Vikings and Elves of Iceland is a country really worth a visit. With its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields, it offers visitors two different kinds of experience in summer and winter.
Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, directly east of Greenland, Iceland is Europe’s westernmost country. While its neighbour Greenland is considered as part of North America, Iceland is considered to be a part of Europe. The United States was the first country to recognise Icelandic independence from Denmark in June 1944, and surprisingly, it is part of NATO even though they don’t have a military army.
The history of Iceland goes back to the 9th century when Vikings reached the uninhabited island. Since then, living with volcanoes has been a lifestyle for them. There are 130 active and extinct volcanoes and 18 of them have erupted since the first human settlement. The country’s three major volcanoes are Hekla, Katla and Grimsvotn, and the latest eruption was in 2010 in Eyjafjallajokull glacier. On average, an eruption occurs in Iceland every 4 years.
On the positive side, the volcanos provide an endless supply of geothermal energy. Over 90% of housing in Iceland is heated by natural geothermal heat – one of the cheapest and cleanest forms of energy in existence.
80% of the residents of ice and fire country live in the capital Reykjavik, which is a starting point for each visitor to discover the East, West, highlands and North Iceland. In recent years, thanks to the football victories and TV series, Iceland has been very popular among travellers.
Religion and Language:
In terms of religion, almost 80% of Icelanders follow Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland is the officially established Christian church in Iceland and it professes the Lutheran faith.
The language spoken in Iceland is Old Norse, which was the language of the Vikings or Norsemen. Iceland has a high level of education so we didn’t have any difficulty communicating in English.
If you are not a European citizen, all you need to get is a Schengen Visa to enter Iceland.
When to visit:
Midnight sun and warmer temperatures make summer attractive to visit Iceland. However, if you are interested in hiking and seeing Northern Lights, you should visit in February, March, September and October even though you still have a chance to see it all year round as long as the skies are clear.
When we visited in July, we were amazed by the lack of dark skies and the beauty of midnight sun. The sun sets right after midnight and the sky becomes grey until it rises again around 3:00 AM in the morning. The weather was both cold and warm, as you can experience four seasons in one day in Iceland.
A road trip is a must in Iceland!
A road trip is a must if you are willing to see the natural beauty of the island. It takes 10 days to drive around the whole island, however, you may also take a different route depending on how many days you have. Camping with vans is also very popular among budget travellers, and there are 170 registered campsites all around the country. Camping didn’t seem to be a bad idea for summer as all the hotels were fully booked, and the remaining ones were extremely expensive during our visit in July.
Having only 4 full days, we decided to take the Southern coast route, starting from Keflavik Airport. There are rental car offices in the airport but we suggest you do it before arriving. After picking up the car, we headed to Grindavik to spend the night there as it is the closest central area to Blue Lagoon.
Blue Lagoon is located in a lava field in Grindavik. The geothermal spa containing 9 million litres of water hosts hundreds of people who want to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. The blue colour of the lagoon comes from the silica and the way it reflects sunlight while the water’s actual colour is white. Make sure to use hair conditioner before and after you enter the water as it makes your hair pretty dry. There are also a hotel, restaurant, relaxing room and bar which you can enjoy while your visit to the geothermal spa. The water is 37-40 C degrees and its deepest point is 1.6 meters.
You need to make an online booking in order to visit Blue Lagoon. Make sure to do it as early as possible as it gets really crowded.
Thingvellir National Park: The UNESCO World Heritage centre is a protected national shrine which used to be an area where the disputes were settled. It is the most important place in Icelandic history as Alþingi – which is one of the oldest parliamentary institutions in the world – was founded there. It is also one of Iceland’s most spectacular Game of Thrones filming locations.
You may walk inside the national park, go down towards the little church and the waterfall at the upper side easily by following the walking paths.
After spending a couple of hours walking, we headed towards Route 37 which led us to Geysir.
Geysir: The Great Geysir is the most famous one in the field, however, it spouts only when there is an earthquake. Strokkur, on the other side, manages to satisfy most of its spectators by being the most energetic spouting spring in Iceland. It spouts every 6-8 minutes, sometimes to a height of 40 meters so we got to see the amazing view a few times by spending an hour there.
Gulfoss Waterfalls: This was one of the most exciting sights of the trip. Located in the canyon of the Hvítá river near the Geyser area, it is a must-see place if you like nature. If you are lucky like us, you will see a rainbow when the sun is shining and be amazed by the dream-like views. Make sure to go down to the lower viewing platform as it offers much better views.
Vik: Finishing the Golden Circle route in one day, we reached to Vik to spend the night after 2 hours of driving. Hotels in Iceland are expensive and Vik is no exception. We stayed at Puffin Hostel which was our only option as all other hotels were fully booked.
The natural beauty of the area is spectacular as it is the rainiest area of the island. Mountains surrounding the roads were all green and you can see many sheep and horses – and of course, puffins if you are lucky.
Accommodating less than 300 residents, Vik is framed by a long black volcanic sand beach. Drive up to the church sitting on a hill, head to the amazing Black Sand Beach and Dyrholaey Nature Preserve where you can see puffins. None of them is in a walking distance from the city centre, so we left these sights the next day.
Black Sand Beach: There is really no cafes and bars in Vik, except for the small restaurant near the Puffin Hotel/Hostel where we had our dinner the previous evening. For the morning coffee, we headed to the petrol station. It seems like petrol stations are very useful in Iceland as not only petrol but also food and drinks supplier. Then we drove towards our next destination – Black Sand Beach.
Black Sand Beach is a black pebble beach and it features an amazing cliff of regular basalt columns. The area has a rich birdlife including puffins so make sure to look up if you want to spot a puffin. The waves at Reynisfjara are strong and unpredictable so people are advised to take extra care when visiting the area. You are also not allowed to steal the sand from this mystical dark beach.
Jokusarlon Glacier Lake: After leaving Vik, we hit the road again towards our easternmost point – Jokusarlon which is 2 hours away from Vik i Myrdal. On our way, the surrounding green environment replaced itself with quite extensive areas of moss-covered lava. Depending on conditions, it takes moss around 200 years to grow on lava so make sure not to create new paths while walking on it. (Icelanders believe Vikings and Elves live under the moss)
600 meters deep Jokusarlon Glacier in Vatnajokul Region is a must visit place in Iceland. In summer, icebergs melt and roll down the channel into the sea, so we were lucky to see and even touch the pieces of icebergs.
Additionally, some famous movies such as Batman Begins, Tomb Raider and James Bond: Die Another Day were shot in this area.
Hornafjordur Ice Glaciers: Hornafjörður is a small fjord near Jokusarlon so we didn’t have it in our initial plan but just passed by to check it out. It is also a sight worth visiting.
Hof: After a long day seeing glaciers, we decided to spend the night in Hof. Hof is a small town with a little cute Turf Church. There is nothing to do in the town other than getting your drinks from the closest petrol station near Skatafell and sitting on the grass, enjoying the mountains view and relaxing.
Skaftafell / Vantajokull National Park: The next day, we were totally recharged and ready to climb up the mountains. As we didn’t have much time, we didn’t book a glacier tour and decided to take a walk inside Vatnajokull National Park in Skatafell. After 1,5 hours of climbing, we reached Svartifoss Waterfall. It is also possible to continue walking and reaching the Skaftafellsjökull Glacier Mountain, but we were tired of climbing so we went back down to the entrance.
On our way, we see lava fields again which are covered with moss from 1780s eruptions in Katla Geopark. We suggest you stop by and take pictures of this amazing landscape.
Dyrholaey: On the other side of Vik, you can visit Dyrholaey, a naturally formed arch in the cliff. If you are visiting in summer, you can watch puffins nest on the Dyrhólaey Cliffs. On the other side of the bird sanctuary, you will see another beach covered with black basalt. It is forbidden to go down to the beach but you can enjoy views from the top.
Skogafoss Waterfall: One of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland, this one welcomes us with another scenic beauty. Thanks to the summer sun, we were welcomed with a vivid rainbow in front of the 60-metre high Skogáfoss waterfall.
Get in front of the waterfall, take pictures and don’t care about getting wet. If you’d like some trekking, climb up to the stairs which are on the side towards the church. In some belief, Vikings have left a treasure in a cave behind this waterfall, and people who found this treasure could only get the ring which is now being displayed at this church.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall: This was our second favourite waterfall in Iceland. One of the interesting things about this popular waterfall is that visitors can walk behind it into a small cave. Just be careful not to fall as the mud is very slippery.
We drove back to Reykjavik on our third night so that we could spend our last day in the city. As there were Euro 2016 football games, we spent the evening watching the game at Lebowski Bar and had a very nice dinner at Sjavargrillo – tasting Icelandic food and beers. After dinner, we headed towards the coast to watch the amazing midnight sun.
The next day, we went to Bjork’s favourite café – The Gray Cat Café to have breakfast. After getting lost in streets full of shops, we went up to the terrace of the Hallgrimşkirkja Church to view the city from the top. Hallgrímskirkja Church is Reykjavík’s main landmark and its tower can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.
In general, there is a very relaxed life in Iceland. It gave us the feeling that no one works in winter so everything costs double in summer. Still, it was worth every penny we spent there. So thank you Iceland, for giving us the opportunity to see your hidden gems and beauty.
Edit: We have visited Iceland for the second time, this time in cold January. We stayed in Reykjavik and managed to see the Northern Lights. It was snowy and cold, and the daylight lasted for a very short time. We went to an Icelandic spa and swam in an outdoor pool under the snow, walked to Kvika Footbath and visited the Harpa Concert Hall. It was a totally different experience and we had fun, but as a summer person, I would definitely recommend a road trip through Iceland in the summertime.