When we hear about Iceland, it is inevitable that we envision a place that is inhospitable, wild, rugged and extremely cold. Would you believe that these adjectives are contrary to the truth?
Yes, Iceland is mountainous and could be very rugged. But still, the Nordic European island nation is positioned between North America and Europe and although not sheltered by neighboring countries, still has mild climate. That is why its name, Iceland is not exactly appropriate. Although Iceland has snow and glaciers, only about 10% of the country is covered by glaciers. It has numerous geothermal spots, caves, waterfalls, volcanoes, geysers, lava fields, valleys and coastal regions that provide endless times to indulge in kayaking, scuba diving and whale watching when the season is right.
Beauty in isolation
For adventurer-seekers and those who like to see desolate and strange landscapes, Iceland will not disappoint. Its proximity to the Arctic Circle ensures that the daylight hours vary depending on the season. In the month of June, the sun sets for a short while but Iceland does not get fully dark before the sun shines again. While the length of days during the summer and autumn equinoxes are the same, there’s almost 20 hours of darkness in December.
Iceland is just beginning to be discovered by mainstream travelers so the influx of tourists even during the summer months, which is the best time to visit Iceland, is still low and traffic is equally still light. Visiting Iceland in specific months gives you a good look at the changing scenery and character of the island. For one thing the midnight sun is not something that visitors to Iceland should miss. Late or early winter could also be good times to visit the island. By late January the daylight comes out at 10 in the morning and lasts until 5 in the afternoon. The landscape is blanketed in snow, which gives off different shapes to alter the scenery. While there are areas that are closed to visitors, there are still plenty to see and do. The best place to visit is South Iceland, where most of the accessible and beautiful attractions are located.
You can’t help but admire South Iceland, and the whole country as well because of the mild winters, mainly due to the Atlantic Gulf Stream that provides a warming effect. Actually Iceland has a maritime temperate climate, and although the winter winds could be bitterly cold, the winters in the country are comparable to New England in the United States. Summers are cool as well. Just imagine, 20 °C to 25 °C or 68 °F to 77 °F is already considered warm.
If you can only stay for a few days, then opt for the country’s capital, Reykjavik. It is the center of everything in Iceland. It is believed that the first permanent settlement in Iceland is located in the capital city. Reykjavik is considered as one of the safest, cleanest and most organized cities to live in. The surrounding landscape can truly take your breath away. And with the combination of the old and the new, you will have plenty of things to see in Reykjavik, including the colourful rooftops of houses and building. There are also seven outdoor thermal pools in the city where you can spend some time to relax and revive tired muscles.
Golden Circle Tour
You should not miss the Golden Circle tour, which starts at Reykjavik into central Iceland and then back to the city. There are several stops along the way but the major ones include the Þingvellir National Park. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and where you can see the rift valley that identifies the Mid-Atlantic Ridge’s crest. This is also the location of the largest natural lake in the country, called the Þingvallavatn. The magnificent and gushing Gullfoss Waterfall is a sight to behold. It starts from the Hvitá River. Do be careful when you are around the area because there are slippery patches and there are no barriers and warning signs.
There are three valleys in Iceland that are named Haukadalur. The valley included in the Golden Circle is a geothermal area and has the several geysers, and the main attractions are Geysir and Strokkur. Stokkur is a regular spouter, as it erupts every four to eight minutes daily, shooting water and steam some 15 to 20 metres high. There were occasions when the eruption reaches a height of 40 meters. Geysir on the other hand is not so reliable and usually erupts four to five times only each day. Around Haukadalur are several fumaroles, mud pots and about 40 little hot springs. The Circle Tour will also take you to the Nesjavellir geothermal power plant, the Skálholt church, and the Hveragerði greenhouse village, where the greenhouse are heated by water coming from the volcanic hot springs where several microorganisms could survive the extreme heat. Another stop in the tour is the crater of Kerið Volcano. The crater is very popular. Its caldera is still intact and the sides of the crater are covered in red volcanic rock. Minerals in the soil provide different colors to the crater sides, aside from the vegetation.
A dip in the Blue Lagoon
One other place you should not miss even if you are only staying in Reykjavik for a few days is the Blue Lagoon. It is a favorite destination of travellers to Iceland. It is a thermal spa that has milky blue waters that comes from the Svartsengi geothermal plant. People take a dip in the sulphur and silica-rich water, which is a good cure for psoriasis. The water in the lagoon is changed every two days and guests are requested to take a shower first before going into the pool. One advantage of the Blue Lagoon is that it is only 8 miles or thirteen kilometers away, which is about a 20-minute drive to the Keflavik International Airport.
Nightlife at the capital
Reykjavik is not lacking when it comes to nightlife, with the bars more active on weekends. You can take a walk along Laugavegur street and its side streets to find the bars. There are over 100 bars in the city, with some cafés as well as restaurants turning into bars after dinner time.
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