While I’d never expected to travel to Iceland in my lifetime, I’m so glad I did. Iceland in summer is amazing!
Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but it’s one hell of a long way from Australia. These days it’s a popular stop-over for those continent-hopping in the northern hemisphere, which is exactly how we came to enjoy a couple of days of Iceland in summer some months back.
If it’s not on your radar when exploring the world, it should be. Here are some of my impressions from our recent, very brief visit.
Iceland is now one of the most popular summer tourist destinations and is most noted for its truly breathtaking scenery. Summer in Iceland can get very busy, so make sure you book your accommodation and transport as early as possible – or you simply won’t get what you want.
The climate is characterised by changeable, rainy weather, even during mid-summer, with extremely long daylight hours. At the peak of the summer season, the daylight lasts over 20 hours, giving you lots of time to enjoy this spectacular place.
The summer season runs from May to September, but if you’re hoping to see an aurora borealis (Northern Lights) you will need to go later in the year. The Lights are visible on dark nights from late September through to April.
This corner of the world is known for its icy winters, but Iceland in summer is mild. However, conditions can change quickly. Be prepared for rain, wind and snow at any time of year. If you’re planning on visiting during summer you’ll need to be prepared for almost any weather eventuality. Bring weatherproof jackets (and a warm one too), sturdy footwear, some warm layered clothing, as well as sunglasses and sunscreen – it’s bright!
One thing definitely worth noting is that high winds can occur at any time of year in Iceland—including summertime. I’m talking the kind of wind that comes out of nowhere, will grab a car door right out of your hands as you’re trying to get out, and then rip it off. We were repeatedly warned about this by the car hire firm, and once you’ve experienced the wind you’ll see why it’s an issue. It’s obviously something that happens a lot.
Driving in Iceland is very different from driving in other countries. The weather is unpredictable, and the roads often narrow, with very steep banks on the sides (to raise them out of snow in the winter) so you must be careful when driving here. If you have the time, driving is the best way to see Iceland, but it is sparsely populated outside of the main centres, so you’ll need to take care.
For those of us travelling from a long way away, rental is obviously the way to go. My tip is to rent the best possible car you can afford. Don’t skimp here – you just don’t know what the weather is going to throw at you at ANY time.
Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital and largest city, is a pretty, easily navigable city with a stunning harbour, and lots of colourful, charming old buildings. The population here is around 125,000, but the numbers swell in summer making it a very buzzy, cheerful place that offers heaps to see and do.
The main church of Reykjavik is Hallgrímskirkja—it has become one of the symbols of the city and can be seen from many places across it. The cathedral is constructed to resemble the basalt columns seen all over the country, and the inner is a glorious study in pure, clean light and air – it’s quite inspiring. There’s also the intriguing Iceland Phallological Museum – the world’s only penis museum. Something to consider if you have some spare time, I guess …
Icelandic cuisine is excellent. Traditionally, it’s largely based on seafood, lamb, dairy and vegetables. However, it has recently become hugely cosmopolitan and the range of cuisines available, plus the quality, is exceptional. Those that like a bit of a culinary challenge can even try whale or puffin – if your conscience allows.
Iceland in summer really pumps, and Reykjavik is where you’ll find all the action – this lively city is full of every kind of restaurant you can imagine, and punches well above its weight when it comes to funky cafes and bars. Prices vary, with some places nose-bleedingly expensive, but the selection is so wide that there’s something to suit every budget.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is one of the most famous beaches in Iceland. It’s located near Vík í Mýrdal and Hellnar, which means it’s an easy stop along the South Coast. This stunning and extraordinarily dramatic beach was formed by lava from an eruption of a nearby volcano and features soaring black basalt columns which were teeming with puffins during our visit, and the blackest, most dense sand I’ve ever seen – it quite literally absorbs all light.
The beach is steep and the sea here is treacherous. There’s signage warning of “sneaker waves” – huge waves that rise up out of a seemingly calm sea. They have been known to collect unsuspecting tourists standing too close to the water’s edge. The undercurrents here are powerful and, once the water has you, unfortunately, there’s usually no way back to safety. Sadly, several tourists here have drowned this way.
These magnificent features are everywhere in Iceland. There are hundreds of them, and most of them are easily accessible by car.
The most famous waterfall in Iceland is Gullfoss (“Golden Waterfall”), which was formed when a large chunk of the nearby glacier broke off, causing the river below to flood over its banks. Another striking waterfall is Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Found on the south coast, it is narrow and tall, with a walking path that encircles it – meaning you can actually walk behind it – if you don’t mind getting drenched.
Iceland is home to geysers – in fact, the word geyser comes from the Icelandic verb geysa, which means “to gush”.
Found in the designated Geysir Geothermal Area, Strokkur Geyser is Iceland’s most visited active geyser. It erupts regularly, blasting water to heights of around fifteen to twenty metres every five to ten minutes and is surrounded by multiple active geothermal springs, which bubble steaming hot water all over the park.
Our visit to this amazingly beautiful country was short, but I’d definitely like to get back – Iceland in summer is really very special, and there’s so much more to see!
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