By Alicia Chong
Visiting Iceland feels as if you are stepping into an entirely new and unfamiliar world. The beauty of Iceland lies in the raw, untouched and pristine quality of the nature that dominates its landscape. The short week I spent there left me enthralled by its gorgeous landscapes, full of (snow-capped) mountains and rolling seas. Due to its geographical location, the sun never sets entirely in the summer; the sky never turns completely dark and we were blessed with the chance to experience the surreal midnight sun.
The cheapest way to reach Iceland from Durham is to take a train to Manchester and catch an Easyjet flight to Reykjavik, which adds up to about £110 in total (£90 for a return flight, £20 for a return train ticket) if booked in advance. One important thing to note about Iceland is that most of its major attractions are located outside of the capital city, Reykjavik, which doesn’t have nearly as much to do. This could be mildly inconvenient for solo travellers who do not have a car (although day trips to major scenic locations are available through tourist companies), but it is the perfect destination for a road trip with friends. They drive on the left in Iceland, but the roads are essentially straight and easy to drive when not covered in ice.
My friends and I found several beautiful apartments located in Reykjavik on AirBNB. These cost about £20-30 per person per night. Student-friendly hostels are also available in the city. If you’re travelling with a car, location will not be of significant concern since Reykjavik is a small city anyway.
In Reykjavik, every nook and cranny contains hidden gems, mostly indie cafes. Mealtimes in Iceland were always an adventure – you’ll find food here that you can’t get anywhere else.
- Pylsa (hot dog): “Baejarins Bestu”, located near the tourist information building, serves the best hot dogs in Reykjavik. Ask for one with “everything” (hot dog, bun, ketchup, mustard, remoulade sauce, raw onions, fried onions).
- Skyr: A unique yogurt-like dairy product that comes in various flavours. Cheap and available at any supermarket!
- Lobster stew (and seafood in general): Iceland is famous for its fresh seafood and the lobster bisque, simmered for hours over slow heat and packed with goodness, is a must try!
- Puffin: An extremely rare delicacy.
- Whale: Another local specialty; in the words of my friend, “it tastes like red meat with a fishy aftertaste”.
- Hákarl (fermented shark): Hands down, the most unconventional thing I’ve ever consumed. This shark meat has been left underground rotting and hanging in a shed for ages. It’s available at the supermarkets, but if you order it at a restaurant, it’s usually served as an appetizer, on a plate with other raw fish, but in a tiny jar sealed with a lid. Do not be fooled – remove the lid and you’ll be overwhelmed by the pungent, ammonia-like odour! This is definitely for the brave.
Some good restaurants include:
- Grillmarkadurinn (The Grill Market): One of the most highly ranked restaurants on TripAdvisor – it serves a whole host of Icelandic specialties and the waiters are more than willing to give recommendations. The food here is among the best I’ve had in my life: filling portions, wonderful presentation and an atmosphere that’s both classy and calm.
- Saegreifinn (The Sea Baron): A tiny seafood shack located along the harbour in Reykjavik decorated with long, wooden shared tables and barrel chairs, which gave it a really sailor-esque, cosy atmosphere. This restaurant offers a wide selection of seafood, specialising in fresh seafood skewers. It is pocket-friendly compared to other restaurants. Upon entering, you pick out the seafood you want and hand it over to the chef, who grills it on the spot. Definitely try the lobster stew here – one of the best in Iceland.
- Þingvellir National Park – one of the highlights on the Golden Circle tour. You’ll see gigantic, towering canyons and can go diving in the famous Lake Silfra, where the North American and European tectonic plates diverge and the water remains at 2 degrees Celsius all year round.
- Geysir – the second highlight on the Golden Circle. One of nature’s wonders: steaming hot water shooting up at rocket-speed eighty metres above the ground every 2-3 minutes.
- Gullfoss – the third highlight of the Golden Circle. An impressive, double-section waterfall of majestic grandeur that will leave you in awe at how small you really are.
- Blue Lagoon – one of the most famous places in Iceland, located between the city of Reykjavik and the airport. This is a man-made geothermal spa filled with natural volcanic minerals. Makes for a relaxing afternoon away.
- Jökulsárlón – definitely my favourite place in the whole of Iceland. Features a breathtaking glacier lagoon with luminous blue icebergs that span 3.8km. The only downside is that it’s a 5 hour drive away from Reykjavik, but it’s definitely worth it if you have the time.
Spending days on end exploring the fantastic scenery that Iceland has to offer is physically draining, so nightlife may not be a priority. That said, Reykjavik does have its fair share of bars and pubs.
Budget £800 including flight and train tickets, car rental, petrol, apartment rental, food and other expenses.
Illustrations: Mariam Hayat, Photograph: Alicia Chong