Iceland is a perfect destination for a fly-drive holiday even in the middle of winter. Despite its chilly moniker Iceland isn’t as freezing as you might expect, thanks to the warm Gulf stream from the Atlantic, and the winter landscape is spectacularly beautiful. We had a week long itinerary: starting in Reykjavik we drove a great big ‘smile’ along the rounded southern coastline from the west of Iceland to the east, stopping at several locations along the way.
Living in the UK, like most Brits, we are absolutely hopeless at dealing with even the slightest dusting of snow on the roads in winter. It’s because we don’t see seriously wintery weather very often and we’re just not used to driving on snow or, worse, ice. Our Icelandic hire car was a large estate with studded tyres. Driving on ice? Spectacularly easy. The roads were clear and there were many stopping points along the way offering the opportunity to get out of the car and go walking. All the attractions were well signposted and easy to find.
Thingvellir National Park is important both geologically and culturally. It lies on the boundary between two tectonic plates – the Eurasion and the North American. You can see lots of canyons and fissures across the site. It is also the place where the Icelandic parliament was established over 1000 years ago.
The word geyser is derived from the geyser, Geysir, located in one of the many geothermal areas that can be found all over the country. The original geyser is no longer active but its companion, Strokkur, reliably gushes every few minutes – up to about 30 metres – and is a spectacular sight.
Gorgeous Gullfoss is a two tier waterfall that plunges dramatically into a gorge.
Together, the sites of Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss are known as the Golden Circle as they are all located near to Reykjavik and can easily be visited in a day – handy if you only have a short time in the country. But if you have more time, it is worth exploring further…
Travelling along the south coast you can stop at the impressive waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss.
The stunning black beaches of Vik, the southernmost town of the country, on a dark and moody day show off the amazing basalt sea stacks located just off the shore.
Then there’s the amazing iceberg lagoon at Jokulsarlon. It lies very close to the coast at the edge of the glacier Vatnajökull which feeds the lake with melted glacial water and icebergs that calve off and float on the lake. Over time these icebergs melt, serenely crossing the lake towards the shoreline before slowly heading out to sea.
If the scenery looks familiar you may have seen this lake in the Bond films Die Another Day and View to a Kill as well as Tomb Raider. If you visit in the summertime it is possible to do a boat trip on the lagoon. This wasn’t operational when we visited but we were able to take a long walk along the stunning shoreline.
In the south-eastern corner of Iceland lies the fishing town of Hofn, means harbour in Icelandic and is one of the country’s natural harbours, where you can see the boats coming in.
Being an island Icelandic cuisine has a lot of seafood on offer and Hofn has a number of restaurants where you can eat leturhumarinn or Icelandic lobster. These aren’t actual lobsters, rather langoustines, also known as Dublin bay prawns or Norway lobsters, but they are nevertheless delicious.
We found a local restaurant that offered a simple dish – leturhumarinn in cream sauce with chunky slices of bread. Yum.