For a nature lover Iceland and the Nordic countries can only be one of the most desired destinations. You have to go there at least once in your life! Perhaps one of the strangest places I've ever visited, I was there in Iceland, a land where the elements of nature come together, mixed by strong contrasts, from earth to heaven, from ice to fire, from the sun to the darkness. Iceland is barely 200 km from Greenland, near the Arctic Circle.
Iceland is largely uninhabited. It offers some of the most impressive natural phenomena evocative of our planet, but is largely devoid of roads and traditional accommodation. To reach the most remote areas are therefore needed adequate off-road vehicles and to be self-sufficient for several days, both with regard to the food and fuel.
The first thing that strikes coming from the sky is definitely the color and irregular shape of the land, not to mention the almost complete lack of trees. The soil is deep black with so bizarre shapes that were it not for the slightest signs of civilization that jump out from time to time, you may think more like a lunar landing. Another factor with which we must learn to live, is the weather. It goes from sunny to fogs to rains to very strong winds within a few hundred meters.
There is a unique circular street the Ring Road, which starts and ends in Reykjavik. Remember, it is very difficult to find accommodation for the night, excluding Reykjavik, Husavik and other small towns. There are villages, where are no tourist facilities, hotels, and sometimes you risk sleeping in the car and often to stay in hunger without enough food supplies.
Most of the attractions are natural, which are accessible free of charge and accessible at any time. In summer, you can optimize the visiting times because the sunlight takes you deep into the night. Do not be afraid of the cold, as it is not so high in summer, ranging on average from 5 ° to 15 °.
The capital is an obligatory stop. Once in the center we place our suitcases in our apartment, and go straight to the supermarket to buy something for breakfast the next day, and after a well-deserved shower we go out for dinner at a pub. It differs from other cities of the North as the architecture is different, and weu pass by the typical wooden houses but often built in camouflaged metal wood because of the scarcity of this raw material.
The modern architecture can be found in the Hallgrímskirkja church, the highest building of Iceland, with its bell tower reminding almost the shape of a missile that is launching into the sky. The bell tower, with its height of 73 mtrs, offer spectacular views of the city and promontories that fall to the sea.
Reykjavik is a young and very lively city and in the center you can taste local dishes such as the Milky Whale, the Pulcinella di Mare and Skyr, a cheese reminiscent of yoghurt, which is a very good Viking recipe, but do not miss the exceptional soups, served in a pot made of bread. I and another drink a few beers and do two steps, but it's Wednesday night, and around there is only a few tourists.
If you can do better to stay, the kind of hunted whales is not endangered and the Icelandic people is granted them out of necessity. The place also offer great beer and good local and international music. Iceland has given birth to artists such as Björk and Sigur Rós.
Thingvellir - Geysir - Gullfoss
Next morning we wake up at 8, have breakfast and take the Þjóðvegur 1. Reykjavik is shrouded in fog, but outside it clears to reveal a crystal clear day. The scenery is spectacular! We pause now to take some pictures. The day's program is the golden circle, and we reach Þingvellir. Just outside Reykjavik is Þingvellir, the place where in Althing was established the first parliament in the world. It's a national park, a UNESCO heritage, and one of the few places on earth where you can observe the Eurasian Plate and the American, emerging from the sea to break in two the earth into a fantastic canyon.
Not far is Geysir, a place that takes its name from Geyser, which erupts regularly boiling water jets reaching up to 60 meters high. In Geysir, we find a restaurant to eat. Out of capital, finding restaurants is not easy. From Geysir we visit the nearby Gullfoss, the largest waterfall in Europe and is a pure art painted by nature.
From here we see in the distance the Langjokull glacier and we decide to go there! With the help of the navigator and the map, we take a dirt road which at first was smooth and then always a little more bumpy with several fords, some deep enough. After several kilometers we are immersed in a desert of brown stones and all around is nothing!
We continue for a while and finally come to a waterfall. The glacier no longer visible on the navigator and the road ends, but on the steep slope near the waterfall there are still off-road tracks. We decide to continue, and we are a few meters from a large lake into which sinks the glacier tongue!
From here the view of the plains below is spectacular! We go back to the capital by a different road that runs along the Þingvallavatn lake. Although watching at the sun, it seems too early, the stomach suggests that it is time for dinner, and after a few steps up to the harbor, we look for a restaurant. We opt for a lobster soup and fish skewers to Saegreifinn. It will be the place where we ate better and will be back again on Sunday. Also tonight around there is much, between a beer and a brennivin, we remain around until 2 am.
Vik -Vatnajökull -Jökulsárlón
At a resort near Atlantic Ocean, we stop to observe the lava sand beach, which were completely black with similar rocks rising from the water. We climb the rocks very carefully, from where we have the opportunity to photograph the Pulcinella di Mare, a curious bird that resembles the penguin, characterized by a colorful beak.
Continuing on the Ring Road towards North East along the Vatnajökull is the fourth mass of ice in the world. We have preferred to reach only the foot of the glacier, as we were not equipped enough and needed a guide, but the view of the valley below as seen from this prime location and the immensity of the glacier make us lose our breath away! In a few kilometers, we reach the Jökulsárló , a glacial lake famous for its icebergs that break off from the ice tongue Breiðamerkurjökull. Wear heavy dresses as the air is very cold, and do not miss the hike with the amphibious vehicle among the icebergs!
The Jökulsárlón is also famous for being one of the locations of the James Bond movie Death can wait. If you like to explore, in the surroundings of this area you can meet small glacial lakes with the inevitable iceberg inside, but beware, it is very easy to get lost and stop the car on the stones. Notable typical houses and wooden houses with the roof covered with lush green grass, great as a thermal insulator and to absorb moisture.
If you're close to the shore and a huge iceberg turns upside down before your eyes, forget your footage and photographs from National Geographic, because you will risk being overwhelmed by the huge wave of icy water that will spring from the movement of ice.
Iceland is a beautiful passage of time, while admiring the animals in the wild that we meet along the way, such as horses, a native species, often pampering each other and the goats that are everywhere. Another landscape that impressed me is the huge canyons, which are valleys carved by ancient glaciers, on which we walk very carefully because the trails and guards are almost non-existent and there are peaks of 100 meters.
In this small town east of Iceland, we find an unusual confusion in the Lagarfljot river from which we walked to a beautiful and easy hike of a few hours, with including breathtaking views, ravines, streams and wild animals, the 118 meters high Hengifoss waterfall and volcanic rocks with basaltic to reddish streaks. When in Iceland, walking in the mountains, we come across a fence and can open the door and cross it without problems, as it is allowed. It is important to close it immediately after its passage.
Húsavík-Mývatn - Krafla - Leirhnjúkur - Screws
Another small town, in the north of Iceland is Husavik that is famous for museums on Icelandic culture and has remained in my heart for the endless sunsets, because the light did not come down ever, in July, over the horizon, before recovering completely at 3 in the morning. Its impressive how animals have adapted to sleeping with the omnipresent sunlight with the calmness that reigns in the bright night. Observing these animals sleep, gives the impression of living a spooky experience.
From the tiny port, there are excursions with small fishing boats to sea in order to observe the whales, dolphins which here have blacks and white stripes and seabirds. Remember to bring waterproof shoes and certainly warm clothes, as in the sea it is very cold, and we are near the arctic circle!
From Húsavík there is easy access into Lake Myvatn, the Krafla volcano and Leirhnjúkur, an ancient lava field that flows of considerable size on which we travel in light trekking on Martian soil. The trails are well marked, the earth smokes, the water of the streams bubbles, as well as mud pools, needless to remember not to leave the paths for burning. I highly recommend you bring hiking boots, the lava rock is really sharp, never put your hands on the ground and do not sit without first being sure that the rock is not glowing.
In this area we admire the screws, a volcanic crater lake to become a melting ice. Remember that not far from Myvatn, you'll find Jardbodin Við Mývatn, a thermal lake where you can spend a few hours in complete relaxation, covering yourselves with mud or staying to soak in 40 ° water. I would call it a small Blue Lagoon, a structure certainly less glitzy, less extensive, but also less expensive and crowded, ideal for relaxing after a day walking between the volcanoes.
An even less populated area, these are small villages located on the fjords, now in communication with each other thanks to the tunnels dug into the rock but in the distant past each other, although in reality very close.
Each has a history tied to the difficult weather conditions and remoteness from the comfort of modern cities to tell. The people you meet are always very friendly. It is worth pausing a while to admire even more barren landscapes but always spectacular.
Going down south to Reykjavík, do not forget to reach this peninsula, characterized by a very particular territory, mostly flat but still enveloped by glacial cliffs. Here the Arctic terns will keep you company, which are in thousands! To protect the chicks, which are bred in the ground, these birds attack everything that moves near them, so if you want to experience the thrill of being hit by an arctic bird, do yourself in, as they will come very close to the head and then turn last moment. Bring your glasses, you never know.
On this peninsula, we admire the Snæffels volcano, famous for being mentioned by Jules Verne in Journey to the Center of the Earth, and called by someone as the Gates of Hell. It is a volcano whose top was torn by a violent explosion in the distant past. In nearby beaches or the volcano, we walk among the remains of the Epine steam boat, which sunk off these coasts.
Also in this beach were left four heavy spherical stones of 23, 54, 100 and 154 kg, which were used to test the strength of those who had wanted to take on as a seaman. To be admitted was necessary to be able to raise at least stone from 54 kg. Challenge yourself to test your seamanship skills!
Next morning we again woke up at 8 and we start going south for Bláa lónið also known as blue lagoon. It is a warm water lagoon and rich in salts in the midst of an expanse of black rocks, in whose center a thermal plant was built with changing rooms, sauna, bar, etc. is a very touristy but the scenery is wonderful and not we resist the temptation to take a bath.
At noon we are back on the road with destination Grindavik, a fishing village on the south coast where we hope in vain to find a restaurant. We continue to Krysuvik where with few kilometers on a muddy lane in the open we can see the beautiful cliffs and a lighthouse. Also nearby we'll be enchanted by an area rich in hot springs, steam jets and bubbling mud puddles! We continue along the lake kleifarvatn and after several stops in the evening we are in the city where we can finally eat something! Luckily we had a bit of biscuits, chocolate and crisps in the car for lunch!
We still have time to visit the Hallgrímskirkja church and climb the bell tower for a great view of the city. Although it must be said that Reykjavik is not nice and not so well maintained, many walls are messy with cans, the houses are all sheet metal, many are cute, but others seem almost abandoned and in the gardens there is enough mess other than the area of Laugavegur.
Tonight in Reykjavik there is a bit more than life, and despite the fatigue and early wake-up scheduled for the next day, we stay to party on in Laugavegur until after 2 as in the end we are on vacation!
Akureyri - Grábrókargígum
Next morning we wake up at 5:15. The destination is far away. Akureyri is in northern Iceland, which is less than 100 km from the Arctic Circle! We start wrapped in mist, through the Þjóðvegur 1, which is deserted and pass into the underwater tunnel through the Hvalfjörður fjord and for more than 100 km we do not see a car. The continuous fog does not allow us to see anything until about halfway, where we find a restaurant and we have breakfast.
From here onwards the weather improves. Here in the north the landscape is completely different as the road runs amidst green pastures dotted with sheep by the streams and lakes, which are very beautiful, but less wild than the south of the country. Sometimes we see large farms with modern tractors, often also near a small church and a small cemetery. It must not be easy to live in the middle of nowhere, and more than 100 km from any other human settlement. The only one crop present is hay, which is served to the sheep and horses in winter.
We skirt some fjords and we cross a mountainous area and after about 400 km we go down to Akureyri, northern Iceland's capital, also known as the city of the sun at midnight. Despite being the second largest urban area after Reykjavik, the city is very quiet but is very beautiful, which also has a small botanical garden. We read that it is much hotter than all European cities at the same latitude and its harbor never freezes in winter.
We walk on the main street overlooking the small port. So we look for a restaurant where we taste whale meat. In the afternoon we move a few kilometers into the mountains, where we go to visit the home of Santa Claus. At 5 it is time to leave. Now the fog is gone and we can admire the beautiful scenery. We also have some stops on the fjords in some villages with unpronounceable names.
At 9:30 pm, there is still the sun. We get to Grábrókargígum, an extinct volcano and even though as usual we are hungry we cannot resist to go up and into the crater following a well-marked trail in about a quarter of an hour. We get inside a volcano! From there the view is magnificent.
As we leave for Reykjavik, we stop at the first sign that portends to the food and eat a burger, and with that hunger, we feel good! At midnight we get ready for Saturday night, as in the center there is the Cultural Night. Let's see what it is.
The Laugavegur is packed with drunk people, all rooms are packed. On the ground there are plastic cups and bottles everywhere! If this is the night of culture who knows what happens at the beer festival!
Next morning it is already time to get off! We pack our bags, and leave the house with a last meal of fish at the harbor. If we had had at least one more day we could also visit jokulsarlon, but that's okay! Maybe next time!
Hunting the Aurora Borealis - Iceland Northern Lights
In the grand arctic winter frame from Iceland we could see the northern lights. Getting aboard a special 4X4 vehicle, we move away from the most popular places, day and night, to catch all the magic and charm of unique scenery. In the period in february that offers the best ratio between the hours of light and darkness hours, we travel and sniff the Northern Lights.
The Northern Lights again returns in August. The Northern Lights is a fascinating and unpredictable natural phenomenon. To be visible it is necessary that the sun has a certain magnetic activity, the sky is clear and not disturbed by sunlight. The period in which it is more likely that these three conditions occur simultaneously is winter.
If you do not want to deal with a Nordic journey in the cold season you can search for the Northern Lights in Iceland in the second half of August, when the weather is still summer, but the nights are already dark, at least for a few hours. On this trip we try to reconcile the Northern Lights with a rich itinerary as that of the other proposals.
How to get to Iceland
Thanks to low cost airlines, that fly in most European cities, there are several solutions to reach Iceland to Keflavik Airport, which is located about 50 km from Reykjavik. Another solution to reach Iceland is the ship, which departs from Denmark, the Faroe Islands or Norway.
What to eat in Iceland
Iceland is expensive, to eat. In Reykjavik, where is concentrated most of the nation's life, there are several restaurants where you can taste the traditional Icelandic dishes, from classic lamb to Icelandic fish. The cost of living is very high and is among the most expensive in Europe. Even the food prices are very high and as well the prices of alcohol.
To keep costs down, if you plan to tour the island, you can get the food in several supermarkets. The prices here are slightly lower. If you want to eat something special and very good try the Hot Dog, which is truly exceptional, put with different sauces and the price cheaper than other culinary products. The nightlife of the capital, especially on weekends, offers many opportunities to have fun and spend a pleasant evening, thanks to the different places that are in the city center near the port.
The currency is the Krona, which is then divided into 100 Aural. The change can be made only on site.
Where to stay in Iceland
Although the accommodations are very expensive, I decided to sleep in a tent, using the different campgrounds. Sleeping in tents, I think, is the best way to truly appreciate Iceland, moreover without spending a fortune.
When to go in Iceland
The best time to make a trip to Iceland is from May to August. The hours of sunshine during these months are greater and the average temperature is around 10 ° in July, unlike the winter, when in January the average temperature is 0 ° (Reykjavik). Many might think that Iceland's climate is polar, but it is not because the temperatures are milder due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. The coldest area is the central and northern Europe, while the southern one is influenced by the Gulf Stream.
When and where to see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland
The Northern Lights is a phenomenon that actually occurs throughout the year, but is only visible in the dark and away from sources of light pollution, so it is advisable to stay out of town. The end of autumn and the beginning of winter are the best times. The perfect period is from late October to April and with a bit of luck you can also admire from late August.
What to see, what to do and where to go in Iceland
Do not miss the Thingvellir National Park that is located about 50 km from the capital and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is located on a tectonic fault line between the European and American continental plate. Another stop is Geysir, the most famous and oldest geysers of Iceland, inactive today. Fortunately you can admire the Strokkur, erupting hot water in 20-30 meters tall columns at intervals of 5-10 minutes.
Among the things to see there is definitely Reykjavik, the capital. The most populous and largest city of Iceland, known for its architecture and bustling night life. Gullfoss has the most impressive waterfalls. Hear the roar produced from water that crashes to the ground is really incredible. Then in the summer thanks to the sun and water vapor can also see the colorful rainbows.
For lovers of relaxation is unmissable the Grindavik, where is located a lake that Icelanders called Blue Lagoon. The water has a turquoise color, and this color can be seen through the bottom rich in minerals and thanks to the presence of a particular alga. The water is very hot, about 39 degrees and it has many beneficial properties.
Although Iceland has not joined the EU, it is part of the Schengen area. Passport is required, which must be valid for the entire period of stay in Iceland.
As for the clothing, given the climatic and environmental characteristics of the site, I would suggest clothes that are comfortable and functional. To navigate by day, casual wear is perfect, ideal for any eventuality and to be able to face any situation. But at the same time as the weather changes very quickly we must be able to adapt to both the sun and the rain, not to mention the wind.
I would say that a T-shirt and shorts are perfect for summer days especially when the sun shines. When, however, starts to blow the wind is the case of having a wind jacket to protect also from the rain. Long pants are fine, preferably waterproof. But I prefer the clothing for the mountains, which are best, because they are light and allow the skin to breathe, as well as having the advantage of protection from the cold and wind.