Written by Laura May Bailey
Since March, many of us have had to cancel or postpone holidays. Some have even begun to wonder whether tourism and the traditional summer holiday will ever look the same again as large, busy hotels and bustling cities and bars no longer carry the same appeal in germ conscious minds. Bearing all these worries in mind, where better to escape to (physically or virtually) than the wilds of Iceland, the land of fire and ice.
Iceland, along with many of the other Nordic countries, has dealt with the pandemic’s blows reasonably well, suffering 11 deaths so far. However, that doesn’t mean that tourism and travel continue as normal. If you do decide to pay the country a visit, bear in mind that you will have to pay for a Covid-19 test upon arrival, isolate for 5 days and then take another test before you’re allowed to move freely, and then still abide by social distancing. For more information on what to expect when you visit see here.
In the summer of 2020, I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in the beautiful country and take several road trips from the capital, Reykjavik, to explore the quieter north. Every part of the country can offer breath-taking views and natural wonders, but here are my top five places to see in the West Fjords (north-west) and along the Northern coast of Iceland.
Akureyri – Iceland’s colourful capital of the north is the second most populated centre in the country, yet Akureyri does not feel second best to the capital, Reykjavik. The impressive church with its famous stained glass, stands over the main town where you can find a great range of restaurants and cafés. My boyfriend and I enjoyed a delicious brunch at Backpackers Akureyri on the high street. Particularly worth visiting are the botanical gardens, a short walk away from the town centre where you can find lots of information about Iceland’s beautiful (and hardy) flora.
Dynjandi – At 99 metres tall and around 60 metres wide at the base, Dynjandi is a magnificent example of Iceland’s powerful natural forces. Despite its impressive size, Dynjandi’s location, deep within the West Fjords, makes it a less traversed waterfall than others which are only a short distance from Route One (the ring road that circles Iceland). The drive around the West Fjords to reach the waterfall and Látrabjarg (see below) is in equal measure challenging and rewarding. The roads are paved for the most part, but there are significant stretches of gravel tracks which can be hard going without a 4×4 vehicle. However, the views across Fjords that you’re met with around each bend, make it very worthwhile if you have the time.
Látrabjarg – As the most westerly point of Iceland, Látrabjarg is a great place to experience the power of nature as you look out across the Atlantic Ocean with nothing but space between the cliffs and Canada! The high cliffs are also a fabulous place to see nesting seabirds, and Iceland’s unofficial tourist mascot, the charming puffin. I would recommend spending a night in the small town of Patrekfjörđur to make this trip further west.
Hverir – The putrid sulphuric smell coming from deep underground is outweighed by the amazing colours streaking the mountains and the magnificent power of these bubbling hot springs. I couldn’t help but feel like a visitor to Mars or the Moon. I would suggest tying in a visit to Mývatn, the beautiful northern lake only a few minutes away for a completely different landscape. Image taken by Atli Geir Lárusson
Dimmuborgir – Reportedly home to Iceland’s mischievous Yule Lads, the vast volcanic rock towers and impressive lava formations also feel as if they belong on another planet. The name translates to mean ‘Dark Cities’ and it’s not hard to see why, especially when visiting ‘the Church’ which is in equal parts ominous and dramatic.
This short introduction to the highlights of the north and north-west only scratches the surface of what Iceland has to offer. Fans of Eurovision should also consider stopping for food or a whale watching tour at Husavík, where parts of the recent Eurovision Netflix film were shot! Whether you’re looking for a wintery Christmas getaway to see the Northern Lights or a summer trip to travel further off the beaten track, Iceland can cater something for everyone in this time of pandemic travel, especially as so many of the highlights are outside and particularly quiet at the moment!
Laura May Bailey is a museums and galleries Student at the University of Leicester