One of the highlights of Euro 2016 has been watching Iceland, the smallest nation ever to qualify for a major football tournament, progress into the quarter-finals. Sadly the plucky minnows are now heading home, knocked out of the competition by France, but not without putting up an impressive fight.
Anyone who watched an Iceland game can’t fail to have been captivated, and maybe a little unnerved, by the tribal chant of their supporters,
the ‘Huh’ sound that brings to mind the image of Viking warriors descending. Iceland is often known as ‘The Land of Fire and Ice’ for its many glaciers and volcanos, and that iconic, almost lunar terrain is where the hardy spirit of the Iceland football team was forged.
Planning to see that unique landscape for yourself? Helped by the ‘Game of Thrones’ factor (scenes featuring the Night’s Watch were filmed here) Iceland is one of the top visitor destinations in Europe. Here’s our pick of the classic Iceland experiences you should try while you’re there…
Arctic Whale Watching
It’s difficult to believe there was a point not so long ago where we’d almost hunted whales to extinction. Now countries that are lucky enough to regularly see whales off their coastline have a ready-made sustainable tourism industry, and Iceland is one of them. Head up to Akureyri, the northern capital, where you’ll be seeing gigantic minke and humpback whales in their natural environment, as well as dolphins if you’re lucky. This is in the wild Arctic seas though, so you’re going to need to wrap up warm – hot drinks and fleeces are provided.
Ice Caving and Glacier Hiking
Learn about the incredible forces that created and continue to shape the Icelandic landscape with this epic guided adventure to Vatnajökull, Europe’s second-largest glacier. With crampons, you’ll walk on the immense glacier, and then later you’ll explore a huge ice cave, an incredible experience, with shards of light bursting through the ice to illuminate it. Remember this is a winter-only expedition.
ATV Ride through Reykjanes Peninsula
You’ve probably heard of the Blue Lagoon. If you haven’t, it’s the best-known geothermal spa in Iceland, the mineral-rich waters making it massively popular with visitors. It’s kind of a big deal. Anyway, the Blue Lagoon is a must-do on any Iceland holiday, and this experience finishes with a tosty warm dip there. But beforehand you’ll be having a real blast, on an ATV quad bike, across the Reykjanes Peninsula. It really is like riding over an alien planet, scenery that will just blow you away, from volcanic craters to hot springs to lava fields, dotted with the odd remote church or lighthouse. Unforgettable.
This is one of the most unique, beautiful and, if we’re honest, freezing cold, snorkeling experiences you’re ever like to have. You’ll be swimming between two continental plates (don’t get stuck, whatever you do) through glacial waters that have been passed through porous underground lava for up to 100 years. What that means is the water is unbelievably pure, and the visibility is spectacular. The vivid colours on display have been compared to liquid meditation. A warm wetsuit is supplied so with a bit of luck you won’t feel cold at all.
Northern Lights hunt
Along with the Blue Lagoon, this is probably the quintessential Iceland experience. The Northern Lights, in case you didn’t know, is a breathtaking natural phenomenon usually only seen close to each magnetic pole. Iceland is one of the best places in the world to observe them. It’s like a massive light display in the sky above, swirling multicoloured streaks of light and just incredibly beautiful. You’ll be on a cruise ship that will get you as far away from any light pollution as possible so you get the best view, and if you get cold you can always go inside.
Adventures in the Golden Circle
Ask anyone who’s spent time in Iceland and probably the thing they’ll remember most, apart from the price of beer (not pretty) is the landscape. This fantastic gift experience in Iceland covers what is probably the most well-known stretch, what’s called the Golden Circle. To begin with, you have the option of either a fast-paced rafting excursion, featuring rapids and cliff-jumping, or hiking through an ancient lava tunnel – a difficult choice to make! Afterwards you’ll explore the majestic Þingvellir National Park, see a couple of huge geysers spurt hot water 25m into the air, and also the legendary Gullfoss waterfall, where the water flows down some 32 lava steps – the equal of anything you’d find in Yellowstone National Park.
Iceland has all the ingredients for a memorable holiday, so if you’re going, why not put your Tinggly gift certificate to good use, and get a deeper insight into what makes this such a distinctive place.