Many wonders of southern Iceland
Iceland had been on our holiday bucket list for years. But we had put if off because we thought it would be too expensive, too cold and somewhere we’d go for “just a weekend break” (so why rush?).
Thank goodness, then, that we decided to go sooner rather than later and for a week, not just a weekend. We loved the country so much that we will most likely return.
There is much more to Iceland that I ever imagined. The weather was surprisingly good (even in October) and while prices are higher than Scotland they are probably no more than what you might expect to pay on a tourist trip to London.
Advice about booze in Iceland
Make use of the duty free allowances and bring your chosen tipple with you. In Iceland, although not as expensive as we had feared, a pint of beer, bottle of local beer or glass of wine (small-ish) costs about £5 or more. I am told this is similar to London costs. To save money, enjoy a glass of wine in your hotel room from your duty free allowance before or after eating out.
Advice about eating out in Iceland
A main course in the capital Reykjavik will be upwards of around £16. Ouch! Outside the city we used Tripadvisor to seek out the local cafes and restaurants where food is a bit cheaper. Eg £12 for local lamb goulash or fish stew. For something cheaper generally, choose soup. Icelandic soup usually comes in a massive bowl with bread and it was enough to fill me up for an evening meal.
Our best eating out find came through TripAdvisor in the town of Vik (pronounced Veek and meaning “bay”) where an unpromising fuel stop café Vikurskali served up great plates of traditional dishes. It wasn’t the prettiest place to eat but the food was well cooked and filling and we felt elated at paying far less for a night out.
Also, you can fill up on good hotel breakfasts and eat a snack lunch bought from supermarkets. Don’t forget the liquorice sweeties, too. (See below.)
When to go to Iceland
Winter is best for such Icelandic attractions as the Northern Lights, skiing at the country’s small resort, capital festivities and, outside of the busy holiday periods, less tourists. We enjoyed a week in October and the usual tourist trails were far less visited.
Spring and summer are great for warmer weather, whale spotting boat trips (Iceland is one of the best places in Europe to see whales), birds and especially puffins, long days of light (in the height of summer there is no darkness).
15 must-sees in southern Iceland
Most weekend break visitors head to the capital of Reykjavik. A three-day break could include a car hire for a day or two, during which you could see some sights outside of the city.
If you can, I’d recommend spending a week or more in Iceland and hiring a car for the entire trip. We travelled with Macs Adventure on their Iceland’s Scenic South Coast Drive and Hike tour.
The tour includes pre-booked hotels (B&B) and an amazingly detailed hike and drive tour programme, plus more guide books than you would ever buy yourself. It visited all the best attractions on the south coast and took away the worry that you might miss a gem.
When it comes to Iceland there are just so many fantastic things to see, from geological wonders to the delightful small city of Reykjavik. Here’s my pick of the highlights.
The Blue Lagoon: I was expecting this to be a bit “waterpark tacky” but it wasn’t in the least. A short drive from the airport or Reykjavik, the beautiful and tranquil lagoon is fed by natural hot springs and offers a lovely few hours of bath-style soaking, as well as a cheeky glass of fizz or a beer and a face mud pack (men and women!).
Big crack in the earth: Iceland is located on the join of two tectonic plates, European and North American. This faultline is pulling apart at 2cm per year and have created a dramatic and deep fissure in the rock. You can walk in this deep fissure and look up in wonder at how the earth is coming apart. The best place to see this is at Thingvellir National Park.
Wonderful waterfalls: There are so many fabulous waterfalls that it’s impossible to recommend just one, or even two or three. Look out for signs that say “something” Foss. Foss is waterfall in Icelandic. Among many others, head to Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss.
Geysir: The location of numerous fantastic hot geysers, including one, Strokkur, that erupts in a huge bubble of steaming hot water every few minutes.
Kerid crater: There is a row of volcano craters located just beside the road in the Grímsnes area in south Iceland. Kerid Crater is filled with water but it’s possible to descend into the crater and walk around the pool of water
Hot rivers: We walked an hour uphill on a bright but chilly day from the small town of Hveragerdi to discover a river fed by hot springs. Here, we bathed in our swimming costumes! It was a surreal but very pleasant experience.
Giant glaciers: You’ll can see several glaciers in southern Iceland from the main Road 1. For a closer look, take a hike on waymarked trails (see below) or book a guided glacier walk if the weather suits. The glaciers are dangerous places but with a guide you can see the ice flow close up, such as Solheimajokull glacier. See Mountain Guides
Skatafell National Park: Glaciers, rugged mountains, a waterfall tumbling over high basalt columns and so many spectacular views. Spend at least a couple of days in this area and head off for a few walking trail walks. Listen out, too, for the eerie sound of glaciers cracking off into a huge lagoon and smell the sulphur fumes of a far distant exploding volcano.
Lie down on the moss: Vast lava plains are covered in a thick blanket of woolly fringe moss (It’s real name!). Get out of your car at least once to lie down and feel how soft this moss is. Take pictures, read the many information boards and just generally stare in wonder at this strange landscape.
Awesome icebergs: Both bold and beautiful yet also alarming, the iceberg lagoon at Jokulsarlon is testament to the climate changes affecting Iceland. This is where the snouts of the glaciers are breaking off as they melt.
The Northern Lights: Iceland is one of the best places in the world for seeing the aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights. This is a natural light show that’s the result of a collision between sun and earth particles. It doesn’t always appear but it’s well worth keeping an eye on forecasts and the night sky.
Reykjavik: Spend at least a day or two in the wonderful small capital city of Reykjavik. Wander the colourful streets, window shop in delightful shops, visit museums, eat out and enjoy people watching while you a drink or two in one of the many small bars. More things to do in the capital include a visit to the Volcano House for a fascinating film about Iceland’s most recent volcanic eruptions; a whale watching boat trip from the harbour; the huge topographical 3D map of Iceland in the City Hall.
Wildlife watching: There is a wealth of fabulous wildlife to see, depending on when you visit Iceland. Summer is best for puffins, whales and other sea mammals.
Basalt column cave: Basalt columns are everywhere but at Vik, on a black sandy beach, is a stunning cave featuring numerous basalt columns. Just off the coast is another geological sight, a huge sea stack. We visited here on a wild and windy day and also on a calm and serene day. It was beautiful on both occasions.
Odd sweet stuff: Iceland seems to have a thing for sweets and liquorice in all shapes and varieties. Lava Candy, Hraun, Conga, Florida bars, Tromp, Opal and Topas are just a few of the sweets that can be found in even the smallest of supermarkets.
For more information about southern Iceland see another blog I have written: Iceland: Myths, Magic and Magnificence.
Check out three Iceland tours with Macs Adventure.
And my travel article in the Sunday Mail.