Our first international trek since the start of the pandemic was to “the land of fire and ice”. Iceland has a population of around 370,000 people. The capital is Reykjavik, (ray-kah-vic) located at the western most tip of the country. In late October, the weather is cool and brisk. The weather today is 3 degrees Celsius but, I swear with the wind it has to be – 3. Unluckily for me, WestJet lost my bag somewhere and I am doing a lot of improvising. Fortunately, Reykjavik is a great place to buy woolen anything as well as toques, scarves, hats, ear muffs and all kinds of outerwear.
Reykjavik is a quaint town full of young people. English is widely spoken. The houses are painted bright colours – apparently to brighten up the scenery during the long, bleak winters. At the height of the winter, you will get 3 hours of sunlight. Conversely, during the longest summer day you will get only 3 hours of night and it is more like twilight. (Read about our Reykjavik stay here.)
I guess the first word that comes to mind to describe Iceland is “primal”. This is a country built on lava rock with several active volcanoes. The countryside is a sweep of mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, rivers and rolling lava fields. There are more sheep in the country than there are inhabitants. The only indigenous animal is the arctic fox but you will see reindeer, Icelandic horses and a variety of birds.
What about the Northern Lights? Aurora Borealis. Ah, yes, the elusive aurora. We spent 8 days in Iceland and the only opportunity there was to see the aurora was an evening when Colin and I were enjoying a great band in a local jazz club. Oops. I guess we have a good reason to return.
Top 10 Reasons to visit Iceland:
- Diamond Beach – this is a beautiful black sandy beach that is dotted with “ice sculpture”. The ice “calves” off a nearby glacier and floats down the river to be deposited on the beach. There are huge pieces and others that looks like crystal animals in a curio cabinet.
Of course it’s always fun to have your evening cocktail with a piece of ice from the diamond beach!
2. Waterfalls – Iceland has many picturesque waterfalls that are found throughout the countryside, including Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss both located in the south, not far from the town of Vik. Try to catch one with the sun going down for a gorgeous rainbow.
3. Reykjavik – the capital of the country. Reykjavik is a friendly, picturesque town with a vibrant night life, first class restaurants and oodles of shops and beautiful architecture. (Stay tuned for my post dedicated to Reykjavik!)
4. The Blue Lagoon – open to the public since 1987, the Blue Lagoon is actually a man-made geothermal spa that contains opaque, blue water full of silica, salts and algae. It was found to have special skin-healing properties when an employee of the geothermal plant asked permission to bath daily in the waste water that was outside the plant. A month later his psoriasis had substantially improved. Fast forward a few years and The Blue Lagoon has become a destination for world travelers to come and soak in the healing waters.
5. Geysir –a 10,000 year old geyser located in southwest Iceland. Over the years it has spewed boiling water up some 70 meters into the air. Currently, it erupts every 8-10 minutes. The Geysir area also has a number of smaller hot pools bubbling – watch your step!
6. The Food- We had some amazing meals in Iceland. From hearty soups to seafood, duck, lamb and delicious home made breads, there was a seemingly infinite variety of restaurants. I actually had a lamb shank in a small town truck stop. It was unbelievably good! Desserts were also scrumptious! Oh, and you don’t need to buy bottled water in Iceland – what comes out of the tap is glorious. Best. Water. Anywhere.
7. Reynisfjara – near the small fishing village of Vik, Reynisfjara is a beautiful black-sand beach with impressive cliffs and enormous basalt stacks. The extraordinary vista extends out into the Atlantic where visitors will notice several rock stacks dubbed “trolls”. The formation is reminiscent of the 12 Apostles found in Australia along the Great Ocean Road. The high cliffs were home to a colony of Northern Fumar’s – a type of seagull. This beach was rated as one of the top non-tropical beaches to visit on the planet by National Geographic (1991).
8. Jokulsarlon – literally “glacial river lagoon” is a large glacial lake in southern part of Vatnajökull National Park. The lake developed after the glacier started to recede from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. This is simply a spectacular area to view the white a blue ice formations.
9. Thingvellir National Park – A fascinating place where the American and Eurasian continental plates collide, forming a wide flat valley around a large lake. You are basically walking between two continents! Ancient tribes from all of Iceland would meet here every June for a parliament where the business of the day was sorted out. Some of the punishments for wrongdoing were very harsh. The men were burned alive and the women were drowned. Iceland has a colourful history!
10. Aurora Borealis – The Northern Lights can be seen from many vantage points in Iceland where the light pollution is at a minimum. The winter is the best time to see the spectacle as the summer months have very little darkness. There are cruises from the Reykjavik harbour which will take you out past the city lights to spot the dancing green and blue colours.
If you go, there is a direct flight from Toronto daily to Reykjavik. Keflavik international Airport is located about 50 minutes from the city. Many tourists arrange a stopover in Iceland on their way to Europe. This can be done at no extra cost when flying with Iceland Air. (Be warned that Saga Business Class seats do not recline significantly!)
Credit/debit cards are widely accepted. We didn’t exchange any cash for Icelandic kronas – just “tapped our way” through the countryside.
Dress in layers – gloves, hats, scarves and inner/outer coats. You likely will need a pair of leggings under your pants. There is not a lot of snow in October/November but the wind can be very cold. I’ve read other blogs on Iceland talking about the flies in the summer. No flies at all if you are there in November!
Oh, and the sunsets. You’ll love the Icelandic sunsets! Like this one:
And this one:
We did this tour with Collette Vacations. Our tour guide was a wonderful lady from Croatia named Antonija. Iceland is her second home and she was extremely knowledgeable.
A week is plenty of time to see everything we saw in Iceland but I know we could return and do a whole different trip.
Yes, Iceland is expensive. It is remote. There are no crops. Fruit and vegetables are imported – along with just about everything else. But, this a place unlike any other on earth. The experience is worth it.
Our visit to Iceland was a fun and fascinating way to crank up a new year of travel!