ICELAND ‘The Land of Fire and Ice
Iceland, 470 miles North West of the Orkney Islands, just below the Arctic Circle, on the mid-Atlantic Ridge where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, is the 18th largest island in the world and has a population of just under 330,000.
With four airlines operating services from seven UK airports and a flying time of approximately 3 hours -0 getting there is very easy. All international flights are to and from Keflavik Airport 31 miles South West of the capital, Reykjavik. Transfer time from the airport to Reykjavik is 50 minutes by taxi or 80 minutes by bus.
My wife and I visited Iceland in early March – towards the end of the country’s long winter.
En-route to our hotel we got our first glimpse of the awe-inspiring, snow-covered scenery.
We stayed at the Centerhotel Skjalreid on Laugaveg, Reykjavik’s main shopping street – no more than 5 or 10 minutes away from the capital’s main sights. The hotel was reasonably priced at £75.00 per night for a comfortable Scandinavian style room and included continental buffet breakfast and a 24-hour self-service hot drink station.
We visited the Hallgrimskirkja- Reykjavik’s very modern cathedral – where the £4.50 charge to take the lift to the top of the cathedral’s tower is well-worth paying to be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city and surrounding mountains.
The settlement Exhibition Reykjavik houses the remains of a Viking longhouse together with many artefacts unearthed during the excavation. To learn more about Iceland’s history a visit to the Saga Museum is a must.
Whale-watching boat trips (£45-£50 per person) to Faxafloi Bay depart every day from Reykjavik’s old harbour. The waters around Iceland are home to many species of whale.
A great way to round off a long day of sightseeing is to visit one of the city’s many excellent restaurants. My personal favourite was Osta Budin, just a few minutes from our hotel, where I sated my appetite with a delicious platter of Arctic Char with scallops, celery root and potato puree and chicken juice (£21.00) Other fine restaurants include Restaurant 73 and Laekjarbrekka. The latter being an old wooden house dating from 1834. These restaurants are extremely popular and I would recommend booking a week in advance – this can be done on-line.
But there’s a lot more to Iceland than Reykjavik. We visited the world-renowned Blue Lagoon just 25 miles from the city (a bus trip of around 40 minutes) where we bathed in the silica and sulphur-rich waters – naturally heated to around 37-39 c – very good for your skin and joints. (£56 per person for round-trip transportation from the hotel and entrance to the Lagoon).
The Golden Circle Tour (a 190 mile/ 8.5 hours day trip from Reykjavik) is very good value at £40 per person. The tour takes in Thingvellir National Park to view the Icelandic equivalent of the Great Rift Valley – created as the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates slowly drift apart at the rate of 2.5 cms a year. The tour continues to the 32 metre high Gullfoss Waterfall – spectacular at any time, but especially in winter.
Then on to the Haukadalur geothermal area to see the Strokkur Geyser which blasts a jet of super-heated water 15-20 metres into the air every 8-10 minutes. Finally the tour takes in a visit to the beautiful cathedral at Skalholt and the Icelandic Horse Show at Fakesal before returning to Reykjavik.
If your visit to this Land of Fire and Ice is between October and March you are should plan on taking a trip (£38 per person) to view the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) Leaving the hotel at 9 pm the tour took us to an area to the west of Reykjavik, free from light pollution. And although we had to wait for two hours in the cold (-2 C) it was well worth it – despite the fact that the awe-inspiring natural light show only lasted for 3 minutes!
At a mere 3 hours away, Iceland is an ideal destination for a short break. Full of surprises with and with landscapes and scenery very different from any other European destination.
And with Icelandair and WOW now offering connections to the United States and Canada via Reykjavik – it is a great place to stopover on a transatlantic journey.
Senior Travel Consultant