Lately, Iceland is everywhere. But what does it have to offer? These are the main reasons to visit Iceland; we hope they convince you!
With every year that passes, Iceland increases in popularity as a holiday destination. The country gained recognition in 2010, with the ash cloud caused by a volcanic eruption grounding 100,000 flights. This event put Iceland on the map, as seemingly many non-Icelanders didn’t even know where Iceland was until their travel plans were affected by one of our volcanoes. After that, people started paying a lot more attention. What does Iceland have to offer, they asked? If there are active volcanoes there, it must be a fascinating place, they said.
Well, it is. Iceland is not only worth visiting, there is so much to see and do here you will struggle to choose what to include in your holiday. Here’s the ultimate guide to Iceland to help you decide.
One of the best parts about traveling to Iceland is that, due to its low population, you won’t ever feel like it’s crowded. Not only does this give you dozens of quirky small towns and villages to visit, but it also means there is a huge amount of open space not saturated with people. This makes for better views, clearer photo opportunities, and less traffic on the roads.
Also, because of the low population, and the utilization of geothermal energy, Iceland has some of the cleanest air and water in the world. You can taste the difference between Iceland’s air and water and that of, say, London or New York. It means that buying bottled water is unnecessary here; drink it straight from the tap and you’ll have some of the best water you can get.
Because of all the volcanic activity, Iceland is filled with natural hot springs and black sand beaches. All of the swimming pools in Reykjavík are naturally heated, and there are plenty of them. Most of them have naturally heated hot tubs on-site too. So, if you’re here in the winter and feeling a little chilly, you’ll never be far from a public swimming pool.
And, of course, because Iceland is situated so far north, if you’re here between September and April there’s a fairly good chance you’ll see the northern lights. It’s difficult to truly understand the spectacle until you’ve seen them for yourself, so just hop over here and keep your fingers crossed that they appear.
Then there are Iceland’s flora and fauna. Whales frequently pass Iceland on all sides, so whale watching is a popular activity here. Puffins are in abundance in certain areas, and ravens are literally everywhere. The island also has some of the best hiking trails I’ve experienced, so grab your hiking boots. All of them are easily accessible via Route 1, the ring road that circles the coastline.
The ring road makes it very easy to explore Iceland; just pick a direction, clockwise or counterclockwise and keep driving. Occasional detours to popular tourist spots like the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon, and Snæfellsnes Peninsula are worth doing.
When you are planning to travel to Iceland, consider what experience you want to have. Iceland in the summer and Iceland in the winter are like two different countries, and there are pros and cons to both.
Consider that leading up to the winter solstice, there is very little sunlight. For me, this creates a spark of winter excitement as I know Christmas draws near. It also means that there is a longer time with which to possibly see the northern lights. As you approach the summer solstice, there is very little sunlight. By June it is basically light 24 hours per day, and the midnight sun is fun to experience. This gives you more time to embark on adventures without having to worry about visibility. Why not take a midnight hike?
Other things to take into account are the temperature and the weather. If you’re in Iceland to see the northern lights or to go snowboarding, you will be facing an Icelandic winter. That means you will have to be prepared for the possibility of heavy snowstorms, strong winds, and dangerous driving conditions.
On a side note, if you’re hiring a car out here, ensure that your rental car is suitable for the type of traveling you are planning on doing. Driving in the winter here is best undertaken with a 4x4 vehicle, with either winter or studded tires. Iceland also becomes fairly cold in the winter, with temperatures regularly dropping to 0°C or below in the south, and lower in the north.
The summers are mild, so don’t expect Australia weather. The average June temperature for Reykjavík is around 12°C, so while it may be warm enough to wear shorts and go swimming, it won’t always be beach day weather. The great thing about summer here, though, is that you don’t have as much of the harsh weather that Icelandic winters are known for. Storms are less frequent, and while it has been known to rain a fair amount, there will still be sunny days with which to enjoy the outdoors.
When I tell people I live in Iceland, that’s normally their first comment. Yes, Iceland does appear expensive from the outside, but wages are a lot higher here than, say, in the US or the UK. We also have to take into account that most things have to be imported and that we are an island in the middle of the ocean. But there are ways of saving money here.
Think like a local; there are several supermarket chains here and some are vastly more expensive than others. The cheapest chain is Bonus and the most expensive is 10-11. The 10-11 stores are open 24 hours, so whilst they are the most convenient, they also have the highest prices. Check out a few excursion companies before selecting one, and research ways to reduce your expenses, such as by purchasing a Reykjavík City Card.
This City Card gives you access to many of Reykjavík’s best attractions for a selected period of time. Remember also, that walking in nature is free. If you want an inexpensive holiday in Iceland, rent a car, grab a tent and travel around the country, filling your days with nature walks. There are plenty of campsites spread around the country where you can park and pitch your tent for the night.
It’s very important to Icelanders that their country stays as clean as possible. Pollution is kept to a minimum with the abundance of geothermal energy, but with the influx of tourists, we must all take care. Do your best not to damage nature when on a hike. Importantly, please don’t walk on the moss that you’ll find covering most hillsides and lava fields. It’s extremely delicate and takes centuries to grow.
Additionally, when you are taking pictures, ensure you are doing it safely. People have been swept away by deceptively strong rip currents which appeared out of nowhere on seemingly safe beaches. Pay attention to local regulations, such as no drone flying being allowed in national parks. Take all of your rubbish with you and know that off-road driving is illegal here. Stick to the roads and have yourself a clean adventure.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.