Friday, 15 February 2019

A Stopover in Akureyri: Travel to Iceland's Northern Capital

With a population of almost 19,000, this breathtaking northern city is the second biggest one in Iceland. Akureyri is the perfect destination because some of the best attractions in Iceland are near this area. So it’s a great idea to spend 24 hours in Akureyri and its environs. Here are some recommendations to make the most of your time without having to run around in a hurry. I will also talk about the best activities you can do during winter and summer.

Black house and purple flowers in Akureyri in North Iceland

Summer Activities in Akureyri 

Let’s start this list off with The Beer Spa. Wait, a beer spa? Yes, you read that right. There is a beer spa in Árskógssandur, a cute little village located about half an hour northwest of Akureyri. This magical and unique place has seven tubs filled with beer and hops (humulus lupulus). You will be able to soak in these tubs for 20 to 25 minutes and you can either do it on your own or accompanied by someone.

The benefits of soaking in beer are amazing for your skin, and your health in general. The amber liquid contains a large amount of vitamin B, which helps to improve and activate the immune system. It's also said that it stimulates the circulatory system. It helps to battle aging of the skin and improves elasticity. This can help the appearance of wrinkles. Do not get me wrong though! They won’t disappear, but they will be less visible.

For younger visitors, bathing in beer is fabulous to make your acne disappear! With the natural, anti-bacterial properties of this popular drink, those annoying pimples will dry up, and they will stop using your body as their home sweet home. When visiting The Beer Spa, it's recommended to avoid showering for at least an hour afterward in order to have the best results.

Whale Watching in Akureyri 

Akureyri is a harbor city, so it is the perfect location to depart from and start your adventure! North Iceland is also the area of the island that many different species of whales frequent, including other cities like Húsavik. The wonderful Akureyri whale watching tour takes place within one of the longest fjords in Iceland (Eyjafjörður).

Whale watching is one of the most breathtaking experiences you can ever have. Spotting the biggest mammal on earth is just incredible. To enjoy this tour, simply visit any tourist information kiosk, and you will have plenty of options. The tours usually last 2-3 hours, and they can either take place on a regular boat or a speedboat.

Bird Watching and Puffins in Akureyri

You may have heard of the puffins, those cute little birds that look like a mix of penguin and duck (in my opinion). There are many places in Akureyri and its surroundings to go bird watching. There is easy access and plenty of beautiful trails that will lead you to their habitat. This lovely city is the perfect home for these little seabirds, as the Eyjafjörður fjord sits right in front of Akureyri. There is no age restriction for this tour so everyone can participate. It’s the perfect activity for a variety of tastes.

Winter Activities in Akureyri 

Iceland’s Waterfall of the Gods - Goðafoss 

This majestic and enormous waterfall is about 12 meters (40 feet) high and 30 meters (98 feet) wide. It’s located 30 minutes away from the harbor. It's really something you shouldn't miss, so grab your rental car and head towards the waterfall of the gods. This place is an integral part of Icelandic history and the story behind the waterfall's name plays an important part in the country’s official conversion to Christianity. It became the official religion of Iceland in the year 1000.

Couple enjoying Godafoss waterfall close to Akureyri in North Iceland

Jólagarðurinn - Akureyri’s Christmas Garden 

To finish out your 24 hours in Akureyri, nothing better than experiencing Christmas at any time of the year! I mean, who doesn’t love Christmas? Walking into this beautiful garden will conjure up all of those memories about the most special holiday of all.

The house is fully decorated from top to bottom. Everything is filled with the holiday spirit. There is music, lights; it even smells like Christmas! The owner is basically Santa, or at least that’s how I see him. He’s adorable, kind and magical. It makes you feel like you are a kid again!

You can also bring home some decoration and ornaments, that way next Christmas will remind you of your vacation to this magical Island.

A Stopover in Akureyri: Travel to Iceland's Northern Capital 

As you can see, there is a lot to do and see in Akureyri. A limited schedule will not stop you from enjoying this charming town. From stunning landscapes, wildlife and astounding waterfalls to countless amazing activities that are just around the corner. At the end of the day, with your heart filled with joy, you will be thankful you’ve spent 24 hours in Akureyri. It’s an experience that you will never forget.

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Thursday, 7 February 2019

24 Hours in Vatnajökull National Park - What to See & Do

Vatnajökull National Park is without a doubt, a one of a kind attraction in the south of Iceland. It is known as Europe's largest national park, with an area of about 12,000 square kilometers. The landscapes in this area are so extremely diverse that you will surely be amazed by it. You will find ancient yet still active volcanoes, rocky canyons, mighty waterfalls, immense glaciers and so much more. The park is open 24 hours, but some areas have strict opening hours. There are camping facilities for those planning to stay exploring the area for a few days. This is a perfect way to enjoy the outdoors, connect with the wildlife and flora awaiting at Vatnajökull.

View from Ring Road leading to Vatnajökull National Park and Skaftafell glacier

If you are planning to rent a car to explore Iceland, then you will not have any problems finding this marvelous location. It ‘s easy to find while driving on Road 1 or the Ring road. Whether you have lodging in Reykjavik, Vik or another town, it will not be very far to get to Vatnajökull. There are different ways to enter the park depending on where you are. I personally think this park holds the best of Iceland in one place, so make sure your itinerary includes a stop at Vatnajökull National Park.

Mountains and Volcanoes

This area holds a few of the most famous volcanoes in Iceland. Askja, Snaefell and Kverkfjoll rise as icons of this region. The singular table mountain named Herdubreid is really an eye-catcher for tourists and locals alike. Herdubreid was awarded the "national mountain" award in 2002. Icelanders call it 'the queen of Icelandic mountains'. As you may already know, Iceland has many powerful and breathtaking waterfalls that can be found in any of its regions. Dettifoss is one of the most voluminous waterfalls in the area fed by the glacier river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. Prepare to be amazed by the extraordinary scenery which includes steep canyons and the occasional cascade. Surely this combination will make a breathtaking spectacle while you are there.

Your road trip will include fascinating views of this area, beginning with the massive Vatnajokull glacier taking possession of the Highlands. If you are traveling in winter, you will see Vatnajökull dominating the mountains with its strong ice walls. During summer, the scenery of the area changes a little bit, yet it is still captivating. Powerful ice-cold rivers flowing from the top of the cliffs quickly make their way to the ocean. Heading a bit to the south, you will see the island’s highest point, the marvelous Hvannadalshnjukur peak. Don’t worry; you will find the right time and place to stop and take some amazing photos along the way!

The stunning Hvannadalshnjukur peak is the highest in Iceland and part of Vatnajökull National Park

Here's a summary of the most iconic spots in Vatnajökull National Park:

Vatnajökull Glacier 

This is the highlight of Vatnajökull National Park. This glacier covers around 8% of the whole of Iceland, so it’s pretty difficult to miss. You could also explore the lakes and rivers hidden underneath the glacier. Additionally, there are active volcanos in this area that will make your visit very interesting.


Hvannadalshnúkur is the highest point in Iceland. Hiking up to the summit may be a bit difficult for some due to the uneven terrain. However, the views from the peak are definitely worth the workout. Towers of snowy glaciers await those avid climbers. They’ll also get the opportunity to overlook the icebergs floating in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon from above.

Skaftafell Zone

This is another area that you must explore as it became part of Vatnajökull National Park in the year 2008. The weather here is mild, perfect for a nice walk or a picnic at the facilities. You will see incredible rock formations, peaks, glaciers, green valleys and more. The famous Svartifoss "black falls" are also here. Several tour operators provide different activities in the Skaftafell area. My favorite one is the glacier walk/ice climbing. There are various levels, so you do not have to worry about that. Try it! It is such an amazing experience.

Glacier hikes and glacier caves are popular at Skaftafell

Dettifoss Waterfall

As an immensely powerful waterfall, it plunges into an immense abyss from the highest peaks. Seeing Dettifoss waterfall in person is truly an inspiring experience. I should tell you that you must be careful where you stand as the footpaths and rocks may be slippery. Weather in Iceland changes very quickly so you shouldn’t go when there is rain forecast.

Ásbyrgi Canyon

The gigantic, horseshoe-shaped canyon formed due to many volcano eruptions, erosion and many floods in the region. There are some mythological interpretations in this area. Some say that this stop on the Diamond Circle route was god Óðinn's (Odin) eight-leg horse named Sleipnir that stepped one of its hooves on the ground. Nordic mythology is often acknowledged by locals and tourist guides on the island. This place is truly unique due to some unusual vegetation that will definitely bring peace and joy to those exploring the few gentle hiking trails.

24 Hours in Vatnajökull National Park - What to See & Do 

There are only a few places in Iceland where you will find such a diversity of natural spectacles during your road trip. Vatnajökull National Park offers you the chance to immerse yourself in the most profound parts of the country. This is an open invitation to learn more about the geography, the culture and to understand the importance it has for humanity. Remember to leave no trace of your visit and to be help preserving this fragile environment.

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Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Iceland Winter Travel FAQs

Iceland is such a fascinating country that you should visit it at any time of the year. However, winters in Iceland are even more captivating in my opinion. The landscape is notably different, and there are several activities to do even if it's a bit chilly outside. Also, locals say that not many tourists visit Iceland during winter months, compared to the summer season. This translates into fewer crowds at Thingvellir, Vatnajökull, and more. Don't worry! Icelanders are used to the cold, so everything will work normally. Let me remind you that weather in Iceland may be hard to predict sometimes, so you should be ready for the unexpected. If you’re thinking of taking a winter trip to Iceland, here are some of the most frequently asked questions by our readers.

Can you use geothermal pools in Iceland and other winter FAQs

What should I pack for my trip to Iceland? 

Make sure you pack plenty of warm, breathable layers, boots, and a coat or parka and you will be ready to go. Waterproof footwear and clothes, wool items, etc. will definitely come in handy during your visit to Iceland. You will not want to have bulky clothing for a long hike or trek, so having a small backpack with you is also a great tip. There are a few places you could stop on the road to change, such as petrol stations, public bathrooms, and campsites. As you may already know, weather changes very quickly, so it’s better to be prepared for everything.

Is it dangerous to drive in winter? 

You can expect snowy and icy roads that will require you to be extra careful if you are planning to rent a car for your trip. Winter driving may be quite a challenging scenario for inexperienced drivers due to the snow and heavy winds. My suggestion is to always to be alert to any changes in weather conditions ( before driving. There are also scheduled bus services and guided tours if you don’t feel like driving!

Winter roads - get some Iceland driving tips and FAQs

What are the most recommended activities to do in winter? 

If this is your first time in Iceland, I would suggest booking a guided tour if possible. The majority of them do not require booking in advance There are a few agencies that offer day tours from downtown Reykjavik. They will even come to pick you directly from your accommodation door. During winter, you will hopefully get a chance to spot the famous Northern Lights or go on an excursion. Also, for the more adventuresome, there is glacier hiking in places like Skaftafell and Langjökull. Ice cave tours are available as well. You might also enjoy taking a dip in one of the countless public pools in Iceland for a relaxing warm soak during your stay.

Where should I stay while in Iceland? 

There are many hotels and hostels where you can stay while in Iceland. Occupancy is low at this time of year, so you’ll find lots of availability and great deals. Most tourists prefer to stay downtown to enjoy the sights the city has to offer. You will find many cafés, restaurants, and shops that are easy to find just by walking a few blocks. Some people choose to stay in guesthouses, usually located on the outskirts of the city or in rural areas. These tend to be cheaper than other accommodations in Iceland, which is essential if you are trying to watch your budget. Rural, less populated areas are the best places to spot the Northern lights. They usually appear in starless nights and where there is low artificial lighting and therefore less light pollution to interfere with viewing.

What is the best way to explore Iceland in winter? 

One of the most popular ways to get to know Iceland is by driving The Golden Circle route. It has about 300 kilometers (186 miles), and it will lead you to the best attractions on the island. Start at Þingvellir National Park where you can amaze yourself with the rift valley that shows how the tectonic plates meet. Then, you will see two incredible geysers (Strokkur and Geysir) that can reach up to 30 meters (98 feet) high. This is one of a lifetime spectacle to watch. Along the way, you will find what Iceland is famous for, the waterfalls. The most impressive one is Gullfoss due to its awe-inspiring power and its fantastic scenery. Then, you will find your way back to Reykjavik surrounded by cozy houses and small villages like Stokkseyri.

Frozen Gullfoss waterfall during winter in Iceland

What to do before leaving Iceland

Before you leave Iceland, you should stop by at one of the most popular destinations in the country: the Blue Lagoon. This is a place like no other as it combines the amenities of a world-class spa with the uniqueness of Icelandic landscape. It’s located in the middle of a lava field, so you’ll discover quite a remarkable experience you must enjoy before catching your flight home. The Blue Lagoon is just a 25-minute drive from KEF International Airport, so you could easily enjoy a relaxing dip in this world-famous geothermal pool before you leave the country.

Iceland Winter Travel FAQs 

I genuinely hope you have found these highlights interesting if you are thinking about taking an  Iceland road trip in winter. There are several activities to partake in; you only need to come prepared and ready to immerse into the local traditions. Remember to choose local businesses and guides whenever possible as it will help boost tourism in Iceland. Always remember to stay safe during your visit and to follow the recommendations from locals as winter may be harsh sometimes.

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Monday, 4 February 2019

What to Do During Bad Weather in Reykjavik

Iceland is a beautiful place filled with natural wonders. The country is filled with breathtaking landscapes, spectacular glaciers, fiery volcanoes, gushing waterfalls, bubbly hot springs, and many more outdoor natural attractions. This is all fine and good, but sometimes it’s best to just stay inside! The large number of rainy days the country received coupled with low temperatures and unpredictable weather creates a climate that is known for windy, snowy, rainy, stormy conditions. Sleet, hail drizzle, and fog are regular fixtures of life in Iceland. So what happens when you’re in Reykjavik and you see that it might be time to head indoors? Let’s take a look at some of the indoor activities to keep you from getting cabin fever while in Iceland.

When it's cold outside, sometimes all you want is a cozy café and a hot cup of joe.

Museums in Reykjavik 

Reykjavik has lots of indoor activities. The city has a large collection of attractions where you can spend an entire afternoon getting immersed in the local culture. From the Settlement Exhibition to the Icelandic Saga museum to the Whale of Iceland Exhibit to the Punk Rock museum, there’s something for everyone museum-wise. Take your pick of historical sites to learn about Vikings at some of the aforementioned places or the National Museum. Or head to the Reykjavik Art Museum if you’re more the creative type. Whichever you choose, you’ll stay warm inside as the bad weather rages outside.

Another cool option is the Perlan Observatory. They’ve got a café, so you can make a day of it. Check out amazing panoramic views of the city from the observation deck if the weather clears up and check out the Wonders of Iceland exhibit. They’ve got various points of interest including zones to learn about ice caves, the Northern Lights, and glaciers.

When the snowstorm clears, head to Perlan Observatory for amazing views

Bars in Reykjavik

Not really into the cultural or historical aspects of Reykjavik? Is downing a pint more your speed? Not to worry, Iceland’s capital has you covered. There’s a thriving bar and nightlife scene centered around downtown’s Laugavegur street. If the storms are going strong, why not pop into one of the cities finer drinking establishments, cozy up to the bar, and enjoy some pub grub along with your choice of ale or lager? Lebowski Bar, Kaffibarinn, Micro Bar, Slippbarinn, Húrra, and The English Pub are great choices. Each has their own distinct charm and ambiance, it’s up to you which you prefer.

Cafés in Reykjavik and Café Culture

If bars aren’t your scene either, surely Reykjavik’s cafés will win your heart. Iceland’s flourishing café culture is due in part to the fact that it’s cold here most of the year and we get a lot of bad weather. As a result, you’ll find tons of cozy spots where you can sip your coffee or tea, have freshly baked pastries or other goods. Stofan Café, Café Babalú, Café Paris, Reykjavik Roasters, and Kaffi Vinyl all top our list of places to get a nice cuppa and chill out for a few hours.

Babalú is part of Reykjavik's thriving café culture

What to Do During Bad Weather in Reykjavik 

One of the unfortunate realities of a trip to Iceland is that you will have some bad weather days. Luckily, that won’t stop you from having a good time. There are plenty of options to keep you occupied when things outside take a turn for the worst. As long as you’ve got good company, you’ll be fine and the storm will pass in no time.

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Friday, 1 February 2019

Can You Visit Iceland in the Winter?

Many people planning a trip to Iceland are often curious about the best time of year to visit the island. Should they come during the summer months and take advantage of the good weather and endless sunlight of the Midnight Sun? What about shoulder season (Iceland’s fall and spring), when prices are lower and there are fewer tourists? Some even wonder about winter, but think “Wait, can you even visit Iceland in winter?”. They picture a frozen little island covered with ice and snow. A land of subzero temperatures and night that never ends. You might as well go to the Arctic for vacation, right? Not so fast. Winter is actually a great time to visit Iceland, for a large variety of reasons.

Winter is great time to visit Iceland and see frozen waterfalls like Skógafoss

What are the winter months in Iceland? 

First off, let’s talk about exactly what constitutes winter in Iceland. It might be a little bit different than what you are used to wherever you’re from. Iceland’s winter months are November, December, January, February, and March. It extends from the tail end of fall to the beginning of spring. It’s longer than winter in most places.

How cold does Iceland get in the winter? 

Let’s dispel one of the most common misconceptions about traveling to Iceland in the winter. Iceland is not unbearably cold! It’s actually quite similar to winter in New York. The island is fortunate to be surrounded by the warmed waters brought to it by the Gulf Stream. So even though we’re located right below the Arctic Circle, it doesn’t really feel like it. Don’t get me wrong; temperatures fluctuate close to freezing (32 ºF or 0 ºC) during many of the winter months. It’s just that people imagine them as being much worse than they actually are. As long as you pack lots of thermal underwear, dress in the right combination of layers, and protect yourself against the wind, rain, and snow, you’ll be just fine.

Winter is an enjoyable time to visit Iceland

What months does it snow in Iceland? 

Iceland gets lots of precipitation throughout the year, and the winter is no exception. Temperatures in November and December start to dip into snowy territory. January, February, and March see their fair share of snowfall. Things start to thaw out in April and May just in time for the summer season.

How dark is Iceland in the winter? 

This is another prevalent myth about Iceland in the winter. Many people assume that because we experience non-stop sunshine in the summer that the opposite is true in the winter. Not quite. While it’s true that we do have reduced daylight hours, especially around the winter solstice. Late December and early January are the months that have the least amount of sunlight. You’ll only have four to five hours of full “day”, not including civil twilight. But the further you get from the shortest day of the year, the more hours of daylight you have to work with on your trip. You’ll regularly have days of seven to ten hours of sunshine, even in February.

Are there any fun activities in Iceland during the winter months? 

Yes, of course! That’s actually one of the best reasons to visit at this time of year (besides low prices). Winter is when the Northern Lights are at their peak. You’ve got cold, clear, dark skies just waiting to be lit up with Mother Nature’s breathtaking light show. Another popular winter activity is Iceland’s glacier. There’s not just glacier hikes, ice cave trekking, and glacier cave exploration. You’ve also got snowmobiling and other outdoor activities. You can’t do these things in the summer, which means winter is ideal.

The Northern Lights are a great Iceland winter activity

Can you visit Iceland in the winter? 

In a word, yes! You can absolutely visit Iceland in the winter! And it’s one of the best times of year to visit the country. From the Aurora Borealis to cheap car rentals to outdoor activities like glacier hikes to fewer crowds, there are tons of reasons to visit. Start planning your trip today!

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Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Iceland's Viking Sagas

The Vikings. They are the stuff of legends, history, and medieval lore. Anyone vaguely familiar with Iceland’s 1,000+ year history knows the island was settled by these Nordic raiders in the late 800s AD. And while their reputation is one of infamy, how did we learn so much about these supposedly blonde-haired, blue-eyed invaders that terrorized the rest of Europe? The Icelandic Viking Sagas or Íslendingasögur. Many of the stories we know were passed down orally from generation to generation. Eventually, the tales of kings, heroes, battles, and dangerous expeditions were written down by men like writer, poet, historian, and politician Snorri Sturluson. Much of what we know about the Viking Age comes from this literature.

Iceland's Viking Sagas tell us about the country's history

The Icelandic Sagas are considered to be stories, a type of historical fiction. They are part of a longstanding, unique relationship that Icelanders have to the written word. After all, this is the country with a 99% literacy rate with a population that reads the most books globally per capita. And did you know that one in ten Icelanders will publish a book at some point in their lifetimes? Let’s dive in and learn a little more about the Sagas.

Who Wrote the Icelandic Sagas and When? 

While many people give Snorri Sturluson credit for writing the Sagas, he’s not the only one. Many believe that these prosaic histories originated with storytelling. They focus primarily on the events that Norse and Celtic inhabitants experienced on and around the island during the 10th and 11th centuries AD. The Sagas themselves were written around the 13th and 14th centuries. There is a significant focus on history, especially family history and genealogy. Sturulson lived in the 1100s and 1200s and is believed to have penned one of the most famous Sagas, Egil’s saga. This story is based on the lives of the clan of Egill Skallagrímsson, a Viking Age farmer, warrior, and skáld (poet). Supposedly, Snorri Sturluson is one of his descendants.

What Language are the Icelandic Sagas Written In? 

Ready for an interesting fact? Even though the Icelandic Viking Sagas were written hundreds of years ago in Old Norse (the language of Scandinavia at the time and precursor to Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, etc.), Icelanders can still read them. This is due to Iceland’s linguistic and geographical isolation. The modern language known as Icelandic isn’t really that much different from the Old Norse spoken by the Viking settlers. Comparing original Norse and translated Icelandic text side by side will make you think you’re virtually looking at the same language.

What are Some Famous Stories from the Sagas?

You’ll find evidence of the Sagas all over Iceland. There are even a cliff and a ravine on Snafellsnes peninsula named after characters found in these stories. The most popular ones are Egil’s saga, Eiríks saga rauða, Grettis saga, Gísla saga Hrafnkel’s saga, Njál’s saga, and Laxdæla saga.

Iceland's Sagas include exploration in these Drakkar longboats

Egil’s saga deals with his family being driven out of Norway due to strife with the Crown. They settle in Iceland, and their story is chronicled throughout several generations. Egil continues to fight with the King over property and we learn of the fights, jealousy, and relationships of Egil and his family members.

Eiríks saga rauða or The Saga of Erik the Red deals with the events leading up to the banishment of Erik the Red to Greenland as well as Leif Erikson landing on Vinland (North America). Notice that Erikson’s journey predates both Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci, who supposedly “discovered” the Americas.

Grettis saga deals with Grettir, a quick-tempered, temperamental, loud man. He spends much of his life as an outlaw, chasing wealth, power, and prestige.

Reykjavik’s Saga Museum is a must for anyone interested in learning more about this particular genre. The wax fixures and realistic scenes recreate critical moments in Icelandic history. Take a journey into the country’s past by exploring the displays and exhibitions.

Display at the Viking Saga Museum in Reykjavik

Iceland's Viking Sagas 

The Sagas give us a glimpse into Iceland’s past and teach us about days long gone. They are a reminder of the Viking glory days and serve as a link for many Icelanders to their ancestors.

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