Iceland is a land of contrasts: crisp white snow and bumpy black lava fields, acres of vibrant green moss and ice blue glaciers.
I took a five day/four night trip there last year and wanted to see as much of those contrasts as possible. Here are 10 reasons why you should visit Iceland, one of the most fascinating places on Earth.
1. To go horse riding among the lava fields
We went for a couple of hours in the Hafnarfjörður area with Ishestar and the helpful guides were really attentive. We spent some time getting to know the horses before trailing through the lava fields. Interestingly, the Icelandic breed of horse is regarded so highly in its home country; that once a horse leaves the country, it is exiled, never to return. Also, no other breeds are allowed to enter the country.
2. To see the geysers erupting in the Haukadalur region
The popular Golden Circle tour’s first stop is at the famous geyser park in Haukadalur. The name ‘geyser’ originates from the biggest erupting spring in the park, Geysir (the Old Norse word ‘geysa’ means ‘to gush’). The most frequently erupting spring in the park today is Strokkur, pictured erupting above.
3. To see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)
You need to go at the right time of year (best between November and February), take warm clothes and have some patience. Our tour took us out into Thingvellir National Park and was booked as part of a package deal with Iceland Pro Travel.
4. To visit Gullfoss
The thundering sound that is Gullfoss (‘golden falls’) hits you as you walk down the steps into the stunning canyon, as does the spray when you get close enough. Head down to the first waterfall where the ground is formed of natural steps made out of the rocks. Gullfoss is one third of the holy trinity of visitors to Iceland – the Golden Circle tour.
5. Blue Lagoon
It’s big, it’s blue and it’s arguably the most recognisable site in Iceland. The Blue Lagoon gets busy if you go during the middle of the day, but go early before the doors open and you won’t have to worry so much about showering naked in front other people (the rules say you have to shower naked before entering the lagoon). There’s lots said about this attraction, but it is definitely worth a trip to experience the sense of otherworldliness it has.
6. Experience Reykjavik’s quirkiness, culture and people
Famed for its nightlife, Reykjavik is just as interesting to wander round during the day. Stroll around for a few hours, look into shop windows and you begin to get a sense of the Icelandic people’s personality and culture. Buildings are painted with murals and bright colours, while shop signs, fake animals and chatty locals show the Icelandic sense of humour. At night, the fun neon draped Lebowski bar is an excellent place to head for a mix of Icelandic and American atmosphere (and a great White Russian).
7. Icelandic food
Our packed trip meant we didn’t get as much time as we wanted to experience Reykjavik’s offerings but we had some great meals; salmon, smoked puffin, reindeer and locally reared lamb at Sushi Samba and tasty soup served in a huge carved out bread loaf at Svarta Kaffi. The Nepalese food at Kitchen Eldhus was also delicious.
8. Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
Not only do you get to experience drifting between huge icebergs pn a glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón, you also get to marvel at the colossal Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, a tongue of Europe’s biggest glacier Vatnajökull. It might be a four and a half hour drive non-stop from Reykjavik, but this is an absolute must see.
Another outcrop of the mammoth Vatnajökull glacier, Skaftafell has its own visitor centre and is the starting point for glacial trips including hiking and visiting ice caves. If we had more time and money then a glacier trip would’ve been on our list.
10. Skógafoss waterfall and Seljalandsfoss at night
Iceland is full of waterfalls and every one takes your breath away. A south coast trip to the Jökulsárlón lagoon will see you stop at both Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss is fantastic lit up at night.