Before I went to Iceland, I was told that it would be a country unlike anywhere else; that it would be a trip of a lifetime; that I would be blown away by the most breathtaking landscapes from the land of fire and ice.
When you’re told these impressive descriptions, it’s hard to manage your expectations. This time, however, I was anticipating greatness. But it was only once I was there could I really get a sense of Iceland’s magnificence.
There truly is nowhere like Iceland. Just a mere three hours away from the UK, it rests on the edge of the Arctic Circle and sits on top of one of the world’s most volcanic hot spots, Iceland mixes cosmopolitan culture with revitalising hot springs, majestic glaciers and fjords, cinematic landscapes, steaming hot geysers, bubbling mud pots, sweeping coasts and just draw-dropping beauty at every turn.
Nature may reign supreme but in the country’s cultural, hip capital, Reykjavík, there’s music, literature, art, and Viking history, as well as shopping and a lively nightlife.
It’s difficult for me not to be too overly enthusiastic about how much I love Iceland. We certainly explored as much as we could during our week there. Having spent four days in Reykjavík and four days on the road, we only got a teeny flavour of what Iceland has to offer – nonetheless what we did see has left us begging for more. We also learnt quite a few things along the way…
Don’t let the weather stop you – it’s so unpredictable
Ahh the weather. Even though you can check every weather app going, I can guarantee that there is no guarantee. So whatever the weather, wrap up, get the layers on and just go. I have never seen such an instantaneous change in the climate before. There were some occasions where we would be driving through a snow storm with black skies and no sign of it stopping and then 30 minutes later it was clear blue skies and sunshine. Just makes sure you have the correct clothing for every eventuality and you’ll be fine. We even visited the Blue Lagoon in torrential downpours and gale-force winds. It actually made it more memorable!
No, Iceland doesn’t have a problem with sewage
When you arrive in Iceland there will be a distinctive odour of rotten eggs in both the air and the hot water – and no, it’s not a sewage problem, but of course the smell of sulphur, as most of the country is powered by geothermal energy. It really isn’t bad at all – and we only smelt it occasionally. Our Airbnb hostess actually told us that some holidaymakers had complained about her pipes because every time they took a shower it smelt. Yes, I rolled my eyes, too.
Be safe and mindful of your surroundings
We heard so many stories from the Icelanders we met of reckless tourists causing mayhem: families having a picnic on a glacier; driving on closed roads with unsuitable vehicles; tourists being swept out to sea and the most shocking of all – parents with their children iceberg hopping at the Jökulsárlón lagoon in East Iceland only last week. We saw it first hand for ourselves – rentals cars just stopping on the road to admire the scenery, and people venturing far too close to the raging sea.
Iceland is beautiful, but it’s also rugged, wild and dangerous. Respect it at all times and don’t be one of those irresponsible tourists who make the headlines or worse… lose their lives.
Iceland is expensive, but it is possible to do it on a budget
There’s no way of sugar-coating it – Iceland is eye-wateringly expensive. I let out a little gasp when it cost nearly £6 for half a loaf of bread and some eggs in the supermarket. And then there’s eating out and the booze. Planning ahead by booking accommodation, tours and car hire in advance and not going in peak season June-August can help enormously. Meanwhile, while we were on the road, we went to petrol stations to stock up on snacks and sandwiches during the day. And tried to eat at least one meal in the apartment while we were in Reykjavík – and luckily, seeing as it was a family holiday we weren’t really out on the lash! Budget planning aside, spending time in Iceland is worth every penny.
You can’t buy booze in a supermarket
As you all know alcohol is pricey in Iceland – and you can’t just buy it from any old supermarket. You actually have to go to licensed alcohol stores called Vínbúdin – there are six in Reykyavík. Or stock up from the airport on your way in. Don’t be fooled by the beer in the local shops – as one shopkeeper told us we might as well drink the water!
Children are most welcome
There may not necessarily be specific activities and attractions aimed solely at youngsters but that doesn’t mean Iceland isn’t family friendly. This natural playground will keep even the most active child occupied from walks, beaches, museums, and an abundance of swimming pools – and that’s just for starters. The locals clearly love children, too, as Monkey made new friends everywhere he went. Meanwhile, all the eateries we went to provided highchairs and children’s menus – and those that didn’t were very accommodating. One cafe even had a soft play area.
Icelandic water is pure and free
So don’t pay for it. Considered to be the cleanest water in the world, don’t waste your money and go to the shops to buy it bottled. We brought our own bottles and filled them up straight from the tap. Most restaurants provide drinking water without you even having to ask.
Drink Einstock White Ale with a slice of orange
Our favourite tipple over the trip was Einstock White Ale brewed with pure Icelandic water with orange peel and coriander. It’s a refreshing and delicate beverage which has a strong punch. We had it on good authority that the best way to drink it is with an orange slice – just like the locals.
Icelanders are super-friendly and very helpful
From cars that just stopped for us in the middle of a dual carriageway to let us cross over, to the strangers who came up to ask if we needed help whilst navigating a map, and the lovely man who told us where to get off when we jumped on a bus into town. We found that pretty much every person we encountered was not only friendly, but only too happy to help. Thanks also to the lady at the Blue Lagoon who sneaked off and provided extra towels for Monkey to keep warm, even though we were meant to pay extra.
Love Balls are a tasty treat
Funnily enough, we had an Icelandic speciality called Astarpungar, or Love Balls as they’re also known, on Valentine’s day. Not on purpose I might add. What I can only describe as a sweet, dense doughnut texture filled with sultanas – it really does accompany a good cup of coffee. And Icelanders love their coffee.
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