First Destination - Iceland
Placed in the North Atlantic between Scandinavia and Greenland, Iceland delivers a lot of grandeur on both old fronts and also the beautiful. You'll marvel in the sublime landforms of this geologically restless area, from pure sea cliffs to hot hot springs and otherworldly glacial lakes and moonscape lava fields. The country's major urban hub, the administrative centre of Reykjavík, is renowned for its dramatic coastal environment and remarkably vibrant nightlife. Reykjavík's museums, restaurants, and pleasing, fun-loving society are their very own wonderful points of interest, however, you will have several famous landmarks around the island to look at. These include the wonderful Blue Lagoon resort (a steaming geothermal heaven), the iceberg filled Jökulsárlón lake, tremendous falls like Gullfoss and Dettifoss, and a few of the world's best perches for watching the Iceland Northern Lights.
Going to Iceland
Iceland has a concentrated tourist season, peaking from mid-June through August. Many Icelanders think the summer tourists don't know what they are missing. Iceland offers plenty to do in spring, autumn, even winter, and costs are dramatically lower for accommodations, car rentals, and airfares. Icelanders are enthusiastic Christmas celebrators, and the Aurora Borealis is remarkably vivid in winter. Most off-season visitors join city culture, and use Reykjavík as a home base and nightlife with actions such as horseback riding, snowmobiling, and visiting with resorts.
A brightly hued fog creeps across the night skies, shape shifts into a solid green and red swirl stretching out from horizon to horizon, then abruptly breaks into heaps of daggers of light, piercing down until they appear within reach. If you haven't seen this happening before, Iceland is a great location to do so because the little people and enormous spaces between towns ensure it is easy to escape light pollution, even close to Reykjavík. If you'll need a lift to a more likely Northern Lights sighting than your hotel in the middle of town, the tourist info office that is closest will have the capacity to supply details of tours. Northern Lights tours run from mid-March to mid-April when they are best seen, but there are typically several sightings up to early May, and occasionally even as early as late August; merely keep an eye out. Aurora borealis happens when Earth's energy particles intercept magnetic field from the sun, which ionize atoms in the upper atmosphere. This is why solar activity is a great predictor of duration and the intensity of these auroral displays.
Most tours and adventure trips to Iceland's most celebrated natural attractions finish after September. Roads in the hinterlands are usually closed from October to mid-May, and some don't open until July. Precipitation increases in September, peaking from October through February, and frequent storms and driving rain are enough to dissuade many would be winter adventurers.
Things don't shut down the way they do in, say, France, although the tourist high season corresponds with vacation time for Icelanders. Icelanders work longer hours than most Europeans, and seasonal service occupations fill. Some cultural institutions (theatre, symphony, opera) take the summer off, while most museums outside Reykjavík are only open in summer. Artwork and cultural festivals are also clustered in summer, except in Reykjavík, where they gravitate to the "shoulder" seasons (Apr-May and Sept-Oct).
Consider also the variety of daytime hours can have unanticipated physical and psychological effects in time your visit. Spring and autumn daytime hours are about the same as in Europe or North America. Days in mid-winter have just 4 or 5 hours of sunshine. These fluctuations are more extreme in the northern area of the country.
Weather-Iceland is situated just south of the Arctic Circle, but thanks to the Gulf Stream, temperatures are cool in summer and unusually light in winter. (Brand new York's winter lows are generally lower than Reykjavík's.) Icelandic weather is very explosive, however. The Gulf Stream brings mild Atlantic air in contact with colder Arctic atmosphere, resulting in often overcast skies, fog, driving wind and rain, and sudden weather shifts. You could well run into four seasons in 1 day.
The precipitation of Iceland peaks in October to February, and is lowest in June and May. Western and Southern areas of the island receive the most rain.
The Large Round-Up-Visitors in early September-especially seasoned horseback riders - can discover beautiful and remote backcountry while participating in an age-old Icelandic farming ritual: the fall sheep round up, or réttir. Hundreds of thousands of Icelandic sheep spend the summer grazing in highland pastures. Before winter sets in, local groups of farmers spend up to a week herding them home. Historically, this was a guy's job, but women have joined in. Once the flocks are penned and sorted by their earmarks, the farming communities let their hair down for drinking into the night, dancing, and singing. Many disjunct villagers met with their spouses during these events.
Some follow in 4WD vehicles or on foot; others just see and join the party, although most participants are seasoned riders. Visitors are welcome to take part in some local roundups, though do not expect nonstop delight: The procedure could call for holding your position alone for hours in a chilly rain.
Round ups for free-roaming horses are in late September or early October, primarily in the north. Figure out which parts of the backcountry you'd like to visit, then contact local tourist information offices, travel agencies, and farm accommodations for advice. Regional websites posting can be found at Iceland Vacation packages
Iceland in the Off Season
Tourists arrive and evaporate just as abruptly in early September, so they are compared by Icelanders to flocks of migrating birds. Yet, a growing number of visitors are coming in the off season, particularly for short holidays centered on Reykjavík. Health spas and nightlife are important draws, and winter adventure travel- Jeep touring, glacier snowmobiling, and specially backcountry skiing - is catching on. With fewer tourists around, locals can be particularly hospitable and welcoming. Prices are drastically lower for airfares, accommodations, and car rentals, but do not anticipate price breaks from mid-December to mid-January.
Most museums outside Reykjavík shut down off season, while some Reykjavík cultural institutions- notably the Icelandic Opera, headquartered at the world's northernmost opera house -are only open off season. Visitors usually depend on rental cars to get around, with fewer organized tours to select from.
Icelandic winters are astonishingly reasonable but have just 4 to 6 hours of day. Remember that late winter has more sunshine than early winter, with a corresponding increase in organized tours. From September through March, the night is dark enough to see the Aurora Borealis (aka "Northern Lights"), the startling electromagnetic phenomenon in which beams and swirls of green (or sometimes orange or blue) light spread across the sky. Obviously, determined by the weather, some offseason visitors may see only clouds.
The shoulder seasons- to May and September to October-can be wonderful times to see, though some destinations are inaccessible.
Icelanders even like to golf on snow-covered courses, using brilliant orange balls.
Off Season Destinations
Reykjavík & Nearby -Reykjavík remains equally vibrant year round-after all, the weather has little impact on its appeal. Cultural activities and nightlife show no signs of winter weariness, and Reykjavíkians still throng to their outdoor geothermal pools even if their hair is gathered in by snow. See the Calendar of Events for Reykjavík's many offseason festivals.
The capital heartwarming and is especially lively during the Christmas season. Each weekend, beginning in late November, the neighboring town of Hafnarfjörður hosts an elaborate Christmas Village with caroling trinket booths, choirs, and costumed elves. On Brand New Year's Eve, many visitors shuttle to Reykjavík simply to take part in the Bacchanalian parties.
Outside of summer, day tours from the capital are varied but hardly in short supply. The popular Golden Circle tour runs year round, and two of its primary highlights-the Strokkur geyser and Gullfoss waterfall- are captivating in winter. Various firms also lead nightly Northern Lights tours in search of the Aurora Borealis. The Blue Lagoon spa in Reykjanes Peninsula is strange and charming with much fewer crowds, in wintertime.
Outside the Capitol Area-Compelling winter destinations outside Iceland's southwest corner are too numerous to list, but two areas deserve special mention: Lake Mývatn and West Iceland -Krafla Caldera in the north.
In the west, the wondrously diverse scene of Snæfellsnes Peninsula makes for a great road trip year round, and Hótel Búðir, an idyllic escape on the peninsula's south coast, is constantly open. Ísafjörður, the Westfjords that are appealing capital, is especially buzzing during ski festivals and its Easter Week music. Two splendid country getaways in the Westfjords stay the Heydalur Country Hotel, along Ísafjarðardjúp Bay: open all year, and Hótel Djúpavík on the entrancing Strandir Coast.
Akureyri, Iceland's northern capital, is alive and kicking in the off season, with the nation's finest ski slope Hlíðarfjall close by. Many winter visitors rent a car, fly to Akureyri, and spend a few days surveying the myriad volcanic scenes of Mývatn and Krafla. The geothermally heated lagoon of Mývatn Nature Baths remains open, and Sel-Hótel Mývatn arranges Jeep and snowmobile trips, horseback riding, and go-cart joyrides on the lake. The cross-country skiing is wonderful from February ahead, and, in May and April, the lake twitches with bird watchers ushering in the tourist season.