A Very Different Land
Gray Line Iceland Takes You on Tours Youʼll Not Forget
When Iceland dons its winter coat, the country changes dramatically. The long summer days turn to nights, to start with. You might think that’s bad news—but how else would you be able to see the spectacular Northern Lights sweeping across the sky? Then, the land changes, too. The snow reflects the light, so the darkness takes on a glow. Not that it’s dark the whole day—far from it. The sun, being lower in the sky, casts lights of beautiful colours on all the surroundings. It’s a very special time to take some very special tours.
With 34 distinct tours on offer in the winter and about 55 in summer, Gray Line Iceland is one of the most popular tour operators. We’ll take a look at just four here.
The Night Belongs to the Lights
This winter, the cycle of the Northern Lights, will be at its peak. They will not be visible as often or be as spectacular for another decade. The tour leaves every evening at 8 pm on a magical mystery tour far away from the city lights to find and enjoy the elusive, ever changing Northern Lights, weather permitting. They rely on both their experience and the reports online to find the best chance for each night. The displays can last anywhere from minutes to hours—and they are constantly changing, appearing and disappearing in a swirling dance. A good camera, tripod and warm clothing are recommended to get the most from the evening.
The Days Display Cold, Heat and History
Over the Christmas period, from the 23rd December until 1st January, the special Summer Reprise takes place, with tours heading out west to the Reykjanes Peninsula. The first takes you to a landscape covered with lava fields, volcanoes, fissures and geothermal areas. Starting with a visit to Hvalneskirkja, a church built in 1887, the scene rapidly changes, visiting the bridge between two continents, the European and American tectonic plates. Then, it’s on to Gunnuhver hot springs before ending at the Blue Lagoon. You can either enjoy a relaxing soak in these mineral-rich spa waters, simply head back to Reykjavik or take the next tour.
This tour can be joined either in Reykjavik or at the Blue Lagoon so, after your soak in those soothing warm waters, you can continue discovering the area’s riches—hidden from most travellers behind the mountains of lava.
The first stop is just down the road at Grindavík. This is a fishing town with a history going back to the Settlement. The tour then passes through the dramatic lava fields to the Krýsuvík boiling mud pools and the nearby bubbling Kleifarvatn Lake, both even more spectacular if there is snow on the ground for photo opportunities.
In the Steps of Jules Verne
A full-day trip that will exceed your expectations is the tour to Snæfellsnes Peninsula. I took this trip in the middle of a snow storm and learnt more than in all the trips I had driven myself. But whether it is clear and fine or a winter storm, the weather only adds to the experience and enjoyment. This tour has it all—history, geology, bird life, photo opportunities, dramatic landscapes, energy, fishing villages. It’s one of the most interesting trips, being so full of diversity and the guide brings it all to life.
The last main stop is Stykkishólmur fishing village on the mystical Breiðafjörður Bay, with its countless islands. The bay looks like the set for a fantasy film. You may also see some whales as you travel its coastline.
Then, driving home over the mountain pass, you are treated to yet another different landscape, with volcanoes, lakes, waterfalls and rivers. In this one tour, you get to appreciate many of the different sides to this country and understand why people love coming here so much, whatever the season, rain or snow, sun or storm.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve
If you’re in Iceland over New Year’s, you’re in for quite an experience. Icelanders bring in the New Year in style. You’ll doubtless want to enjoy the festivities—they’re spectacular. There’s a tour for that and you can join it. It starts around 8 pm with a bonfire. There’s a break for a light meal at a restaurant before moving to a viewing spot to enjoy the main event. It’s as if the whole of Reykjavik is shooting up fireworks in a breathtaking 360° display that reaches its climax at midnight.
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