An interesting fact... whilst writing a piece about inspiring train journeys, I was reminded that there are no public railways in Iceland. But fear not, you can still get around and see the sights by car and there are plenty of fabulous tour options.
I was fortunate to be able to visit Iceland when working at sea, when we docked in Akureyi and Reykjavik. I managed to experience many of the highlights, including a dip in the Blue Lagoon, and I plan to return, hire a car and explore further as there is so much more to see and do. It's a destination that always receives great feedback from clients.
There are not many places you can witness mountains, fjords, glaciers, waterfalls, geysers and volcanoes in one trip. The unique landscapes have been created by being one of the world's most volcanic regions and made Iceland a desirable location for film and TV directors.
The midnight sun during summer and, weather permitting, the Northern Lights from October to March, make it a year-round destination. And it doesn’t get as cold as you may expect with the world’s most northerly capital, Reykjavik’s average temperature in January akin to that of New York.
Reykjavik is a wonderful city and I would highly recommend it as a base to spend time enjoying all it has to offer and then either spending a few days exploring the island by car or taking some tours from the capital out to the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle, the South Coast and a Northern Lights hunt.
The city centre is full of quirky shops and galleries and museums that trace Iceland’s Viking history, in addition to a profusion of restaurants that pride themselves on crafting culinary delights from an abundance of locally sourced products.
You can then burn all that food off by climbing to the top of Hallsgrimskirkjá church for panoramic views of the entire city showcasing all the colourful houses.
Accommodation options to suit all budgets are plentiful with some excellent modern and boutique hotels particularly popular.
The Blue Lagoon is understandably one of Iceland's most popular attractions with its beautiful milky-blue water unlike anything else found on earth and a stark contrast to the surrounding black lava fields and its creeping grey moss. It sits at 39°C year-round, making it the perfect temperature for bathing.
The Golden Circle is another must for first-time visitors, whether you take a tour or self-drive.
The classic tour consists of the country’s three most popular tourist attractions: Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Area and Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, with the route looping from Reykjavik to the centre of the country and back, covering approximately 250 km.
Spectacular, Gullfoss (translated as “Golden Falls”) uniquely features two distinct drops in succession at right angles to each other while spanning the entire width of the Hvítá River.
The Geysir Geothermal Field is an impressive sight and a beautiful reminder that there’s a lot going on right underneath our feet with its diverse hydrothermal features, bubbling mud pools, hissing steam vents and colourful algae deposits.
Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the birthplace of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth and the Althingi assembly, and its plains were where the country’s most powerful leaders met to decide on legislation.
It is also where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, creating a rift valley between them that is currently pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year.
Iceland's picturesque and popular south coast should be explored by car or a day trip. Home to natural attractions such as the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon (“The Crown Jewel of Iceland”) and the awe-inspiring Vatnajökull National Park along with the stunning Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls.
No trip to Iceland is complete without attempting to see the Northern Lights and at a latitude of 65º, the chances of seeing them are high. The season is from late August to mid-April and with darkness descending early from late September, chances are increased.
If you are staying in Reykjavik, then a Northern Lights Hunt by Super Jeep is an exciting and unconventional tour that does not take you to specific places but is down to the research and expertise of the local guide on the day. These vehicles can get away from the light population of the city and can travel off road and into the darker surroundings where there is a better chance to see the Aurora.
If you can consider a longer trip, then I would suggest a few nights away from the city in a hotel like the Hotel Ranga, where many of my clients stay. In addition to its prime position to catch the Northern Lights, an advanced, on-site observatory also makes this luxury lodge one of the best places to stargaze on the island. Add cosy rooms, including continent-themed suites, gourmet dining at the acclaimed Rangá Restaurant and geothermal heated hot tubs for starlit soaking after a day of exploration, and you can see its attraction.
A destination just a short distance from the UK where you can plan a morning dip in the Blue Lagoon then head out on a Northern Lights hunt in the same day, it’s not hard to see the allure of the land of fire and ice.