Iceland – a truly magical place if there ever was one! This Northern island has it all: glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs and one of the most progressive and liberal cultures in the world. Experience Iceland’s unique flair and find out what makes it tick – the Marco Polo way!
Weekends in Reykjavík
In Reykjavík, daily life follows a leisurely pace from Monday to Friday, just as you would expect from the world’s most northerly capital city. But the picture changes late on Saturday evening when the streets of Reykjavík are abuzz with nightlife revelry. The Laugavegur becomes the site of a motorcade, the restaurants are transformed into bars and discos – and the alcohol level increases as the night progresses.
Iceland has beautiful sandy beaches that stretch for miles. They are dazzlingly white on the Westfjords and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and impressively black on the south coast around Vík. The water temperature will probably not tempt you to take a swim –only the bravest risk the waves for a few moments – but if you are looking for peace and quiet you will not be disappointed. A long stroll quickly turns into an atmospheric nature experience.
To truly experience the midnight sun you need to visit the small island of Grímsey north of Akureyri; it lies right on the Arctic Circle. But summer nights on the main island are also bathed in warm, soft hues and as the sun slowly sinks towards the horizon, and the hands of the clocks move towards midnight, a unique – almost magical – silence envelopes the landscape.
A world of elves and trolls
A remarkable number of Icelanders believe in elves, fairies, dwarves and trolls. Some even claim that they are able to communicate with the Huldufólk (the “hidden people”). If you want to test your second sight then you can take part in an elves tour in Hafnarfjörður or make a detour to the tiny village of Bakkagerði in the east of the island where it is said that the Queen of the Elves has her residence in a rather non-descript hill.
Island of fire and ice
Iceland is famous for its volcanoes and glaciers. Both have a destructive power but also offer the opportunity to experience marvels of nature in their purest form. A quiet spot on the shore of the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, which is fed by the mighty Vatnajökull, or an excursion to the man-made ice cave in the Langjökull are just as fascinating as the bubbling mud pots in the high-temperature area of Hverarönd, or the descent into the magma chamber of Þríhnúkagígur.
Dine with the locals
You can enjoy a meal with an Icelandic family in their own home via the Meet the Locals website. Expect either lamb or fish to be served for dinner, they are both top quality products that can be enjoyed without any reservations. It’s a unique opportunity to engage with locals about life in Iceland (Tanni Travel, Eskifjörður, Strandgata 14, tel: 476 13 99; www.meetthelocals.is, ISK13,500).
Cascades of water
Iceland is not only an island of dramatic volcanoes and glaciers but also one of impressive waterfalls. The superlatives “highest” and “the most powerful” can be determined objectively but you can decide for yourself which one impresses you the most. Here are a few candidates: the Gullfoss (meaning “golden falls”), the Dynjandi in the Westfjords, the mighty Dettifoss, the mystical Goðafoss or the Seljanlandsfoss on the Ring Road near the Eyjafjöll Glacier, which has a path behind its veil of water.
As soon as you leave Reykjavík, you will discover just how sparsely populated the island is. This creates an unusual sensation for many tourists: a feeling of solitude and silence. This feeling is especially acute on an excursion into the uninhabited highlands. A deserted beach, a lava field covered with moss, or the view of the gigantic Vatnajökull will make you relish the solitude in wonder and awe.
Buy the Iceland Marco Polo Spiral Guide.