THE weather forecast would make a Mancunian blanch, the price of a pint would make a Londoner shudder – yet Iceland is a fixture on many a Brit’s bucket list.
And rightly so, as to experience this fascinating country is to encounter something unique.
First off is the landscape, forged by its famous, or infamous, volcanoes, such as Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull, carved by its many glaciers, battered by the unforgiving North Atlantic — and inhabited, so more than a third of Icelanders believe, by furtive elves.
A great way to see all of these phenomena (mythical imps notwithstanding) is by taking a day-long tour of the south of the country.
You’ll be taken to Reynisfjara, a black sand beach flanked by cliffs formed by basalt pillars.
You’ll walk to the snout of the Sólheimajökull glacier, and see two thunderous waterfalls — Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss — the second of which you can walk behind from one side to another.
These marvels have inspired many of Iceland’s successful musicians.
Looking out on the landscape, you can almost hear a soaring crescendo by Of Monsters And Men, or the plinky-plonk perfection of Sigur Rós’s Hoppipolla.
This really is nature at its most raw.
Against the backdrop of a foreboding sky, it’s no wonder so many of these locations were chosen as Game Of Thrones settings.
Our tour guide was wonderful, too.
A local by the name of Howser, he had the look of a retired Viking pirate.
His deep voice, as smooth as chocolate- covered liquorice (an Icelandic speciality) had an inexplicable proto-Welsh accent, as though he had been abandoned in the woods as a child and raised by a pack of wild Huw Edwardses.
And while there were no sightings of the elusive elves, there was certainly a little mischief going on, as some of Howser’s shaggy-dog stories did not always stand up under closer scrutiny.
One absolute must for any visitor to Reykjavik is the Sky Lagoon, a luxury spa heated by the geothermic activity bubbling beneath the surface.
Opened in 2021, it has taken the best bits of the country’s famous Blue Lagoon — and enhanced them substantially.
There can be few experiences more relaxing than sipping a beer in the contradictory setting of a deliciously warm infinity pool overlooking the biting Atlantic.
The seven-step spa ritual — including surely the greatest panoramic view from any sauna in the world — will see your worries evaporate among the clouds of steam.
With a well-organised schedule, you can experience a huge amount of what Iceland has to offer in just four days.
By capital city standards, Reykjavik is what estate agents would call “compact”
Charming and quaint, with an overwhelmingly friendly vibe, the city centre can be explored in a couple of hours.
One way to see it is via the traditional Icelandic food tour, although I’m somewhat hesitant to recommend this.
You need luck
Led by another friendly, funny and knowledgeable guide, you’ll be presented with various broths and soups, and lamb presented in numerous interesting ways, including hot dogs.
But the final stop is where you can try hákarl — fermented 400-year-old Greenland shark.
Presented in pale cubes, you can almost pretend it’s feta cheese.
It’s been described as the most disgusting thing you can eat and it’s . . . in no way pleasant.
It certainly doesn’t justify the hunting and killing of such a vulnerable species.
You’ll also get to try minke whale, which is a bit like beef but a lot chewier.
It’s a disconcerting end to an otherwise fascinating — and filling — tour.
A much more wholesome way of seeing minkes is on a whale-watching tour.
Perhaps Iceland’s most hankered after attraction is the Northern Lights.
The majesty of the aurora borealis are at the top of almost every traveller’s wish list — and yet you need your luck to be in.
Iceland cannot always boast clear night skies and so, unfortunately, our trip out to view the aurora was cancelled as rainclouds drifted in.
My top tip would be to book the Northern Lights expedition on your first night.
That way, if it’s cancelled you’ll get bumped to subsequent nights, maximising your chances.
That said, even without viewing the amazing natural phenomenon, Iceland still has more than enough to leave your mind blown.
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