I visited Iceland in February and, in hindsight, I would recommend the summer as the time to go. The weather was pretty poor, cloudy every day, cold and bitter winds. The landscape was a lot more baron than I had expected, and I feel like this was exaggerated in the winter where there was a lack of foliage and everything being covered in a thin layer of white where the rocks could poke through. Having said that, it was a great experience and I would highly recommend a visit.
Our first stop was the Blue Lagoon, a welcomed change from the cold lands of Norway. The Blue Lagoon is a natural hot spring and is very relaxing. See my post on it here.
We arrived fairly late so after we got to the hotel we had dinner and crashed. The new day was going to be a long one. We had a coach (it was a trip organised through a university group) and were doing the Golden Circle. This is basically 3 major sights in Iceland and it’s a very touristy thing to do. One benefit of going in February is that it wasn’t very busy.
First stop: Þingvellir National Park
This is the divide between the North American Continental Plate and the Eurasia Plate. One big crack. It has lots of heather-y type fauna deeper into the park, and some great diving spots thanks to the plate crevasses, although I imagine that to be more of a summer activity…
Next stop: Gullfoss Waterfall.
This is the famous waterfall in Iceland. It’s pretty big and there’s a restaurant and gift shop on the top of the hill which means sustenance and warmth. I have to say, trying to walk down the stepped pathway from the shop to the viewing point was an absolute mission. It was bitterly cold made worse by an unrelenting wind that just froze my fingers the second I brought my camera out do try and document this uncomfortable experience. A neat tip the bus driver gave us though was to walk along the edge towards the gorge after the waterfall. I have to say it was beautiful; the gorge was perfectly rectangular shaped with the greenest water (in a nice way) I have ever seen. Apparently the water comes from melted glaciers which is what gives it the green tinge.
Final stop of the Golden Circle: the Strokkur Geyser
The site of the Geysers is the most commercialised with a cafe, big shop and houses. Walking through the park up to the geysers there are lots of other smaller geysers and consequently only sections of the snow on the paths get melted. The Strokkur Geyser is the one that goes the highest and erupts every 7 minutes or so. You can tell when it’s about to erupt because the water sort of swells and then BAM. You don’t get wet though so no need to go with your bright yellow poncho from the River Run at that theme park.
On the way back from our Golden adventure we made a couple more stops to see some more of Iceland. The Faxa Tunga waterfall was a great little addition and it even had it’s own set of Salmon stairs (so the Salmon can travel up the waterfall).
Iceland is also known for its hardy horses. They’re smaller in stature, more well-built and have longer hair than the typical horse. Iceland actually has very strict laws for bringing horses (by that I mean I don’t think you even can) and once a horse has left Iceland for a certain length of time, it’s not allowed to come back. This is mainly because the breed is so well accustomed to the weather that any other breed wouldn’t have much luck, so they don’t want any of their specimens branching out.
They’re also really friendly as most of them are used for public riding tours in the summer, so we stopped and gave them a good petting and some biscuits. I would have loved to go on a horse riding tour but they don’t tend to run in the winter and we were a big group pushed for time. Sigh, maybe one day.
Our trip ended with a night-time bus tour of Reykjavik and a traditional Icelandic meal in a small coastal restaurant. My favourite kind of food is shellfish so I was in heaven with a bucket of deliciously buttery fresh lobster tails. One thing I have yet to see after living in Norway and having been to Iceland, is the Northern Lights. They seem to evade me behind a cloak of clouds every time I visit the north. One day.