Ten top things to experience in Iceland
This is a list of ten things we think you will like to experience in Iceland – or maybe not ‘like' in all cases, but things you probably ‘should try'. You will note that the title says ten top things and not ‘The Top Ten Things'. We would never be so presumptuous as to assume we know everything (Just most things)! Oh, and by the way, they're not presented in any particular order:
1. If you're here in the summertime there are many worse things to do than take a jolly round the Snæfellsnes peninsula. And if you do that, we can highly recommend taking the F570 road round the back of the Snæfellsjökull glacier. It is an exhilarating drive officially recommended only for 4x4s – but almost any car can do it in the height of summer (remember though that two wheel drive hire cars are not insured on ‘F' roads).
2. Why not go island hopping? The island of Iceland is an inhabited island which is the main part of the nation of Iceland. But the Republic of Iceland is made up of more inhabited islands than just Iceland, if you see what we mean… Grímsey springs to mind as an exciting place to visit; not least because it is the only part of Iceland which crosses the famous Arctic Circle. Other fun inhabited islands for you to visit include: Heimaey, Vigur, Hrísey and Flatey.
3. We don't have to tell you that going to one of Iceland's renowned outdoor geothermal swimming pools is an absolute must (they're all good, but Laugardalslaug, Vesturbæjarlaug and Árbæjarlaug are Reykjavík recommendations, as well as pools in Akureyri, Suðureyri and Hveragerði). But this recommendation of a top thing to do is to absolutely not avoid visiting in terrible winter weather. In fact there is no better time to go for a relaxing, warm dip than in frigid cold and heavy snow. Trust us!
4. On the subject of swimming, you should remember there are good excuses to take a dip in the sea…even in Iceland. If you have a fluffy towel, crazy friends and a warm house, hotel, hot pot or sauna very nearby, then take the plunge in midwinter. It's certainly something you'll remember for years. Alternatively you might even go in by choice if you wake up in your boiling hot tent in summer by the beach, sticky with sweat and bunged up with pollen. There is no finer cure! If neither of these rather specific scenarios materialises, then you should remember the Nauthólsvík geothermal beach…even sane people enjoy a swim there!
5. Everyone should party in Reykjavík at least once. Even if that means spending far too much on beer and not going to bed 'til the morning. Of course the sensible thing to do is to combine the legendary partying with the equally celebrated live music and kill two proverbial birds with one rock (‘n roll). There's plenty around every Friday and Saturday night. One of many places to find out what's on where and when is the middle pages of The Reykjavík Grapevine. Remember though: don't expect much of a party atmosphere before at least 12 or 1 o'clock.
6. Talking of beer (mmm, beer), it cannot have escaped your notice that people keep banging on about visiting the Blue Lagoon while in Iceland. We agree with them, but would remind you of the importance of ordering a beer, a blue lagoon, or a fruit smoothie at the Lagoon Bar. It's a delightful treat to swim up to the bar, order and drink your lovely prize without having to remove yourself from the relaxing blue water for even a second.
7. Here's a novel one: why not glide? The Icelandic Gliding Club is by no means a tour company and they never advertise; but those in-the-know know that that they gladly welcome the odd tourist or two (or three). There really is no more serene way to see Iceland from above than in a glider. And the take-off's pretty exciting to boot!
8. Diving and snorkelling do not always come to mind first when you think of Iceland. That's why we're including it here. The Silfra rift in Lake Þingvallavatn boasts as good visibility as you'll find underwater anywhere on this planet, at up to 300 metres. The nearly-hundred-year-old glacier melt water is so clean you can drink it. Iceland boasts the world's only undersea smoking ‘chimney' shallow enough for recreational divers to visit, several good wrecks, and let's not forget the fjords. There's as much to explore underwater as on land!
9. Iceland is one of the premier places to go horse riding. It is not only the Lord of the Rings style landscape and endless countryside that make this so, but also the horses themselves. Icelandic horses are of a unique breed, famous for their strength, their small size, their intelligence and their unusual extra gaits, including the ‘tölt' which is between a trot and a canter, but as smooth and comfortable as being on wheels. Whatever you do, don't call them ponies. They'll only get upset.
10. Iceland is not a renowned ski destination. This is probably largely because of the unreliability of the snow cover and the long winter nights. But don't let this fool you. Skiing in Iceland is cheap and there are several excellent ski areas; such as in Akureyri, Bláfjöll (near Reykjavík), Siglufjörður and Ísafjörður. The runs are lit up in the dark and at least one place is likely to be open at any given time. And if you are unlucky with the snow throughout your entire visit, you can always try heli-skiing on a glacier…how cool is that?!