When we told people we were going to Iceland for eight nights, the common response I got was, ‘Wow, that’s a long time.’ The hope was, that with twenty hours of daylight per day at this time of year, it would be ample, but in reality, we could easily have spent more than double that amount of time, and still not had time to see some of the amazing wonders we only learnt about once we got there.
We actually travelled in May, but I have struggle to find the words to do this experience justice, and now on the eve of my second foreign trip since returning to the UK, I now cannot allow myself to be overwhelmed any longer.
I planned a route for us to drive anti-clockwise round the island, so that we could see as many of the main attractions as we possibly could. For this holiday, I had carried out some fairly extensive research prior to our departure, and also learnt a great deal from the experience itself. I will be sharing all of this practical information in another area of the Nisaroundtheworld site in the near future, but for now, my aim is to describe my highlights, and try and give a sense what the overall journey felt like for us.
As we drove from one difficult to pronounce town to the next, our journey took us through incredible landscapes, and was punctuated by magnificent waterfalls and geological marvels. I have called it a journey, because although it is only a short three hour flight from London, and less than half the size of the UK, we covered over 2,200km by car, and hiked several more.
Tip: Driving in Iceland can be challenging, especially on narrow gravel roads, and adverse weather conditions. We found watching the video on the enjoyiceland.is site helpful. There are others available.
Our first stop was the fault-line of Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian Continental Plates come apart at a rate of 2-3cm per year. Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park is one of the only places in the world where you can see the edge of two tectonic plates meeting above the ground. We only realised this fact, after we’d left, and somehow, this has added a new dimension to my memory of the place. From here we drove to Iceland’s most famous hot spring, Geysir (from which all geysers around the world derive their name). Geysir itself is rarely active now, but Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes, shooting vast jets of boiling hot water up to 40m in the air. The first of many spectacular waterfalls along our route, Gullfoss, completes the world renowned Golden Circle sightseeing route.
The other beautiful waterfalls we visited over the eight days were: Seljalandsfoss, (the hidden) Gljúfrabúi, Skogáfoss, Svartifoss, Dettifoss, Selfoss, Goðafoss, and Kirkjufellsfoss. There are a number of others we simply didn’t have time to go to, but if we had, I certainly would have. My husband is most drawn by mountain ranges, but for me, waterfalls have always held a powerful appeal, that I cannot explain. I have been to many great cascades around the world, but each of the ones I have listed here was uniquely special, and I have been captivated by every one of them.
As we continued our drive round the island, the further we moved away from Reykjavik, the population became more and more sparse, and the places we stopped at started to feel increasingly remote. The sealed roads too, occasionally gave way to gravel, requiring us to utilise the four wheel drive mode on our rental car, adding to the sensation that we were on an adventure. Many of you will know that numerous scenes and backdrops from the hit tv series Game of Thrones were filmed in Iceland, and knowing that the title of the original books is called, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ it’s easy to understand why. However, you don’t have to be a fan of this epic fantasy, to be awestruck by all that has been put here purely by the forces of nature.
In my photo gallery, I have tried to encapsulate the sheer variety of what we saw in Iceland: there were the Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar rock formations, Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Jökursálón Glacial Lagoon and Breiðamerkursandur Diamond Beach in the South; Fjords in the East; Hverir Geothermal Mud Pools and Fumaroles and the hot water Grjótagjá Cave in the North; and in the West, the ‘dragon’ at Hvitserkur and the Snæfellsjökull National Park (Skarðsvík Beach, Saxhóll Crater, Djúpalónssandur Beach, Lóndrangar, Arnarstapi).
Along the way, we stayed in some pretty interesting accommodation. I will be sharing a detailed list in the Country Information section of this site once I have developed it. However, one place that stood out, was the Fossar Cabin, in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, roughly half way between the major attractions in the South of the Island. Our superhost David Andri, was very easy to communicate with, and made sure we had everything we needed in the cabin we stayed in on his family’s farm.
An unexpected bonus for me was the food. Not knowing much about Icelandic cuisine, I was expecting the meals to be no more than functional. However, my family and I were very pleasantly surprised. From the trendy Reykjavik Kitchen, to Mia’s Country Fish & Chips Van near Skogáfoss, the quality of the food we enjoyed, was exceptional.
Our self made tour ended with two nights in the capital city, Reykjavik. Having come all this way, we felt obliged to visit with Blue Lagoon. Personally, I found it very commercialised, expensive, not the relaxing spa experience it is meant to be, but my husband, brother in law, and children, all really loved it, so I guess we all have our preferences. The following day, we discovered a hidden gem, that we only found out about, a few days after arriving in Iceland. This was much more up my street. About 45km out from Reykjavik, is the geothermal town of Hveragerði, from there, a 4km hike up into the hills will bring you to the Reykjadalur Hot Spring. At this point, the river running through becomes hot from the Earth’s heat, and you have to pick your spot to bathe in it’s soothing waters without getting scalded.
I had been wanting to go to Iceland for several years, and there is always a danger that when you combine expectation with desire, the outcome inevitably is disappointment. Yet, thanks to the lovely people, delicious food, and the unrivalled power of Mother Nature, this vacation delivered far more than I could have hoped for. That my children could see what I saw, and thrived in the magnificence of it, made it all the more special.