Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Skagafjörður

Skagafjörður is a wide fjord, maybe even a bay, in Northwest Iceland (not the Westfjords) which is home to the large town of Sauðárkrókur and some lovely natural surroundings.

Skagafjörður

Another great thing about Skagafjörður is that it’s a little bit off the beaten track because, despite the presence of Sauðár- krókur, the Route 1 highway does not pass through. Or, more accurately, it only passes through very briefly and you could easily miss it.

Skagafjörður

Skagafjörður is a fertile farming region and particularly famous for its horses. Apparently it is even the only part of Iceland where horses outnumber people. For the record, sheep outnumber people in Iceland as a whole. Just so you know.

Skagafjörður

The people of Skagafjörður are known for being open and eccentric, in a nice kind of way. The tiny town of Varmahlíð – which Route 1 actually does pass through – is the base of North Iceland white water rafting on the East Glacial River. This is one of the top spots for rafting in all of Iceland.

Skagafjörður

Sauðárkrókur has over 2,500 people, which makes it the second biggest town in the north, after Akureyri. Icelanders generally find it hilarious to translate the name of the town directly as Sheep River Hook. Weird, right?

The town is pleasant, modern and open with a few good attractions including a museum and a surprisingly interesting rock exhibition. In the winter there is a well-liked ski area by Sauðárkrókur and plenty of hiking opportun- ities. There are also a couple of islands in the fjord and boats in the harbour you may be able to get there on.

Skagafjörður

Skagafjörður is home to Glaumbær farm, a beautiful old fashioned agricultural centre, now open air museum – and one of the cutest opportunities to take quaint oldy-worldy photos anywhere in the country.

Skagafjörður

The Icelandic Emigration Centre is in the Skagafjörður region and you will find it in the town of Hofsós, which is a pleasant village of 200 people which has recently been remodelling itself to better cater to tourists. This means, among other things, that the place is well-maintained.

Skagafjörður

Skagafjörður is roughly a hundred kilometres from Akureyri and 300 kilometres from Reykjavík. There is an airport in Sauðárkrókur which is not used for scheduled flights. Akureyri, on the other hand, has lots of scheduled flights and there are plenty of coaches (and even city buses) along Route 1.

Peter, Mars 2015
Iceland24

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Seljavallalaug: A Hidden Swimming Pool in South Iceland

Seljavallalaug is a protected 25-metre outdoor pool in southern Iceland. The pool is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland and was built in 1923.

Seljavallalaug: A Hidden Swimming Pool in South Iceland

Seljavallalaug is located not far from Seljavellir. The construction was headed by Bjorn Andrésson Berjaneskoti, who received the Ungmennafélagið Eyfelling for the work. Courses in the pool were initiated as part of compulsory education in 1927. The pool is 25 metres long and 10 metres wide and was the largest pool in Iceland until 1936.

Seljavallalaug: A Hidden Swimming Pool in South Iceland

Seljavallalaug is one of those places many visitors in Iceland miss because they are busy checking off all the highlights of the south on their Been There Done That list. It’s nestled in a narrow valley below the infamous Eyjafjallajökull and it’s the oldest pool in Iceland that is still standing. It was built in 1923 by some visionaries that wanted to provide the locals with a place where they could learn how to swim.

Seljavallalaug: A Hidden Swimming Pool in South Iceland

Unlike today, where Icelanders won’t graduate school without passing a swim test, most Icelanders didn’t know how to swim in the beginning of the 1900s which was a problem since many of them lived off fishing. It was important to get these things in order and those who built this pool knew that.

Seljavallalaug: A Hidden Swimming Pool in South Iceland

Today I believe the pool is mostly maintained by volunteers and of donations but you can still very much swim in it while enjoying the spectacular surroundings. It’s built next to a rock wall that makes up one of its four walls and the water comes from a natural hot spring close by. It’s 25 meters long, 10 meters wide, and even offers dressing rooms where you can change but no showers.

Seljavallalaug: A Hidden Swimming Pool in South Iceland

There is no entry fee and you are asked to treat it with care and respect but alcohol consumption is strictly forbidden. I don’t think you want to be wasted in that location with something happening and no life guard anyway!

How to get to Seljavallalaug

When you are driving in the direction from Reykjavík you turn of the ring road (No.1) into road 242 marked Raufarfell. It’s just past Þorvaldseyri (The Iceland Erupts exhibition) so make sure you don’t miss it (like we did). You drive until you see a sign that says Seljavellir but if you follow that road you get to a new pool that was built later where you can park. There's a parking area close to the Seljavellir Farm and from there it's a 20 – 30 minute hike to reach the pool. You can’t see it until you get to it so if you think you’re going the wrong way you probably aren’t. You will have to jump over a little stream and the way is a bit uneven but it’s an easy walk and everyone should be able to do it.

Seljavallalaug: A Hidden Swimming Pool in South Iceland

It’s been a few years since I was there last time and I’m sure that the access to the pool changed a bit in the eruption because it didn’t look anything like I remembered. So if you have a guide book that says it has a nice trail to it and you feel confused when you don’t find it – don’t worry about it. It’s there!

Source: I heart Reykjavík / Wikipedia / Iceland24
Iceland24, Mars 2015

Friday, 13 March 2015

Visiting Iceland with children

Iceland is a superb family holiday destination because all the things that make it merely unique and special to you will make it an amazing world of adventure for your kids.

Most of the Iceland holiday highlights mentioned elsewhere on this website are very much suitable for children of all ages; the main exception to that rule being the kicking Reykjavík nightlife scene.

Visiting Iceland with children

As you can see in our article on childhood in Iceland, kids pretty much rule the country and enjoy an amazing level of freedom. But living somewhere and visiting there on holiday are two very different things; so here is a random, unscientifically compiled selection of our highlights for children visiting Iceland:

1. Head up to Perlan in Reykjavík, with its spaceship-like dome and incredible water fountain inside. The kids will especially enjoy the manmade geyser outside and they will be chuffed to discover the obstacle course hidden in the forest.

Visiting Iceland with children

It is more of a collection of old wooden exercise equipment for adults than it is a specially-designed children’s playground. But that doesn’t stop it being a fun diversion. You can walk from Perlan, through the forest and down to Nauthólsvík:

2. Nauthólsvík is Reykjavík’s geothermal beach and it is the perfect place to take kids on a nice day. The water is toasty warm and the sands are golden. There is also an ice cream shop, showers and changing rooms. And talking of beaches, we would highly recommend some beach combing around many of Iceland’s beaches. Children love finding unusual stones, sea glass and odd creatures and plants!

Visiting Iceland with children

3. Skemmtigarðurinn is the name of a company running two ‘theme parks’ near Reykjavík. One is indoors and the other outdoors. This being Iceland, they don’t have any rollercoasters so to speak; but they are both geared up to keeping families entertained. Read more about them here.

Visiting Iceland with children

4. Most towns and villages across the country have children’s playgrounds for residents and visitors alike. But two that particularly stand out for mention here are the hand-built Bjössaróló park in Borgarnes and the high adrenaline family garden, Raggagarður in the Westfjords village of Súðavík.

Visiting Iceland with children

5. As above, most towns and villages also have swimming pools which are an unrivalled place to relax, play and exercise for people of all ages and eternally popular with families. A few of our favourites for those travelling with children include the biggest pool in Reykjavík at Laugardalur, and the suburban haven with commanding views of the city over in Árbær. Away from the city, your children will love the pools in Akureyri and Neskaupstaður. All of the above have fun things like water slides and toys. For the record, lots of other pools not mentioned here also have excellent slides.

Visiting Iceland with children

6. While at Laugardalur, be sure to explore the park itself. Here you’ll find not only adventurous play opportunities, but also Iceland’s only zoo. Well, we call it a zoo – but you’ll probably consider it more of a farm park than anything else. There are no giraffes or lions; but there are reindeer and seals. It tends to be a real hit with everyone – especially if you get to feed the animals.

Visiting Iceland with children

7. Horse riding is clearly not suitable for young children. However, Iceland’s strong, small and steady breed of horse makes it an ideal place for that first-time equestrian adventure a kid will remember for life. Iceland has lots of riding stables staffed by experienced and enthusiastic experts, so give it some serious consideration.

Visiting Iceland with children

8. As mentioned above, Iceland’s rugged scenery and natural wonders are no less inspiring for children than adults; but you can really go out of your way to blur the lines between reality and fantasy by taking a duck boat tour at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. Drifting among icebergs and playful seals in an amphibious boat is a genuine-fake Arctic experience and will be sure to bring the North Pole from books and fairy tales to life in unforgettable fashion.

Visiting Iceland with children

9. On the cheaper front, a visit to central Reykjavík’s Tjörnin pond is a surprisingly rewarding experience for four reasons: feeding the ducks, geese, swans, pigeons, starlings, seagulls and terns is a more intense experience than most places due to their large numbers and tameness. Then you will notice Reykjavík’s modernist city hall and the interesting things inside. The pond is surrounded by pleasant parkland, and finally there is a small adventure playground and climbing net at the far end.

Visiting Iceland with children

10. Finally you’ll be wanting to take a trip out to the capital region municipality of Mosfellsbær. There are many good reasons to do this (including the pool, the Laxness museum, the walking trails and farmers market); but for this article we are only concentrating of the two children’s adventure parks on offer. One is a nature park, and the other is a Viking park. Enjoy!

Visiting Iceland with children

Peter & Berglind Rós
Iceland24 2015

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Hornstrandir peninsula - Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

The very north of Iceland is considered one of the most remote places in Europe. In this remote location, the Westfjords peninsula is home to Hornstrandir nature reserve: an isolated and unspoiled example of the undisturbed arctic.

Hornstrandir seems to be moving backwards. The current trend around the globe seems to be for people to take up more and more land, but strangely Hornstrandir, a place that used to be widely inhabited, is now completely empty.

The Hornstrandir peninsula - Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

In the mid-20th Century, the people of Hornstrandir, who had been hardy people living from the land, left their lives of sheep farming along with hundreds of year of tradition and even their houses, and took off for the ‘big city’. The houses are still there as a strange remnant from a way of life before modern conveniences.

The Hornstrandir peninsula - Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

The houses are maintained by their respective families as summerhouses. There are still no access roads and the houses can only be reached by boat and/or a long hike.

Hornstrandir is not a deserted city, rather it is a vast place that was once dotted here and there with sheep farms that have since vanished. It has always been an expansive, lonely, windswept place of great solitude. It's just that the spread-out farmers, fisher-folk and their sheep have gone now too.

The Hornstrandir peninsula - Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

If what you are looking for is solitude and a place to be surrounded by nature, Hornstrandir is a place for you. As the ultimate backcountry experience Hornstrandir is a place to be explored, where you can pretty much go as long as you want without encountering another person. Though it is very isolated and almost inhabited, the peninsula is rather easily accessible via the ferry service from Ísafjörður. There are also several tour companies operating in the area. If something should go wrong, there is some cell coverage in the area.

The Hornstrandir peninsula - Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Like in the rest of Iceland, in Hornstrandir the Arctic fox is protected and they are not allowed to be hunted. As a result, the foxes are not as wary of people and give visitors a great chance to see them up close.

The Hornstrandir peninsula - Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Hornstrandir is also a place for any armature ornithologists and bird watchers. The lack of permanent residence means that the birds congregate on the Westfjords in the thousands. The peninsula's extreme cliffs provide seabirds of all kinds with a home, as well as providing some of the most impressive landscapes in Iceland. As the ‘ice’ing on the top, the peninsula is directly north of the Drangajökull glacier.

The Hornstrandir peninsula - Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

For reasons of safety, Hornstrandir is strictly off-limits in the winter. However in the summertime, Hornstrandir is a special place that is off the beaten path and can be a trek to remember. In the fall and spring, organized sailing/skiing adventure trips can be the highlight of any epic adventure vacation!

How to get to Hornstrandir

Organized tours. Take some of the stress out of and letting someone else make all the arrangements for getting to Hornstrandir. West Tours offers several options for day tours, which range from 6200 to 21,500 ISK per person and from 4 hours to 12 hours.

The Hornstrandir peninsula - Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

By car. If you have access to a car, you can drive from Reykjavik to Isafjordur and take the ferry across to Hornstrandir. However, there are no roads in the nature reserve, so it’s on foot for the rest of the trip.

By boat. Two boat companies offer scheduled boats to Hornstrandir – Sjóferðir operates three boats departing from Ísafjörður. Freydís offers mainly tours from Norðurfjörður to the east side of the peninsula. Ferry schedules only post the departure time and travel time may vary depending on a number of factors.

The Hornstrandir peninsula - Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Once the boat arrives at Hornstrandir, it goes back to Isafjordur. Most people choose to get off the ferry at one point and hike to another ferry stop to re-board for the return trip. Be aware of the scheduled stops. It may be a good idea to book your times and tickets in advance, as most points are only serviced twice a week. West Tours sells tickets for each of the ferries.

The Hornstrandir peninsula - Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

If you don’t want to have to worry about the ferry schedule and you have some extra money to spend, you can charter a boat. This is the easier and more convenient option but can be much more expensive. When traveling with a larger group, chartering a boat is the advisable option to avoid overbooked ferries. The extra cost is easily off-set by the number of passengers.

Kolla, Iceland24
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