Tatler Tips: The Globetrotter's 10 In Iceland
1/10 Travel Around the Golden Circle
This popular route covers some of the main tourist sites for those with limited time on their hands, although this teaser trail will simply leave the traveller wanting to come back to see it all. There are three main sites on the route: the mighty two-tiered Gullfoss(“foss” meaning waterfall); the Geysir Geothermal Area; and Þingvellir National Park, where two tectonic plates meet (more about some of these below). There may be a lot of tourists, but with good reason, as nobody should miss any of these phenomenal sites when visiting Iceland.
TATLER TIP: Between each of the main sites are beautiful sceneries to admire. This includes detours to theKerid volcanic crater, which looks like it is outlined with a golden circle itself, and a lunch break at Fridheimar, a quaint restaurant inside the greenhouse of a tomato farm.
2/10 Stand Atop a Glacier
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink... still frozen in glacial form… whether dog sledding, riding a snowmobile, or in a modified vehicle, being atop a glacier is quite a humbling experience. Surrounded by the sheer white of frozen fresh water, it really puts things into perspective. Go inside the glistening glacier through its ice caves and tunnels, during the winter natural caves are revealed in Vatnajokull, while a man-made cave has been carved in Langjokull.
3/10 See the Tip of the Iceberg
An almost electric blue with streaks of black ash color the floating icebergs at Jokulsarlon as seals bob up and down the clear lagoon water. It is a striking landscape shot that goes to show the unrivaled beauty of mother nature when respected and cared for, although the effects of humanities activities, leading to global warming, are visibly taking its toll.
TATLER TIP: Walk across the road to the Diamond Beach and see waves crashing on a shore that is lined with clear ice rocks on black ash sand, the currents dragging icebergs into the ocean.
TATLER TRIVIA: The breathtaking view was featured in, not just one, but two James Bond films: in the opening scene of “A View to a Kill” as a stand in for Siberia and for the exterior shorts of the classic evil villain lair, Ice Palace, in “Die Another Day”.
4/10 Go Chase Waterfalls
Beyond the aforementioned Gullfoss, Iceland is home to hundreds of grand waterfalls, and thousands more enchanting, albeit smaller, ones fed by melting glaciers in the mountains. Climb the steps up to the top of Skogafossand admire the view while listening to the roaring sound of water crashing into calm rivers. See past the thin veil of glacial water cascading down Seljalandsfosson a short hike behind the waterfall. The list goes on and on, most without any names, all uniquely beautiful.
TATLER TIP: Bring a raincoat as the waterfalls can be quite intense, especially Gullfoss and Seljalandsfoss where you are encouraged to get close to the water, this tip comes from the author who brought a denim jacket and deeply regretted it.
5/10 Walk on a Black Sand Beach
Take a break from the typical, tropical white sand beaches and walk along Reynisfjara, see rough white waters crashing on black lava ash sand, with the occasional puffin waddling around in the summertime. The cliffs on the beach are adorned with black lava columns providing for a stunning, panoramic view.
TATLER TIP: If willing to walk four kilometers for a photograph, a US Navy DC plane sits on the black sand in the center of Solheimasandur(no vehicles allowed on the property) for a cinematic scene straight out of a science fiction feature. The wreck of the abandoned aircraft is so picturesque that it seems like a film set - the crash landing site on an alien planet, before the film cameras start rolling.
6/10 Stand Between Two Continents
Part of the Golden Circle route, the Þingvellir National Parkis situated between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The continental drift between the two (at a rate of two centimeters per year) is marked by the serene rift valley filled with clear water canyons and dozens of waterfalls.
TATLER TIP:The Silfrafissure provides a rift site to dive or snorkel directly between the two tectonic plates with exceptional underwater visibility, some of the clearest, and cleanest if you dare to drink it while diving or snorkeling, in the world.
TATLER TRIVIA:Beyond the natural phenomenon, the National Park is the site where the Vikings conducted the first democratic parliamentary assembly back in 930 A.D. It was on these cultural grounds UNESCO granted it status as the first of two World Heritage Sites in Iceland.
7/10 Go in the Summer to Experience the Midnight Sun
As early as May, the sky remains constantly lit throughout the summer, leading to the phenomenon Led Zeppelin called “the midnight sun”. During these summer nights, the sun is just about to rise right after it sets, so take advantage of these longer days to see more of what this island has to offer -- dog sledding, horseback riding, hiking, relaxing in geothermal lagoons, all past midnight into the wee small hours of the morning without it ever going dark.
8/10 Aurora Borealis
There is nothing that can prepare someone, nothing close to it in our wildest imaginations, for the kaleidoscope of color dancing in the sky that are the Aurora borealis. The result of solar activity around the Earth’s magnetic fields, they occur throughout the year but need a clear, dark sky to be visible to the naked eye. The underpopulated island of Iceland provides the perfect destination to view the Aurora. Long winter nights, minimal light population, and dramatic landscapes compliment the captivating green, pink, and blue hues that form a curtain of lights over the sky.
9/10 Walk Around Reykjavik
This quiet by day, party by night, capital is more than just a jumping off point for those driving around to see the natural marvels of the country. The local New Nordic cuisine is showcased best at the Michelin-starred restaurant, Dill. Walk along the waterfront to see Arnason’s sculpture Sun Voyager, not so much a Viking ship but a “dreamboat”, then catch a ferry to Videy Islandto see more contemporary art works, including Yoko Ono’s Peace Towerand Richard Serra’s Milestones. In the center of the city towers the Hallgrimskirkja Church. Its architectural design inspired by a waterfall is a symbol of the way the Icelandic people never fight against nature, but instead work with and are influenced by the it.
10/10 Relax at the Blue Lagoon
Located closer to the airport than it is to the capital city, some spa time at the Blue Lagoonis the perfect way to start or end any trip to Iceland. Take in the scenic view while soaking in the thermal waters. The mix of the frigid air on the skin and the heat that swells inside the body work together like yin and yang with a rejuvenating result. To complete the experience, the swim-up “silica bar” offers mud masks that should be washed off with the mineral rich lagoon water.
TATLER TIP: Make a reservation at LAVA, a restaurant built into an 800-year-old lava cliff in the Blue Lagoon compound, for some fresh seafood and exquisite Icelandic lamb.
TATLER TRIVIA: This popular tourist destination was formed by accident -- when a geothermal power plant was built near the site, the waste water that was released into the lava field was so rich with silica that it formed a layer at the bottom that slowed down the speed at which water seeped into the ground, creating the lagoon.