Fiery volcanoes, bubbling hot springs and dramatic geysers probably aren’t what you’d expect from a country on the edge of the Arctic Circle, but are a recurring theme running through this country of the most unusual and untouched nature imaginable. Not surprisingly, Iceland is one of the trending ‘hot new destinations’, receiving 1.3 million visits last year, up from a mere 80,000 in the 1980s.
It’s all about the natural drama of the land. From volcanoes and glaciers, to waterfalls and remote islands, red and black sand beaches to fjords and towering cliffs teeming with puffins, this is nature on steroids! As today’s traveller seeks to extend their horizons and find the ‘next new thing’, Iceland has stepped in and hit the spot.
The question of when to go is quite a pertinent one, as winter in Reykjavik hovers between minus 3 degrees Celsius by night and an edgy 2 degrees Celsius by day, and many sights in remote areas can be rendered inaccessible. May and June are the most popular months, with lower rainfall, but one thing you can say about Iceland’s weather is that it’s unpredictable — think Auckland, but with far more dramatic changes in temperature! Have at least four layers of clothing on hand at any time!
The phenomenon of Northern Lights are best viewed in remote places, so Iceland is ideal, and the best time for viewing is from mid-September to mid-April.
Reykjavik is the cultural heart of Iceland. Ingolfur Arnarson, the first settler of Iceland, built his farm around AD 870 on the peninsula where Reykjavik now stands. The town got its name “Smoky Bay” after the columns of steam that rose from the hot springs in the area. Now an increasingly sophisticated city, you can enjoy music festivals in summer, a lively arts scene, and vibrant nightlife.
With so much to see, here are our top five places to visit in Iceland:
The Blue Lagoon
Bathe in the aquamarine waters of this man-made geothermal spa near Reykjavik, maintained at 40 degrees Celsius year-round. Even more spectacular when surrounded by ice and snow, the lagoon’s rich mineral content is said to have healing qualities.
This bustling northern port town boasts some of the finest timber buildings in the country, beautifully restored to their original glory.
Located in a canyon, the river Hvítá plunges down three stepped terraces to spectacular effect. The ‘untouched’ feeling extends to the fact that there are no guard rails to be seen – just natural surroundings.
The Westfjords Region
Hike along red sands, sail the fjords to deserted villages teeming with wildlife, see puffins on Latrabjarg cliffs, and soak in hot springs under the Midnight Sun.
Multi-coloured mountains, vast lava fields and the Kela volcano join forces to create an ‘other planet’ landscape that is popular with those keen on hiking and horse-riding.
Iceland truly lives up to its reputation as a ‘land of fire and ice’, and truly is like nowhere else in the world.
Words: Caroline Clegg