In Iceland, one can’t help but think – God must have been in a great mood when he was creating this place, for so much natural beauty in one region just seems surreal. Here’s a primer: Iceland isn’t just picturesque. In Iceland, one feels like one is IN a painting.
Inflight, the TV monitor spontaneously busts ‘myths’ one might have about this Nordic island. For example: Iceland isn’t one of the coldest places on earth. It is, in fact, warmer than New York in January. Did I just hear a sigh of relief?
What you experience in Iceland depends on what time of the year you visit. There is much to see, experience and delight in, even in the winter months. However, to save on precious daylight and money, chalking out an itinerary and booking tours in advance is helpful.
A Game of Thrones Landscape
A search online will throw up the obvious Golden Circle, which is a prominent 300-kilometre-long tourist route. It is advisable to land in Reykjavík, since the route is a loop beginning from the capital city to the centre of Iceland and back. Thingvellir National Park, Haukadalur and Gulfoss Waterfall are the most famous on this path.
Thingvellir National Park has something to discover at every step. The meeting of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates comes into view – as also, how they are drifting apart. A rift called Silfra is located between the two tectonic plates – and divers can jump right in! There’s a clear underwater visibility of upto 100 metres. No place else on earth offers the thrill of floating between two continental plates.
A guide can point out locations where the iconic TV series, Game of Thrones has been filmed. Let your imagination run wild as you take in the vast landscape, for indeed, the ‘wildlings’ and the ‘white walkers’ have been here!
The world’s first democratic national parliament, Althing, was also founded at this UNESCO-listed world heritage national park. (The parliament is still operational.)
A geyser is a pretty rare phenomenon, existing only in a few places on earth – and a chance to see this geological marvel shouldn’t be missed. Haukadalur is famous for its two geysers: ‘Strokkur’ and ‘Geysir’. ‘Geysir’, the name that lent itself to the word ‘Geyser’, has been dormant for some years, but Strokkur erupts every 6-10 minutes. Strokkur has a usual height of 15-20 metres and can go upto 40 metres! Get out that video app that loops back and forth and capture this marvellous eruption!
A visit to the the Gullfoss waterfall cannot be forgotten quickly. If ever there was as an ‘Insta-worthy moment’, it is here – a large gush of swirling water gloriously plunge down 105 feet (32 metres).
Are You Up For Nordic Horse, Snowmobiles and a Viking Meal?
Once the ‘must do’s’ are out of the way, choosing what to do purely depends on what tickles your interest. Options are aplenty! For instance – you can meander through a black sand beach or leisurely drive along the scenic views and stop to meet the friendly Nordic horses on the way. If someone’s a die hard Game of Thrones fan, they can do a tour of all the other locations aplenty, where the series is filmed.
Snowmobiling atop glaciers, discovering ice caves inside a glacier (the Langjokull glacier is a good option) or splashing around in a lagoon whilst indulging in a skin spa are other enthralling winter activities. Apart from the blue lagoon, which will be a obvious curiosity, there’s also the “Secret Lagoon”. It’s a cosier natural pool which falls in the Golden Circle, with walking paths to explore the expanse around.
Ambling through the town of Reykjavik throws up versatile options. There are museums to discover, a fish packing district turned into start-up shops and a cathedral atop from where you get panoramic views. The Laugavegur shopping district is popular and also home to quaint cafes. Some of the eateries could probably contest for the most savage food offerings on the planet, with options like a ‘graphic viking meal’ on the menu!
Last but not in the very least, is the incredible phenomenon of the Northern Lights – one of the biggest reasons that people visit Iceland in the winter. The fluorescent dance of bright, shimmery lights in the sky is meant to be an unmatched, exhilarating phenomenon. But just like anything else in nature, its occurrence can’t be guaranteed on your trip. If you miss a glimpse, however, don’t be disheartened – for everything else pretty much makes up for it.
(Vasudha Sahgal is passionate about travel, food and words. She has contributed to various publications like The Tribune and Huffington Post. She had a stint in advertising as a trainee copywriter with Ogilvy and Mather. She’s working on some stories, one of which is available on kindle as“Life of Three”. Find her rambling at @vasudha1)