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Tips for travelling to Iceland

In August I spent 11 days travelling across Iceland, mostly driving a rental car around the Ring Road. I covered all 3 WHS, 3 TWHS and some places of interest in between on this itinerary. Similar to Namibia or Mongolia, man has stayed on the fringes of this country and nature is intimidatingly prevalent. Find below my top tips for travelling to Iceland as a World Heritage Traveller.

Puffin at Ingolfshofdi

1. Take advantage of all its natural attractions being free to enter

Iceland may have the stigma of being an expensive destination, but the good thing is that all its natural attractions are free. This includes not only the ever-present pretty landscape surrounding you, but also top class sights such as Thingvellir Park, Vatnajökull, the geyser fields, Gulfoss, Lake Myvatn. To be able to enjoy all this without paying is a major drawing card of Iceland. The sites all look well-kept but have few amenities and no visible ranger presence as in the US for example.

2. Don’t expect to meet many Icelanders

In a normal (non-Covid) year, tourists outnumber the locals 6:1. Hotels, restaurants, tours - especially outside of Reykjavik - therefore are often staffed by young people from all around the EU. The effects are similar to that of the working holiday scheme in Australia. It does take away a bit from the authenticity as these youngsters probably know as little about their surroundings as you do yourself. And they don't at all look like that guy from the Skyr advert.

Landmannalaugar imitates Namib Sand Sea

3. Choose your tours wisely

The surge in visitors to Iceland over the past years – combined with the total downfall due to Covid – does not bring out the best in tour operators and beforehand it is hard to decide which one to choose for what, if any. I used them only to get to places where I couldn’t go with my 2WD rental car.

The tours on my trip were: Ingolshofdi Puffin Tour by FromCoastToMountains, Whale watching tour from Husavik by Gentle Giants, a Superjeep tour to Landmannalaugar by Arctic Adventures and the (private) tour to Surtsey by SACA. All come recommended, except the whale tour. These whale tours always seem to disappoint me; the boat also was too crowded and the itinerary unimaginative.

4. Allocate 10 - 14 days

To do a loop around the Ring Road, do some hiking and a tour or 2, see the 3 WHS and all TWHS (I skipped Breiðafjörður) it takes about 10 to 14 days. Reykjavik is often used as a stop-over destination only, but when you limit yourself to the southwestern corner of Iceland for only a few days you miss a whole lot.

Skyr mousse with white chocolate & cucumber sorbet

5. Enjoy the food

Don’t bring all the food with you as some budget tips suggest. I love exploring foreign supermarkets and trying out local snacks; Icelandic chocolate bars filled with salty liquorice taste really good! Especially the fish meals are excellent all around Iceland and the fish of the day usually costs a reasonable 25 EUR. Also expect a lot of hipster food culture (think food trucks, roasted cauliflower, pomegranate seeds), mixed with New Nordic Cuisine in the more expensive restaurants. The Skyr mousse desserts always are to die for.

Els - 20 September 2020

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Zoë Sheng 20 September 2020

One more tip: Don't go to the Blue Lagoon ;)

Ancient Lavrion (T)

Nan Germany - 08-Sep-20

Ancient Lavrion (T)

If you like me have ever wondered what made Athens stand out among its contemporary rival Greek city states, Ancient Lavrion may provide the answer. In the hills of the Attika peninsula, roughly 50km South of Athens was a huge mining area where several ores could be mined: copper, lead and most importantly silver. The silver wealth supported the Athenians in resisting the Persian invasions. It also enabled the Athenians to mint their own coins, the Athenian Tetrhadrachmon.

The mines predate classical Greece by millenia. It seems there were mining operations already in neolithic times (3000 BCE). However, after the Peloponnesian War the mines were closed as the infrastructure had been destroyed.

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Gdansk - Town of Memory and Freedom (T)

Clyde Malta - 07-Sep-20

Gdansk - Town of Memory and Freedom (T)

I visited Gdansk in August 2020 after a detour to Gdynia which turned out to be a wise choice as the only huge traffic jams I encountered in Poland during the COVID-19 crisis were the several lanes from Torun or Warsaw towards Gdansk and the Baltic Sea. Having driven quite early to Gdynia avoiding the main roads, I luckily skipped all the traffic and on the way back to Gdansk, the traffic flow was fine. If you travel by car, there's ample paid parking spaces next to the Gdansk shipyard area or next to the European Solidarity Centre and you can pay using a credit card if you're short of zloty coins.

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Rjukan / Notodden

Nan Germany - 21-Aug-20

Rjukan / Notodden

While humans have put manure of fields for millenia, it was never fully understood why that actually worked. It was in the 19th century that a German chemist, Justus von Liebig, showed the benefits of plant nutrients; he is referred to as the "father of the fertilizer industry". The initial fertilizer used in the 19th century was guano which had to be imported from South America and which had limited availability. So, plenty of researchers were looking for a way to produce fertilizers instead of mining them.

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Modernist Centre of Gdynia — the example of building an integrated community (T)

Clyde Malta - 07-Sep-20

Modernist Centre of Gdynia — the example of building an integrated community (T)

I visited this tentative WHS in August 2020 as a slight detour from the Gdansk tentative WHS and Malbork Castle WHS. If the former two manage to get inscribed Gdansk would become a WHS hotspot.

The Modernist Centre of Gdynia is apparently trying to seek inscription on similar grounds as the Chaux-de-Fonds/Le Locle WHS in Switzerland or the Le Havre WHS in France, i.e. a uniform urban complex developed in the 1920s till present days as a result of a unique and dynamic process of city construction. Gdynia combines features of traditional urban composition (an orthogonal street grid inscribed into the fanned landscape) with buildings that incorporate progressive housing solutions (ensuring access of light and air). The port city's design was based on the idea of opening the city to the Baltic Sea with the Southern Pier serving as a promenade and with general access to open port spaces (a marina, a passenger and short sea shipping harbour)

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Central Sikhote-Alin

Martina Ruckova Slovakia - 07-Sep-20

Central Sikhote-Alin

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So when Ivan and I got stuck in Russia for a progressively longer and longer time, we started not only revisiting old Russian WHSs, but thought about visiting the new ones too. Not many left, but we did what we could and Ivan planned a week-long trip along regions of Russian Far East.

Having been to Kamchatka and Lena Pillars already, it was Sikhote-Alin Natural reserve that remain to be visited. Your hub will be Vladivostok. From there, there are three ways of getting in and out of Terney, a gateway to the park. One is comfortable, another two are weatherproof. September is said to be the best weatherwise, so we chose the comfortable one - with a small De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft on a daily line between Vladivostok and Terney, operated by Aurora Airlines, a subsidiary of Aeroflot. Prices are subsidized by the government and a plane ticket (2600 rubles) is actually cheaper than 14-hour bus ride (3000 rubles). The bus to and from Vladivostok departs twice a day: in the morning and in the evening

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