Iceland — The land of Fire and Ice
Iceland Adventure Travel; Iceland is home to just under 325,000 people who live in a habitable area of 103,000 square kilometers. The largest city is the capital Reykjavik, which holds one-third of the nation’s population – 120,000 people. Kopavogur is the second largest city with a population just over 31,000 people. The people of Iceland are warm and hospitable and Iceland has ranked as a destination with the best hospitality consistently. The main language spoken is Icelandic though most people speak English and German.
Largest Cities and Population:
- Reykjavik -119k
- Kopavogur – 32k
- Hafnarfjordur – 27k
- Akureyri – 18k
The name Iceland conjures up a vision of snow drifts and arctic winds. They certainly have all of that but the summers in Iceland can be tempered. Much of the island’s weather and climate are impacted by the Gulf Stream. Because Iceland sits in the high latitudes it has arctic tendencies – cold and changing. In the Southern part, the days can be warm and in Reykjavik, which is in the Southern portion of the island, in summer there is nearly a month of 24-hour daylight. Dress in layers with the ability to bundle up if the weather changes. In Reykjavik, it is not uncommon to have a temperate sunny day that quickly turns to snow and rain, and then back to sunny and warm. (Find Flights to Iceland)
How to Explore Iceland and Its Many Sites
There is a lot to do in Iceland all year long which is why Iceland adventure travel is so popular. The country has nearly 75 kilometers of ski slopes, awesome beaches, 30 plus volcanoes, and some of the world’s largest glaciers. Reykjavik is usually the best place to stay as it has a lot to offer and easy access to the Ring Road. If you venture out from Reykjavik for overnight, make your reservations ahead of time. Even the next largest city has only 33k people and few hotels.
Where to Stay
Reykjavik is the largest city and offers the most in terms of hotels, restaurants, and nightlife. It is also the perfect jumping off point for road trips, tours or DIY attractions like the Ring Road. There are plenty of top hotels in Reykjavik and this tends to be the most expensive city on the island. (Find Hotels in Reykjavik)
Things to Do in Reykjavik
- Stop by the National Museum and find your inner Viking. The history of the island is interesting and it helps to put the natural beauty of the island into perspective.
- Visit the Hallgrimskirkja –
- Take a Day Trip Tour of South Iceland
- Cave Exploring in Gjábakkahellir — From Reykjavik enjoy guided cave exploration as a day trip to Þingvellir National Park which is an hour by minibus from Reykjavik. Some tours also include snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure.
- Tour the Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon) and enjoy the lagoon, waterfalls, glaciers, and beaches.
- Silfra snorkeling tour is a must. The guided tour allows you to snorkel or dive between the tectonic plates in crystal blue water. This is a unique experience and allows you an up-close view of the geology of this amazing island. Silfra is in the Thingvellir National Park.
Other Cities to Consider
Kopavogur is just South of Reykjavik and has a population of just under 33K people. This is a port city that is industrial. Book your rooms ahead of time as there are limited numbers of hotels here. (Find Hotels in Kopavogur)
Hafnarfjordur is nearly six miles South of Reykjavik. This is the place to go to enjoy Icelandic festivals such as the Viking festival. For Rock-n-Roll enthusiasts, this is the rock-n-roll capital of Iceland. (Find Hotels in Hafnarfjordur)
The best place to stay for most travelers is Reykjavik as both Kopavogur and Hafnarfjordur are within ten miles of the capital city. They make a good choice if you want more of a quiet experience or if you find Reykjavik too expensive. If you are interested in day trips, tours, or other activities that involve a guide, then most companies will pick you up in Reykjavik. If you are looking for more of the remote aspect of Island, there are small inns and rooms in many of the smaller towns around the island.
Getting Around in Iceland
Drive: Most visitors drive on their Iceland adventure travel tour. There are plenty of benefits of renting a car, especially if you plan to explore the far reaches of the island or tour the Ring Road.
Fly: Flying from one city to the next is common. It can be expensive but not much more than renting a car and driving.
Biking: There are bicycling options if you want a more upclose-and-personal experience.
Public Transportation: The bus system in Iceland is extensive. It will not take you everyplace, but it will take you most places. You can even buy long-term passes which make the bus affordable. Do the research ahead of time to make sure that a bus goes where you want to visit. There are mixed reviews about how well the bus system works when it comes to visiting big named sites.
Ride Sharring: Ride sharing is another option. There are sites that allow you to find rides to specific destinations with the expectation that you contribute towards the fuel costs. This is not a bad option, but it requires a lot of organization and trust.
Visit Iceland is the official tourism site of the nation. It is a good place to visit when determining your transportation options.
The DIY Tour
One of the best ways to see all that Iceland offers is to take the Ring Road either as a guided tour or a self-driving tour. If you hurry from one spot to the next, then it can take as little as seven days to finish the loop. The Ring Road is a coastal road that circles the entire island and passes through many of the best features.
• The Ring Road offers access to:
• The Golden Circle
• Eyjafallajokll Volcano
• National parks
• Waterfalls such as the Dettifoss Waterfall, and
• Nature resorts such as the one in Atnajokull National Park.
There is much to see and you will stop often. To fully immerse yourself in the beauty and natural wonders of Iceland you will need at least ten days on the Ring Road. A good two weeks is better so that you can stop and explore. This is a journey that you can make several times and be mesmerized and surprised each time you travel this route. Reykjavik makes a great place to start and fishing the Ring Road Tour.
How This Island Was Formed
Orange Hills Kerlingarfjoll
Iceland and Hawaii share a few similarities. They were both formed by what geologists call a hot spot—a hole in the earth’s crust where lava escapes. No, this is not a volcano as we know it. Simply a portal from the inner earth to the outer earth. The other thing that these two islands share is that they are both volcanic, though Iceland is by far more of a volcanic hotbed, then is Hawaii. What these two masses of land do not share is a rift zone — A valley that opens into the crust of the earth where lava upwells and forms ridges on both sides of the rift. This is a geologic structure called the mid-Atlantic ridge and it runs right through the middle of Iceland.
The Fiery Northern Island
As the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate pull apart, thanks to subduction, they cause the rift and in that process the mid-Atlantic ridge forms. Iceland is cleft into two parts by the rift and that process, along with the hotspot, and the mantle plumes all provide the heat that fuels the volcanic fires of Iceland. There are over 30 volcanoes making Iceland one of the world’s most active volcanic sites.
Key Points of Interest
Amid the many volcanoes and volcanic features is a host of geologic wonders that include:
- Rift Valleys — the physical evidence of the Island splitting apart as the mid-Atlantic ridge widens. It is a slow process as the plates move about 1 cm per year. This is one of the few times where you can see with clear distinction the tectonic plates – the North American Plate and the Eurasia Plate.
- Geysers — evidence of the pressure that mounts beneath Iceland.
- Hot springs and geothermal features.
- Basalt pillars – the remains of volcanic eruptions and lava fields that are in active decay. The interesting thing about basalt pillars is how it fractures. What you see is a geometric shape that is uniform throughout the field. Each fracture looks the same and on the surface, it appears you are about to walk across and ancient courtyard that now lays in ruin.
- The Eldgjà volcanic fissure — Fissures are interesting because they are horizontal volcanic “leaks.” Lava is either thick or runny. When it is runny, you have massive volcanic eruptions and thin lava presses upwards through faults (cracks) in the earth to form horizontal sills and vertical dikes.
- Hekla volcano — Erupted in 2000
- Grimsvotn volcano — Erupted in 2011
- Bárðarbunga volcano — Lots of smallish earthquake with activity up to 3.5 magnitude reported in 2016. If you want to experience a small earthquake, there have been multiple earthquakes reported here daily throughout 2016. This is the volcano that is expected to erupt next.
30 Plus Volcanos and Many Volcanic Features
Iceland offers many volcanic points of interest from ranging lava beds to the basalt columns which are solidified lava. There are some 30 volcanoes on Iceland and an endless number of volcanic destinations. The history of the island is thought to date back as far as 60 million years ago. Like Hawaii, the creation of Iceland is due to its volcanic history. Welcome to the land of fire.
Blue Lagoon Geothermal Hot Springs
The Land of Snow and Ice
Amid the volcanic structures that make up Iceland are the snowfields, glaciers, and ice caves. Vatnajökull is not only a national park it is also Europe’s largest glacier. It has an average ice depth of 500 meters and spans around 1000 meters deep at its thickest point. It covers an amazing amount of territory and is estimated to contain 3,300 cubic kilometers of ice.
Glaciers are more than ice
Glaciers are not just blocks of ice. They are a historic record. They are made up not of ice, but of snow. When this year snow does not melt and next year’s snow falls on top of it, you have the first layer of a glacier. As that process continues, the weight of the snow closest to the surface compacts the snow towards the bottom into thin ice-like sheets. That is a glacier. Like leaves in a book, glaciers sit there and record the history of the earth. Scientist can decipher their ancient story by looking at the unique chemical properties of each layer, and discern information such as how much snow fell, if there was a drought, what the oxygen content of the earth was at a certain point, if volcanoes erupted, and many other details of the environmental conditions of the earth. Glaciers are special and Vatnajökull is one of the largest in the world and it covers about 13 percent of Iceland.
Note: Vatnajökull is a place we should all visit.
Jökull means glacier in the Icelandic language. Some of the most interesting glaciers are as follows:
- Hofsjökull is a newly discovered glacier that emerged as the snow pack receded due to climate change. The name sounds like a Norse God but means farm
- Vatnajökull is glacier that tells us much about its features based on its name “many streams.”
- Eyjallafjallajökull translates as “long”
- Torfajökull glacier – A glacier with whose name tells a story of a man who flees from a plague in the town of Klofi. His name was Torfi. Torfajökull means Torfi’s glacier.
There are many glacial features to explore on Iceland and an equal number of snow related things to do. Skiing, sledding, and dog sledding are just a few options.
The land of fire and ice is welcoming. The people are friendly and hospitable. There are so many things to see and do here that you can return to Iceland time and again and never discover all there is here. A trip to Iceland is almost like going back into time. The landscape remains trapped in this battle between the volcanic activity and the cold harsh of being within the arctic circle. It is a cycle that the earliest settlers of the island faced. You too can see the land as they did, walk among the same wonders, and gaze in awe at the power of this magical place. Fire and ice may seem as though they are opposites, but in Iceland, they become a single force… Explore that force.