ICELAND — The Land of Ice and Fire

For starters, I would rate this as the best place I have visited till date! Scotland is a close second on my list, but the sheer excitement that Iceland offers is such that you cannot take your eyes off even for a moment. The place leaves you awe-struck. I could not believe such a place could exist on earth, till I actually went there and saw it with my own eyes, and it was so worth it! :)

Location and getting there

Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean, between the European mainland and Greenland. It is volcanically and geologically active, and is the most sparsely populated country in Europe with a population of about 300,000. A common question about Iceland is whether you can visit it with a Schengen visa, and the answer is absolutely. Iceland, though not being a member of the European union, allows travel with a Schengen visa.

More than 90% of the tourists arriving in Iceland fly into it’s only international airport, the Keflavik airport. I booked my WowAir round trip out here for around 150 EUR from Berlin, Germany. Yes, Iceland is on the expensive side as far as travel is concerned. So, book your trip well in advance and look out for travelling options within Iceland beforehand. Pick out your favourite options from the below:

https://www.re.is

All my were trips were booked with Reykjavik excursions, and they were quite comfortable. The currency used Iceland is the Icelandic krona, and 1 Euro equals about 115 Icelandic Krona ( ISK) . Iceland follows the GMT timezone and it is best to visit Iceland in summers, when most of the country is easily accessible.

Stay

75% of the whole of Icelandic population stay in Reykjavik, and you can probably base yourself out of here. We did the same, opting for a airbnb stay with Gudumundur Arngrimsson, who was an excellent host. You can check out his place at the below link

Fun fact about Iceland : The surnames in Iceland are based on the parent’s first names. Son or a dottir is added to your father’s / mother’s name and TADA! you have an Icelandic surname. Gudumundur’s fathers name was Arngrim, so he became Gudumundur Arngrimsson! :)

You might also want to check out some hostels in Reykjavik, which would help you meet fellow travellers. Also, plan for staying a day or two in some of the most incredible camping facilities around Iceland. Landmannalaugar is one of the places offering these facilities, and you can find them out at the below link:

The Blue Lagoon

Imagine a natural geothermal spa in one of the coldest regions in the world! That means, it is freezing all around while you immerse yourself in a hot pool that soothes and relaxes you. Welcome to the Blue Lagoon :)

The place is located around an hour bus journey away from Reykjavik in the lava field of Grindavik. It is one of the most visited attractions of Iceland. pre-booking of slots online is required and, once in , you can as much time as you want out here. We ended up going here in the evening, and spent around 4 hours in warmth of this geothermal pool. The temperature of this lagoon is regulated and the place is maintained well. The entry charges for Blue Lagoon start from around 45 Eur, and can be booked at the below link:

There are a lot of public pools in Iceland. It is one of the most common place of social meetings and gathering for the locals. The people believe that in pools, even the heavyweights and the big-shots have to strip down to the bare minimum. A person cannot really show off in a pool, and hence everybody is at the same level!

The golden circle tour

Another of the popular tourist ‘to-dos’ in Iceland is the golden circle tour. The tour takes 8 hours to complete, and journeys the best places around Reykjavik. The trip costs almost 90 Eur, and includes pick up from the most hotels in Reykjavik.

The golden circle around Reykjavik

We decided to take the golden circle tour on the second day of our trip, and had booked a slot on www.re.is. We had to take the bus at 07.00 AM, and an exciting journey into the best of Iceland began!

Strokkur

The first stop on this trip was probably one of the most amazing sights one could ever hope to see. The Strokkur is a geothermal geysir which erupts every 5–10 minutes, with a height of 25–30 meters. It is an unbelievable sight to see a hot jet of water building up waiting to erupt, and the way it shoots right in the sky , all this from a close proximity.

All the geysirs are normally found near volcanic sights, and the affect is due to close proximity to magma. Stokkur is one of the few geysirs in the world to erupt frequently and reliably. The geysir is bound to die out some day, producing a new one somewhere else, but till then, this place is a must visit for all.

Gulfoss waterfalls

The next stop on the tour is the monstrous Gulfoss waterfalls, which is normally compared by historians to the Niagara falls for it’s brute force. It is located in the south — western part of Iceland, and serves as a important tourist spot. You can feel the water droplets hitting you from a distance, such is the force of the drop. You can walk around quite close to the actual falls and soak in the beauty of this place.

There is a popular legend about Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who was determined to preserve the Gulfoss waterfalls from foreign investors. It is believed that she even threatened to throw herself from the falls. According to wikipedia though, this tale of valour and bravery is untrue. But ask any local, and they will swear by it!

Þingvelli National Park

We now move to the historical Þingvellir ( English : Thingvelli ) national park, which has an important cultural background. This place happens to be the founding place of Icelandic parliament, where chiefs from all parts of Iceland travelled to attend the proceedings starting from 930 AD. This is considered as an important landmark in the foundation of nation of Iceland. This also happens to be the place where the North American and Eurasian plates are pulling apart, few centimetres each year.

Speaking more about it, Iceland has turned out to be quite a democracy. Boasting one of the lowest crime rates in the world, there are hardly any major crimes recorded in the recent times. The longest a person was sentenced to prison was for 4 years for an armed robbery, as far as our tour guide could remember. A local joke runs that it was quite an occasion when Tom Cruise was around with bodyguards to shoot for his film Oblivion, for a country whose president moves around without any bodyguards :)

Reykjavik

We spent a very pleasant evening in the capital of Iceland, the amazing Reykjavik. The climate was apt for a stroll in the lanes of the biggest city of Iceland, with slight drizzle and chilly weather.

Hallgrímskirkja church is the largest church in Iceland and the best known landmark in Reykjavik. You would encounter this monument right in city centre, an it is visible throughout the city. It is said that that the church was built resembling the Icelandic landscape. It is a protestant church which took more than 40 years to complete!

Next, to the sun voyager, which is a structure that was designed as a dreamboat - an ode to the sun. This common tourist perception is believing it to be a viking boat, which is not true. It is believed to contain within itself the promise of undiscovered territory and hope. Quite a structure to sit around and reflect about important things! :)

It would be incomplete not to mention the Icelandic language here. The language is pretty old having Nordic origins. The people in Iceland are encouraged to speak the language, and to use ‘Icelandic’ terms even for newly discovered things, such as the computer. It is a very commendable initiative to preserve the language.

Landmannalaugar

This is one place I cannot say enough about. The landscape just blows you away. You find different textures and colours in the same frame. I could stay here forever!

The place is around 4 hour bus ride from Reykjavik, and the trip can be booked on www.re.is. The journey is filled with amazing views. You see mountains with shades of green, brown, black and white on your way here. The roads are not too developed, so be ready for a bump here and there.

The bus drops you to a nice campsite with basic facilities like washrooms and baths. You can also purchase maps with trails and off you go for your hiking adventure. Make sure you wear some protective clothing and shoes, as the weather is pretty unpredictable. A good idea would be to pack a lunch, although you can buy food and drinks at the campsite.

We were here by 11.30, and departed for the trek by 01.00 PM. We trekked for around 6–7 hours, and boy it was worth. You see rivers and snow and hills with different shades of brown, black and green. We managed to climb a small peak that had a volcanic eruption as recently as 1961. It was a lot of fun, and we only regret that we could not stay here for more time, probably spend a couple of nights. When we got back all tired, a surprise was waiting for us. A small natural hot water spring where you can relax! It was bliss, especially after being all tired with the walking. This place is wonderland, and I would love to go back here if I could.

And that was that. Our short journey to the most amazing place in the world had ended, but the memories were still there. Once you’ve been to Iceland, the place never leaves you! :)

For next time

Unfortunately, the above places do not cover even half of what Iceland has to offer. You could spend a month here and still see something new everyday. When I get to Iceland next time, I would probably plan to visit Skaftafell which some amazing caves and waterfalls, and the Jokulsarlon glacier. Here, you can see the icebergs melting away back to the sea. The place is far from Reykjavik, and therefore a stay somewhere on the way is recommended.

I would probably like to catch a glimpse of the Northern lights, but then you have to plan your trip in winter. During this time, you might miss out on some of the other attractions as most of Iceland is ice-covered and inaccessible in winters.

That was my journey to the craziest place on earth. I wouldn’t think twice about visiting this place again, and would urge, would plead to you to make this trip. The sights you see, the things you do here, have a lasting impact!