Iceland - it will leave you speechless and turn you into a storyteller.
The thing with Iceland is, it offers you one breath-taking sight after another and you are left enraptured, not knowing that your soul will linger in the afterglow of the experiences - experiences of gushing waterfalls, bubbling springs, galloping horses, majestic mountains, daunting volcanoes, melting ice and dancing lights in the sky.
1. Seeing the Northern Lights
Norther Lights is what compelled us to plan this Icelandic adventure. Seven nights of chasing the norther lights is both fun and exhausting. But nothing compares to the exhilaration one faces when the lights decide to 'switch on' and put up a spectacular show, swerving and dancing in the sky. You stand hypnotized; not caring of the cold and the blast of chilly air that is numbing your bones.
We booked a Norther Lights Exploration tour through GJ Travels
2. Riding the Icelandic Horse
“There is no more sagacious animal than the Icelandic horse. He is stopped by neither snow, nor storm, nor impassable roads, nor rocks, glaciers, or anything. He is courageous, sober, and surefooted. He never makes a false step, never shies. If there is a river or fjord to cross (and we shall meet with many) you will see him plunge in at once, just as if he were amphibious, and gain the opposite bank.” ― Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth
I have never seen a more handsome animal; the Icelandic horse is unusual in its size yet amazingly strong and wins us over with its five different gaits - In addition to the walk, trot and canter, Icelandic horses are the only species that also tölt and pace.
3. Chilling on the Diamond Beach
Did you ever dream, in your wildest of dreams, that you'd wake up to the sight of ice 'diamonds' glistening on a black beach. Neither had I. But Iceland with a swish of its magic wand made the unlikeliest of sights a reality. And there I was, happy as a kid, chilling on an iceberg!
The Diamond beach (Breiðamerkursandur) is by Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon in South-East Iceland. Huge blocks of ice constantly break from the lagoon and icebergs float carelessly into the ocean, offering a spectacular sight. There are also few seals living in the lagoon. See if you spot one, when you are there.
4. Caving under the Vatnajökull Glacier
Deep under Iceland’s massive Vatnajökull glacier, beautiful caves of ice are formed by rivers of melt-water. Every year explorers check if these naturally formed ice caves have moved or completely disappeared with the shifting ice sheet and also find new formations. The color and transparency of the ice caves is what catches your eye - the translucent blue, white, and inky black - all remnants of time and age. This is a definite to-do if you are visiting Iceland in winters.
5. Dipping in the Blue Lagoon
While Iceland is a country brimming with natural hot springs, the Blue Lagoon isn’t one of them. This volcanic country gets much of its power from geothermal energy; one such geothermal power station is located near the Blue Lagoon, which gets its heated water from the waste of this power plant. Sounds icky, right? But let me tell you, this super heated water of the lagoon filled with minerals like sulphur and silica, although gives off a strong stench, provides the much needed relaxation to your body after your Icelandic expeditions. Visit Blue Lagoon on the last day of your trip, and you will never want to leave the hot waters.
Picture this: Your body immersed in the warm waters of the milky blue lagoon, your tired feet finding a rest on the volcanic rocks that line at the bottom, face smeared with healing silica mud while enjoying your favourite drink from the swim-up bar and toasting the open skies.
The Blue Lagoon offers no-frills entry from £40 GBP in winter and £45 GBP in summer. A series of packages have higher rates, but the standard package will do just fine!
6. Watching a Geysir Erupt
Along the Golden Circle region of south-west Iceland is the famous hot spring, Geysir. This spouting hot spring was once known to shoot boiling hot water and steam up to 70 metres into the air. Although dormant since 1916 (it came to life once in 1935), its brother Strokkur (Icelandic for 'churn') erupts ever five minutes or so, upto 25 to 35 metres into the sky. It is a pretty dramatic scene, people waiting with bated breath to watch it erupt.
7. Sampling Icelandic Eats
The list stands incomplete without the mention of few unique Icelandic eats. While at the Geysir, we tasted freshly baked hot spring bread served with Icelandic butter, herring and a small glass of Geysir Schnapps. Hverabraud, or rye bread, is cooked using geothermal heating. The dough is put into empty milk cartons and buried near a hot spring where it is cooked with the ground heat. (100°C for 12–24 hours)
Like some other Nordic countries Iceland has its fermented fish tradition; but fermented Shark is something you can get only here. And yes, I put rotten shark meat in my mouth! Hákarl is prepared from the meat of a Greenland shark, which is so full of chemicals urea and trimethylamine oxide that it’s poisonous when fresh, hence it is fermented. The taste is pretty disgusting and as you chew on the meat it keeps getting worse, you have to gulp it down with a shot of Brennivin - known as 'Black Death', it is a clear schnapps made from fermented potato and flavored with caraway, cumin, and angelica.
You can visit Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum to try this traditional Icelandic dish and know more about the butchering and fermenting procedure.
8. Walking over a Volcanic Crater
The Grabrok craters (also called Grabrokargigar) are one of the three young scoria craters (only about some three thousand years old) of the Snaefellsnes volcanic zone. And if climbing up a volcano was ever on your bucket list, you can tick that right off, here. The volcanoes have a perfect cone shape, and as you walk almost to the centre of the crater, Jules Verne’s 'A Journey to the Center of Earth' plays on your mind.
9. Visiting Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir), a UNESCO World Heritage site, not only fascinates you with its beautiful landscapes but also with the fact that it sits between two tectonic plates—those for North America and Eurasia. While there, you are quite literally standing between two continents (which are drifting apart about 2cm every year).
Thingvellir is also home to Lake Thingvallavatn known best for Silfra Gorge, an extraordinary dive site where you are literally swimming between continents in clear, glacial water.
10. Strolling on a Black Lava Beach
The black lava beach and the cliffs at Reynisfjara make for a haunting visit. The waves here have a mind of their own and can catch one unaware. They can go upto a height of seven metres, making this the most life-threatening location in Iceland, where several people have lost their lives.
The legend behind the iconic cliff formations, Reynisdrangar, also tells a ominous tale - two trolls were pulling a three-masted ship to the shore, but were caught by the sunlight at dawn and were turned into stone (as happens to trolls when they stay out after dark)
Iceland is not short of unique and astounding experiences. It does not shy away to show you its dangerous side, and its more beautiful and bright side. You gasp and sigh and fall in love with it, with each passing second.
Summer will bring its own joys; the landscape will change drastically from what I have witnessed so far, and I do want to go back and experience the uniqueness of Iceland all over again.