Tag Archives: Reykjavik

Top Ten Tips for Iceland

Iceland Cover

I have been posting here since 2009 and for the first time in six years I have had a request.  My blogging friend Sue from Travel Tales of Life has asked me to put together of top ten things to do in Iceland and I am therefore delighted to offer these suggestions.

Reykjavik

This may seem rather too obvious to mention but I do so because some friends of mine recently visited Iceland and stayed in Kevlavik.  The man at the hotel gave then some useful travel tips but bizarrely suggested that it wasn’t really worth going to Reykjavik because it is just a city.  Now, I would guess that unless all you want to see are whales and puffins then a visit to the capital of the country is on everyone’s itinerary.  If you ever stay in that particular hotel then I urge you to ignore the ‘don’t bother with Reykjavik’ advice!

So, some top things to do in Reykjavik:

Discover the Vikings

Lief Ericson Statue Reykjavik Iceland

On the seafront along a granite boulder promenade you will find the Sólfar Suncraft, which is a stainless steel 1986 sculpture of a Viking long boat that occupies an impressive spot overlooking the bay and Mount Esja on the other side.

Iceland is proud of its Viking heritage because the country was first colonised by Norwegians in the ninth century and the story goes that the first permanent settler was a man called Ingólfur Arnarson who landed here in 871 and named the location Reykjavik, which means smoky bay, on account of the comforting plumes of hot steam that were escaping from the nearby hot springs.

Climb the Cathedral Tower

Hallgrímskirkja, Reyjkavik Iceland

Hallgrímskirkja is the Lutheran Cathedral and the tallest building in the city which took nearly forty years to build and was consecrated in 1986.  The design is said to be based on a geyser plume or a lava flow but if you ask me it looks more like a space shuttle about to blast off.

The main purpose for visiting the cathedral is to take the lift to the observation tower at the top of the seventy-three metre tall tower.  It cost 700 krona (about £3) and it was worth every one because from the top there are glorious uninterrupted views in all directions, to the sea in the west, the glaciers in the north, the islands in the south and the ragged coastline to the east.

The Penis Museum

Icelandic Penis Museum Reykjavik

I am confident to declare the Penis Museum the oddest in the World, even more bizarre (although I haven’t been there) than the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in the USA, the Dog Collar Museum in the UK or the Toilet Museum in New Delhi, India.  If anyone has any alternative suggestions by-the-way then I am happy to consider them for inclusion in this list!

“…collecting penises is like collecting anything. You can never stop, you can never catch up, you can always get a new one, a better one a bigger size or better shape…”  Museum owner, Sigurður Hjartarson

Beyond Reykjavik…

Search for the Hidden People

Little People Elves Iceland

The hidden people are called Huldufólk and are special here and it is said often appear in the dreams of Icelanders. What makes seeing them difficult is that they are invisible and Icelanders prefer big people to be careful in case you accidentally step on one and they even frown upon the throwing of stones in case you inadvertently hit one of these small invisible people.

These are said to be thousands of elves who make their homes in Iceland’s wilderness and coexist alongside the Icelandic people  and in a survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 it found that sixty-two percent of the respondents thought it was at least possible that they exist and if you only need one reason to visit Iceland then that must surely be it!

See the Northern Lights

Northern Lights Iceland

Unfortunately the sighting of this natural phenomena cannot be guaranteed, it is not like the Blackpool Illuminations, they can’t just be turned on and off for the benefit of tourists, no one is assured to see them (unless you happen to be Joanna Lumley making a television programme that is) and many people leave disappointed.

“Always travel in hope, rather than expectation, of seeing the Northern Lights. For the best chances of seeing the lights, head north – but not too far. ”     Alistair McLean, Founder of  The Aurora Zone.

Gulfoss Falls

Gullfoss Falls Iceland

“No waterfall in Europe can match Gullfoss.  In wildness and fury it outdoes the Niagra Falls in the United States”                                                                                      From the Travel Diary of two Danes in the retinue of Frederick VII of Denmark (1907).

The falls are where the wide Hvítá river, swollen with melt waters from the nearby glacier rush southward and about a kilometre above the falls turns sharply to the left and flows down into a wide curved three step staircase before abruptly plunging in two stages into a crevice thirty-two metres deep with a thunderous roar and unstoppable force.

The river is wild and untamed dashing madly over rocks and advancing like a cavalry charge racing to the precipice and the final crevice which is about twenty metres wide, and is at right angles to the flow of the river which results in a dramatic water plunge and an atmosphere full of hanging mist which leaves no one in any doubt about the wonderful power of nature.

Visit the Geysers at Geysir

Stockur Geysir Iceland Geysir Golden Circle

The original great Geyser erupts only infrequently now so you could be a long time hanging around waiting for a show.  Apparently people used to encourage it to blow by pouring soap powder into the borehole as this was a generally reliable way of encouraging it to perform but eventually this stopped working because the residue of the soap clogged up the underground vents and geologists now believe that it requires a dramatic event such as an earthquake to set it off again.

Luckily the nearby geyser Strokkur erupts much more regularly every five minutes or so to heights of up to twenty metres (that’s the equivalent of about five London double decker buses).  Crowds of people gather expectantly around the glassy pool waiting for the translucent blue water bubble to foam and then dramatically break through the surface forcing many gallons of boiling water and hissing steam into the air. 

Þingvellir National Park

Iceland Car Hire Volcano Damage Insurance

This is the site of the historic Icelandic National Assembly.  This was called the Althing and was an open-air assembly that represented the whole of Iceland that was established in the year 930 and continued to meet for eight hundred and fifty years or so after that.

This history and the powerful natural setting of the assembly grounds has given the site iconic status as a national shrine and on 17th June 1944 thousands of Icelanders flocked to this place for the historic foundation of the modern independent republic of Iceland. 

This is also a place where the land is literally tearing itself apart in a sort of messy divorce settlement as the tectonic plates of Europe and America meet and are in continual conflict with each other as they are drifting slowly apart at a rate of 3mm per year, which may not sound a lot but in geological terms is almost as fast as Usain Bolt!

Finally – Take a Swim in the Blue Lagoon

Iceland Keflavik The Blue Lagoon

This place is horribly commercialised and wickedly expensive but having travelled all this way it is stubbornly on most people’s ‘to do’ list.

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The steamy waters are part of a landscape constructed by lava formation with warm waters that are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur and are used as a skin exfoliant. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages a very comfortable 40° centigrade all year round.

If anyone is put off by the absurd €40  basic admission price (a premium spa and treatments package costs a wallet busting  €430) there are a number of alternative geothermal heated pools in Reykjavik without the marketing hype for only a fraction of the price (but also without the location).

So, that is my top ten Iceland suggestions.  There are other things to do of course like whale watching, pony trekking, hiking and land rover safaris to the glaciers but I haven’t done any of those. Yet!

Sue also suggested a list of things not to do in Iceland and I can only think of one – Don’t get too close to an active volcano especially if you haven’t taken out the additional volcano damage insurance on the hire car!

Iceland Volcano

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Minimalist

Elf Houses

As we drove towards Þingvellir we crossed a ghostly, mystical landscape of mountain passes with peaks lost in the clouds and windswept valleys with remote coloured houses of the hardy residents and maybe also the tiny hidden homes of the secretive Huldufólk, the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore because Icelandic gardens often feature tiny wooden álfhól or elf houses for hidden people to live in.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art

Sólfar Suncraft

Sólfar Suncraft

Beginning of a Voyage…

Iceland is proud of its Viking heritage because the country was first colonised by Norwegians in the ninth century and the story goes that the first permanent settler was a man called Ingólfur Arnarson who landed here in 871 and named the location Reykjavik, which means smoky bay, on account of the comforting plumes of hot steam that were escaping from the nearby hot springs.

Ireland, The Ring of Dingle, Famine, Immigration and Music

Ireland Dingle

“At the very edge of Europe, as far west as you can go in Ireland…. once described by National Geographic as the most beautiful place on earth… a place where the mountains roll into the ocean.

The plan now was to get back to the car and drive to the most westerly point of the Dingle peninsula which is called the Ring of Dingle or the Dingle Way depending on whether you are driving or walking.

We weren’t going very far so the flashing dashboard and the prospect of blowing up the engine didn’t worry me to any great degree and we left the hotel car park, negotiated our way out of Dingle and picked up the scenic road to what seemed like the ragged edge of the World with a coastline of jagged cliffs and inhospitable rocky inlets.

The road climbed high above the sea, sometimes close to the ocean and sometimes heading off inland and soon we came to a succession of small tourist stop off points advertising historic attractions and we pulled into a car park promising an Irish famine cottage and we purchased tickets from an old lady in a ticket shed in a bizarre transaction that took place through a half inch gap in a window as though she was highly suspicious of visitors or thought we were bandits who would steal the days takings which by mid-afternoon must have been worth all of about €15.

There was a strenuous walk to the cottage and a farm and behind us there were some wonderful views over the south of the peninsular, Dingle Bay and the Kerry Mountains on the opposite side which made it easy to understand why Hollywood film makers have chosen this place as a location for films such as Far and Away and Ryan’s Daughter.

Famine Cottage Dingle Ireland

Inside the cottage there was a recreation of a typical mid-nineteenth century family home and information boards about the famine and the consequences.  It seems that at that time Irish people lived almost entirely on potatoes and that a working man would eat as much as fourteen pounds a day – that is a lot of potatoes, roughly equivalent to two hundred and fifty bags of potato crisps!

Now, I know potatoes are versatile – boiled, baked, mashed, fried, hash browns, dauphinoise, gnocchi but I imagine this sort of diet can become awfully monotonous!  Unfortunately not only did the Irish rely completely on the potato they specialised in just one variety.  The Arran Banner was a heavy cropper but also particularly susceptible to the potato blight virus and a succession of harvest failures in the late 1840s led to starvation, death, farm failure, cruel and vexatious evictions by English absentee landlords and eventually mass emigration to the United States.

Interestingly it is most likely that the virus came from the United States in the first place (just like the phylloxera virus that infected French vine crops at about the same time) but regardless of this they blamed the English and five million Irish (80% of the total population at the time) chose to go there anyway.  Today nearly sixty million people in the USA, almost 20% of the population, claim Irish roots and twenty-two out of forty-four of US Presidents (including Barack Abama!) have claimed Irish ancestry.

For only €4 (senior rate) it was a good reconstruction and there was a curious ancient burial mound with an information board but a path blocked by a barbed wire fence and no real sign of where the ancient monument actually was so confused by that we returned to the car and carried on.

A little further along the road there were signs to fifth century beehive stone houses but I don’t think they were original and we had had enough excitement for one day at the famine cottage and the ancient burial site and any more and my head might have exploded before the car engine so we drove straight by.

Europe

Very soon we were at the most westerly point of the peninsula and could go no further and we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.  At 10°27’ longitude Dingle claims to the most westerly town (as opposed to city – this is important) in Europe but whilst this may be true there are lots of other ‘most westerly’ claims to take into consideration.

The Blasket Islands (10°39’) at the end of the Dingle Peninsula are the most westerly point in the British Isles but these have been uninhabited since 1953, Iceland is the most westerly country in Europe and Reykjavik is the most westerly capital city (21°93’); Lisbon (9°14’) is the most westerly city on mainland Europe and furthest west than anywhere else are the Azores at 31°30.

When someone tells you that something is the biggest or the longest or the highest or the heaviest it is always worth checking up I find.  The most westerly point in Asia is Cape Baba in Turkey and in the United States it is Alaska which is also the most easterly as well because it stretches so far that it crosses right into the eastern hemisphere (a good pub quiz question that).

Another interesting fact about this place is that is was more or less the place where Charles Lindbergh crossed the Irish coast in 1927 in the Spirit of St. Louis in the first successful flight from New York to Paris.  I like this extract from his journals:

“I have carried on short conversations with people on the ground by flying low with throttled engine, and shouting a question, and receiving the answer by some signal. When I saw this fisherman I decided to try to get him to point towards land. I had no sooner made the decision than the futility of the effort became apparent. In all likelihood he could not speak English, and even if he could he would undoubtedly be far too astounded to answer. However, I circled again and closing the throttle as the plane passed within a few feet of the boat I shouted, “Which way is Ireland?” Of course the attempt was useless, and I continued on my course.”

From this most westerly point that we could go today we drove back inland along the north side of the peninsular which was not so scenic or dramatic and eventually the road returned us to Dingle and the hotel.

The weather was a real surprise.  I was expecting continuous rain and slate grey skies but it was warm and sunny and in the late afternoon we sat in the garden of the hotel with a glass of wine and watched the boats slipping in and out of the harbour in pursuit of Funghi the dolphin and enjoyed the peace and serenity of the verdant emerald countryside and the unexpectedly indolent ocean.

Later we walked along the coastal path back into Dingle to eat at a sea food restaurant next to the harbour and after an exceptional sea food platter we followed that with a visit to a gaily coloured pub where there was lively Irish music entertainment which went on way past normal closing time.

With no sign of the pub closing or the music stopping we called our own personal time and walked in the moonlight back along the coastal path to the hotel.  It was our last night in Ireland and while we walked along the moonlit path I wished that it had been our first!

Irish Music Night Dingle

More Little People in Iceland

Little People Elves Iceland

As we drove towards Þingvellir we crossed a ghostly, mystical landscape of mountain passes.  Peaks lost in the clouds and windswept valleys with remote coloured houses of the hardy residents and maybe also the tiny hidden homes of the secretive Huldufólk, the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore because Icelandic gardens often feature tiny wooden álfhól or elf houses for hidden people to live in.

Read the full story…

Elf Houses 2

Iceland, Images

Iceland Landscape

Iceland Reyjkavik  Iceland Reyjkavik

Iceland Presidential Car Reykjavik  Iceland Meat Balls in a Tin

Lief Ericson Statue Reykjavik Iceland