Iceland, the splitting land of sea, ice and calmness
The settlement of Iceland began in the year 874 and after being ruled by Norway and Denmark, it became independent in 1918 and after the Second World War it became one of the most developed nations in the world. However, going through centuries, Iceland didn't forget its past and that's visible every step of the way. People still can read the oldest books because the language didn't change since ancient times, the country has no army and virtually no crime because communities are so tightly connected that the whole island is like one big family.
Of its 329,000 citizens, more than two-thirds live in Reykjavik, Iceland's capital and largest city with pretty dramatic weather with snow showers that can turn into a sunny day almost in an istant. This world's northernmost capital is situated in southwestern Iceland and it is the heart of Iceland's life. That relatively small city is full of activities all year round, and there you can attend festivals, music events, film festivals... Icelanders are celebrating everything that can come to mind, from good films and design to culture nights and the arrival of summer.
The Winter Lights Festival is an event that happens once a year and it is very welcomed happening in the midwinter. And there's a reason why then: it celebrates the growing light that comes after a period of darkness, and the festival is a combination of art, history, sports and culture. One of the most stunning moments is when you see Hallgrimskirkja, a Lutheran church with architecture you can see nowhere else in the world, in thousand lights that symbolize the bright period that will come.
While at festivals, the first weekend in August is Merchants' Holiday, a time of year when Icelanders take to the roads to camp, stay at summerhouses and party at festivals all over Iceland. The largest of those is the National Festival in the Westman Islands. During the second weekend in August, many people are travelling north to Dalvik for The Great Fish Day to enjoy entertainment and free fish soup. There are numerous other festivals in August, which makes this month as one of the best for coming to this northern land.
Outside Reykjavik, there are several natural wonders you should not miss. Iceland is the only place in the world where you can see two major tectonic plates drifting apart and thanks to geological activities it is full of thermal wonders. Blue Lagoon is popular geothermal spa with crystal clear water and the only place where you can swim in 40C warm water, surrounded by ice and snow. Here, aquamarine waters are set against the black background, making this one of the most photographed attraction in Iceland.
Great Geysir is situated in the south-western Iceland and has been active for more than 10,000 years. It can spurt boiling water up to 70 meters in the air and trust us when we say that no photo can replace seeing in person that impressive natural wonder. Lake Thingvallavatn is the largest natural lake in Iceland and the Silfra diving spot is Iceland's best kept secret and the unique place for diving, situated on top of the cleft which separates America and Europe.
City Walk Reykjavik is a popular two-hour long walking tour around the center of the city and an extremely interesting way to take a look at the most interesting spots. One thing you should do is to visit Laugardalur, the city’s main sports area with an open-air geothermally heated swimming pool, botanical gardens and even the zoo. If you are hungry, know that Icelanders are one of the world's biggest sugar consumers and almost every dish from mashed potato to meat is made with sugar. In the land where there is twice as many sheep as people, meals with lamb are very popular.
And before you go home, visit Hallgrimskirkja church. Take the elevator to the top and enjoy the view of downtown Reykjavik. In front of the church, with architecture inspired by the Svartifoss waterfall in South Iceland, there is a statue of Leif Ericsson, the man that discovered North America 500 years before Columbus. Streets of Laugavegur, Austurstraeti, Laekjargata and Skolavordustigur, all in the city center, are the best places for nice shopping. To take one last look at the northern lights, you don't have to go outside the capital, the spectacular phenomenon is visible even from downtown Reykjavik. ■
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