It is as though at any moment the weather will shut down, and all flights could be cancelled. Summer in Iceland is of course comfortable and magic, but it seems like borrowed time.
To catch the midnight sun, organise your trip now for June or July, as the place is certain to be busy. Alternately, you could take cheaper fares now and try to view the Northern Lights before they disappear until later in the year — but be warned that the winter is very cold, and not nearly as friendly to a casual visitor.
The Icelandic summer is a spectacular and comfortable time to find what lurks under the ice all winter, and with trips to the northern nation being heavily promoted right now, there are some good deals to be found — flights begin at about £123 return (www.icelandair.com).
Arriving can seem a little bleak. It is a dramatic landscape that greets you as the plane lands, with volcanic lava and little vegetation.
Flights land 50 km from Reykjavik, but there is a bus for about £10 which takes you to the city. If you have three to five people it is well worth hiring a car. Like all things in Iceland, car hire costs a lot but the freedom you gain is worth it once you get into the land. I advise a weekend in the city of Reykjavik because the social scene is not to be missed, then the weekdays driving, sightseeing and walking.
If a car is too expensive or you are too anxious about driving on the right, there is an extensive public transport system. Although this of course limits you to ‘the beaten track’. The other obvious alternative is the bus tours, which take in all the major attractions.
The ‘golden circle’ bus tour will show you the popular sights, and what most come to Iceland for — geysers, waterfalls and the landscape. However, taking a tour will mean missing out on the smaller, more intimate spots along the way. Tourist numbers off the main highway are low, so finding your own special place at the end of the earth is no problem with your own wheels. Another small but important note if you hire a car is to be wary of the traffic wardens in Reykjavik as they are renowned for their diligence.
Before leaving Reykjavik, where it pays to book ahead for accommodation, make sure a night out is had — and be prepared for a late one! The Icelandic people do not start to get noisy until 1am, and when they finally do get rowdy they certainly have a go.
While the locals may seem as though they are being aloof and cool, it is best to keep in mind that Iceland is part of the ‘beautiful north’, and affected by the accompanying ‘highly attractive person’ syndrome that seems to affect all in the Scandinavian countries. Do not let this get you down.
By making an effort to speak to the locals, you will be overwhelmingly rewarded. Most speak excellent English and are endlessly curious as to why anyone would visit their capital city. The drinks begin to flow, and fun ensues. Be warned though: both sexes are equally good looking, and our female companions swooned over the bus drivers even before we entered the pubs.
It is inevitable that you will spend a great deal as drinks are incredibly expensive, or better yet, stock up on duty free on the way there. Otherwise, expect to pay £5-6 for a pint of beer. The Icelanders seem to earn enough to live well, and are very generous people so do not feel bad about accepting shots. Just make sure you do not have too many — their liquor is stronger than in the UK.
After the customary night out in Reykjavik, the first stop should be the Blue Lagoon, which is actually a huge lake of volcanic hot water. It is best to get to the Blue Lagoon early as the crowds increase dramatically throughout the day. At the Blue Lagoon it is easy to soak away all your worries and wrinkles in the healthy waters — I was stunned at how smooth my skin was for days after.
Now, you could follow the bus tours, and take in the sights with that lot, but I think a more fulfilling and relaxing time is had by picking a general direction and driving with a few attractions in mind, but nothing too concrete. Pulling over to wander in the strange landscapes is fantastic and adds to the off-worldly feel, and having your own vehicle makes it is easy to stop when there is no one else about.
We only drove about four hours in any direction from Reykjavik, but in that radius found glaciers, geysers, tectonic plate rifts, icebergs, and many, many massive waterfalls. Often it was just our car on a lonely gravel road. It was spooky but special!
Perhaps the best thing is that the sights in Iceland are not overrun by large souvenir shops, excessive safety signs, barriers and wardens. You are expected to know that to step into boiling hot water is foolish, and to watch your step on the slippery rocks above a waterfall. It is a lovely return to how the world would have been years ago, before the tourists went and got themselves stupid.
To emphasise the cost, we spent about £80 per day, which enabled us to enjoy good food, pleasant hostels, and the necessary hire car. When the weather closed in we could afford to have fun, as you do not want to be stuck outside when the weather turns bad, even in summer.
Finally, it is worth noting that one reason Iceland remains spectacular is the lack of pollution. As the Icelandic people insist on using the geothermal landscape to power their lives there is little pollution to affect vision and the air quality.
It is just as well that you can see forever because the desolate plains of the coast are astonishing before eventually ascending up vertical cliffs cut by gusting waterfalls and sullen glaciers. Iceland seems like the end of the world and is suitably awe inspiring. For more information, visit www.iceland.org.