutes – truly a site like no other.
Day 3: we take a break from the typical ‘tourist’ activities to embark on a tour of the filming locations of one of the most popular TV shows in the world. I am of course talking about the magnificent Game of Thrones. The producers of the show fell in love with the incredibly diverse landscapes of the Nordic island, with it’s ice-blue glaciers, black volcanic lava, lush green fields and canyons dividing the Eurasian and North American plate boundaries that run through Iceland. Being an avid GoT fan (btw who’s excited for the new season?) this was probably my favourite part of the whole trip. Yet even if you do not watch the show, the majestic sweeping views, dancing waterfalls and spectacular panoramas are enough to make anyway stand in awe as they admire the uniqueness and aesthetic of the country. We even got the chance to meet one of the extras from the show, who also happened to be our hilarious tour guide! Having played a variety of roles from a member of the Night’s Watch to wildling solider, the stories from on and off the set truly added to the enjoyment of the tour and made it that much better.
Day 4: back to sightseeing, day 4 was spent touring the south coast of the island and visiting the beautiful Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. The route was lined with natural treasures including the iconic Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, Skaftafell National Park and Vatnajökull glacier to name but a few. Just when you think nothing can beat the scenery, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon comes into view and takes your breath away. Packed with icebergs in various shades of white and blue, the lagoon’s extraordinary scenery is popular with travellers, photographers and film makers (e.g. 007) from all over the world. We were lucky enough to travel through the lagoon on a guided tour boat. This was the longest day by far, lasting a whopping 14 hours, yet totally worth it – after all, how can you visit Iceland without seeing some ice while you’re there?
Day 5: we had not booked anything in particular for our last full day, but instead decided to spend it exploring the city in our own time. This was when we really got to take in the culture of the country and even speak to a few locals (Icelandic is a difficult language to learn but their English was more than proficient!). The majority of the day was spent walking through the streets of Reykjavik, shopping at the flea market and local stores and trying out the famous Icelandic hot dog. A word of warning: just like all Nordic countries, things in Iceland are very expensive, and if you plan on going travelling there it is vital to plan a budget and save money wherever you can, for example by buying groceries (Bonus is probably your best bet) rather than going out to eat all the time, and NEVER buying bottled water (the tap water is stupendously clean). To round off our trip, we decided to visit the Blue Lagoon one last time. The best part about going in the summer are the long daylight hours, for the sun never truly sets in Iceland, and it was still light even as we were getting out of the Lagoon at midnight (imagine the crazy nightlife too)!
A quick note onsome of the logistics – it was recommended to us by friends that we book in advance all the activities we wanted to do, and for some it was even necessary (e.g. Blue Lagoon). This definitely gave us a more defined structure to our holiday, and the professional tour guides helped us to really enjoy and appreciate what we were seeing. That being said, it must be noted that this does restrict your freedom on how much time you spend in each location, as tour guides must stick to a tight schedule and therefore it can feel like you’re being rushed at times. In addition, a lot of time is spent travelling on the coach, although most people used it as an opportunity to doze off for a quick power nap. Whether you want to pre-book or not is up to you, just keep in mind how much independence you want on your trip.
We left early on day 6, bound for our home in the UK, having spent an amazing couple of days in a country that was truly one of a kind. If you’re looking for a destination for your typical ‘lad’s holiday’ then perhaps Iceland isn’t your best bet, but if you’re a budding photographer (I am unfortunately not) or even just an admirer of beautiful natural wonders, whether young or old, you should definitely make visiting Iceland a priority on your bucket list.
Until next time,