Independent Schools Cultural Alliance - ISCA – Summer Programs in the UK

Iceland

With friendly locals, stunning scenery, fascinating history and tonnes of adventure, you should experience the land of fire and ice, Iceland, at least once in your lifetime.

Iceland was settled by Vikings from Norway sometime in the 800s. The Vikings gave both Iceland and Greenland their names, purposefully misnaming them both so that their enemies would hopefully go to ice-covered Greenland instead of following them to where they actually settled in Iceland.

The first place to go is Reykjavik. Reykavik is the capital of Iceland. It is the most northern capital city in the world and with the population of Iceland at just over 300,000 people, it isn’t really a city but more like a big town. Whilst you’re there, try one of the local cuisines, Kaestur hákarl aka “Rotten Shark”. This traditional Icelandic delicacy dates back to the time of the Vikings. Greenland Sharks are actually toxic so they need to be processed before eating. These sharks are cured and hung to dry for 4-5 months before they are eaten! If the idea of eating a rotten shark doesn’t put you off, the intense smell might do.

From Reykjavik, go to Thingvellir National Park. This park sits in a rift valley and is the former home to Iceland’s Parliament. Iceland has the oldest parliament in the world that is still in existence. Thingvellir is where Icelandic chieftains met in the year 930 AD to create the first parliament, the Althing. These chiefs and their successors then met at Thingvellir every year until 1798 to discuss issues and create laws. After a period of change, including a 43-year abolition by royal decree in 1800, the Althing was re-established in Reykjavik and assembled again in 1845. It still runs to this day. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its cultural, historical and geographical significance.

In the national park is the Silfra Fissure. The Silfra Fissure is one of the most incredible dive destinations on earth. Silfra is the only place in the world where you can dive between two continental plates. This fissure is the space between the North American and Eurasian continental plates, which are slowly drifting apart at a speed of 2 cm per year.

Head to the Goðafoss Waterfalls. Goðafoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. According to local legend, when Iceland became a Christian country, all the statues of the Norse Gods were thrown into this waterfall, hence the translated name of “Waterfall of the Gods”. This is the perfect location to see the Aurora Borealis. You can go here at night during September to March to photograph the Northern Lights over the water – it is truly spectacular.

Located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is an incredibly active country geologically. There are more than 125 volcanic mountains in the country, a handful of which are still very active. Iceland experiences a volcanic eruption roughly once every 4 years. During an active volcano eruption, you can go on flights to witness it from above!

Next stop is Diamond Beach. Diamond Beach is a strip of black sand belonging to the greater Breiðamerkursandur glacial plain. The icebergs which fill the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon wash up on shore, creating a stark contrast with the volcanic black sand. It’s a great site for wildlife-enthusiasts. Many seals call Diamond Beach home and it is one of the best places in the country to see orcas from the shore.

The majority of present-day Icelanders believe in the existence of fantastical beings such as elves and trolls. Icelandic folklore, which dates back to the Viking Age, is rich with stories about the Huldufólk meaning “Hidden People”, who are said to live in the lava fields.

The Reynisdranger sea stacks are bizarre looking rock pillars in the sea which are said to be petrified trolls. These trolls were turned to stone when they were exposed to the sunrise and frozen forever in time. Go to these sea stacks to see if there is any resemblance to petrified trolls and see whether you believe in this mythical folklore.

Nearby is Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach which is a great place for spotting puffins in the summer. The summer months in Iceland are prime puffin spotting season and Reynisfjara houses thousands of them.

Your final stop is the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon, a manmade geothermal spa, is one of Iceland’s greatest treasures. The geothermal water is around 37 – 40C (98 – 104F) and features three active ingredients; Silica, Algae and Minerals. With accommodation, as well as saunas, restaurants, cafes, lockers and showers, it’s the perfect location for a relaxing couple of days before you head back home.