“Why?” It’s rapidly becoming the question that people ask when I announce my next travel destination, and my Christmas in Iceland trip was no exception.

To be fair I did have doubts. Having spent a winter in Norway a few years ago I was expecting short daylight hours, cold and snow. And it was Christmas so I was expecting a few things to close. But I was also expecting some wonderful, directional light, ideal for photography; I was expecting crisp, blue skies and pristine snow; I was expecting cozy bars and restaurants; and I was expecting to see the Northern Lights.

I had a great time, but not everything went to plan. The one thing that I thought I could rely on — the weather — turned out not to be such a sure thing. My first tentative steps around town were accompanied by the squelching sound of my quickly waterlogged trousers. Ironically, I spent the driest, crispest day in The Blue Lagoon, a geothermally heated outdoor pool.

What follows are a some photographic highlights and light commentary. Click on the thumbnails below for a larger version.

The main shopping street and a lake were just a short walk from the hotel. The lake had many pretty houses along the side, and the main street had pretty much the entire population of Reykjavik (if not Iceland) in a Christmas Parade.

My first venture out of the capital took in a volcano, the site of Geysir, which is where we get the word from, Gullfoss and Thingvellir ((Icelandic has a thirty-two letter alphabet, rather more than my keyboard supports and perhaps more than the typeface on your computer allows. The “th” in “Thingvellir” is more-or-less how it is supposed to sound but actually looks a bit like a ‘P.’ There is also a letter that looks like a ‘D’ with a line through it, which is pronounced “eth.”)).

Gullfoss was famously saved from the hands of greedy developers and is a spectacular sight, even in heavy rain.

Thingvellir looks dark and moody and was the site of the original Icelandic parliament, the Althing, which was the first parliamentary democracy in the world.

Overlooking Reykjavik is a building called The Pearl which holds enough geothermally heated water for half the city, plus a museum and an exclusive restaurant. Unfortunately it was shut when we visited, but it still looks space age and the views down hill show how low-rise the city is ((The guide said that Reykjavik is the size of Barcelona but with a twentieth of the population. This is partly because they have the space but mainly because all the building need to be able to withstand strong earthquakes.)).

For my last full day I decided to head out of town on a bus to Akranes. I had no idea what was there. The guide book insisted that it was pretty but the details were scarce. To cut a long story short, I imagine that it’s a very pretty place in summer but at Christmas you really need to know where you’re going before you get soaked!

Instead, I was rescued by a local couple who gave a tour of the area and then insisted on feeding and watering me! It’s always nice to meet genuinely friendly locals. Somehow I expect to find them in far-flung places but not Europe.

And finally, no, I didn’t get to see the Northern Lights. You need a cold night and a clear sky, and I had neither the whole time I was there. Maybe third time lucky..?

If this has piqued your interest, there are plenty of other sources of information on the Internet. I found the following particularly helpful:

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