A land of fire an ice. Glaciers and Volcanoes. A must see nation. Just simply otherworldly.
Iceland is a universal bucket list tourist destination for people from all over the world. This makes it very easy for English speaking visitors, as the tourism industry basically uses English as a default. Nearly all of the signs you will need will be in Icelandic and English, and everyone you need (guides, restaurants, hotels, etc) will use English.
If you are gregarious enough to meet other travelers, which I love to do; you will see people from all over. I met people from Spain, Hungary, the UK, Colombia, The Netherlands, and France during my short visit. And, heard many other languages as well. It is always fun to get new travel ideas from fellow wanderers.
I spent a week here, and one of the many things I learned was that a week is not enough. If I had to do it over again, I would have booked 10 days.
Iceland is a gorgeous place, and millions of people visit of every year so it may be difficult to keep a budget as tight as you would like. Be prepared for expensive food, fuel, and tickets. But, there are ways to cut the budget. I rarely ate in restaurants. I used the supermarkets. There are also every level of hotels, guesthouses, and hostels to keep the lodging budget under control. I didn’t book a spa treatment at the Blue Lagoons, but walking around the outer ponds is free. I kept my lodging fairly basic. No 5 star resorts for me! However, I still haven’t found myself adventurous enough to try hostels.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about gas prices. They are just high. But, since nowhere has a speed limit above 90KPH (55MPH), you will, at least, get good gas mileage.
This is also an ideal place to enjoy the Northern Lights. But, that cannot be predicted and requires a bit of luck. When the lights come, how long they last, and what the weather is like, all play a factor. Disappointingly, I was not able to see the lights during my time here. Maybe that is a reason to return!
They are everywhere, and just when you think you have seen the best, you come across a better one.
The massive power of ice and snow
The capital of Iceland and the home to 135,000 out of the 375,000 people that live in all of Iceland. There are a few small but interesting museums to visit in Reykjavik; like the Whale Museum, Saga Museum’s history of the Viking settlement in Iceland, the Maritime Museum, and the National Gallery (a small gallery of contemporary art) for example.
The highlight is the iconic church, Hallgrimskirkja, an architectural beauty fitting into the modern theme and leading to Rainbow Road .
You can also spend some time walking along the water and enjoying the mountains across the bay, the sculpture Sun Voyager, or just take in some peace and quiet (and a hot chocolate)!
The city is located about 40 minutes away from the airport and is a great jumping off point for touring the island whether you will be joining tour groups leaving from the city, or renting a car to go out exploring on your own. If you have the time, spend a day in Reykjavik before heading out to the natural wonders of this island nation.
It seems like there is another waterfall everywhere you look. The next one even more beautiful than the last. Whether you prefer the volume of Urridafoss; the height of Glymur; or prefer a string of waterfalls all in a row like Seljandsfoss; you could make an entire trip just about these cascades. In the winter, the accumulating ice makes many of them even more beautiful.
Iceland has 269 glaciers throughout the island, so you will never get to see them all. But, there are some that are quite easy to get to like Sólheimajökull in the South and Jokulsarlon in the southeast. Both of which have yours. Sólheimajökull lets you walk on the glacier with a guided tour and Jokulsarlon has trucks that take you to the glacier and boats that take you on the water to get a different perspective. Or, for the budget conscious, you can just drive up to these areas, and see them without a tour. Maybe not as close, but still gorgeous and grand. At many glaciers, you will also see the evidence of the annual shrinking that is occurring.
Geysers and volcanoes
There are many ways to enjoy the volcanic aspects of Iceland. Take a spa day in the Blue Lagoon, or many other hot spring spas. Hike up a volcano if weather permits. Tour a geyser.
The many churches of this island certainly don’t compare to the grand cathedrals on the European mainland, but what they lack in grandeur, they certainly make up for in setting. It is hard to beat the backdrop of some of these places of worship.
Everywhere you look, more and more beauty. Seashores, mountains, glaciers…too much to photograph it all! So, don’t try. Just enjoy.
The beaches here will all be black sand. A striking beauty. Get a bit of wind and you will enjoy the breaking waves over the rocks.
Diamond beach is notably beautiful when bits of the glacier break off and the waves land the pieces back on the beach. Unfortunately, on my visit, there was no ice at all.
If, like me, you are not a fan of winter driving, but still want to see Iceland in its snow covered glory of December or January; you can take a bus from the airport into Reykjavik. It is about a 45 minute drive. Once in the city; there are plenty of tours that will do the driving for you. You can take tours that start and end in the city, like the Golden Circle. Or, you can catch multiday yours that take you to different parts of the island, and book into different lodgings along the way.
For me, I was fortunate when I visited in late February, the weather was warm and the roads were clear, if not rain covered. So, I was able to spend the week driving with no difficulty at all. The area in the south between Reykjavik (southwest) and Vik (southeast) is the most traveled. If you get farther north than those cities, traffic will become much lighter. Traffic congestion is not an issue anywhere; but In February, the Ring Road north of Vik had traffic so light, there were times I went minutes of driving without seeing another car. Also, be prepared for minimal services if you go north. It may be a long time between service stations, so keep your car fueled. If you are unlucky and the cloud cover is heavy, the views will be beautiful. If you are lucky; and the clouds clear, it will be magnificent.
Driving is simple. Roads are in great shape, and driving is on the right side. Though, fuel will be on the pricy side, even by European standards.
If you have a generous budget, rent a 4 wheel drive. You may have the chance to get off the beaten path a bit, down one of the many cinder covered roads that a 2 wheel drive car won’t be comfortable with. There were a couple of spots I wanted to see that I was forced to forgo due to that limitation.
Iceland is not particularly large; however for such a small place, you will do plenty of driving. I did not complete the whole ring road as I originally intended. However, I still logged over 1600 kilometers (1000 miles) in a week.