Having just got back from a week in Iceland, on what could quite possibly be the best holiday I have ever been on, I thought I would share my 10 reasons why you need to go to Iceland. Because you do.
From the UK it is only a three hour flight and there are flights from Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted and Manchester on a daily basis. There are also multi airlines flying to Reykjavik (including many that then fly on to the United States, making it an economical way to get to New York too) so the prices are competitive. I have just seen some for £120 return later this year.
There isn’t one between Iceland and the UK. So you don’t have to worry about jet lag or working out what time is it at home in the UK since the island has observed GMT since the late 60s. There are regular petitions to change it but so far none have been successful. This also means that between May and July the sun doesn’t really set and it is daylight 24 hours a day. Icelanders make the most of this with several tours in the middle of the night to make the most of the extraordinary light.
It’s a pretty much a cashless society
Which means you don’t need to worry about ordering foreign currency before you leave, or wondering what to do with leftovers when you get home. Everywhere takes cards, and even in a car park in the the middle of a national park payment had to be made online rather than with coins.
The roads are a dream
We drove around a fair chunk of the island and found the roads were all accessible, despite it being the winter and there being snow on the ground. The roads are regularly ploughed throughout the day to ensure they are snow free. Narrower roads in the centre of Iceland are closed in the winter as they tend to be impassable but if you are hiring a car in the winter, you will be fine on the roads.
The Northern Lights
Oh my word the northern lights. We specifically picked our trip with these in mind, though we did tell ourselves we would be very lucky to see them because they are obviously so weather dependent. The best time is January to March and if you can pick a hotel “in the middle of nowhere” you have a better chance than if you are in the centre of Reykjavik as you need to have as little light pollution as possible. We also stayed in a hotel that had an alarm system where they called in the middle of the night if they had been spotted. A genius idea that meant when they appeared at midnight we didn’t miss them. Seeing them three nights on the run was one of the most incredible things I have ever witnessed.
The Icelandic Horses
Icelandic horses were originally Iceland’s main tourist attraction and have been on the island since the vikings arrived. Their coat keeps them warm in the most brutal of conditions, something I couldn’t quite believe as I saw group after group standing in isolated fields by the side of the road. Just make sure you don’t stop by the side of the road to photograph them as that is illegal. You need to make sure you stay in designated lay-bys or car parks.
There is something quite extraordinary about seeing black sand on a beach, and not just a bit of it but the entire beach is black. There are a few of these dotted about the island (one that has lumps of ice washed up on it, giving it the name “Diamond Beach”) but we headed to the main one just outside Vik on the southern tip of Iceland. There are huge caves, giant rock formations, basalt stacks, and the most ferocious waves I have ever seen. Signs all over the car park warn how unforgiving the sea is down here, with waves known as “Sneaker Waves” as they form out of nowhere, breaking on the beach and taking back into the water anything in their path. It is a sobering sight to be battered by the wind here and to think of the people who walked the sand before but caught unawares. It’s also a great place to see if you are a Game of Thrones fan as some of the episodes were filmed here.
Geo Thermal Springs
Are everywhere. Iceland is basically just a giant volcano and underneath the service is bubbling, boiling water just waiting to be tapped into. Every town has a “hot pot” for the locals to dip into, homes have them in their back gardens, hotels have pools in their grounds and there are lagoons dotted all over the island that allow you to pay for entry. It’s heaven, even for this “you won’t catch me in a swimsuit in public” hater. It might be -16 according to the thermometer but the pools are generally between 37 and 38 degrees so just perfect for a lazy dip.
Waterfalls and Geysirs
There are waterfalls dotted all around the south of Iceland, varying in size, ease of access and how frozen they are. Clearly in the summer they wont be frozen and may not be flowing so fiercely but in the winter they are all spectacular. We stopped at a few that simply had a free car park and signs showing where to walk down to, and a couple of others that just charged a few Pounds to park in the car park all day. Access to the falls themselves is free, and many of them also have a coffee shop and loos nearby too. I could have stood in awe looking at them all day.
Geysirs are something else you can access by simply parking across the road (where there is also a large restaurant, souvenir shop and loos) and standing waiting for them to blow up from the ground. Incredible to watch!
Sorry, I should probably be mentioning lava fields, volcanoes, glaciers, the people, puffins, whale watching, the food (the hot dogs in particular) but hello the Skyr yogurt is something else. Although it is called yogurt it is actually more of a soft cheese, and is almost fat free. Thank god you can now buy it in the UK or I could well be doing what Siggi Hilmarsson did when he moved to the US from Iceland in 2002. He missed it so much he started making his own, and Siggi’s was born. I can see why. It’s so fabulous I have been buying it at home since we got back and having it for breakfast every day.
Suffice to say, we loved Iceland. It really should be on everybody’s bucket list.
If you have been I would love to hear what you loved best.