We love to spend those infinite summer solstice nights at high latitudes. In June Iceland is at its bizarre best. We think back to sunny midnight treks and dancing in Reykjavik clubs in the 3am light.
At last month’s No Fixed Abode we got a double whammy of this unusual island, from designer Eva Koehler’s ghost stories to photographer James Devereaux-Ward’s description of the Northern Lights.
James blew us away with vivid images of his Icelandic roadtrip, which transport us in full cinematic vision through these dramatic landscapes. Shot on a winter trip, they're like a study in colour, texture and form but it's the Northern Lights that inspired him most: "It may sound cliche, but it really does take your breath away. You're driving around looking for it, and at first you're not sure what you're looking for. But when you see it, it makes you tingle and no pictures do it justice. You become engulfed in a curtain of colour and want to stay up watching it dance through the night.”
Check out James' ever-inspiring instagram feed for more ...
We always get asked for Iceland tips, so here comes our list, straight from mouth of unofficial Icelandic ambassador, Andri Klausen. It's been recently road tested by fellow architect, Lisa Cumming and is too good to let languish in an email. “As you can tell,”says Andri “I enjoy talking about my island.”
The city i.e. Reykjavik:
Go swimming in Laugardalslaug and try the hotdogs afterwards.
Hit the Fleamarket at Kolaportið (only open Sat, Sun till 5pm).
Take in the best view from Hallgrímskirka, the bell tower of our iconic church.
Head to Harpa, the newest architectural marvel, the glass concert hall by the harbour.
Enjoy dinner at Snaps, my friend's restaurant, brilliant food, I recommend the french onion soup. Or at Sægreifinn try the whale (ask for it rare!), and the best lobster soup in the world.
Drink at Slippbarinn the best cocktail bar in the city, where my cousin used to be the bar manager.
Or Kitchen and Wine at the 101 Hotel, where he's now serving excellent drinks. It's on Ingolfstraeti, also home to a mikkeller bar, pizza restaurant and a rooftop bar on top of the old theatre and opera house.
Here is the guesthouse where we stayed in the city and we loved it. If interested, mention my name in your message to Ingunn and she might be even nicer to you. There are so many hotels in the city and hostels to choose from as well, but I hear Kex is nice too.
Now for outside the city...
Blue Lagoon is a must, between the city and the airport. I recommend driving south out of the city on route 1 down the south coast. That´s how you get the most for your time. Route 1 for cars are very fair and good to deal with.
On the South coast you should drive to at least Jökulsárlón under Vatnajökull (Europe´s largest glacier). After you get out of Reykjavík, start here, 40 mins or less from the city.
Don't miss Klambragil, Hveragerði It's all the way in the rear of the town of Hveragerði, you drive through the whole town till you end up at a car park in gravel, my a little stream and a shady wooden bridge. Then begins the 3.2 km high up the hills towards the steam rising from the ground. After the about 45 min hike you come to a place where you can lie in the warm stream. You need waterproof shoes for this hike for sure.
Then hit the road again and visit the following on your drive:
Seljalandsfoss (waterfall you can walk behind)
Seljavallalaug (swimming pool in the mountains) Turn left at Hotel Edinborg sign, drive past the actual hotel down the gravel road until it ends. park there, walk along the river into the mountains and voila, there she lies.
Skógafoss This is where my mother grew up and I spent most of my summers there. My grandfather was the head master in the big school there and there is also a very interesting house and transportation museum there.
I recommend camping here for the night! Dyrhólaey or Reynisfjara
Vík The plane in Jame’s photos was on Sólheimasandur black sand beach, South Iceland near Vik. It took about 50 mins to walk to. You used to be able to drive to it but the land owner got annoyed people where driving all over the place. Grab a bite in this town.
At Kirkjubæjarklaustur get some supplies or skip and go straight to Skaftafell. You have to go here, do some hiking. It's easy and worth it. This is one of the most beautiful places with all the glaciers and Svartifoss the black waterfall. You should camp here too. Then you can drive to Jökulsárlón . This is where you can hitch a ride with the boatcar. This is probably the order in which I would do this and on the way back to the city take a detour through Gullfoss and Geysir. Go through Laugarvatn thereafter and check out the new spa.
Then I'd follow the signs to Þingvellir, where the world's oldest parliament was founded and the Eurasian and the American tectonic plates meet.
Then head back to the city. Or, you could just keep going east from Jökulsárlón and not back towards the city if you feel ambitious and want do the whole circle, but that's at least a 5 day trip, rather rushed. Ask around at a tourist info or something and they might give you some more pointers. The Glaciers in James’ photos are in Jökulsárlón. Where the colour of the ice is out of this world. Such a rich blue. Hallormsstaðarskógur
Mývatn, Dimmuborgir , Akureyri (and I can go on forever) are gorgeous places not to be missed.
These are places on the North and North East coast. The West has a lot to offer as well: Selárdalur , Látrabjarg, Snæfellsjökull
Have fun and stay safe. Also ask about ash wind policies when you rent the cars. Ash winds have been destroying the paints and finishes of vehicles and some rental companies have been charging the tourists 800 euros for damages. The guys at route1 warned me about this and gave some guidelines and advice. They also said they would not hold us accountable for ash wind damages.
Other than this all, eat a lot of hot dogs and remember to shower well before entering the pools, the only strict rule in Iceland. Dress for all kinds of weather and always expect the worst (weather, that is!)