How a man’s swim in 1981 changed Iceland’s history
The golden circle
To experience the rest of the country’s geothermal wonders and activity, I had planned to visit the Golden Circle, a 300km route from the capital that passes three of Iceland’s most popular attractions: Thingvellir, a giant rift valley formed in the middle of two tectonic zones. plates; the mighty Gullfoss waterfall, spewing over 100,000 liters per second; and the Haukadalur geothermal area, filled with mud pot geysers shooting water about 30 meters into the air.
I had planned to see them all, but one of Iceland’s worst storms in decades hit and government warnings advised us to ‘stay put’. I appreciated an extra night in the capital, and it reminded me that you need to be flexible when traveling due to Iceland’s changeable weather.
I spent the day at Perlan, an interactive science museum in the city center that includes a real ice tunnel and a poignant exhibit on Iceland’s glaciers. Climate change is happening before Icelanders’ eyes, and in 2014 Okjokull became the first Icelandic glacier to ‘die’. At the current rate, most Icelandic glaciers will be gone by 2100, even Vatnajokull, which covers 8% of the country.
Iceland generates all of its energy from renewable sources, but there’s no escaping the need to fly there. Tour operators are turning to less carbon-intensive operations, such as electric boats for whale watching, and Iceland is a good short-haul choice to avoid flying around the world in search of natural wonders. Staying longer reduces the frequency of flights and the country will keep you busy for weeks.
When the storm finally cleared, I drove to Thingvellir. The vast cliff that stretches below the visitor center actually marks the edge of the North American plate, but Thingvellir is also culturally significant: it was the site of the Alþingi, Iceland’s first parliament, founded in 930 AD, and the beginning of the country. settlers traveled here every year to debate laws and policies.
Myths and legends
“Stories connect visitors to a place,” said Gunnar Thor Johannesson, professor of tourism at the University of Iceland. “Icelanders have begun to understand that tourists are interested in our stories and legends, and will travel to hear them: the Icelandic Museum of Witchcraft and Witchcraft is in the Westfjords, and the 1238 immersive exhibition on the Battle of Iceland at Sauoarkrokur is on the north coast. . It gives visitors a reason to go beyond the natural beauty.
“Movies and television also help. People see these incredible landscapes, and it connects them, subconsciously, to the legend of the place. Fans want to see where Game of Thrones and Star Wars were filmed, and it takes them to some remote places.
I reached Haukadalur in the late afternoon, as the parking lot was empty of coaches. This hot spring of bubbling mud pits and exploding geysers is fed by tectonic contortions deep within the Earth, sending jets of boiling water hundreds of meters into the air. Nearby, Gullfoss sends out spray that catches the light of the setting sun, turning it into a rainbow and giving it its name (Gold Falls). Both sites were quiet enough to enjoy at my own pace, but in the height of summer the crowds can be vast.
“The easiest thing to do is travel outside of June, July and August,” Stacey said. “But if you have to go in the summer, visit these sites late at night – it’s still daylight and they’re especially beautiful at that time of day.”