Why Iceland needs to be on your travel bucket list

Ashlee's picture
Ashlee

Words and selected images by Lynsey Riach  

The word ‘Iceland’ may strike a chilly chord, but in fact this beautifully remote, yet easily accessible island is far from just all snow white. If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones (who isn’t?) then you’ll know that much of the hit TV show is actually filmed on location there; and now, with direct flights to Edinburgh, Scotland with Qatar Airways, you can then connect onwards to Reykjavik all within a 10-hour window to find yourself ready to explore the land of fire and ice. Not to mention, it’s a perfect stopover location en route to North America?

To make the most of your time touring this stunningly diverse terrain, you really need to hire yourself a car (or opt for coach tours…along with hundreds of other tourists!). Depending on when you plan to visit will make all the difference – so choose wisely! Winter sees only a few hours of daylight per day (between the hours of 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to be exact), and in summertime the sun won’t ever set – so for those with little ones you may want to invest in some portable blackout blinds!

Upon arrival, grab that hired car and off you go to explore – it’s what Iceland is all about! Wind your way from the airport down to Reykjavik, passing volcanoes that have left behind their past eruptions in the form of sprawling lava fields so black and barren that you can find yourself in a trance gazing at their hole-strewn wonder. Check yourself into Hotel 101 (Kanye kipped here so it must be good!) and start off your capital adventure with the very famous and locally-produced protein packed Skyr yoghurt with some hot chocolate from C is for Cookie before wrapping up warm (all year-round!) for a look around the small town centre. Shops, bars, restaurants and cafés, all with a side-serving of quirkiness await you. A favourite is Reykjavik Chips where you can try some chunky chip goodness with a random sauce such as pickle, chives, or satay. After a full tummy, hike up the hill ahead to the towering gothic architecture of Hallgrímskirkja Church. It’s Reykjavík's main landmark and its tower can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.

After a good night’s sleep, fuel up on some big breakfast pancakes at The Laundromat Café before travelling south via steep roads, twists, turns and terrain that changes from volcanic to mountainous in the blink of an eye. Green, lush fields and miniature turf houses (as seen on Game of Thrones) pass you by, and Icelandic ponies are everywhere – so don’t worry about a photo opportunity as round the next bend you’ll see even more… Be sure to punch in Selfoss for a stop at this cute little town on your journey through ‘The Golden Circle’. Upon arriving in Selfoss you’ll see a beautiful Icelandic church perched upon land overlooking turquoise waters. If it had a taste, surely it would be mint, it’s that green. Super popular in Iceland is the hot-dog and, rather conveniently, Pylsuvagninn has a takeaway outlet facing this picture-postcard scene to devour.

Back on the road, you’re heading towards Hella and a night’s stay at Hotel Ranga (also frequented by Kanye on his visit) which feels in the middle of nowhere. Should you visit in the winter months, you could be ever so lucky to see the absolute wonder that is the Northern Lights. Hotel staff will wake you upon request so you don’t actually have to sit up all night in the dark waiting, although each room does come with an outdoor hot tub so you might just want to channel your inner superstar after all… Near to the hotel is Dogsledding Iceland which is a fantastic winter wonderland experience where huskies will pull you (pretty fast!) in the snow – weather permitting of course.

The next day, continue east with a couple of wonders along the way. The magnificent waterfalls at Skogafoss are a force to be reckoned with. Get up close and personal and feel the cool mist from this 60m drop hit your forehead as you scale to the top with some very rickety old steps (careful!). Pass yet more turf houses and isolated farmhouses on your way, stopping at the side of the road for as many photo ops as you can. (Your GoPro will thank you later!) In the summer, wild heather covers the fields, giving you a purple-to-green-to-blue wonder before your very eyes! The tiny town of Vik is the last stop for today and it’ll be worth the two-hour journey. A black sand beach full of volcanic ash and what can only be described as moon rocks to crunch your feet into awaits.  It’s cyber, it’s futuristic, it’s utterly fantastic, and then you’ll feel the pull towards the crushingly freezing Atlantic Ocean and witness beautiful craggy volcanic peaks jutting out. Instaworthy!

Heading back to Hotel Ranga for the night, hit the hot tub again or, just melt away the evening with some hot chocolate next to a life-size stuffed polar bear. Iceland in all its quirky glory.

The following day get ready to face Iceland’s biggest geyser (with a side scent of rotten eggs… thank you sulphur). Upon your approach you’ll hear a whooshing sound and then, before your very eyes, a huge (and I’m talking huge) spray of water and steam shooting to the sky above. Camera at the ready! But don’t worry if you miss it because the geyser erupts every few minutes. Continue by car only 10 minutes along a rather bumpy road to the wonder that is Gulfoss. Freezing-cold, mint-coloured water cascades down from mountain to ground in the form of these beautiful, multi-layered waterfalls.

After all that fresh air it’s about time you savoured the very best Iceland has to offer…last. The utter wonder that is The Blue Lagoon. Located in lava-land Grindavik (which feels seriously straight out of a sci-fi flick), you’ll be surrounded in hot-spring steam and, again, turquoise water to run into. But brace yourself…it’s steamy! Make sure and pre-book your ticket in advance. Although you select a time-slot for entry, you’re actually able to stay the entire day, so why not make the most of it? Opt for a massage in the Blue Lagoon water (heavenly), grab a drink while the natural hot-springs bubble beneath you, and apply lots of the natural algae and silica face-masks on offer. Weeks later your skin will still feel baby-soft!

Depending on your flights, Grindavik is pretty close to the airport – so it’s probably fair to say a trip to The Blue Lagoon could wrap up your awe-inspiring stay in Iceland quite nicely. If you wish to explore more further, many tour companies can offer private or tailor-made excursions. Fly over glaciers, scale up volcanoes, or enjoy some remote wilderness for a few days, minus WiFi.

Iceland is up-and-coming…just remember, you read it here first!

Want to plan a visit of your own? Head to www.inspiredbyiceland.com, or www.iceland.is

Have you been to the land of fire and ice? Tell us your favourite travel destination in the comments below and don’t forget to give us a like and a share – it keeps us going!