Experience Iceland from a whole different vista

Kathy Carter


Iceland offers a unique and beautiful experience for intrepid travellers with a taste for adventure. From fairie folklore to fermented shark, there are many unique aspects to enjoy on a vacation to Europe’s most sparsely populated country. However, one of the most exhilarating ways to traverse the iconic, rugged landscape is not on foot, or within the cosy confines of a heated 4x4; but from the back of an Icelandic horse!

Uniqueness worth paying for

You may have heard some facts about Iceland already. The long days and light nights during the summer months; the fact that the island is a stunning viewpoint for the aurora borealis, or northern lights; the renowned hospitality of the friendly locals; or the fact that the country is expensive to visit. All of these things are true (although hotel, food and fuel prices across Iceland are actually comparable to most international, big-city prices). But such uniqueness is worth paying for – where else can you experience dramatic vistas, volcanic wildernesses, geysers, hot springs and lava fields? Icelandic food is also inimitable. Hákarl, or fermented shark is certainly a different gastronomic experience; here, you can also try smoked puffin, traditional smoked sheep's head and plokkfiskur, a hearty fish stew. (At first glance, Iceland is seemingly not an easy destination for vegans and vegetarians; however the nation is reportedly one of the world’s most vegan-friendly countries, with most Icelandic restaurants offering vegan options).

Fantastic folklore intertwined with nature

Iceland, described as the land of fire and ice, is a relatively small island; over 11% of the country is covered by glaciers, formed through decades-long processes of snow accumulation and compression. Only around half of the landmass has any vegetation. This other-worldly backdrop hosts some fantastic folklore – between 30 and 40% of Icelanders will not deny the existence of elves, for example, while Icelandic heritage is rich with stories about the Huldufólk, or hidden people. These supernatural beings live in nature in a parallel world, invoking invisibility at will; Icelandic Christmas traditions see families leaving food for the Huldufólk and lighting candles to help them find their way to their next location on New Year’s Eve. It is thought that Iceland’s dramatic scenery, with its twisted rocks, avalanches and volcanic landscape, has directly influenced the folktales about elves, water-dwellers and hill fairies, and the accompanying reverence for the land that the stories evoke.

*Toltally terrific equine adventures

A bucket-list experience is surely horse riding in this iconic, Nordic nation, (there are many trips that involve this mode of transport, from brief, day-trip excursions to week-long trail rides traversing the ink-black sand beaches and rugged lava rocks); so we have to acknowledge and honour the iconic Icelandic horses. The Icelandic horse’s roots date back to around 865 AD. When Ingolf Arnarsson, the first permanent settler in Iceland, established what’s now the capital, Reykjavik, in 874 AD; he and his descendants brought livestock and horses to the isle on their trusty longboats. The purebred Icelandic horse stands at around 12hh to 14.2hh; the equines are incredibly surefooted and can carry a third of their own body weight, which averages 800 pounds; comfortably in excess of the average weight of an adult male. Uniquely, the Icelandic horses are five gaited, demonstrating the walk, trot, canter tolt* and flying pace. The famous tolt is a four beat gait, whereby the horse’s front-end elevates, with the forefeet doing an extended trot. 

When to travel

Each Icelandic season brings its own unique experiences; in winter, look out for the northern lights and quirky Porrablót celebrations; in spring, seek out puffin and whale visitations; in summer, make the most of near endless daylight and the annual Pride festival and in autumn or fall, take in the horse round-ups, held during September and October, as well as the capital Reykjavík's famous jazz and film festivals. (If you’re planning a self-guided trip, be aware that the mountain roads only open in June or early July, and close again in September or October, depending on weather conditions). There are many international flights serving the capital so why not book your seat today and prepare for a vacation experience like no other!

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