Top tips for visiting Iceland

Just a few hours by plane from the UK, Iceland is a world apart with its hot springs, geysers and incredible scenery. Used by makers of the series Game of Thrones and The Vikings, there is something about Iceland that lures you back again and again. Perhaps it is the draw of the elves or the chance of maybe getting a glimpse of the Northern Lights, who knows.

Icelandic houseAs always, if you can, it is a good idea to use an airline from the country that you’re visiting so that the holiday starts as soon as you get on the plane. Arriving at Keflavik Airport you will be immediately struck by the strange scenery, something akin to the surface of the moon. Covered in lava, the drive into the capital will be very different from your usual journey from a city airport.

The capital Reykjavik, is very small, as the population of Iceland is just over 341,000 and you will find plenty of places to stay but be warned it is not a cheap country so choose wisely. The city has many different sides to it from the old area, the modern shopping malls and of course, its famous nightlife.

If you are staying for the first-time you might like to consider taking the Golden Circle Tour which visits some of the main sights in the south.  Including the incredible geysers and the impressive scenery along the coast.  You should also be able to visit one of the fascinating geothermal power stations which provides Iceland’s energy.

Icelandic viewThe weather can be quite unpredictable and so you need to be prepared for sun, wind or rain and major changes in conditions, often with 24 hours.

One fascinating aspect of the country which is often forgotten, is the strong connections which has built up over thousands of years, around elf culture.  Icelanders have very strong feelings about these creatures which are very much part of everyday life, influencing decisions particularly linked to land owned by the elves. Try to arrange for a tour with an elf guide who will take you around Hafnarfjördur just over 10 miles from Reykjavík. It is said that around 80% of the population have some belief in the influence of these beings which are so much part of the island culture. It is a fascinating side to Iceland and well worth investigating further. Some of the guides will take you to the places where elves are most active but don’t be surprised if you don’t actually see any!

Icelandic lamb stewMany people go to Iceland to experience the Northern Lights and whilst you may be one of the lucky ones and actually see them, however do not be surprised if they don’t appear. I have visited at certain times in the year when the Lights were not visible and yet been told by locals if I had been there the night before then the display was quite spectacular. Tours are arranged to look for the Northern Lights, but they cannot guarantee that you will see them, so be prepared.

Icelandic food is very wholesome and includes some very impressive lamb stews, excellent salmon and plenty of other fish dishes. Prices can be high so make a few investigations before you go or ask some of the locals for some suggestions of where to eat. 

One event that visitors seem to enjoy is a meal at the Viking Village. These can become quite jolly and may involve drinking an alcoholic beverage known as the Black Death, which is made from potato mash and capers and can be quite potent.

Geyser eruptingThere are plenty of places to visit on the island and a journey north of the capital is well worth considering. Remember that many of the roads inland are not tarmacked, so it is a good idea to arrange to go with a guide if you are not considering an organised tour. You should also visit Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can learn more about Iceland’s history.    

The geysers and the Gullfoss waterfall are quite spectacular and are not very far from the capital. The other popular attraction is the Blue Lagoon, with its naturally hot springs and the chance to bathe in the thermal waters.

Shopping in Iceland is very interesting and whilst some things can be quite expensive, knitted goods are really special as is clothing generally. If you can make a visit to the 66°North shop there is an old established manufacturer of Icelandic seafarers’ clothing, it is most impressive and you will find a selection of hats and coats for sale. I have a 66°North hat which has been a constant companion on my many trips around the world!

You will find alcohol expensive in Iceland but the beer is really unique so you should dig deep into your pockets.

In conclusion, Iceland is an amazing destination which has much to offer and it is somewhere very different.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends these companies for trips to Iceland.

Photos by © Godfrey Hall

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Godfrey Hall

Award-winning travel writer

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