Ever since we first mooted going to Iceland we’ve noted that people’s reactions have been clearly split. With other destinations reactions have been mixed – no one likes all the same things or looks for the same things in a holiday. But with Iceland people split right down the middle: either people are immediately fascinated and excited at the thought of going or they look at you with a blank and mystified air and say “Why?”.
As we sit jammed amongst thousands of others waiting for planes in Heathrow Terminal 3 one simple answer to the ‘why’ might be that there aren’t many people in Iceland. The population sits somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 and most of them live in the capital. The population has actually decreased recently after the financial implosion sent the economy into a nose-dive. Iceland is still small enough, and has an unusual enough naming convention, that the telephone directory listings are by first name.
Another answer is huge waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers. Hot springs, whales, dolphins. Iceland is in many ways incredibly unspoilt. That’s partly because here’s never been many people on the island and those few led an extraordinarily hard life until recently. Iceland history jumps from one disaster to the next and the population gets decimated every time. It was only relatively recently that Iceland suddenly leapt up to those remaining locals having one of the highest standards of living in the world.
One answer you will not likely be hearing from us about why to visit Iceland is: the food. A traditional Icelandic delicacy is rotten or fermented shark.
Flying over southern Iceland the country looks exactly like a huge, curdled-green algal-bloom on the surface of the ocean. As the plane descends you see that the colours are made up of grey and brown rock interspaced in points by low green grass and bushes. There’s not a tree to be seen, not one. There is the occasional plume of steam rising from cracks in the ground and a single dark line of road. Even at first glance this place is different.