Last week, I went to Iceland for the very first time. This meant several things: first, I was embarrassingly excited about absolutely everything that we did. And second, I packed entirely wrongly for what is – as it turns out – really rather a mild climate during the summer.
Here’s my guide to what to do in Iceland during the summer. So you can avoid my faux pas ;).
OMFG there are just no words to describe how cool this was. You ‘take off’ (if that’s the right word for the sort of up-hover you do in a helicopter) from Reykjavík’s teeny tiny airport, and head out to the vast landscape. We cruised the lava fields and landed in Hengill volcano to check out the hot springs. I think you can choose which landmarks you want to focus on – we saw the Goðafoss waterfall (aka waterfall of the Gods), which was insane. There were loads of birds flying up and down it, which Pilot Guðjón explained were relatives of the Albatros. So obviously I had that song going round in my head for the next day or two. Then we headed to the site of the Viking Parliament, and the visible meet of the European and American tectonic plates. The plates are drifting apart by approximately 2cm every year, and the growing gap is pretty impressive. Interestingly, there’s a massive road running over it, which I didn’t quite catch the logic of.
Since Iceland is Scandinavian, the summer months enjoy almost 24-hour daylight. I say enjoy. It’s very beautiful and you can be awfully productive with your days, but it is a bit tricky doing regular things like sleeping. Sunset begins around midnight, which means the holiday ritual of pre-dinner sun-downer drinks is slightly out of the question. We headed to the Sky bar at the waterfront for cocktails and snacks, then watched the sun setting from a cosy little spot in our hotel where we had retreated for teas and coffees.
Technically, the national food in Iceland is smoked lamb. But I didn’t try that. Instead, I made it my mission to try as many different fish dishes as possible. Everything is super fresh, you see – most of the menus will offer a Fish Of The Day, as caught by Fisherman John (or similar). Portions are large and wholesome. I don’t think I honestly felt hungry the entire trip.
Reykjavík has a main shopping street – Laugavegur – which runs between the Church and the waterfront. There’s a whole variety of shops – lots of souvenir-type places – but also more practical things like grocery stores. Most of the shops we visited had a huge array of silver, artisan-looking jewellery. The designs are very modern, and many have been obviously inspired by Icelandic nature. The more adult-y amongst us spent time checking out the quirky homewear. Cool stools and an amazing array of things made entirely of paper – like a dirty-washing-bin, with a panda face on it.
I didn’t realise before I went, but there is an absolutely huge culture of coffee-drinking in Iceland. Which served me marvellously. There are no international chains (bye bye, Starbucks), and each coffee house we visited had its own unique charm. My favourites were Mokka, Kaffitár, and Reykjavík Roasters. I was surprised to find that most places offered both soya and almond milk, and were totally open to extremely picky orders (you know, half shot decay extra hot no foam etc).