Volcanoes? Check. Glaciers? Check. Lava fields? Check. Iceland is easily one of the most beautiful and dramatic countries I’ve ever been to (back in Nov 2009). The island sits atop the Mid Atlantic ridge, the undersea volcano range which runs north-south from pole to pole. The geothermal activity has carved the landscape into what it is today. The road from the airport to the capital Reykjavik is built atop a massive lava field and is the backdrop for a nice welcome to the country. Reykjavik is a beautiful city in the southwest of the island overlooking a harbour and backed by mountains in the distance. The city itself is small, charming, and very walkable. It’s easy to walk the main bits of the city in one day since it’s so small. It’s totally worth it to go to the top of the Hallgrimskirkja cathedral where you can get 360 degree views of the city.
There are loads of adventure activities to choose from a several different operators. I chose to do a glacier hike and some ice climbing. I was picked up from my hostel early in the morning and driven out to the glacier. The weather was pretty bad but thankfully I came prepared with thermals and waterproofs so I was pretty much unaffected. Despite the pounding rain and wind we suited up, strapped in our crampons and set our feet onto the glacier. Our guide started by showing us how to walk properly with the crampons and ice axe. After this brief lesson we hiked up the glacier, crossing crevasses, and stopping to take a sip of water from a small moulin. It was the best water I’ve ever had! We eventually reached a wall of ice on the glacier that was suitable for climbing. Our guide set up the climbing ropes and we took turn scaling the wall. Ice climbing is not easy at all. You need quite a bit a upper body strength in addition to technical skill with the axes and crampons. I made it to the top (really happy that I didn’t spike myself with the axes or crampons!) then abseiled down. After the climbing we cautiously made our way back down the glacier and to the car park. There were delicious sandwiches awaiting us in the van which we all wolfed down on the way back to Reykjavik.
The other activity which is highly recommended is the Golden Circle tour. It’s a day-long tour which takes you to some of the best sites around Reykjavik, including a visit to a geothermal power plant, the Þingvellir national park which is situated on the continental divide between the North American and European tectonic plates, and the famous geysers which erupt pretty regularly. I had a really cool guide who had the best accent and pronounced gigantic like “guy-gantic”.
Friday and Saturday nights out in Reykjavik are awesome! There are bars and clubs everywhere and everyone is out partying and having a good time, or in other words taking part in the runtur. The runtur is not an official event, it’s the weekend pub crawl that the locals do. Drinking on the street is legal and you can order beer to go from the bars. In fact, it’s quite common to just walk out with your pint glass and then smash it on the street when you’re done with it. There’s a massive cleanup every morning to sweep away all the broken glass from the previous night. I’m guessing they have a good glass recycling facility somewhere in town.
I wish I could’ve stayed in Iceland longer and driven around the entire island. Iceland is a very expensive place to visit despite their currency collapsing during the recent financial crisis. A pint of beer cost about US$8 at the time. Before the crisis, it was double that. Food prices are comparable with those in New York but everything else is considerably more expensive. That being said, Iceland is an amazing place and totally worth every krona.