What to do…in Iceland
Iceland has been on my bucket-list ever since I started collecting travel magazines (which has been for far too long – see my post on Travel Porn here). It always seemed like such a remarkable country; full of amazing natural sights, enviable coffee and cake shops and the infamous Blue Lagoon. So when I got the chance to visit in October I of course had to go. I followed a fairly standard tourist route whilst in Iceland but I would say this needs to form the start of your what to do list!
The Blue Lagoon
It is touristy, it is a tad on the expensive side and it is busy but you have to visit the Blue Lagoon if you come to Iceland!
It would almost be a crime to visit and not to bathe in it’s relaxing sulphuric waters, it’s the perfect post or pre plane journey activity as the Blue Lagoon is just a 25 minute drive from Keflavik airport and easily accessible by bus transfer from both Reykjavik and the airport. The information on the Blue Lagoon website is very helpful for anyone not on an organised tour. I have a post dedicated to how to make the most of your time at the Blue Lagoon as I feel it’s so worth a visit, I left feeling the most relaxed I’ve felt in a long time.
The Golden Circle Tour
In a country that seems to work on subtle but not over the top efficiency, three of the most visited tourist and natural attractions are all within close driving proximity to each other and easily accessible on organised tours from Reykjavik or on a self-driven tour.
The first stop on our Golden Circle tour was Thingvellir National Park, home to the seat of the original Viking Parliament and the Silfa Fissure where the continental drift in the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates provides a unique scuba diving or snorkelling opportunity. Thingvellir is beautiful to walk around with several waterfalls and great photo opportunities of the landscape.
Next on our tour was the majestic Gulfoss, a huge three step staircase waterfall that looks like a CGI animation and sprays out a surprising amount of water, I wish someone would have told me this before I strolled up to the viewing platform with my new camera. The GoPro became a lifesaver on this trip and became the camera of choice every-time I got off the tour-bus (pretty sure there’s a blogpost on that in the coming future too.
Our final visit was to Geysir, the hot spring old timer who hasn’t erupted regularly since 2003, however neighbour Strokkur (another geysir less than 5 minutes walk away) puts on a good display every 8-10 minutes without fail. Some eruptions are more impressive than others, with the majority shooting 15-20m into the air but some can be close to 40m so it’s worth sticking around for a bit to watch a few different eruptions and have fun trying to guess exactly when it will go off!
The Route 1 ring-road
Not to be confused with the Golden Circle Tour, the ring road Route 1 happily runs around the whole island and provides easy access to more popular tourist sites and the less visited inhabited parts of the county. It would be so easy to do a self-driven tour of Iceland using Route 1 as your guide and making short detours along the way with stays in small hotels along the route, and when I return (notice my choice of words here; when not if!) this is what I will do.
On the ring-road it’s impossible to miss 2 of the most popular sights, as the waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss can be spotted from Route 1 but if you want to get up closer you will just need to take a smaller road off the main route, park up, marvel at Earth’s natural wonders and it’s as easy as that.
Seljalandsfoss is a curtain waterfall that you can walk behind at certain times of the year, despite the paths being super icy some of our group decided to go for it and get soaked in the process. As I was carrying my camera I decided against this option and stayed to take more photos in the dry, Iceland is one of the most photogenic landscape destinations I have ever visited so I really enjoyed this time alone with my camera.
Just a short drive away is another beautiful waterfall, Skogafoss where you can climb the 200-odd stairs to a fantastic viewing platform for some really good shots. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do this on our itinerary and had to make do with viewing Skogafoss on the ground, total first world problems I know!
Other sights on or near the Route 1 road include the Myrdalsjokull Glacier where you can get your adventure kicks on a glacier hike, this is something I will definately add to my to do list when I next visit. I was getting very jealous of watching the different groups, mostly school parties in fact getting their gear on and safety briefings before heading off.
Just a short drive from the Glacier is another must visit natural phenomena, the black sand beach and basalt rock columns of Vik. I would have loved to have spent longer on the beach photographing the waves and the columns but on the day we visited the wind was insane so we ended up taking refuge in the cafe with a bowl of warming traditional Icelandic lamb soup.
We also chose to visit the family run museum dedicated to the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic eruption of 2010, where for a really small entrance fee you can find out more about the volcano that grounded most of the world 5 years but also caused a significant problem for the family that had chosen to have their farm in it’s shadow.
Spend some time in the capital Reykjavik
I only spent a short time in Reykjavik but it was enough for me to see and know that this is somewhere I have to come back to. The city seems understatedly cool with some very trendy looking bars and other more casual drinking establishments, cafes that serve amazing coffee and the best waffles I have ever eaten and streets filled with graphic art.
A little walk up from the centre or an even shorter drive if you’re lucky, perched above the capital is Reykjavik’s observatory the Perlan. Whilst I didn’t get to sample the delight of the 360 degree revolving restaurant (something else to add to the next time I visit list) I did make it out onto the viewing platform for spectacular views of the capital and it’s most famous landmark, the church of Hallgrímskirkja.
The view of the church on the ground isn’t too bad either and is easily one of the most visually striking religious buildings I have seen for the sheer fact it looks so different to other famous church landmarks. The design is inspired by the basalt columns at Vik beach and just seems to fit the Icelandic capital perfectly.
Dependent on the way you arrive or depart into Reykjavik you are at some point sure to come across the stunning structure of the Sun Voyager or Solfar in Icelandic by artist Jon Gunnar, the sculpture is representative of a dreamboat and an ode to the sun and makes another perfect photo opportunity with the sea and landscape of Iceland in the background.
Go searching for the Northern Lights
Naively I thought that spotting the Northern Lights would be a breeze, my hotel was out of the centre of town and we were going in prime aurora season. Looking at various different apps for tracking the lights before I left for Iceland it looked like I might get lucky, and even the staff at the hotel seem to think we would catch a glimpse. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be and I didn’t get to see the lights but was quite happy walking back to the harbour and the hotel to this impressive sight.
Hopefully next time she will put on a show for me but like the rest of Iceland it’s left with me an unwavering desire to go back to see more and experience everything again.