Now there’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one but it’s true! Iceland, that large Island that sits directly northeast of us (Reykjavik is approximately 1,473 kilometres from Dublin) is almost 103,000 square kilometres in area, making it roughly 25% larger by area than the entire island of Ireland and yet it boasts a population of just 332,000 citizens — two thirds of whom chose to call Reykjavik, the capital, home. The reference to crowding is not testimony to an explosion in the national birth rate there but to the increasingly large numbers of tourists from all over the world who are beating a path to the ‘Land of Fire & Ice’!
Iceland is ‘hot’ right now in tourism terms. It is one of the ‘in places’ on most compiled travel lists, whether they be by Conde Nast, Fodor, National Geographic or Trip Advisor. That’s all the more impressive when you consider that Iceland is not exactly the cheapest place on the planet. What the country does have to offer though is uniqueness in terms of its history (founded by Viking emigrants from Norway in the 9th century) and its culture (the Icelandic language itself has remained linguistically unchanged over the centuries and so has incubated the very language that the Vikings themselves probably spoke as they emerged from their long boats twelve centuries ago.) It is one of the most tectonically active regions in the world as it sits atop the mid-Atlantic ridge which separates the continents of Europe and North America.
Many seasoned travelers will be familiar with iconic Icelandic attractions such as the Blue Lagoon; its innumerable geysers (which, incidentally are named after the Icelandic word for hot spring) and the original Great Geysir of Iceland, documentary evidence of which goes back as far of the 14th century. The nearby Strokkur geyser erupts every 5-8 minutes throughout the day and is a major tourist draw for visitors to the island.
Of course who can ever forget that infamously unpronounceable volcano called Eyjafjallajokull which erupted back in 2010 and caused misery to travelers everywhere across both Europe and parts of north America throughout the months of March, April, May and June that year. Iceland has more than its fair share of other, more powerful volcanoes, most of which are located towards the centre of the island’s land mass. More accessible but equally photogenic are Iceland’s justly famous waterfalls, one of which — Gullfoss — is particularly impressive! Also worth a mention in dispatches are the equally impressive aqueous forces of nature known locally as Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss — three strikingly different waterfalls — each with its own personality and photogenic advantages.
Because of its northerly position (64 degrees north), Iceland is one of the best places in the world to experience the Northern Lights and after two failed attempts, our patience paid off on our last night on the island when they put on a display worthy of the frustrating wait.
The real surprise however was not the magisterial landscapes; the incredibly friendly people (40% of Icelandic women carry traces of Irish genes) or even the celestial lightshow but the food! The food was amazing — in taste, in inventiveness, in visual style and in honesty! Icelanders clearly love their food and don’t want to be left behind by their Scandinavian cousins who have justifiably earned a global reputation in recent years for their culinary imagination.
Iceland is the quintessential bucket list destination and given that it takes just a little over two hours to get there from Dublin, there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for you putting your trip up there, on the long finger!