Iceland Travel Guide
As the summer sun slowly begins to burn out and the bleakness of winter seems to be hiding just around the corner, you might be starting to think seriously about hibernation.
There’s always a massive come-down after the ecstasy of summer, especially once you realise you’ve used up almost all your holiday entitlement at work.
But why not embrace what lies ahead instead of dreading it? The change in seasons brings fresh experiences and a new opportunities. You’d be surprised at how spectacular and unique a winter holiday can be.
One destination stands out among the rest when talking about winter breaks and the clue is in the name: Iceland.
The land of fire and ice
The land was once home to the Vikings, and from travelling around the island you’ll see that a lot of it doesn’t seem to have changed much since.
As you drive through the countryside, passed the bubbling geysers, the black sand beaches, volcanic craters and the ice-capped mountains, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled back in time a thousand years.
Visiting the country is a memorable experience, unlike any other and a good chunk of it can be seen in just a few days.
September to April is the best time to visit Iceland if you want to see the magnificent Aurora Borealis – and you will want to see them.
When the summer sun sets on Iceland, the nights get longer and darker, which are perfect conditions for seeing the Northern Lights. The natural spectacle is caused by electrically charged particles from the sun that enter into the magnetic poles of the earth’s atmosphere.
But whilst the science behind it can explain it, it really does need to be seen to be believed. No photo or video online can possibly capture the moment you first see those luminous green waves dancing just above your head.
The absolute black of the sky becomes a playground for the Aurora as the lights come to life with such elegance and beauty. If you’re lucky enough to catch them in all their glory, you’ll see explosions of purple and pink that look like fireworks.
For a better chance of seeing them, it’s best to head outside of the city because you’ll need as little light pollution as possible. If you’ve hired a car, you can head out at your own leisure to the countryside. But you don’t have to go far from Reykjavik, if that’s where you’re staying, because you can take all kinds of tours from coach trips to boat trips.
Just make sure you make the time and effort to see them because it’ll be an experience you’ll savour for the rest of your life.
The infamous Golden Circle!
Top of most people’s list of things to do in Iceland is the Golden Circle. It’s a ring road that takes you around some of the most incredible sights in Iceland and it can all be done in the course of a day.
There are plenty of tours that operate from Reykjavik or you can hire a car and do it yourself (You don’t need a 4×4 by the way. Any old car will do).
Depending on which way round you go, the historic Thingvellir National Park will probably be the first thing you come across. The park is said to have hosted the very first Icelandic parliament when the Vikings settled on the island more than a century ago.
It lies on the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which have created a huge scar across the land that’s big enough to walk through. The park is eerie but captivating as you stand on the fault lines gazing at Thingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.
Next up on the Golden Circle would be the awesome geysers in Haukadalur. There are dozens of small mud pots, fumaroles and hot springs in this geothermal spot but the largest and most famous geysers here are the very active Strokkur and the almighty Geysir.
Strokkur is the picture postcard of the area as it erupts every few minutes and the spray can reach heights of 30 metres. Geysir is currently dormant but in its heyday, it was humungous. Its name is the origin for the word ‘geyser’.
The Golden Circle’s main event is one of the most breathtaking waterfalls you’ll see in the world. Gullfoss isn’t the tallest or the greatest, but in the winter months it is covered in snow with huge ice blocks cracking and creaking their way down the falls sounding like thunder. Be careful though as the walkways around the falls are barely walkways at all.
The Icelandic state have kept the experience as unrestricted as possibly so there are hardly any barriers or fences either.
Once you’re at the very top of Gullfoss looking down, there is just a rope at ankle height to warn you that you probably shouldn’t get too much closer, and you really shouldn’t because it’s a long way down and the floor is incredibly slippery. Just make sure you wear sensible footwear and have your wits about you.
Instead of heading straight home after Gullfoss, definitely stop off at the volcanic crater lake, Kerid. The blue ice looks like a mirror for the sky and from the top of the crater you can see for miles across the white landscape. It’s not as popular as some of the other spots on the Golden Circle so it’s very peaceful, but be careful again as there are no handrails or trails to follow.
Black beaches and waterfalls!
Another trip that should be on your list of things to do in Iceland is the route 1 from Reykjavik to Vik.
Vik is a tiny town in the south of the island with not too much to do, but the main reason for visiting is to see the black sand beach, Reynisfjara. Don’t bother bringing your trunks because you won’t want to go anywhere near the water.
The freezing cold waves crash onto the black pebbles and up against the basalt columns and the riptide is ferocious. But if you stand back and watch from a safe distance, Reynisfjara is hypnotic.
On the way there, you’ll pass a couple of great pitstops in Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. Both are stunning and you can get close enough to feel the spray on your rosy cheeks.
You can actually walk right around the back of Seljalandsfoss and see the falls from inside the cave. And Skogafoss has an ice cold pool that you can dip your toes in if you’re feeling brave enough!
The Blue Lagoon!
Believe it or not, all of this can be done in just two days! Sure, they’ll be long old days so you’ll be pretty worn out by the end of it, but what better way to unwind than the soothing geothermal spa of The Blue Lagoon. Rest your feet in the warm waters, sip on Prosecco and rub a face mask on while you bask underneath the stars and wish you could stay forever.
Iceland is a wonderful experience and a truly unique one. It’ll be unlike any holiday you’ve ever been on so if you fancy a long weekend adventure in the snow, it doesn’t get much more adventurous than the land of ice and fire.
Winter is coming, no matter what, so embrace it and witness a proper winter in full force.