Category Archives: Iceland

What to do in Iceland and the best places to visit in Iceland.

Looking through windows in Reykjavik, Iceland

Are you making plans for travels in Europe and can’t make up your mind where to go? Why don’t you choose something different this time. Let me suggest one of Europe’s outposts; Iceland and Reykjavik.

If you go to some of the official sites about Iceland you will find all the information you need about where to stay, where to eat, what to see, so instead I’ll take you on a winter walk in this charming, different city of Reykjavik. Let’s call it a window safari.

Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland. With fewer than 125.000 people, it is a small city, and it takes only minutes to walk from the city center out to the areas where people live in small, colourful villas. The area around the main church Hallgrimskirkja (The Hallgrim Church) is my favorite area. And to look at the charming, often whimsical way the inhabitants decorate the window, I don’t think I am the only one doing “windows safaris” :-)

It was January when I did my walk, and many of the windows still had lights left over from Christmas, or to enlighten this dark season.

When you have seen enough, or may be rather when you want to see more but need a break, let me recommend Cafe Loki, close to Hallgrimskirkjan. Buy a skyr cake with your coffee and enjoy the view.

Follow this link to find more posts from Reykjavik and Iceland.

Whirlwind Roundtrip of Iceland’s West Fjords

In this guest post, Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, the editor of IcelandReview.com describes her trip through the West Fjords in Iceland.

“There are a lot of fjords in the West Fjords. So many that driving in and out one fjord after another on bumpy gravel roads, staring right up a rocky mountain slope or down a precipice into the treacherous waters below, while trying to get to a wedding in time, will make your head spin and stomach twirl.

Dynjandi-Westfjords-largest-waterfall_ESA

Dynjandi, West Fjords largest waterfall

Finally, a bridge! Thank God, or rather, the Public Roads Administration… But, no! It hadn’t opened yet! (The bridge over Mjóifjördur opened on August 20, 2009.) And now our kilometer count is all wrong. Oh dear, when does that wedding start again?

Mjóifjördur is one of countless fjords my boyfriend and I encountered on the way to Ísafjördur, the capital of the West Fjords, where we had been invited to a wedding in early July.

View-from-Strandir_ESA

View from Strandir, West Fjords, Iceland

Instead of driving straight there, we decided to take a detour to Strandir on the eastern coast of the peninsula and camp one night “Where The Road Ends” (as one inhabitant, author Hrafn Jökulsson, dubbed the region in his eponymous book).

We were told that the drive from Hólmavík, the largest settlement in Strandir with its 369 inhabitants, to the end of the road would take around two hours… It did not. How fast do the locals drive on these impossible roads?

While low-hanging clouds blocked the full view of the majestic landscape, they also added to the air of mysticism that has always surrounded Strandir. It has an eerie beauty like no other place in Iceland.

FromStrandir_ESA

Strandir view, West Fjords, Iceland

Locals are reputed to have resorted to sorcery to survive in this hostile environment and, after having experienced it on my own skin, that didn’t seem entirely unreasonable. In celebration of that reputation, Hólmavík boasts a Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, its exhibitions reaching Bjarnarfjördur, where you can visit the Sorcerer’s Cottage, and Kistan in Trékyllisvík, a cleft where three convicted sorcerers were burned to death in 1654.

In spite of its dark history, Trékyllisvík is a peaceful and green oasis in the desert. It is the largest place of settlement in Árneshreppur in the northern part of Strandir—there are only around 50 inhabitants in the entire municipality.

Other settlements are Djúpavík, which used to be a thriving fishing village but has now been reduced to a ghost town where the only all-year inhabitants are the local hotel owners, and Gjögur, where, surprisingly enough, an airport is located. The road to Árneshreppur is often closed in winter, so inhabitants rely on supplies being flown in.

Taking a breather in Gjögur was a bizarre experience: first an airstrip in the middle of nowhere and then this cluster of houses and not a single person. The Arctic terns seem to have taken over the place, judging by their hostile welcome. Ah, the screams! And then they skydive to peck your head. I thought it best to seek shelter in the car and keep moving.

Nordurfjördur, north of Trékyllisvík, has the region’s grocery store and offers scheduled boat trips to Hornstrandir, the northernmost part of the West Fjords, now only inhabited by wild creatures. Road number 643 continues to Eyri in Ingólfsfjördur, where abandoned fish factories are reminiscent of a once blooming industry.

Jeepers can move on to the next fjord, Ófeigsfjördur, but from there, travelers must rely on their own two feet to reach the desolate Hornstrandir.

If you take a different turn by Nordurfjördur, the road leads you to the most extraordinary outdoor swimming pool at Krossnes. Located on the beach, you can feel your weariness melt away as you listen to the waves crash against the shore and watch the ocean merge with the sky far away on the horizon.

Krossnes-swimmingpool_ESA

Krossnes outdoor swimming pool, West Fjords, Iceland

Back to Mjóifjördur. The clock was ticking away and yet we couldn’t move any faster along the gravel road. The weather was clearing with rays of sunlight peering through the gloomy clouds and sunny spells in between showers.

There were rainbows everywhere and lots of greenery compared to Strandir, and it seemed impossible to be in a hurry amidst such beauty. Besides, drivers must be mindful of stubborn sheep on the road and cheerful farm dogs that chase the car.

TheRoad-and-Driftwood_ESA

Driftwood close to the road, West Fjords, Iceland

Suddenly we spotted a seal lazing on a rock in the middle of the fjord—what an adorable and unexpected sight.

Out of Mjóifjördur and we still had four fjords to go. They all lead out of the larger Ísafjardardjúp, which almost splits the West Fjords peninsula in half.

The scenery is absolutely breathtaking. In sunny and calm weather, the steep mountains are reflected in the fjord’s smooth surface. Bubbling springs fall over cliffs and into the ocean and the islands Aedey and Vigur on Ísafjardardjúp are a delight to the eye. Boat trips to these islands are offered from Ísafjördur.

Hamlets like Súdavík (pop. 181) nestle between the seashore and the steep mountains, their multicolored rooftops gleaming in the sun.

Suddenly we noticed something ripple the ocean’s smooth surface from the car window. A reef? No, that’s not it. Could it be? Indeed, a whale had decided to surface right before our eyes. Amazed, we stared as the massive animal took a dive and then waved goodbye with its gigantic tail. Excited, we waited to watch it resurface—and then all we needed was an eagle and a fox to complete our safari. Unfortunately, we had no time for safaris… we had a wedding to go to!

Finally, we entered Ísafjördur (pop. 2,975). After all these tiny villages along the way, the capital of the West Fjords looked like a big bustling city. We made it just in time.

Ísafjördur-at-midnight-in-July_ESA

Ísafjördur at midnight in July, West Fjords, Iceland

What a day to get married! The sun shone brightly on the happy couple as they said their vows in a flowery garden up in the hills with a view of Ísafjördur and the mountainous backdrop mirrored in the ocean.

On such bright summer days so close to the Arctic Circle night never falls, and so the party continued into the wee hours of the morning, when we finally crawled into our tent.

Note to self: Don’t be in a rush when visiting the West Fjords next time.”

Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland: Photos & Videos

One of Iceland’s most popular outdoor natural attractions is Gullfoss Waterfall.

Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

It was icy underfoot on the day I visited in October 2009 so I shuffled along crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t slip and fall in my quest to take videos and photos.

I wished that I could have ventured further down to the path but as the slope was pretty steep I thought I’d better give that a miss.

Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

Can you believe that at one point the Icelandic government planned to build a hydro electric dam here. Explore Iceland relates that the daughter of a local farmer stirred up enough protest to convince the government to buy the land to ensure that the Waterfall would be preserved as part of a national park.

It was so cold that I didn’t even manage to stay outside for as long as I’d have liked and scurried off to the warmth of the Visitor’s Centre.

Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

Have you been to Gullfoss Waterfall? Did you manage to brave the elements to take photos and videos?

Video interview with Krzysztof Paterka, Polish swimmer in Reykjavik, Iceland

As I was wandering around Reykjavik, Iceland enjoying the sunshine and the views over CIty Hall Pond, I started chatting with Krzysztof Paterka. Krzysztof was in Reykjavik to take part in the 2009 IPC Swimming European Championships. He told me about the Championships and what he’d enjoyed about his visit to Iceland.

It’s fascinating to discover the reason why visitors are in a destination. I was in Iceland from the UK to report on the Canary Island “Say no to Winter Blues” campaign phase Mission Iceland, where 100 Canarian ambassadors were in Iceland to select 100 Icelanders to enjoy a free Winter Sun trip in the Canaries. That morning I’d met and interviewed Hogni, a musician from the Faroe Islands, who was in Reykjavik to attend Soundwaves 2009 and was about to shoot a music video outside the Icelandic Parliament about the Icelandic bank crash. Then later that morning I’d interviewed Krzysztof who was there to participate in a sporting contest.

Video interview with Hogni, a musician from the Faroe Islands

When I was in Iceland earlier this week exploring Reykjavik I spotted a film crew in front of the Parliament building, Being nosy I wandered over to suss out what was happening. Hogni a musician from the Faroe Islands was about to shoot a music video for his song about the bubble bursting on the Icelandic banking industry with some scenes to be shot outside the Icelandic parliament. Hogni kindly agreed to do a video interview with me as the film crew prepared for the shoot. He explained that he was over in Iceland for the Airwaves Festival 2009.

Hogni now has a new fan in me. Here are a couple of his music videos which illustrate his versatility and talent.

Are you a Hogni fan? Have you seen him live?

No Winter Blues, Mission Iceland: The Castings Party Reykjavik Art Museum

On 21 October there was a big party in Reykjavik, Iceland to start the selection process to find 100 lucky Icelanders to take a free trip to the Spanish Canary Islands in November 2009. The Mission Iceland phase of the “We Share our Fortune, Operation No Winter Blues” had arrived in Reykjavik. I was there on a press trip to report on the proceedings..

we share our fortune, say no to winter blues, operation iceland

The Mission Iceland party at Reykjavik Art Museum

The previous day 100 orange clad Canarian Ambassadors had hit the streets of Reykjavik, literally stopping the traffic, handing their messages in bottles, inviting Icelanders to come along to the party if they’d like to put themselves up for the expenses paid trip to enjoy some Winter sun in the Canaries, becoming Icelandic Ambassadors for the Canary Islands.

We share our fortune, operation no winter blues

A sea of orange Canarian Ambassadors bombards Reykjavik

I spoke to two of the Canarian Ambassadors and two of the Icelandic hopefuls at the party.

If you were at the Say no to Winter Blues Icelandic Castings Party in Reykjavik, please leave a comment to tell us about your experience there.

Report from an Icelandic glacier

Yesterday afternoon I had this feeling of incredulity as I stood on a glacier in Iceland taking in the amazing views.

View from glacier, Iceland

View from the glacier

A few days earlier I’d received a tweet asking me if I’d like to come to Iceland to report on the Canary Islands “No Winter Blues” campaign kicking off with Mission Iceland. Now here I was less than one week later standing on a Icelandic glacier.

Iceland glacier

Me in a multitude of layers on the glacier

It was a bumpy ride in the jeep up the snowy track to the glacier, making me feel rather queasy.

We even had a picnic on the glacier. I perched on a snowmobile in order to have a resting place for my food and get my feet off the frozen ground.

It was a wonderful if somewhat stomach churning, chilly experience. Even although it was cloudy most of the time on the glacier the light was amazing.

I’m off to Mission Iceland: 19 – 22 October 2009

I’m off to Iceland 19 – 22 October on a press trip to report on the Canary Island initiative, “We Share Our Fortune, Operation No Winter Blues”.

Iceland

Iceland by helgabj

One hundred Canary Island residents, aged 18 – 35 years, have been selected as Ambassadors to spread the message “Say no to Winter” to northern Europeans. There were 2000 applicants on the Comparte tu Fortuna site for the role of Canarian Ambassador. Applicants were put through their paces as they were tested for fluency in English, their local knowledge and possession of an outgoing, friendly personality.

Lanzarote Beach, Canary Islands

Papagayo beach, Lanzarote, Canary Islands by Teosaurio

In the “Mission Iceland” phase of their ambassadorial role, these 100 young Canarians are travelling to Iceland to recruit Icelanders for a casting session to decide on the 100 who’ll be chosen to visit the Canary Islands. Theses lucky 100 Icelanders will be able to sample almost guaranteed sunshine, banishing their Winter Blues.

I’ll be there to reporting on the progress of “Mission Iceland” aka know as @projectICELAND on Twitter.

Update 20 October 2009: Mission Iceland kicks off as the 100 Canarian ambassadors hit the street in Reykjavik to share their fortune.

Update 21 October 2009: The party launching the start of the castings process to select the 100 Icelanders who’ll enjoy an expenses paid trip to soak up some Winter sun in the Canaries.

Iceland Might Still Be There But Is It a Bargain?

When Mr. Kjartan Sverrisson, the e-marketing manager at Icelandair, issued his press release that Iceland was still there, my ears perked up a little. I’ve been looking for a long-weekend getaway and wouldn’t mind paying Iceland a visit. Under normal circumstances, the place was always too expensive for cheapskates like me and it’s been ages since my last trip to the land of sheep and ice and the Blue Lagoon.


photo: wikipedia

Supposedly now after the financial crash, the country has become more affordable. But just how affordable? On that Mr. Sverrisson is oddly vague. He just says that “the favourable exchange rate means that your money will buy you a lot.” Which doesn’t really do me any good. I want to know what this “a lot” means. The favorable exchange rate in Moldova will buy me “a lot” too. And just how cheap those weekend getaways in Iceland are these days, anyway? If I’m going to go there in winter, they better be sufficiently “budget.” Alas, they’re not.

Three nights in Reykjavik, Icelandair flight from Stockholm included, will set me back about 3700SEK (about 370 euro), and 235 pounds from London (which does come out significantly cheaper – about 2900SEK).

Unfortunately, for the same amount of money I can go somewhere with much better weather and food. Mr. Sverrisson claims that “Reykjavik has become the cheapest capital city of the Nordic countries.” A quick check of restaurant prices confirms that he might be right. At today’s exchange rate, a large pizza will set you back about 7 euros, and a bowl of pasta at Caruso costs the equivalent of about 10 euro. Add to that a drink, appetizer and dessert, and you have your average Stockholm prices. Suddenly that bargain doesn’t look so good anymore.

While Iceland might be open for business and desperate for foreign tourists to bring with them and spend their hard-earned foreign cash, the Icelandic deal might not be as good as the bosses at Icelandair want to make you believe.

So, will I be going to Iceland for a weekend getaway? Nah. If for the same amount of money I can spend a whole week in Spain, why bother? Granted, it will be a mindless charter holiday, but at least the weather will be nice.