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Iceland - A Trip up North

RIGHT ON THE northern fringe of Europe, Iceland is famous for its volcanoes, hot springs, glaciers and fishing industry. Its capital, Reykjavik is also something of a party town with a good mix of cultural venues thrown in.

 

We first thought of a trip to Iceland with the eruption of Eyjafjallajokul which stopped all air traffic in Europe two years ago. But there is really so much more to see and do than admire the spectacular landscape. Staying in Reykjavik We thought our hotel, the Radisson Blu 1919 was the best address in the city. Five minutes from the town centre and close to the old harbour, the lovely airy, chic rooms were very comfortable. We had a breakfast inclusive deal, and they even loaned out iPads to guests. The staff could not have been more helpful, something we were very grateful for when we hit a snag during our stay (more on that later!).

 

Reykjavik – around town

The capital city is really just a large, relaxed town and is a great place to hang out. You can meander round the large pond in the town centre & feed the ducks, and stroll past the shops up the hill to its most iconic building, the huge Hallgrimskirkje and go up the tower to admire the views. There are also plenty of coffee stops & restaurants (including a fish & chip bistro by the harbour) to keep you well fuelled.

 

Geothermal energy powers the city, but there is enough spare for the eight naturally heated thermal pools in the city, though we didn't have chance to try them this time. Although we didn't do too much, shopping is pretty good, particularly this year when patterned woolly jumpers are in vogue – Iceland's speciality! There is no shortage of things to see and do. We bought a card which gave us free access to most of the attractions in the city for three days, but paced ourselves carefully. The Vikin Maritime Museum was really interesting, especially a look on board the Odin, the ship involved in the Cod Wars with Britain in the 1970's.

 

The oldest building in the city, a 9th century nobleman's house is preserved in the Settlement Exhibition, which has stacks of modern computerised gadgets to keep everyone interested. The National Museum of Iceland (great coffee shop) is a more traditional museum but has plenty for children to see and do. Just down the road from the hotel was the Volcano House café and small  cinema where you can see film of some of the recent volcanic eruptions, and Iceland has them regularly. We also came away with pumice stone and other volcanic rocks, and yes, they really do float on water.

Further afield

Volcanoes, waterfalls and hot springs

The Golden Circle Tour is a great way to see some of the country's highlights in one day. We went with Reykjavik Excursions who collected us from our hotel and provided a tour guide who explained what we were seeing and a bit about Icelandic culture. First stop was Skaholt, the old capital, then the spectacular thundering Gulfoss Waterfall . We had a long lunch stop at Geysir, where you see hot streams, steam rising from the ground and of course the geyser itself blasting water 30m into the air every five minutes or so. Equally fascinating was the last stop, Thingvellir. As well as being the place where Iceland's first parliament met (and still does on occasion, out on the empty plains), it is geologically unique. Here two of the earth's tectonic plates meet– the North American and Eurasian plates – which are slowly tearing apart and making Iceland larger by around 2cm a year.

Blue Lagoon

 

We had a day at the Blue Lagoon, the most visited of the geothermal baths. It is a spa resort with saunas steam rooms, cafes and best of all huge outdoor hot pools with volcanic sand under your feet where you can lose yourselves in clouds of steam.

Northern Lights

The strange phenomenon that is the polar lights or the aurora borealis can be seen most nights in Reykjavik at certain times of year. It's best seen though from the pitch black of the countryside so we took a nighttime trip with Reykjavik Excursions. You have to be patient, but keep looking up and the eerie greens, purples and reds appear gradually and swirl endlessly across the sky.

Riding the Icelandic horse

Tough, bold, even-tempered and friendly, Icelandic horses have been isolated from the world for over 1,000 years. They don't just walk, trot and canter, they also 'tolt' which is very smooth, comfortable gait. You will see herds all over the country, and a number of stables offer rides. We went with The Icelandic Horse www.theicelandichorse.is 10mins outside Reykjavik, where great

staff and lovely horses made it a really good experience.

 

Chickenpox!

Our week long trip turned into two when our son came out with chickenpox, but surprisingly, not even that managed to spoil our holiday. And we also now know Iceland has a good healthcare system, freely accessed by our European Health Cards!

 

An easy place to visit

Icelandic is tricky to learn, despite its roots being close to English, but it means that just about everyone speaks good English. And connectivity for mobile phone & internet is impressive ("we  need it"! I was told), the fastest I've come across anywhere. Getting from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik is easy – the Flybus leaves every half an hour. We didn't bother hiring a car; many of the roads outside of the towns are just tracks, so we used public transport. Iceland can be an expensive place to visit, but if you watch where you eat out and can cope with not buying too much  alcohol while you're there, it can be done on a budget. All told, it's a pretty amazing place, a nation with a population a bit higher than Leicester, on a rock in the north Atlantic.

Last modified on Friday, 16 March 2012 16:32
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