It’s says a lot when you can ignore gale-force winds, horizontal rain and biting cold – and instead you can admire the majestic raw beauty of nature.
That’s the unexpected joy that a trip to Iceland can bring.
While guide books and YouTube videos can showcase the island’s stunning landscape, there’s no substitute for experiencing at first hand – and close up – the roar of truly awe-inspiring waterfall or the blast of 80ft geyser.
On a short weekend break (we went Edinburgh-Reykjavik direct with EasyJet), the best way to soak up the Iceland experience is on a tour. And ask any Icelander which is the best tour and they’ll always say the same: The Golden Circle.
After research, we went with a tour from BusTravel Iceland – particularly as it offered extra stops from those offered by other tour operators (such as Hveragerði, a village hit by an earthquake in 2008 and which offers a fascinating exhibition on the impact it had on villagers).
Write off a day for this, but it’s a guaranteed day well spent. Being so close to Reykjavik, you can also be back in time for dinner after a day of exploring the natural wonders.
And an added appeal of the tour is that you get an expert guide who provides a hugely knowledgeable and entertaining commentary that offers a combined run-through of Iceland’s geology, history and culture.
But while listening is good what you want is the sights. First stop is the Kerio crater – massive 270m long x 170m wide hole in the ground that was formed about 6500 years ago.
That’s a taster for the mighty waterfall at Gullfoss – a two-tiered monster cascade of water that provides a constant display of the thundering power of nature. The poor weather conditions meant we could not get down to the lower level but there is an equally unobstructed view from the high walkway (thankfully protected by a safety rope).
Next – in a display of how nature can make water go up and well as stream down – was the stop at the famous Geysir site. Geysir itself gave the sprouting water phenomenon its name but it no longer erupts. But its neighbor Strokkur puts on a geyser show every 5-8minutes. It, and the pools of bubbling hot springs around it, provides for the perfect photo moment – if you time it right.
The final showstopper stop is a Pingvellir National Park, and in particular its unique geological interest. Iceland is a volcanic island and sits on the Eurasian and American tectonic plates. At Pingvellir you can see where the rift widens, at roughly 2-3 centimetres a year. Our guide was able to show us the best spot for an iconic image – where you can step on foot in America and one foot in Europe.
We followed up the Golden Circle tour with a visit the world-famous Blue Lagoon, a spa like no other where you bathe in 37-40 C geothermal waters heated by the Earth’s crust.
Tours and sights are one thing, but the joy of a weekend break for me is to sample the true taste of a country and to enjoy its nightlife.
And here there needs to be a plea to Iceland’s legislators – please do something to bring your prices down. In some cases, they can be seriously eye-watering.
But you’re on holiday – and truth be told – the crazy prices added to the freak appeal of Iceland.
There’s plenty of top quality restaurants to choose from. But we found a gem of a place that should fit the bill – and the pocket – of foodie-loving tourists. Hlemmur is Iceland’s first food hall on Laugavegur – modelled on the food halls of Europe’s famous markets such as at Ramblas in Barcelona.
While you can go safe with the pizza and taco from the 10 restaurants/stands, there’s seriously good food to be had at Skal! and Krost – both of them offering local food with a liberal experimentation with unusual forged ingredients.
And if I can offer one final piece of advice – particularly for anyone looking to stretch their budget by buying some alcohol for their hotel room – be warned: drink can only be bought from a small number of registered liquor stores. And even more important: get there before 6pm before they close.For more information on BusTravel Iceland – https://bustravel.is/