ICELAND is not as cold as you’d think. It’s a country where red hot lava flows meet ice blue glacial fields, where fragile and alien landscapes are home to resilient and friendly people. As I found out on my recent Topdeck trip to this amazing destination, Iceland isn’t just a place for quirky musicians and dried fish.
My lap around Iceland began in ReykjavÃk, the capital and home to almost half of Iceland’s 320,000 inhabitants. It’s small, but renowned for its vibrant weekend nightlife and music scene. Come Friday night around 11pm the locals leave their various end of week house parties and descend on the city’s clubs and pubs until 5 or 6am. With 22 hours of sunlight in the summer, it can be tricky to judge the time, but when you see the locals leaving the pubs to grab a hot dog, you know it’s morning.
During the day, ReykjavÃk offers several museums and galleries. Best for Icelandic history is the Saga Museum located inside the Perlan (Pearl), an almost space-station-like building that also houses the city’s naturally heated water supply. Back in the centre of town is HallgrÃmskirkja, visible from almost every corner of ReykjavÃk it is the city’s biggest church, very young by European standards but no less imposing or dramatic. From the bell tower you can get great views of the city and its colourful buildings.
The start of the trip covered the sites of the famous golden circle. First stop Gullfoss, an impressive waterfall on the fringes of Iceland’s vast impassable interior. Fed by melting glacial ice the water thunders down into a 30m deep canyon. Down the road from Gullfoss is the geothermal area of the Geysers. If you are lucky, you will see the Great Geysir erupt, but it is not as active as it once was, erupting only a couple of times a day. Just metres away is Strokkur, a slightly smaller geyser that is guaranteed to eject scolding hot water 20m into the air every few minutes.
Before heading to the first overnight stop in Borgarnes, we made our way to Ãžingvellir (Thingvellir), an important cultural and geographic national park. Home to the world’s first parliament, Ãžingvellir is also where you can stand on the jagged edge of the North American continental plate and look over a picturesque lake to the start of the Eurasian plate.
The next couple of days covered the Northern coast, which included lava flows, fjords and waterfalls, surrounded by a landscape full of colourful summer wildflowers. East of Akureyri, Iceland’s second city is Lake MÃ½vatn, still a volcanically active area with lava formations, craters and bubbling mud pools and Krafla volcano overlooks the region.
Read more: Iceland’s amazing northern lights
A trip to Iceland wouldn’t be complete without the opportunity to get close to a glacier. VatnajÃ¶kull is the largest in Europe by far and its national park covers 11% of Iceland. Frozen rivers of ice slowly drift down towards the coast and the opportunity to cruise around naturally sculpted icebergs on the JÃ¶kulsÃ¡rlÃ³n (Glacial Lagoon) was truly amazing.
Heading back along the south coast we passed the infamous and almost unpronounceable EyjafjallajÃ¶kull volcano, which created all the travel chaos this year. We then stopped off at the Blue Lagoon, probably Iceland’s most famous tourist destination and for good reason. Naturally heated from underground lava flows, this geothermal spa is a great way to relax in the mineral rich milky water. This is where you give your camera a rest for the first time in a week, cover yourself in the reputedly healing pure white silica mud that is abundant in the lagoon then lie back and remember all the truly wonderful things you have just seen – or like me, you could start to plan your next trip back to Iceland.
Go to www.topdeck.travel for more information about Topdeck’s 8 Day Iceland Uncovered, departing summer 2011.