TRAVEL TUESDAY: Iceland, Niceland

Iceland in the past few years has become the ‘in’ place to go. It’s featured more and more on television as a ‘celebratory destination’ (The Apprentice) and a ‘honeymoon getaway’ (Married at First Sight), and there’s a lot to be said for this under-populated, rugged nordic nation.

I stayed in Iceland for five days in Easter 2016, which is a more cool and ambient time weather-wise. In the summer there’s almost no darkness, and in winter only a few hours of sunlight. Winter is especially cold; my sister had to wear six coats in November-time, and it certainly lives up to the name ‘Iceland’.

The capital city, Reykjavik, isn’t the most inspiring of Nordic cities, but it has a quirky charm, bringing all the best Scandi-delights together. It’s far smaller than my preferred Stockholm and Copenhagen, but has individual touches from interesting graffiti to picturesque houses. There’s also an impressive church (Hallgrimskirkja) and the Sun Voyager statue, so it’s certainly an enjoyable city to amble and explore.

I would say you can have a day or two of exploring Reykjavik, but my sister would argue half a day. There are a few good museums: my favourite was the National Museum of Iceland, where I learned a lot of interesting facts about the country, which I now like to use in anecdotal conversations. There is a selection of good cafés and restaurants (although mostly VERY pricey), and as for hotel booking – Reykjavik is so small, you can walk through the ‘centre’ in a half an hour stroll, so that’s not something to worry about too much!

Icelandic flag
The Icelandic Flag
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The Sun Voyager statue is an ode to the sun

But, of course, cities aren’t really the reason you go to Iceland – where it stands out is the nature. If I were to go back to Iceland, I’d certainly see more of the country. I’m particularly tempted to go back one August for the puffin season, or winter, to see the Northern Lights. A lot of people I know have said the northern lights are a bit ‘bleh’, but I don’t want to knock it until I’ve seen it with my own eyes! i’d also especially be tempted to go to the black sand beaches, Seljandafoss waterfalls, the Glacier lagoon (Jökulsárlón) in southern Iceland, the nearby Skaftafell national park, Landmannlauger and Kirkjufell mountain in western Iceland.

But, alas, we were sans car, (and time to make longer journeys), so we arranged other day tours from Reykjavik instead! The small parts of nature that I saw, however, were breathtaking. One thing that can not be missed, even if you’re only in Iceland for two days, is the ‘Golden Circle’ tour. This combines some natural phenomena, all amazing in their own ways. The first stop is Geysir, after which all geysers were named, followed by the jawdropping Gullfoss waterfalls. The final stop is Thingvellír, where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet, and where the first Icelandic parliament was held. There are many good tour companies who offer this tour; we went with Reykjavik Excursions, and had no problems whatsoever. It’s a brilliant day to see the best sights of the eastern part of the country.

Geysir, which inspired our English word ‘geyser’
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The wondrous Gullfoss, and incidentally probably the best photo I’ve ever taken
Gullfoss the beautiful ‘golden falls’

On other days we used Reykjavik excursions to venture on other interesting outings, including horseback riding in lava fields on Icelandic horses, and whale watching. The whale watching was sadly cancelled due to the bad weather, but the horse-riding was an amiable few hours in an interesting setting. I was absolutely petrified and it took me a while to get into, but was definitely worth it!

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My friend Sarah enjoying the time on her horse. (Read: Slightly petrified)

On our final day we went to the renowned Blue Lagoon. Many Tripadvisor reviewers complain it’s a tourist trap (but, really, who cares?! you ARE a tourist!), but I loved it. This geothermal spa is brilliantly beautiful, with a small pub on the water, and is a really interesting and relaxing experience. As you boil like a lobster you can cleanse andI’d definitely recommend it.

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The Blue Lagoon

Overall, if you’re a nature lover, Iceland is the place to go. Rent a car and book a two week holiday to see the whole island – it’s what I would do if I went back! Food and prices can be a bit of a problem due to their economy, so it’s not a place you can go on a budget break to, but it’s definitely a place you should consider going to at least once. I had an absolutely fantastic time filled with many interesting experiences, and (as long as you don’t stay stuck in the capital centre) it’s hard to be bored!

This was the first blog entry of many on my new ‘Travel Tuesday’ segments. Every other Tuesday I will post city and country reviews of places all across the globe – feel free to contact me if you’d like me to profile anywhere in particular, or want any more detailed advice!

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