Travel Obsessions: Iceland
A land where cascading waterfalls turn golden in the dappled sunlight, iridescent blue pools bubble with warmth and glowing lights tumble across the starry night sky. A place where unicorns skip across rainbows, crystal caves lay hidden within glaciers and huldufólk emerge from volcanic landscapes that throw curious shapes to the surface.
Where is this amazing mythological land, you ask? It’s Iceland and it’s my all-time travel obsession. The big freeze across the northern hemisphere may have started to thaw but we’ve still got the hots for Iceland.
So, the unicorns may not be entirely real but with such a fantastical volcanic landscape to draw on, Icelandic folklore abounds with tales of trolls that turn to stone in the sunlight and huldufólk (hidden people) who reside in the curiously shaped stones amid eerie natural phenomenon.
Located in between the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, the isolated island nation of Iceland is the stuff of fairytales. It’s an European country that’s still evolving with new landscapes created by volcanic eruptions and glaciers. These otherworldly sights have subbed for the fictional worlds seen in Thor: The Dark World, Oblivion, Prometheus and Game of Thrones. It’s even said to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
But Iceland is not just for fantasy fans. There’s an ultra-modern culture underpinned by ancient traditions. A country once ruled by Vikings now with an edgy style that’s permeated the global zeitgeist. Icelandic music and design are covetably cool with famous proponents including the always quirky Björk (and her former band, The Sugarcubes), the ethereal Sigur Rós, the electronic stylings of GusGus, folk popsters Of Monsters and Men, and indie darling Emilíana Torrini. Not bad for a population of just 322,000.
Best time to visit: To make the most of the summer festival season, head to Iceland between June and August when average temps reach 25 degrees Celsius. If you want to see the Northern Lights, brave the -10 to -30 degrees Celsius temperatures and visit in winter (December to February).
Know: Icelandic naming conventions are not based on family names and local’s surnames instead reflect their father’s or mother’s first name. Hence, Björk’s full name is Björk Gudmundsdóttir meaning daughter of Gudmund, and Of Monsters and Men singer Ragnar Thorhallson is the son of Thorhall. To avoid confusion, telephone listings are alphabetised by first name.
Places to go:
Reykjavik is the capital and infused with that particularly Icelandic brand of cool. Damon Albarn of Blur was part-owner of a popular bar here (Kaffibarrin) and there’s also Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower. Don’t miss a visit to the Icelandic Phallological Museum – the world’s first museum dedicated to the male member.
Golden Circle is an epic road route that takes in some 300 kilometres and some of the most spectacular sights in the country. Including miniature unicorns horses and gushing geysers.
Blue Lagoon - not a tropical oasis, but a mesmerising aqua blue geothermal pool right near Reykjavik where you can laze in mineral-rich and warm waters amid icy landscapes.
Gulfoss, meaning ‘Golden Falls’ is actually kind of brownish due to the sediment carved off by glacial ice. But when the sun hits just so, the dramatic drop takes on a golden glow – hence the name.
Krýsuvík Geothermal Area in southwestern Iceland is the spot to see boiling hot mineral springs, bubbling mud pots and hissing volcanic vents all framed by colourful hills.