BT Explores: Iceland, a Fairy Land and the Happiest Place on Earth

From the beautiful dancing Northern Lights to glacial lakes of Vatnajokull National Park, entrepreneur Ruchi Sally shares how to explore Iceland.

Navigating places with extreme geological contrasts is one of the experiences that fascinates me. 

I am an avid reader of places and cultures. Alongside my love for what I do, it is one of the interests that excites me to know more. Iceland was one of the destinations I finalised because I was enthralled by everything I had read about the place.

Not only is Iceland breathtakingly beautiful, but also ranked as one of the happiest place on earth as per the World Happiness Report. This volcanic island is one of the best countries in the world for women, has never had military and more, these were some of the things I came across while reading up about the place and it all seemed too good to be true!

I wanted to experience it myself. Secretly, I was also charmed by the fiction novel Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne and wanted to visit Selfoss Waterfalls! 

So, I planned my trip to see the closest inhabited point of north and south of the world within a span of 30 days. And, let me tell you, now that I have seen it, I do know that Iceland truly is too good to be true. No picture and no book can define the spectacular celestial wonders in Iceland. It is so other-worldly that I can almost call it heaven on earth.

My journey began from Reykjavík that sits on the edge of the Arctic Circle covering mainly the western and southern part of Iceland including Grindavik and the golden circle destinations like Gulfoss, Vik and Jökulsárlón.

I drove and did many little detours to Snæfellsjökull and many other uninhabited places with just ice and glacier on the southern and western coast. My plan to visit the northern part of Iceland had to take a backseat because of extreme changing weather conditions. It happens all the time in Iceland. Another trip awaits. 

It was snowing when I landed at Reykjavík and one of the locals at the supermarket told me that weather changes every five minutes here. I am a tropical person and did not take it that seriously. But, they were not kidding! The weather did change every five minutes. So, even though I had meticulously planned my trip to explore Iceland fully, I had to leave some parts of the northern coast because of extreme weather conditions and snow-storms.

My biggest learning from visiting Iceland is that the best of plans can sometimes fail. So, it is better to plan less and just go with the flow when exploring Iceland. For my next visit, I plan to keep my itinerary flexible with at least 10 extra days! 

Another extremely important tip for this expedition is to carry suitable clothing and shoes. Your normal water-resistant gear will not work here. 

Rooms with a view

I am not a 'tourist spot' kind of a person. I usually travel with my own planned itinerary and I think that is the best to do in Iceland except for a few must-go places. To have a real connection with the city, I chose to stay in beautiful estates spreading across acres of snow-covered land and frozen lake. There are many places like these. Iceland is safe and the people are super nice. 

One of the estates I stayed at was closer to Selfoss Waterfall. It had a huge landbank next to a frozen lake with a view of snow-covered mountains from the living room. Cities in Iceland are not very populated and it is quite an experience to stay like a local. 

Sights to behold

Blue Lagoon is about 25 km from the airport and is usually the first destination to start the trip. It’s the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland and has a beautiful geothermal hot water spring. It was a good experience but was a little too crowded. So, I would suggest visiting it at night to truly enjoy the location. 

Diamond beach is another breath-taking destination that I loved. It is a strip of black sand belonging to the greater glacial plain on the southern coast of Iceland. Breiðamerkurjökull glacier developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a large glacial lake of Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of the melting glaciers.

It’s beautiful to see the ice blocks on the beach moving during a storm that almost took off my skin! I have been to many countries and destinations but to witness melting glaciers was an unparalleled experience. 

Of course, the Northern Lights tour is another big attraction to visit Iceland, but I would recommend not to make this trip only about the lights. There is a lot more to explore such as the glacier walk, ice-snorkelling, active volcanoes, natural hot water springs, ice caves, black beaches, hidden waterfalls and so much more. Perhaps, taking detours is the best way to explore Iceland. But, word of caution: Weather forecast is as important as breathing in Iceland.  

Þjórsárdalur Valley is one of the beautiful places to visit to witness the wonders of nature. Another hidden spot to take a dip is located right off the Golden Circle in Fludir. It is a no-frills secret lagoon with active geothermal grounds that naturally heat the water year-round. There many like these across the valley. 

Of foodie trails

I am a vegetarian and everything that I tried in Iceland was full of original flavours. One of my favourites was Brennivín. It’s a local liquor made from fermented grains and potatoes. 

Rye bread with cream cheese and grilled vegetables with melted butter is the staple for vegetarians and every restaurant prepares it differently. I also ate a lot of potatoes dishes with cream cheese. Icelanders eat lot of fish and lamb for their meals, but since I do not like animals on my plate, I stuck to fresh veggies, cheese, sweet mustard, crisp onions, wine, alcohol and dairy. 

Skyr is another delicacy I really liked. It is a deliciously thick yoghurt that is available in every supermarket in this place.

I did not eat at any fancy restaurant. Most of the times it was an eatery next door or a mother’s kitchen café or some café near the hot water springs. Other times, it was some small local cosy place with some bonfire serving hot chocolate.

I like it this way and really enjoyed making the most of the warmth of eating in local places. 

Iceland grows on my mind each day and if I look back, it can be difficult to pick just one favourite memory. The entire trip remains one of my fondest memory.

From the innumerable breath-taking waterfalls, active and dormant volcanoes, pitstops at horse farms, soaking up in the hot water springs while it was snowing to walking on glaciers, chasing the northern lights (in possibly -40 degrees weather at 3 AM), to hiking on highlands, driving on ice-covered roads, everything was an experience and its one of my favourite destinations of all times. 

 

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