Tourism has blossomed in Iceland, giving travelers plenty of opportunity to take in its unique and amazing culture, history, and nature!
There are many, many reasons why I’m a big fan of Iceland and the country remains one of my most-visited destinations. I’m apparently not alone, as Reyjavik often bustles with tourists throughout the year. The tourism has grown significantly for this small island, and for the traveler, this means lots of options for staying and playing. Tours from center-city Reykjavik are many and varied and range from sight-seeing to adventure-seeking. Here are some of my favorites so far…
The Golden Circle
This route took us to three popular Icelandic attractions – Gullfoss (the Gold Fallls), Geysír, and Thingvellir National Park, easily done in one day’s time.
Thingvellir, often the first stop because it is close to Reykjavik, is a combination of both beautiful geology and important Icelandic history. The park lies on the edge of the North American tectonic plate with the Eurasian plate visible several kilometers away. This distance widens slightly each year and generates measurable volcanic activity, though eruptions have not occurred for 2000 years. I’m not a diver or snorkeler, but there are many tours available for those who want to experience the fissures between the plates up close.
Thingvellir was also the setting for the very first Parliament, Europe’s oldest, convened in 930 AD as the inhabitants rebelled against the rule of Norway and used this process to organize and settle disputes. The unique geology of the area made it easy for speech to be widely heard, echoing from volcano-formed cliffs.
Iceland is home to approximately 10,000 waterfalls, and Gullfoss is one of the most well-known. It’s also one of the most impressive I’ve seen, larger and more beautiful than Niagara with its two-tiered falls. Visiting in December wasn’t unpleasant, just a little slippery on the wetter rock trails, but my February visit was brutal. Thankfully, I had warmed myself first with some Kjótsupa and bread at the café….
The winds were whipping, snow pelting my face, and it was difficult to get a picture. I admit, though, I find it more spectacular dressed in its winter best.
Volcanic activity is more visible in the Haukadalur Valley, where Geysír is located. If the surrounding area is covered in snow, small dark holes reveal hot spots, giving the scenery a polka-dot look. Geysír is the grand-daddy of those located in the park and the namesake for our English word geyser.
Mother Earth lets off her steam regularly here, but our photo does her no justice compared to seeing it in person…
The horse was brought to Iceland by its Viking settlers, and the breed remains the same as it was when originally brought to the country. Breeding rules are very strict – the Icelandic horse cannot be bred outside of the country, keeping them exclusive to Iceland. The lack of cross-breeding has not just kept the breed pure, but almost completely disease-free as well. Do not expect to ride with any of your own equipment, because the chance of introducing an illness for which the horses have no natural immunity could be catastrophic to the breed. In these corona virus isolation times, I think we all understand a little bit more about that 😉.
Despite their small size, please don’t call them ponies! They are very sturdy, with calm and friendly demeanors. Icelandic horses have another unique trait, their own special gait called the tölt . While they possess the same other four gaits – walk, trot, gallop, and canter – the tölt helps the horses navigate the rugged and often uneven terrain of the island.
We booked our tour with Íshestar, complete with pick up and drop off at the closes bus stop to our accommodations. After a brief orientation informing us about the horses, what to expect, gauging our skills, and suiting us up in heavy coveralls, we were introduced to our horses. I do have some riding skills, but it has been since Girl Scout camp since I’ve ridden, and we don’t have to talk about how long ago that was….
The horses are accustomed to following each other, and I didn’t have to worry much about mine trying to wander off, he pretty much stayed in line. Which was great. Except when the horse in front of me was passing gas, then it was a little more unpleasant.
We rode just after the Icelandic sunrise, which was around 11:00 AM in February. It was cold, but refreshing, and simply a wonderful way to watch the sun wake up.
It may seem counterintuitive to pack a bathing suit for Iceland, but I do it every time. Because we go to the Secret Lagoon every time. Not so secret, it is the country’s oldest swimming pool, operating since 1891. It is a natural hot spring, where temperature controls involves moving closer to (or further from) the springs itself. The pool bottom is natural stone, which my very tired feet very much enjoy. The Blue Lagoon, by contrast, is commercially created by the run-off from geothermal heating. Not discounting therapeutic properties of the Blue Lagoon, but gimme natural any day! It’s a cold walk from the locker room to the water, but that just makes the water feel better.
The mineral content makes skin feel silky smooth, and sipping cold adult beverages in the warm water is great way to relax, as you can see on the happy faces of my mother, sister, daughter, and me.
I have tried to convince Dear Husband to build me one of these in the back yard, but since we don’t have natural hot springs in our area, he really can’t make that happen. That just means more trips to Iceland so I get the experience 😉.
Hoping on our next trip to get up north and see more of the country…..Akureyri, here we come!