I think it’s probably safe to say Iceland seems to be one of those places that is having a ‘moment’. Before we left for the frozen Nordic island, most people we knew were either planning to go or had already been. Famous for its unruly volcanos, its iconic spa resort and wild and lonely landscapes, Iceland has that mysterious, end-of-the-earth reputation that most people can’t seem to get enough of. After booking our flights we headed off for a pre-Christmas trip to see if it could really live up to everyone’s high expectations.
Like most visitors, we used Iceland’s tiny capital as our base – a place where Sarah Lund-style Faroe Isle jumpers and bushy beards seem to be de rigour. It’s a mix of candy-coloured, corrugated iron-fronted houses, cosy candle-lit restaurants and ultra-cool independent stores. We’re probably a little biased but I’m sure winter must be the best time to visit. Reykjavik has more than its fair share of rainy days but on the cold, crisp days the surrounding snowy mountains make an unrivalled city backdrop and the low sun bathes the city in a warm pinkish glow.
Reykjavik is where cool and eccentric design seems to be ingrained in everyday life. You only have to walk down the high street or take a peek in one of many design hotels to see that. Forget H&M and Gap, the stores here are strictly boutique, stocking everything from meticulously made clothing to creatively designed gifts. Corrugated houses aside, much of the architecture is characterised by sharp, clean lines and sleek design and a visit to their new visually stunning Harpa concert hall will leave you in no doubt just how modern their buildings can be.
During the long dark winter nights visitors seems to be split between those heading off to clearer plains to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights and those wanting to sample some of Reykjavik’s famous nightlife. Reykjavik is also a great place to book your tours or car hire to explore the rest of the country, try Reykjavik tours for everything from whale watching to Northern Light hunting.
The Golden Circle
We shunned the safety and comfort of a tour bus and ventured through the sub-Arctic wilderness in our small but trusty hire car. Our first stop was Pingvellir National Park, home to the geologic meeting point of two continents. The park’s highlight was its brilliant turquoise lake – the largest natural lake in the country.
The next stop was the geothermal area region, home to a tiny geyser, a medium sized geyser (Strokkur) which dutifully ‘spouted’ every 7 minutes and a stubbornly dormant larger geyser (and the most people we had seen all day). Our final attraction Gullfoss – Iceland’s undisputed queen of waterfalls – was an awesome sight and the experience was only topped at our relief of actually making it that far in one piece.
The wild plains of the South
On our second day we ventured South and if we thought the roads taking us through the Golden Circle were empty, they weren’t a patch on roads taking us through this region. Here lonely, icy plains are mostly only populated by tough but friendly little Icelandic horses. Heading further down we found deserted towns with tiny box like churches and folklore museums. The drive was definitely worth it even if it was just to see the hauntingly tranquil coastline – probably some of the most unspoilt in the world.
The Volcanic region and The Blue Lagoon
Reykjanes Peninsula is a volcanic area at the south-western tip of the country. Active volcanos bubble underneath the large barren lava fields and following the theme of this trip – it’s largely deserted. That is until you reach the famous Blue Lagoon spa resort.
The Blue Lagoon – now a major and extremely popular tourist destination – takes advantage of the area’s numerous hot springs but is actually created by the excess water pumped by the nearby power station. Spending an hour or two neck-deep in the steamy water is a surreal but relaxing experience and if you sign up for the ‘experience package’ you get to spend your time there with a complimentary drink and an algae face mask.
Overall Iceland did live up to our expectations, but it’s a place so unlike we’ve ever visited before. If you’re a fan of wild, deserted landscapes it’s probably the travel destination for you.
Booking through Skyscanner
We booked our Iceland flight through Skyscanner, a flight price comparison website which compares flights of more major airlines and travel agents than anyone else. As independent travellers we were already fans of this website as it can save you trawling through various flight pages on the internet. When you type in your chosen departure airport and destination location it will search and produce results for the latest best prices for the flights you are looking for. When we booked our flights through them for this trip we found the process to be user-friendly and hassle-free.
Also thanks to Argus car hire whose car we used on our Iceland road trip. Thinking about hiring a car for yourself in Iceland? Always check weather conditions before you go, consider extra insurance and drive safely! The main roads are gritted in the winter but you still have to be very careful.
All opinions are our own.