Friday, 17 January 2020

An Iceland Honeymoon: 7 Great Ideas

Looking for a romantic vacation after all the stress of planning your wedding and reception?  If you and your new husband or wife are nature lovers who love outdoor activities, maybe you should visit Iceland. The Land of Fire and Ice is home to careening waterfalls, fiery volcanoes, charred lava fields, bubbling hot springs, and icy glaciers. An Iceland honeymoon could be the perfect start to your marriage and the beginning of the rest of your lives. Let's take a look at some ideas for couples during a honeymoon in Iceland.

Iceland honeymoon couple watching Northern Lights

An Iceland Honeymoon: Pampering for Two at the Blue Lagoon

The world's famous Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa that is one of Iceland's most visited attractions. Of course, if you're honeymooning in Iceland, the last thing you want to do is be surrounded by hundreds of tourists taking selfies. That's why I recommend a visit to the Retreat Spa at the Blue Lagoon. The package includes access to the intimate Retreat Lagoon filled with mineral-rich, geothermally heated water. It's the perfect escape for the bathrobe and massage-loving crowd.

Hold Hands Walking on Vik’s Black Sand Beaches

The misty atmosphere and volcanic black sand beaches of Reynisfjara Beach are one of a kind. A cool experience of your honeymoon in Iceland and new life together can be walking hand-in-hand along these haunted shores. Be sure to check out the hexagonal Basalt column cliff face for an even more out of this world experience. And if you're looking for a place to stay nearby, the newly-opened Black Beach Luxury Suites provide both intimacy and get you close to nature.

Honeymooning in Iceland: Glacier Hiking 

This is a great idea for the ultimate adventure-loving couple on their post-nuptial vacation. Everyone knows that Iceland is famous for its glaciers, which cover around 11% of the surface area of the island. There are tons of activities related to our massive ice sheets, and surely you'll find one that works for you. The first is to do a glacier hike somewhere like Skaftafell.

There's also ice caving as well as a caving tour of the glacier caverns that rest below the surface of the expansive sheets of ice. You'll no doubt feel a sense of accomplishment and want to give your honey a kiss once you've reached the top. These are the types of memories that will make you remember your Iceland honeymoon forever.

Iceland honeymoon couple on glacier hike

Honeymoon in Iceland: The Northern Lights 

If you decide to take your honeymoon in Iceland Between the months of October through March, you're in for a special treat. Not only will you save money on everything from restaurants to accommodation, but Mother Nature also has something in store for you. Because you'll be traveling during Northern Lights season, you'll get the chance to enjoy the dazzling light show that illuminates the heavens every night.

The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, are natural phenomenon you absolutely don't want to miss. There's nothing more romantic than watching waves of turquoise, emerald, and amethyst dance across the sky. And because you'll be here during a time when it's typically colder, that's all the more reason to snuggle up close and stay warm. Not that you would need an excuse to do that, but honeymooning in Iceland certainly is a convenient one.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 

Once you find your soulmate, it often feels like the only thing you want to do is be with that person. You don't even have to talk in order to enjoy each other's company. The beautiful floating icebergs at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon will take your breath away and you can stand still marveling at them together.

It's possible to watch from the shore but it's even more of an adventure to take a ride on one of the boats that go into the water.  You'll get up close with the ice as you float among the white ghosts in the glacial lake. Bring some binoculars as well so you can appreciate the wildlife and lagoon seals.

And don't forget to head across the street to visit the Diamond Beach. This is another black sand volcanic beach, but with one particularly striking feature. The chunks of ice that have floated out to sea from Jökulsárlón occasionally make their way back to shore. The result is a shoreline scattered with sparkling pieces of ice, some as large as SUVs. It's quite a spectacular sight to behold.

Take a Road trip from Reykjavik

While some newlyweds choose to spend their time having an adventure around Iceland Ring Road, others prefer to just relax.  whether you choose to take a road trip around the island or chill out in the capital city is entirely up to you. That being said, there's definitely a day trip or two that I highly recommend. And if you have the light of the Midnight Sun in the summer, you'll have even more hours to explore while honeymooning in Iceland.

The first one that I recommend is to do the Golden Circle tourist circuit. This route loops around from Reykjavik and visits exciting highlights such as Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, Haukadalur Valley and more. The Reykjadalur hot springs and geothermally-heated river are also a fun, off-the-beaten-path destination.

And of course, you should definitely take advantage of being in Iceland's capital, at least for one or two nights. We've got a thriving nightlife scene as well as a wide selection of fine dining establishments. From modern takes on Icelandic cuisine to fusion style cooking to excellent wine selections, we've got it all.

Iceland honeymoon Reykjavik fine dining

Honeymoon Iceland Outdoor Ideas 

For those looking to enjoy the great outdoors with an unusual activity, have you ever thought about taking a horseback excursion? Horse riding is extremely popular here and you'll get to know our famous Icelandic horses. They are the direct descendants of the equines used by the Vikings, so they have noble blood.

Mounting one of these small steeds and riding through the wild Icelandic countryside is not only romantic but not something everyone does. Though these horses are small, whatever you do, don't call them ponies. They are proud Icelandic horses with a distinctive gate and you'll enjoy getting to know them. They are a unique breed that you won't encounter anywhere else on Earth.  You'll have a professional guide leading you and educating you about this fascinating animal.

Try Something New 

Coming to Iceland after you get married is not something initially on most couples' radars. But the more you think about it and the more you learn, the more appealing the idea becomes. Talk to your partner to see if this just might be the perfect destination for you.

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Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Birds of Iceland

Iceland is famously known as the Land of Fire and Ice with jarring contrasts such as frozen waterfalls and natural hot springs. However, in recent years Iceland has steadily become an alluring location for the joys of bird watching. Bird enthusiasts worldwide quickly flocked to this Nordic island when the many majestic birds of Iceland were discovered.

Birds of Iceland in Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

About 85 different species nest year-round, however roughly 330 species total have been recorded in Iceland. This stunning country has several picturesque locations for anyone interested in bird watching. For example, the beautiful Lake Mývatn scenery in North Iceland and the dynamic Reykjanes Peninsula are both memorable places for bird sightings. Puffin birds in Iceland are especially popular. Let’s dive into the most common species of birds and more places to spot them.

Puffin Birds in Iceland 

Iceland has the largest puffin population in the Atlantic and is rightfully considered the puffin capital of the world. There are about 10 million adorable puffins in Iceland and they are often seen casually walking around when in season. Bird enthusiasts and scientists alike, all travel to Iceland specifically to see this intriguing species in person. Puffin watching has also become a general tourist attraction because the birds are beautiful and friendly.

It’s easy to personify them with their expressive eyes, clumsy walk, and bright beaks. As a result of their funny demeanor, they have been often nicknamed “clowns of the sea.” They also mirror some human social bonds by raising their baby chicks as a couple and nesting as lifelong partners.

Most of the year, puffins live on the surface of the ocean. Puffins only come to shore when they need to reproduce and raise their chicks. You can easily spot the popular Atlantic puffins in very large groups during the summer season. Therefore, prime puffin watching season is from May to early September. In summer, they nest in the exact location they were born and only nest with other puffins nearby.

The female puffins produce a single egg and it takes up to 45 days for the chick to hatch. During this time the parents take turns nesting the egg. After six weeks the chick will mature quickly and can function on its own. Puffins have long lifespans for birds and average between 20 to 25 years of life.

How to Watch Puffins Responsibly 

Puffin watching is a great opportunity to feel connected with nature and have a genuine Icelandic experience. Puffins are very eye-catching and fun to watch during their summer nesting season. Just imagine a sea of birds with brightly colored beaks, freely toddling around, and showing no fear of humans. They will even walk up to you if you are close and it can be tempting to reach out and touch them.

However, we must protect the Atlantic puffin population with responsible tourism. Here are a few rules to make sure you have a great time while simultaneously protecting the puffins. If you want to know how to watch puffins responsibly, please follow our guidelines. Under no circumstances, barring an emergency, should you touch a puffin or feed them. Their feathers have special properties to deflect water and touching them ruins this process. Puffins are also highly skilled at securing their own food.

When you are puffin watching, always approach them quietly and slowly to avoid disturbing their daily routine. If watching from a boat, keep a safe distance to limit noise from the engine. If you are coming from a cliff, avoid the edge because you could step on one of their nesting tunnels. Thus crushing eggs and causing them harm. This also poses a danger for tourists because you could fall if you step through a tunnel by the cliff edge.

The best way to see puffins is to pretend to be a nature photographer and silently watch them from a safe distance. Overall, be respectful of their habitat and personal space.

Birds of Iceland puffin with eels

Where You Can Spot Puffins 

Iceland boasts the best places to observe the fascinating Atlantic puffins up close. But where can you spot puffins? You can see large groups of many different species of nesting birds throughout the island. You can rent a car and drive to see them up close or take a boat tour.

For example, you can take a boat tour from the capital city of Reykjavík to visit two neighboring islands. The boat ride is short and when you arrive the two scenic islands are called Akurey and Lundey. However, they are more commonly called the Puffin Islands because large colonies of puffin birds nest there. The two islands also house other bird species such as Arctic terns, seagulls, and eider ducks. It’s a stunning sight to see.

In South Iceland along the coast, there are more spectacular sites such as the Westmann Islands. The Westmann Islands are unique because they contain the largest puffin colony in the whole world. One-fifth of total puffin population nests on this island year after year.

In the Northwestern part of Iceland, there are several places to see puffins as well. Go visit the stunning Hornbjarg Cliffs and the Nature Reserve Park of Hornstrandir for close viewings. The puffins are very trusting at the Hornstrandir Park because it is protected land and has no history of poaching. Puffins are considered a vulnerable species because they have been used as a food source for the local people. Therefore, be respectful as you take photos and observe these beautiful creatures.

Iceland’s National Bird 

The popularity of the Atlantic puffins may have you believe they are the national bird of Iceland. However, Iceland's national bird is, in fact, the Gyrfalcon. The Gyrfalcons are the top predators in the sky known for their lethal precision hunting skills. They mainly eat seabirds, waterfowl, and sometimes rabbits. The Gyrfalcon skills made them a valuable falconry export from the medieval era. These are powerful birds that entice bird watchers from all over the world to come study in person.

Gyrfalcons are the largest falcons in the species. Male gyrfalcons have a wingspan of 48 to 61cm (19 to 24 inches. However, the female gyrfalcons are interestingly larger with a wingspan of 51 to 65cm (20 to 24 inches). They are found throughout the Arctic region but mainly in Iceland. Their plumage is different per location and can be brown, black, white, dark grey or silver. Gyrfalcons are unique because they lay their eggs inside cliff faces and rocky holes. Then they produce 3 to 5 eggs per breeding season.

Since Gyrfalcons nest inside cliffs, in Iceland they are mostly located in the Highlands, and the East Fjords and West Fjords. Gyrfalcons are also found in the North, like at the picturesque Vatnajökull National Park, which has the famous Dettifoss waterfall. Dettifoss waterfall is said to be the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. Visiting these gorgeous sites to witness the majestic Gyrfalcon take flight is a memory of a lifetime.

Birds of Iceland national bird Gyrfalcon

Bird Watching in Iceland 

There are over 330 species of birds you can enjoy beyond the popular puffins and the national bird. Bird watchers should be excited to see the brightly colored Golden Plover because it signifies spring has arrived. They usually appear from mid-March until late September. The cheerful Golden Plover, loud Long Tailed Duck, colorful Harlequin Duck, and graceful Whooper Swan can all be found in one place. By the bird watching paradise called Lake Mývatn.

Red-Throated Diver is another common bird that is easily seen throughout spring and summer. They have a red throat during breeding season but then are grey in the winter. They can found throughout Iceland.

White-Tailed Eagles are the largest birds in Iceland with a 2.5m wingspan, which is just over 8 feet. These regal birds feast on fish, other birds, and even lamb. They faced extinction but then protective actions were taken to preserve the species. The preservation center is in the West Fjords. Unfortunately, the Great Auk wasn’t protected and is now extinct.

The steady Rock Ptarmigan lives in Iceland year-round and prefers walking instead of flying. Their protection comes from changing their plumage with the seasons, white in winter and brown in summer. They are a popular holiday dish for Icelanders and can only be hunted for a few days in the year. They can be found in the sprawling Skaftafell Nature Reserve and Hrísey Island.

Bird watching is a popular activity for a reason, you can witness nature in motion, and learn something new. Now take out your camera because your bird watching adventure is waiting.

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Friday, 3 January 2020

Okjökull Glacier Extinction: A Warning to Future Generations

One of the biggest threats we face in the 20th century is the growing climate crisis.  It's something that has been in the back of our minds for a while now. The increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has led to steadily increasing temperatures and a more visible impact on the environment. Okjökull glacier is the first Icelandic ice sheet to lose its status as a glacier.

Okjokull extinction and melting glaciers in Iceland

Okjokull Glacier 

As you can imagine, it was quite a shock to have a glacier lost to climate change. In the 1890s, the ice cap covered 16 square kilometers (6.2 square miles.). This number was reduced to just over half a square kilometer in 2012.

The melted ice of Okjokull glacier is symbolic of a larger problem that is an imminent threat to our future. Glaciers are expected to continue melting at faster and faster rates. This rapid decline requires action, and fast. Climate scientists estimate that in 200 years all our country's glaciers will follow the same path as this former Icelandic glacier.

Iceland Glacier Retreat 

It is the sincere hope of many that Okjokull will be the last Icelandic glacier to lose its official status. With Iceland losing around 11 billion tons of ice every year, Rice University professor Cymene Howe estimates everything will disappear by 2200. That’s more than 400 glaciers which will either become dead ice or disappear completely. This is a scary and sobering prediction, especially since glaciers currently cover around 11% on a map of glaciers in Iceland.

Ice caps around the world are either dying or being lost to warmer than average temperatures and we must take action soon. Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has heard the warning call. The glacier was officially declared extinct by Iceland geologist Oddur Sigurðsson in 2014. We generally don't see the day to day effects of climate change. But the loss of this Iceland glacier is a very real, very visual reminder that it is happening.

As a way to shine a light on the topic, Icelanders and climate change activists held the funeral for the fallen glacier. They commemorated the loss with an event held on August 18th, 2019. Around 100 people gathered in Western Iceland on the site of the barren terrain which was once covered by the massive ice sheet. Not ironically, the ceremony took place just following the warmest July ever recorded.

The Funeral for an Icelandic Glacier 

A bare rock was chosen as the symbolic home for a bronze plaque which contains a letter to the future. In both Icelandic and English it states:

“In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it”.

Author Andri Snaer Magnason was tasked with writing the eulogy for this Icelandic glacier.

The monument is to acknowledge that humanity is at the tipping point. We hope to actively engage and work together to solve this serious problem together. Some attendees were the aforementioned prime minister of Iceland along with former Irish president Mary Robinson. Ms. Robinson has also worked as a UN Human Rights commissioner. They were joined by some local scientists and researchers along with some American colleagues who pushed for the commemoration project.

How do melting glaciers affect the planet? 

The effects of melting glaciers may not be seen as they happen quite slowly over time. But when looking at before and after satellite photos of ice caps, it's clear that the ice is slowly disappearing. It's a sad and shocking sight that will turn even the most ardent climate change denier into a believer. They can see it with their own two eyes.

Okjokull glacier has melted like others as climate change displaces polar bears

And of course, we've all seen those poor, suffering polar bears. They're either unable to find ice to walk on or we can see their bones because they are starving. As they fail to adapt to their quickly changing environment, the potential extinction of these gorgeous creatures is one of the disastrous consequences of melting glaciers.

Another significant problem is the rising sea levels that link directly back to excessive fossil fuel usage by the human population. As the ice melts, it flows into the ocean and inch by inch towns and coastal cities are slowly overtaken. The sea is currently rising at around one-tenth of an inch every year. While this rate may not seem like a lot, it adds up quickly and accelerates over time.

Shorelines move further and further inland and millions are impacted around the globe. Not only are people being displaced from their homes, but cities are also being submerged, food and water supplies are threatened, and the global economy is disrupted.

As carbon dioxide (CO2) continues to choke our planet, things will only continue to get worse. The youth of today are even stating that we need to declare a global public emergency and take drastic steps. After all, it is future generations will feel the disastrous consequences of climate change the most strongly.

Pollution and climate have melted Okjokull glacier

The Okjökull Glacier Extinction 

We are living out climate change in real-time. Events like the Okjökull glacier extinction act as the canary in the coal mine to remind us that we don't have forever to change course. While places like Iceland are the first to feel the effects, other, less direct events like strong hurricanes and wildfires also linked directly to global warming. If our politicians aren't willing to do something about it, we the people need to take things into our own hands and take action.

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Friday, 27 December 2019

Elephant Rock Iceland: A Westman Islands Star Attraction

As you drive along the South Coast of Iceland toward Seljalandsfoss waterfall, you’ll pass the Westman islands or Vestmannaeyjar. Southern Iceland is known for volcanic eruptions and this unspoiled archipelago is the result of volcanic activity. You’ll want to stop by Heimaey island (Home island), the only inhabited island of the cluster. Heimaey is the largest island and home to Elephant Rock Iceland.

Elephant Rock Iceland on Heimaey in the Westman Islands

Elephant Rock Iceland: What is it Exactly? 

Elephant Rock is a natural rock formation on the sea cliffs that looks just like a giant elephant. We get the name Elephant Rock from the appearance of the giant pachyderm dipping its trunk into the ocean grab some refreshing water. The resemblance is uncanny, especially because the basalt rock that makes up the natural wonder is dark gray. Combine this with the wrinkly skin appearance of the rock’s texture and you can see how Iceland’s Elephant Rock couldn’t be called anything else.

While the advancing lava has long since cooled, what we are left with is Elephant Rock in Iceland. The mossy rocks that cover the head and ears add to the beauty of this dramatic spot.

Some have pointed out the surface of the rock also bears a resemblance to HP Lovecraft's terrifying sea demon Cthulhu. His horror-genre comics from 1928 featured a cosmic daemon with the face of an octopus.  If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, picture Bill Nighy as Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies instead. The rocky sea cliff has holes in the rock which give the eerie impression of eyes and realistic appearance of a face.

Elephant Rock in Heimaey Iceland 

You may sometimes hear Heimaey referred to as Elephant island Iceland because they are so closely associated with one another. In fact, many visitors come to see Elephant Rock in Heimaey Iceland as part of a day trip or stopover. To get to the island, you’ll need to catch the ferry. It’s a very straightforward and enjoyable ride.

The Westman Islands are home to Elephant Rock Iceland

Elephant Rock island is located 7.4 km (4.6 miles) nautical miles off the coast of Iceland. Spread among the 13 square kilometers (5 square miles) of the entire area, you’ll find 15 islands and 30 natural reefs. To get to the Elephant Rock in Iceland is easy to get to via ferry. Book your ferry tickets on the Herjólfur passenger ferry that leaves from Landeyjahöfn.

It holds 500 ferry passengers and 60 cars, which sounds like a high capacity. But remember that during the summer high season, everyone is going to want to take a trip. Tickets might sell out, so the sooner you can book, the better.

Don’t worry if you’re not able to bring your car or camper on the ferry. Landeyjahöfn has free parking and everything on the island is within walking distance. You’ll be able to get around easily and have a nice active day out.

The ride itself is short; around 35 minutes each way. Then, get ready to explore all of the wonderful natural beauty and make your way to Elephant Rock. There are around seven departures and returns every day, so just plan your schedule and give yourself plenty of time. Ticket prices are quite reasonable. Adults pay 1600 ISK ($13.25 or 11.90€) and there are discounts for children, teenagers, senior citizens, disabled travelers, and students.

Directions to Arrive 

So where is Elephant Rock? Once you’ve landed in Heimaey and gotten your bearings, start heading toward the western side of the island. There are some protected nesting areas, so depending on the season, you might need to take a small detour. If you’re wondering where is Elephant Rock, keep going towards the Westman Islands Golf Club. The rock itself is located on the northwestern tip of the island.

Elephant Rock Iceland is on Heimaey island

Once you’ve passed the Latter Day Saints Church Monument and Mormon pond, you’ll see it off in the distance. Walk up the shore to get a closer look from the rocky coast to the south of our elephant-like friend.

The best angle for viewing the rock is actually from the sea, and you can access this by private boat or on a boat tour. In addition to Elephant Rock, the island is famous for its rock formations, coves, inlets, and bird cliffs. Take a Westman islands boat tour for a relaxing few hours enjoying the amazing view. If you plan on going this route, please remember that the tours leave from Heimaey (the main island) and not from the mainland.

Elephant Rock Heimaey Iceland 

A visit to Elephant Rock in Heimaey Iceland is one you won’t soon forget. Our country boasts thousands and natural wonders and this is a very special one indeed. It combines the best of volcanic rock formations, the sea, and areas filled with typical Icelandic wildlife that are a nature lover’s dream. Come visit the Elephant Rock in Iceland to see what all the fuss is about.

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Friday, 20 December 2019

Advantages of an Iceland Road Trip

Driving through Iceland is the adventure of a lifetime. In this Land of Fire and Ice, you will see nature in all its contrasting glory. From stunning glaciers to geothermal hot springs and midnight black sand beaches to vibrant blue ice caves. Renting a car is the best way for you to experience all of these natural wonders. The advantages of a road trip include setting your own pace and visiting many sites efficiently. You will surely stop along the road in awe of the landscape and the peaceful serenity. Picture perfect photo opportunities will be around every bend in the road.

Snowy landscapes are part of Iceland road trip advantages

Advantages of a Road Trip 

When you create your bucket list, think about what you want to see and how many days in Iceland you will have. Also, where you want to go will determine the kind of rental cars you should research. Summer is a great and popular time to visit Iceland. But depending on your preferences, fall might be preferable if you do not mind colder temps and enjoy smaller crowds. Fortunately, at anytime of the year, Iceland remains an unforgettable and mystical island.

There are a ton of reasons why a road trip is the best option to go across the country. So let´s get started on planning your epic road trip with Iceland’s best routes, car rental and road tips.

Renting a car in Iceland is by far the best way to see this contrasting Land of Fire and Ice. However, it is not like renting a car in other countries. Here are few tips before you pick up your car keys. Book in advance to get the best rates because during peak season quality vehicles might not be available. Cars are completely imported so what you see is what you get. Remember to adhere to all speed limits and do not drive off road. If you drive off road you can face very expensive fines and up to two years jail time. Be cautious because no one wants to have any mishaps on an otherwise great vacation.

Stop at local gas stations to keep your tank full to avoid running out of gas. You don’t want to pass a station on a half tank while driving along long stretches of road. You can drive for hours and not see another soul or gas station. Please note that gas is expensive in Iceland so budget accordingly.

Where do you plan on going? 

Where you want to go will determine if you rent a regular car or a four-wheel drive. If you are driving in the Highlands you need a four-wheel drive because of F-Roads. What are F-Roads? They are rugged and unpaved roads that require you to drive over rivers, lava fields, and more. But the epic views are worth the adventure. And how many people can say they've driven through a river and a lava field?

If you are driving through places like the Ring Road, it is predominantly paved, therefore a regular car should be fine. But depending on weather conditions you might need a four-wheel drive due to snow levels and ice on the ground. Overall, be prepared for quick weather changes like sudden sand storms and rainfall. Also, get car insurance. You won’t regret it.

Iceland Road Trip Planner 

First, establish when you want to visit Iceland because it will determine what you can see. Then based on time of year and terrain you will face, you can decide on your rental car. Peak times to visit are in the summer months of June, July, and August. The advantages of the summer season include long daylight hours, warm weather, generally clear road conditions, and green landscapes. In June through July you can see violet lupine flower fields, whale watching, and the Midnight Sun. The only disadvantages are more people, higher prices, and not seeing the famous Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis).

During summer, there is simply too much light to see this natural phenomenon. In spring and fall you also have great daylight hours, but brilliant spring and fall colors and decent road conditions. Spring is in April and May while fall is in September, October and early November. During these times you can actually see the famous Northern Lights and still go whale watching. Additional advantages include cheaper prices, fewer crowds, and only slightly colder weather. So when creating your Iceland road trip planner, the time of year is an extremely important factor.

Iceland road trip advantages include the Northern Lights

In the winter, which is mid-November to early February there are fewer crowds and the landscape looks like a fairy tale covered in snow. There are good prices and you can witness winter magic by discovering frozen waterfalls. Please note the driving conditions are very challenging because driving in Iceland requires you to be comfortable navigating in snow. It will also require the use of a four-wheel drive. Several roads are also shut down for safety purposes and there are limited hours of light.

Iceland Best Routes 

After you have identified the time of year you want to visit Iceland, choose how long your trip will be. If you spend a long time in Iceland you can appreciate much more of this magnetizing country. It's best to spend 10 to 14 days to avoid rushing any part of your experience. However, even three to seven days will work for short day trips. Either way, lasting memories from your great adventures will be created.

On shorter trips, focusing on locations close to the city capital of Reykjavik would be wise. You could take a day trip and drive through the Golden Circle then on another day visit Snaefellsnes Peninsula or the South Coast of Iceland. You can also drive 40 minutes from Reykjavik and experience the rejuvenating Blue Lagoon for a refreshing day at a geothermal spa. For longer trips, you can plan to visit all of these areas including the famous Ring Road, the Highlands, and much more.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula 

When you land at Keflavik Airport, pick up your rental car, charge your phone, and hit the road. Visit Snaefellsnes Peninsula, it is close to the capital city of Reykjavik and can be experienced in one day. However, if you have more time, two to three days would be preferable to see everything at your leisure. It is often called “Iceland in miniature” because it encompasses so many of the beautiful features Iceland has to offer in one area. Snaefellsnes Peninsula has ancient mountains, crystal clear waterfalls, active volcanoes, many lava fields, picturesque golden sand beaches, and cute villages. Snaefellsnes Peninsula even has basalt column cliffs called Gerðuberg, which are hexagonal structures that look like perfectly made sculptures. But they are a natural result of lava cooling.

If you like visiting places that have been featured in famous movies or television shows look no further than the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Kirkjufell Mountain is one of the locations where Game of Thrones was filmed. Many people from all over the world have traveled to take a singular photo featuring this ancient mountain and two breath-taking waterfalls called Kirkjufellsfoss with Kirkjufell. Snaefellsjökull National Park is another must-see because it surrounds a famous volcano called Snaefellsjökull, which is topped by an ice cap. This volcano has been the inspiration for a novel and movie called Journey to the center of the Earth. Another site to admire in this national park is Skarðsvík. It’s a unique golden beach in Iceland because most are black sand beaches from basalt lava.

Day trips to Kirkjufell are one of many Iceland road trip advantages

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is one of the most popular road trip routes in Iceland. It will lead you to memorable locations that everyone should see. The three important sites are Thingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unique historical and geological significance. This national park was the place where Iceland’s first democratic parliament was founded and where you can see two continental plates separate. You can actually snorkel and dive between the tectonic plates and witness this marvel up close.

The next sight to see is the famous Geysir hot springs, which is the place of the first erupting geyser. This area is very steamy from the geothermal vents but is no longer active. The last stop is Gullfoss Waterfall aptly called the Golden Waterfall. It is a miraculous vision to behold, the water changing color and cascades down from the melting of Langjökull Glacier. While here you can visit a manmade ice cave.

The Best Way to See Iceland

Get excited, going on a road trip through Iceland is the trip of a lifetime. There are so many advantages of a road trip and you’ll create lasting memories and leave with many stories to share.

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Friday, 15 November 2019

Reykjavik Sightseeing: Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral

If you plan on spending any time in Reykjavik, it's likely that you're going to be doing some sightseeing around town. One of the city's most famous landmarks is our beautiful Lutheran church on a hill, Hallgrimskirkja. This holy place has become a symbol of not only the country's capital but also Iceland itself. Let's go in-depth and learn all about the iconic Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral.

Hallgrímskirkja cathedral in Reykjavk at sunrise.

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral: Basic Information

The church stands 74.5 meters tall (240 feet), which makes it the largest church in Iceland. It's also one of the tallest structures in the country. It's visible from just about anywhere in the city and serves as a reference point. Much like the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Hallgrimskirkja towers over Reykjavik.

After construction started in 1945, it took around 41 years to build and construction was completed in 1986. The church is free to enter, but if you want to go to the top of the tower it's going to cost you a little bit. Currently, the price is ISK 1000 or about $8 or 7€. Children ages 7 to 16 only have to pay ISK 100, which is less than a euro or a dollar.

I highly recommend taking a trip to the top of the observation tower. You can take the elevator straight up and enjoy the viewing deck. Much like the Perlan Observatory, it offers beautiful views over Reykjavik. It’s also a great way to get a bird’s eye view of the colorful houses that Iceland’s capital is so famous for.

Opening Hours

In the summer months (May to September), the church is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. During the winter (October to April), these hours are reduced to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The church is especially beautiful during Northern Lights season when the Aurora Borealis serves as a dazzling backdrop to the already illuminated church.

Hallgrímskirkja cathedral facade and Northern Lights

Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik Iceland’s Influence and Architect 

One of the first things people notice about Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik Iceland is its imposing facade. For those who know little about Iceland's geology or the history of the church, it might look like a large pipe organ. This is a normal assumption to make, as there is a rather large pipe organ inside. We'll touch more on that later, but for now, let's talk about the exterior of the Lutheran parish.

The man who designed this striking building was none another than Icelandic state architect Guðjón Samúelsson. He was also responsible for several other famous Icelandic buildings. These include the Church of Akureyri, the main building of the University of Iceland, the Landakot Roman Catholic Cathedral in Reykjavík, and the National Theatre of Iceland. Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral was his final work and his most famous masterpiece.

He drew his inspiration from Iceland's stunning volcanic landscapes, especially its hexagonal basalt columns. You'll find these natural rock formations in places like Svartifoss waterfall, Reynisfjara beach, Gerðuberg cliffs, and Stuðlagil canyon. These tall, geometric shapes can be found all over the island and are a unique part of the scenery. When you look at the front of Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik Iceland through this lens, it takes on a whole new dimension.

The solid concrete facade is both a nod to Icelandic nature and one of the more modernistic, expressionistic styles of architecture.

The Main Church in Reykjavik: Hallgrimskirkja and Its Massive Pipe Organ 

So while the exterior of the church has nothing to do with the huge pipe organ inside, I do still want to touch upon the topic. German organ builder Johannes Klais created this gorgeous instrument housed inside the cathedral. Its 102 ranks, 72 stops, and 5275 pipes weigh in at an impressive 25 metric tons. You’ll feel quite small standing beneath it, as it is 15 meters (49 feet) tall. The pipe organ’s construction ended in 1992.

It was also featured on CDs by famed organists Christoper Herrick (Organ Fireworks VII) and Mattias Wager (Live at Vatnajökull). Perhaps when you visit the famous church in Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja, you’ll stumble in during a service and someone will be playing a beautiful hymn on the organ.

The church has an active congregation and is frequently used for religious services, weddings, and other events. Obviously, if there is a private event going on, please be respectful and do not enter the church or take photos.

Hallgrímskirkja cathedral statue

Who's that guy standing out front? 

So many times when we go to visit a foreign country, we'll see statues and monuments of famous people from that country. Many times, you will have no idea who that person is. Well if you go to Reykjavik and visit Hallgrimskirkja, you'll notice a handsome warrior standing boldly out front just waiting to defend his beloved cathedral.

This fine gentleman is none other than Icelandic Norse explorer Leif Erikson. According to the history books, he was the first European to set foot on continental North America, back then called Vinland.  For those keeping track, his travels were around 500 years before both Amerigo Vespucci and Christopher Columbus. Sorry Italy, but Iceland wins this one.

The statue by sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder was a gift from the United States to the Icelandic parliament in 1930. They wanted to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s Thingvellir Parliament, which began in 930 AD. Fun fact: Iceland wins here again as this is the world’s oldest and longest-running parliament. The statue was presented as part of the 1930 Althing Millennial Festival. This means that it predates the church, but eventually, the Icelandic government found the perfect home for it in front of Hallgrimskirkja.

Hallgrimskirkja Church: The Best of Reykjavik Sightseeing

This is a lovely church with a unique facade and a stunning interior.  In addition to the pipe organ, the vaulted ceilings are also quite impressive. While walking around Reykjavik, this building will certainly catch your eye. I highly encourage you to climb those steps at the end of Skolavordustigur street and pay Hallgrimskirkja (Hallgrímskirkja) a visit. It will likely be one of the highlights on your trip to Iceland.

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