John Corser immerses himself in Iceland’s culture and thermal waters.
Iceland might not appear to be the ideal destination for a summer holiday, but on my recent three-day trip there I found it offers a surprising number of activities for the adventurous holidaymaker.
It is best not to go to Iceland expecting fantastic sunshine and to always be prepared for the weather to change, but the 40,000 square mile island offers a fantastic range of experiences, not least its jaw-dropping rugged landscape including volcanoes and lava fields.
With a population of only 320,000 it is a place where you can enjoy the experience of easily getting away from hustle and bustle to find unspoilt beauty and invigorating fresh air.
Outdoor activities that can be enjoyed in the Icelandic summer include walking, cycling, horse riding, fishing, rafting on the rivers, snowmobiling on its glaciers, boat tours, whale watching and even snorkelling in the sea.
During the height of the summer there is almost 24-hours of daylight to take advantage of which takes a little getting used to.
The island, known as the land of fire and ice, was first settled by the Vikings and is now easy to get to for West Midlands tourists as regional airline Flybe has just launched a new three times a week service to Keflavik Airport.
Through the summer the twilight flights from Birmingham Airport take about three hours. The capital Reykjavik, 45 minutes from the airport by bus, is a great base from which to explore Iceland in the summer.
My visit included the rare chance to see inside Hofdi, the 105-year-old house in Reykjavik where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for their historic summit in 1986 that ultimately led to agreement between the super powers to limit nuclear weapons.
It is now used by the mayor and only open by special arrangement.
Reykjavik can now also boast a state-of-the-art concert hall and conference centre Harpa. The spectacular building, completed in 2011, stands on the main harbour and now provides the cultural heart of the lively city which seems to never sleep.
The nightlife often does not pick up until midnight with many bars, pubs and clubs open until 5am. Cars can easily be hired in Reykjavik and buses are also available for exploring Iceland’s secrets.
Day tours with professional guides are also offered by Reykjavik Excursions.
The spectacular Gullfoss, known as the Golden Waterfall, is a must for any visitor to Iceland along with Pingvellir National Park, the site of Iceland’s first Parliament.
The area where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet is used for filming for the hit TV show Game of Thrones. Iceland’s dramatic scenery is also attracting Hollywood with recent movies filmed there including The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Prometheus and Oblivion.
The nearby geothermal area of Geysir is not to be missed, boasting the world’s fourth biggest geyser which can catch unwary tourists – myself included – by surprise and give them an unexpected soaking in hot water.
Langjokull is Iceland’s second biggest glacier and I got the opportunity to take an hour-long tour of it thanks to the Mountaineers of Iceland group.
It was thrilling to hurtle across the ice on a two-man snowmobile through a howling wind and icy rain and find myself in a wilderness of white. The people, many with roots back to the Viking times, are uniformly friendly and eager to tell you about the treats and surprises that Iceland has to offer.
There is lots to enjoy on the cultural side. Iceland has a rich heritage of literature with its origins in the Icelandic sagas and its music has achieved global fame thanks to artists and bands like Bjork, Sigur Ros and Of Monsters and Men.
An increasing number of festivals are also now being offered through the year.
When the weather is bad Iceland offers a wealth of museums, many house in historic buildings, of all kinds to explore. The Rejkjavik Tourist Board offers adult and child cards offering discounted admission. As Icelanders have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, the food is as good as you might expect making the best use of the fresh local meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.
I ate at the Kex Hostel, near the seafront in Reykjavik, and in the Kolabrautin restaurant within Harpa where the pan-friend cod was outstanding. I also enjoyed a warming hearty beef soup at the Estidalur Farm Hotel, near to Gullfoss, after a wet and windy day and superb lamb dishes at the Lava Restaurant at the famous Blue Lagoon spa resort at Grindavik. If you are planning a visit to Iceland then you can do no better to finish your time there, as I did, with a visit to the Blue Lagoon to swim in the open air in the 37C waters and enjoy the other facilities of the luxury spa.
- John Corser stayed at the newly-opened Alda Hotel, Laugarvegur, Rejkjavik and flew with Flybe from Birmingham Airport
- One way fares including taxes and charges are now available priced from £49.99.