Iceland - The true beauty of unspoiled nature

Posted by ~Summer~ on April 29, 2011

When I first planned my Iceland trip, I was really excited about it because I heard that it is one of the most beautiful countries on earth. 

While I was not foolish enough to think that Iceland was as chilly as ice or contained only huge chunks of ice, I was also not wise enough to realise the spectrum of unique, natural beauty that I could find in this exotic country until I experienced it for myself. The spouting geysers, thundering waterfalls, magnificent glaciers, geothermal pools add up to create a truly wonderful and breathtaking landscape. 

Unlike other popular European destinations like Paris or Rome, the thing so special about Iceland is that it is all natural. You are not there to admire man made structures or famous architectural edifices, you are there to experience Mother Nature in its truest and purest form. There you have it, the most unspoiled, untouched and unpolished raw form of beauty.

So we spent our Easter holidays this year in Iceland. We flew by Icelandic Air and the flight was a mere 3-hour from Copenhagen to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. I learnt a couple of interesting facts about Iceland below:

1.  Iceland is the least densely populated country in Europe.

2. Many Icelanders believe in elves. Some roads have been re-routed to avoid disturbing areas where elves are thought to live.

3. Icelanders have one of the highest life expectancies in the world - 83.5 for females and 79.5 for males in the year 2010.

4. Homes in urban areas do not need a water heater or a furnace for heating. Steam and hot water are piped into the city from natural geysers and hot springs. Iceland also has vast amounts of hydroelectric power because of its water supply - it rains a lot! - and rivers.

5. Iceland has no army, navy, or air force. It does have a coast guard. There are also very few policemen in Iceland due to the low crime rate. Our tour guide told us that one of his friends wanted to switch job from a policeman to a bank teller. When asked why, he said it would be less boring.

6. Most Icelanders do not have a family name. Children have a given name and then father’s given name-son or father’s given name-daughter. For example, Jon Stefansson will have a son called Thor Jonsson (father's name + son), or a daughter called Katrin Jonsdottir (father's name + daughter). Therefore it is not appropriate to address someone by Mr. or Mrs. because they don't have surnames. Most people address others by their first name - including the president.

Since we were only staying for 4D3N in Iceland, time was of the essence and we planned to make the most out of it. Right after we got off the plane at Keflavík International Airport. we took the Reykjavik Exursions bus to the most famous tourist spot in Iceland - The Blue Lagoon. It was only a 20mins ride away from the airport but 40mins away from Reykjavik city, so I would definitely recommend anyone visiting Iceland to follow the same route especially if you are on a short trip. It's a must see, been there, done that kind of thing. Trust me, you will be laughed at if you tell people you've been to Iceland but not to Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon is basically a geothermal spa containing seawater which comes into contact with cooling magmatic intrusions. The water’s temperature is 37-39°C and captures rich earth minerals like silica and sulphur. It is even reputed to have healing powers and help people suffering from skin diseases. That, I'm not so sure.

I did however try the silica mud which was provided free of charge. You were supposed to apply the mud to your face and body, avoiding the eye area, and leave to dry for 5-10 minutes.
"This pure white geothermal mud deep cleanses and exfoliates and naturally strengthens skin's barrier function. It brings out the skin's inner glow, gives a vital energy boost and a smooth complexion." 

That, I couldn't ascertain too since I looked, and felt, exactly the same before and after. If there was anything glowing, it probably would be my rosy cheeks from the absurdly strong wind which made me feel like every time I walked forward one step, I went backwards by two.

There, my baby woke up from the nap and braved the cold winds to try soaking in the lagoon. I put on her swimming costume in the wrong way, twice (I always do so, both straps end up on one side). The thing was, we were in a hurry to catch the bus back to town so I let it pass. She looked quite cute and trendy though.

An embarrassing but rather funny incident that happened at the Blue Lagoon was when I came out of the changing room, my hubby shouted to me and exclaimed like some calamity had taken place. Then he came up and said "Dear, you've got a hole in your swimsuit!". I was wearing a tankini top and bottom. At first, I thought "Aiyoh, never mind. Small hole won't kill me." Then I touched the back of my tankini bottom and felt this huge hole that could probably fit my fist. Omg. It must have been damaged in the last washing as it was really an old swimsuit. Guess what? I had just worn it and paraded around the changing room (which made me realise why people were pointing fingers at me). Thanks, I just showed Iceland my butt crack. Not that it was going to deter me from soaking in the Blue Lagoon.

After that, we made our way to the city and checked into our hotel. We stayed in Luna Apartments for three nights in a studio apartment. I really liked it as it was simple but very cosy. The best was we had a kitchen where we could cook and make our own breakfast.

For dinner, we ate in a nearby restaurant in town and tried some really exotic Icelandic food. Jw ordered a lobster soup and an Icelandic platter which contained samples of fish stew, dried cod, lobster salad and whale meat. For me, I was courageous (and a little naive) enough to order a whole piece of minke whale steak to myself. Like what my wiser hubby had anticipated, the whale meat had a fishy smell and a weird after taste that we could not really appreciate. However, considering that this steak was one of the most expensive orders, I somehow devoured at least three quarters of my plate.

On Day 2, we went on the Golden Circle tour with Reykjavik Horizon. I would strongly recommend them because not only did my tour guide speak perfect English, he was really knowledgeable, amiable and humorous too. What I liked most was that they operate in small tour groups of no more than 16 pax, so you can really feel comfortable in that little van and you won't get too many stares when your baby acts up and cries like she's just seen an Iceland monster instead of that cute little Iceland horse.

Our first stop was a volcanic crater named Keiro. It is now inactive and contains a lake so clear and blue that pleasantly surprised us.

Next up, the magnificent Gullfoss waterfalls, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. Here, the river Hvita rushes southward, where at about a kilometer above the falls it turns sharply to the left and flows down into a wide curved three-step "staircase" and then abruptly plunges in two stages. 

Despite the drizzling rain, jw took the extra effort to move in closer to the falls and captured some amazing shots. And me? Well, I carried Angel and took shelter at the restaurant. But before that, I probably had gone uphill 100 steps, walked through puddles and mud, braved the downpour before I reached. Yes, you get it, it wasn't easy for both of us. But the view of Gullfoss was worth all the efforts, wet hair and wet clothes.

Despite our tour guide telling us that the famed traditional Icelandic lamb soup was not so special or finger licking good, we still decided to give it a try during lunch.

Turned out that it was very similar to the Kambing soup (goat soup) that we can find in Singapore, therefore we really enjoyed every sip of it. So I guess the moral of the story is to always try it out for yourself before you decide if something was good or bad.

Next, we proceeded to the Haukadalur valleys, which contains the geysers Strokkur and Geysir. Geysir has very infrequent eruptions but Strokkur erupts to heights of 30metres every 5-8 mins. Despite it was pouring, we were determined to witness the eruption before our very eyes.

A geyser, in volcanology, is a boiling natural spring which erupts jets of water at frequent intervals driven up by the expansive power of steam. There are only about 1,000 geysers in the whole world.  
The Icelandic horse is the only breed of horse here and is something unique to this country. Looking at their sizes, they should be more appropriately classified as 'ponies' but Icelanders term them as 'horses' anyway. According to our tour guide, perhaps the size was to allow them to adapt to the weather conditions better. He also said that Icelandic horses do not really have to be 'broken' when it comes to training as they are generally quite tame. You could probably just put a saddle on one and gallop away. Not that I was going to try to prove him wrong. 

During our excursion, the tour guide made a special stop along the way for us to take a closer look at these gorgeous animals. I really liked the white one! They were friendly and even allowed us, these funny-looking curious tourists, to touch their manes and stroke them gently.

Our last stop on the Golden Circle tour was Þingvellir. It is a place of cultural and historical importance and used to be the social centre of Iceland. The Alþingi, national parliament of Iceland, would hold assemblies here and Icelanders would turn up to attend. Merchants also came here to trade, entertainers would perform and people would sell goods and services here. You could say that Þingvellir was a meeting place for everyone in Iceland, helping it to lay its foundation for the language and literature that have been a vital part of people's lives.

The above shows the Peningagjá which is part of the main fault Flosagjá at Þingvellir. There is a tradition whereby visitors will toss coins into the clear water, thus it has come to be known also as the "money fault". Hearsay that it started from a Danish king who passed by the clear waters and wanted to test how deep the water was, thus he threw a coin in. Our tour guide also illustrated to us how on crystal clear the spring water was, he said that in normal seas, the visibility was 10metres; in some clearer waters, the visibility was 30-50metres, but here, the visibility was 100metres. We found it amazing and a little unbelievable, but it was true that we could actually see all of the coins below.

The above picture shows the rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is not everyday that you get the opportunity to walk along such an important geological landmark, you know. Here marks the end of the Europe continent and beyond the rift valley is the start of North America. We were reminded of how unique Iceland was as a country. It spans across two continents and lies on one of the world's major plate boundaries.

As to how Iceland came about, well, it was actually formed from volcanic eruptions on the Mid-Atlantic ridge. As the two tectonic plates were (and still are) constantly drifting away from each other, magma from the mantle reached the seafloor, erupting as lava and producing new crustal material for the plates. This also means that Iceland is now growing at a rate of 2cm per year!  That, along with the hot spot that is under Vatnajökull (Europe's largest glacier which is found in Iceland), makes the country highly active in volcanic activities. On average, a volcano erupts every four hours in Iceland.

As the Golden Circle tour came to an end, it was time to head back to Reykjavik city. We paid a visit to the Hallgrímskirkja church, which is the largest church in Iceland. The architect had designed the church in a way that resembled the basalt lava flows of Iceland's landscape. We also went up to the top deck which was an observatory tower to take a look at Reykjavik's harbour and panoramic view.

Since it was the Easter holidays, barely a few shops were open in town. Still, we took a couple of hours to take a walk there and to our delight, there were a couple of souvenir shops open and many eateries for us to choose from.

I found this on sale in one of the shops and thought it was so unique. They actually sell canned Icelandic Mountain air! It is supposedly the key to Icelanders' beauty and youthfulness. Anyway, you were reminded to open it only after you leave Iceland to really get the purity and freshness of it. Not that I was going to spend 6euros to buy air.

We had dinner at a Thai restaurant that only sold two types of noodles: Chicken or beef. The amazing thing was we actually came back to eat it on the second day too. It was cheap and delicious!

It was raining after dinner but we still braved the rain and super strong winds to walk nearly 45mins to visit the Sólfar sculpture (also called the Sun Voyager) at the waterfront. It is made of steel and shaped to resemble a viking ship. It has also become one of the most photographed art pieces in Iceland, so I guess our perseverance (or you can say stubbornness) was worth it. That said, I was shivering and my upper and lower teeth were at serious war as we made our way back to our apartment. Thank goodness Angel was well protected in her pram and rain hood. 

After a good night's rest, we set off on another full day tour the next day. We were with the same tour agency and coincidentally the same tour guide. =) I guess not many people were working through Easter. I loved my tour guide anyway. The only big difference was while the Golden Circle tour consisted of many young couples, the South Shore tour today consisted majority of old folks. Maybe even if my age added to jw's age and to angel's age, we would still be one of the youngest here. Well, I wondered if booking this tour was a smart choice after all.

Turned out I had nothing to worry at all because we actually preferred this tour over the Golden Circle. We had the opportunity to visit some really magnificent scenery and despite it drizzled a bit, the weather was still quite kind to us. Our first stop was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall located along the Ring Road.

The best thing about this waterfall which plunges 60 metres is that you actually can get to walk behind it! It was a first time experience for us and despite the pathway was as slippery as ice, or that the water splattered on you each step of the way, it was truly a fun and memorable walk. Angel especially loved it when the water droplets sprayed onto her face like a mist when we were right behind the falls.

What a good way to start off the day. We were all wet when we left! Still, nothing would have daunted me from walking behind the falls.

Next, we went to the southerly point of Iceland and visited its unique black sand beach along with coastal cliffs and rock formations. We saw some basalt columns which were rocks formed by rapid cooling of lava into hexagonal long-shaped structures.

A typical painting of a beautiful beach has clear blue waters, bright warm sun and brown sandy beach. Before I came to Iceland, I actually didn't know that black sand beaches existed. Black sand comes in different types, the one in Iceland was due to volcanic activity and consisted of tiny lava fragments. Anyway we found many rocks and pebbles on this beach and we took away two nice grey rocks to serve as a memento. The rock thieves!

These spectacular rock formations rising from the sea were caused by lava intrusions.

For lunch, we had some typical western food coupled with the traditional lamb soup which we couldn't resist from ordering again. Alas, it wasn't half as good as the one we had yesterday.

Subsequently, we made our way to the Solheimajokull Glacier. The ride was so bumpy that many of the old people were disturbed by it and kept complaining and going "Wooo" and "Oh no". The only person who thoroughly enjoyed it was Angel. Every time the van hit a bump and flew over it, she would laugh hysterically till at one point she made everyone in the van laugh too. 

The cool thing about the trip was that we all got to literally step onto the glacier. This glacier was about 8km long and 1-2km wide. There were some adventurous tourists who went there equipped with hiking gear to climb up the glacier. For us, we were just contented to walk on the flat surface of the glacier and drank some really pure spring water.

There, this was my friendly tour guide.

Luckily, Angel woke up before we left the glacier and she got to stand, walk, even hop on it! She was only 17 months old, you know. To have set foot on a glacier was definitely an achievement milestone for her.

This was a happy family portrait taken by our tour guide before we said farewell to the glacier.

We also visited the actual site of Eyjafjallajökul, the volcano which erupted in 2010 and caused massive disruption to the airline industry. There, we watched a multimedia clip which told the story from of how a farming family coped with the whole eruption. There were some magnificent aerial views of Eyjafjallajökul, which showed the volcano vent, the emission of lava and subsequent ash cloud. After that, we also witnessed some of the ruins caused by the eruption. 

Lastly, we stopped by the thundering waterfalls of Skógafoss. It was said that rainbows were very commonly seen here, especially on sunny days. I guess our day was not considered one as we did not see any rainbows. Still, we managed to take some jumping shots and Angel took many beautiful pictures here with the waterfall in the background.

That marked the end of our wonderful South Shore tour. Thanks our tour guide and to Iceland Horizon for two full days of fun, exploration and the chance to be up close with Mother Nature.

For dinner, we wanted to come to this seafood restaurant but alas our tour guide dropped us at the wrong place. It was probably cos' we didn't know how to pronounce the name properly. 
Not the type to give up easily, again we braved the cold winds and downpour and walked a good long distance before we got here.

The best reward was the fulfilling, yummy seafood buffet which made us really satisfied. Then, after dinner, we took a long stroll of around 45 min to get home. Good way to burn off the calories yeah. I think I really used my two legs to their maximum on this trip!

On our last day in Iceland, we visited the Reykjavik Zoo. Although it is a rather small scaled zoo with only less than 20 species of animals, we enjoyed being up close and personal with these Icelandic farm animals, including turkeys, sheep, cattle, pigs, horses etc. The unique part was that majority of the animals were kept in shed like the one above. We figured out that it was probably due to the rainy, cold weather of Iceland which might be a little too unpredictable and harsh on the animals. We were glad for the sheds too as they kept us sheltered from the downpour and howling winds that day.

We saw a couple of really adorable baby goats which were irresistible to touch. The good thing about the zoo was that there weren't any zookeepers and you were allowed to feed the animals, stroke and pat them, and take as many photos/videos as you wanted. Erm. I didn't know if we were allowed, but we could.

This little baby goat came to lick the you-know-what area of the adult goat after it urinated. Oh my gosh. How filial were these younger generation! Don't worry Angel, mummy would never want you to do that.

See, isn't the goat such a cutie pie? I loved this one that was half in black and half in white, it looked like a goat disguised as a cute little puppy.

We visited all the animals in the sheds and Angel had an enjoyable time just watching them, talking animal language with them, touching them and feeding them. So, despite this really tiny zoo, we still had an enjoyable day here. By the way, when I asked the staff at the entrance if there was any animal show at the zoo (that was before I knew how small it was), she said "What animal show?" Ok. Now I knew better.

The weather was really bizarre and not very kind to us that day. Firstly, the rain kept coming and going. We would have to hide under shelter, go out to the open, come back to the shelter again and again. Thankfully there was a small little cafe there whereby the staff was so free that they just kept playing poker cards. Secondly, as if a heavy downpour was not enough, it suddenly began to rain ice and we felt the stinging pain on our faces as the ice bits came thundering down on us.

Luckily, there was this temporary housing that contained a small aquarium and a mini Science World. There were various exhibits and games including this giant huge bubble which kept us entertained for a long time. Another one was a device that measured how loud you screamed, and let's just say I pretty much screamed my lungs out just to beat jw at it.

The Zoo also featured a Park section which had car rides, train rides, carousel and some amusement park rides. In spite of the icy rain, we managed to let Angel try out two rides in between. She went on her first ever merry-go-round (we were the only ones, can you believe it?) and her first ever train ride. That made her a happy baby and a happy baby always makes a happy mum.

When we decided to surrender to the weather, we made our way back to the apartment. We bought some freakingly expensive groceries from the supermarket and made our own simple dinner that evening. Chicken noodle soup! It tasted like the best soup I had ever had. It was simply satisfying to eat that hot soup in the comfort of our cosy little haven while we watched TV, knowing that we were protected from the rainstorm.

Little Angel loved to stand on the ledge and watched the rain outside. She made a lot of cute poses too which I wondered where she learnt them from. Well, everyone said it was from mummy. I'm contemplating whether or not to own up to that.

Finally, on the next morning, it was time to make our way back to the Keflavik Airport and say goodbye to the beautiful Iceland. I would never forget the splendor of all the natural scenery we had witnessed here. Thank you, Iceland!

Here was Angel posing at the airport. This was one of her signature poses. I called it the "I surrender" pose.

This was a cute little bear we bought on Icelandic Air as we made our way back to Copenhagen. Partly because the money would be donated to children's charity, and party because it was called the "Angel Bear". An angelic bear for my angelic girl. A perfect way to end a perfect holiday.

To see more of the world, visit my Travelogue page here.


  1. Hey you know, after looking at all your photos here, I want to visit Iceland again! The winter Iceland is really beautiful but I would love to see for myself how Iceland looks like in Summer!
    Hehe I love your new Travelogue page! I'm so impressed with all your travel posts! They are going to be such precious memories in the future.


  2. Hi there care to share with me where I can get 6-7 months old infant winter wear? Planning for a winter trip soon.

  3. What a great post with so many wonderful pictures! I so enjoyed my trip to Iceland two years ago, and I love seeing what other people have to say about it. My husband and I went to some of these same places.


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