I recently spent 6 days in Iceland, what a beautiful country. Weather in Iceland is unpredictable, at least at this time of year. Within an hour I experienced snow, sun, rain, snow, sun and more rain. Bring layers and definitely a rain coat/windbreaker. The wind can be brutal, on the South coast it was so strong I could barely walk when it was gusting. It is also quite chilly with the wind but without the wind it was 7-10 degrees and warm in the sun. The landscape is unique, like nothing I have seen before. The entire island was created by volcanic eruptions and is covered in lava. Moss then grows on the lava and eventually breaks it down into rocks and eventually soil. Many areas of the country appear desolate with just lava rocks and moss, often surrounded by hills and mountains. It is strangely beautiful. The lava also has led to the creation of black sand beaches, black cliffs and lava formations which rise out of the ocean. Many of the volcanoes on the island are still active and new eruptions are expected to occur. Fortunately none occurred while we were there!
The rest of the landscape is made up of mountains, hills, volcanoes, glaciers, cliffs, ocean and a scattering of small towns, fishing villages and farms.
Reykjavik is the main city and approximately 200,000 people live there. The entire population of Iceland is only about 320,000 people who are scattered throughout the rest of the country. Reykjavik is a lovely city although much newer than I expected. As Iceland was so isolated for so many years, the city did not develop until much later than the rest of Europe. There are many colourful buildings everywhere, many made of corrugated metal which is unique in Iceland. Great views can be found at the top of the Hallfrimskirkja church and the 871 +/- 2 museum (yes, that is what the museum is actually called as Iceland was settled in 871, plus or minus 2 years) has a really interesting overview about the original settlement of Iceland by the Norwegian Vikings. It is a great walking city with lots of cafes (there is a fabulous cafe culture there) and great restaurants. One of my favourites was Tapas where you can enjoy an Icelandic feast of traditional foods, including puffin, fish and even whale.
There is so much to see and do, I barely scratched the surface. On the first day I arrived I went on a horseback ride on the famous Icelandic horse with Islenski Hesturrin tour company. The horse is unique to Iceland and has certain special features not found in other horses. Most notably is that the Icelandic horse has 5 gaits where most other horses only have 3 gaits. The most famous of the 5 gaits is the Tolt which is a smooth gait that feels like you are rocking instead of bouncing like a standard trot. The fifth gait is the Pace which is smooth and fast. These horses are also smaller, more the size of a pony, have shaggier hair and a friendly disposition. The Icelandic horses in Iceland are protected from exposure to other horses as once a horse leaves Iceland it is never allowed to return.
Next sight-seeing adventure was a tour of the Golden Circle which includes a visit to Geysir, the Gullfoss waterfalls, Fontana hot springs, one of the places where the tectonic plates of Europe and North America meet in Iceland and Thingvellir. Geysir is one of the most famous sites in Iceland. The original Geysir was blocked by tourists throwing rocks into it but there is a current Geysir that blows every few minutes high into the air. All around the area are other bubbling steaming hot pools amongst the lava formations.
The Gullfoss waterfalls are gorgeous. There is a walkway to the bottom down a set of stairs where you can walk close to the falls. You can also walk across the top to look over the falls.
Thingvellir is an old site where the assembly was held, the Law Council convened and laws of old Iceland were recited starting during the Viking age. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When we stopped at Fontana hot spring and spa, prior to entering the pools, there was a demonstration of how bread was traditionally made in the area using the natural heat created by the hot springs under the sand. The bread mixture was put into a pot, covered by sand and left to cook. Our tour group sampled the bread cooked the day before and it was hot and delicious. At the Fontana hot pools you can go into the hot springs or saunas all heated by the natural hot spring under the site. One of the pools is still natural and algae even grows in the pool. The other pools are man-made but still fed by the natural springs. One word of warning, before entering the pools you have to shower naked, without your bathing suit, in an open area (although men and women are in separate change rooms) to fully wash yourself. Not something we are used to in North America!
The continental tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet in Iceland. They are separating by approximately 2 cm per year and there are places in Iceland you can see where they have hit and separated. It also means you can find many places where you are in two continents at once, a unique experience in the world.
The next tour I went on was the Snaefellsnes peninsula with Iceland Horizon. What an amazing tour! The tour guide David is from the UK but has lived in Iceland for a number of years and was very knowledgeable. Snaefellsnes is stunning, we drove along the coast and stopped at multiple beaches, towns and coastal walks. Below are some pictures of what we saw.
The final tour was of the South coast. As mentioned above the wind on the South coast is strong and gusts so hard that walking becomes more difficult and driving, especially if it is icy, is tough if not impossible. But it is definitely worth visiting as there is so much to see and as with the rest of Iceland, it is beautiful. We stopped at Vik where we also visited Reynisdrangur beach with tall sea rocks rising out of the ocean, then continued on to another beaches with numerous caves, then on to waterfalls (Skogafoss) where you can climb to the top of the waterfall up 492 steps, fed horses from a local farm, and Seljalandsfoss waterfall where you can walk behind the waterfall (you get a bit wet).
Farm by Eyjafjallajokull volcano
The final famous spot I visited was the Blue Lagoon. It is on the way to the airport so I stopped there before catching my flight back to Canada. There is an airport transfer bus that stops there and the lagoon has a luggage storage area located at the entrance. I recommend spending at least 2 hours there. It is a picturesque area and the colour of the water is amazing. Although it is a man-made pool it is still fed by the local hot springs. As with Fontana, you do need to shower without your bathing suit on before entering the pools. When you buy your ticket you are given a wristband which has a chip inserted and is used to lock your locker and pay for any drinks you purchase at the bar in the pool. You can also use the saunas or get a massage. Around the pool are containers of the white or black mineral mud to use to give yourself a facial. The mud can then be washed off in the pool as it is the same minerals already in the lagoon. It is a nice relaxing stop before the long flight home.