Iceland - country of wonder
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Tourism has largely saved Iceland from financial collapse following the banking meltdown of a few years back. You do wonder though why this magnificant country ever came to rely on such a mundane and conventional business as banking when its natural assets are surely among the world's grandest. Why is tourism such a relatively new phenomena when everywhere you look there's beauty and grandeur aplenty.
We were based in the capital, Reykjavík. Oddly enough for such a sparsely populated island the airport was a good distance away and we were thankful a transfer was included in our package. Iceland is very expensive and taxis are among the most exorbitant of services you need to pay for. And don't expect a chirpy and chatty London style black cab driver. The Icelanders are a genuine and modest people, not given to forcing their opinions on you. They allow you your privacy and don't push themselves into your conversations.
Reykjavík is home to about a third of the island's population, which means not many. It's Europes least crowded country and a mere 120.000 people live in the capital. Which is gorgeous. Many of the houses are made of corrugated iron which doesn't sound very aesthetic. But they're painted in bright colours and contrast beautifully. And you don't have high rise, it's unnecessary. There's space for everyone and there's never a sense of overcrowding. Beyond the capital there's obviously even more acres per dwelling. Reykjavík boasts a large lake in its centre and bird watchers would delight in the many different species that find food and shelter here. To add to the splendour the mountains that surround the capital had snow towards their summits when we visited and the whole place was summed up in one word – class.
This visual extravaganza can be enjoyed from the central and towering Hallgrímskirkja church. At 73metres (244 feet) it's needless to say the tallest church in Iceland and is quite different in design. It almost likes a Martian rocket, or something out of Thunderbirds ready for take off.
It's what is outside of the capital though that visitors now flock to Iceland for. And by the way, although it's near to the Arctic circle many people are surprised to hear it takes roughly the same time to fly here as it does to say Malaga. It's not long haul. Natural beauty is the name of the game. Show me a list of the ten top waterfalls in the world that doesn't include Gullfoss. Show me a another list of the most powerful that omits Dentifoss. Gullfoss combines grace, power and mystique, it's astonishing to see such a volume of water seemingly disappear. It empties into a very narrow gorge and if it wasn't for the immense amount of spray, you'd think your eyes were deceiving you. These are Iceland's two best falls in my opinion, but there are many more.
The Strokkur Geyser not far from Gullfoss is great fun for all. It's as reliable as Old Faithful in Yellowstone erupting every six minutes on average. It shoots 30 metres (almost 100 feet} in the air and draws big crowds. The area is very active geothermically and there are many other smaller geysers and bubbling pools nearby. Both Strokkur and Gullfoss are part of the excellent Golden Circle Tour which also takes in Thingvellir National Park, where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year .How often do you find yourself straddling continents! When you combine these three natural wonders you have a day out that is truly awe inspiring, I didn't hear a single disgruntled voice.
The geothermal abundance means there are hot springs and spas all over Iceland. I'm sure the majority of people will know the most famous one, the Blue Lagoon. It's surreal basking in such perfect temperatures when all around its minus five or below. The facilities are modern, extremely clean and the staff attentative. Many people visit the Lagoon on the way back to the airport, its conveniently situated. We wanted to spend most of the day there though as it's a great place to relax and soothe aching muscles and joints. The food was expensive but overall we thought the experience was excellent value for money. There aren't many spas of this size, it's wonderfully aquamarine, there's silica mud packs free of charge, saunas, waterfalls and even guided tours. Something this unique isn't going to be tupenny halfpenny.
You wont find many more accessible places to see the Northern Lights than Iceland. The far reaches of Norway are better but much more difficult to get to.Needless to say there are tours that take you away from the urban 'light pollution' but being in the capital didn't undermine our enjoyment of this spectacular light show. Obviously you need to travel at the right time, September for us was almost perfect.
We weren't there long enough to take in everything the island has to offer, and as I say, different pursuits are better at alternate times of the year. But whale watching is a nature lover's delight here. You can even board a vessel (The Andrea) in Reykjavik, though the two more Northerly pick-ups are more highly rated, and be seeing Minke Whale within twenty minutes. It's a must-do on our next trip. The boat out of the capital is large and comfortable and hopefully OK for us land lubbers. Boats also offer a 'pitch dark' appreciation of the Northern Lights if you want to see them at their absolute best. There's no guarantees though, cloud cover can ruin things, and I personally would rather stick to terra firma.
You certainly wouldn't want for things to do in Iceland, especially if you're prepared to loosen the wallet clip and go for it. You can walk on some of the most majestic glaciers in Europe, or get up close(ish) to the volcanoes that cause so much concern to the aviation industry. Some of the dining is first rate and there are museums, concerts and some great little pubs if you want a cold beer in those nithering temps. Not for me that last one, particularly at a fiver a glass. But strongly recommended and even more so if you love all things outdoors.
54 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.