I was sitting in a cafe on Reykjavik’s main road in mid-August, drinking a caffè latte and surrounded by young men and women working on their laptops or reading novels. The sun was shining and many Icelanders were out enjoying the last days of summer sunshine before the cold of the short and dark wintery days.
I was writing the last pages of my travel diary after an unforgettable two-week car ride around the country, which I described as “the most fascinating and adventurous trip of my life”. Sleeping in a tent somewhere different every day (from the western fjords to the feet of Europe’s biggest glacier) and witnessing the spectacular nature Iceland has to offer to its many visitors, are amongst the most unforgettable memories of my summer adventure.
Together with a group of other four travelers, we hired a car and toured the whole Island in just over fourteen days. We headed to the fjords north of the capital, all the way to the westernmost point of Europe and hiked our way to the top of the glacier in the Snaefellsnes peninsula. I still remember the magic of witnessing the eleven p.m sunsets while eating our simple dinners made up of beans and pre-cooked pasta outside our tent. The end of each day was spent warming up in our sleeping bags.
We also visited many of the famous hot springs situated almost everywhere around the island: we had collected a map from Reykjavik’s tourist centre which indicated the exact location of every natural pool. They were the perfect way to balance the hard and tiring hiking days and a way to escape the summer cold. On the tenth day we made our way to Europe’s biggest glacier, situated in the centre of the island. Arriving there with our 4×4 car was an adventure – part of the trail involved crossing rivers to the moon-looking landscape made up of back volcanic rocks and red dust. It was definitely an exciting challenge.
Eventually, after sight-seeing the world famous Icelandic Puffins on a cliff in the southern coast, we headed to Iceland’s “Golden Circle” tour, which includes a visit to the country’s active geyser which explodes approximately every ten minutes. However, apart from the stunning nature and relaxing hot springs, there is one thing that unexpectedly struck me about Iceland: its strong music culture.
You would be surprised by the amount of active, music producing artists there are in a country of just over 320,000 people, most of which live in the capital. As soon as you drive away from Reykjavik, the island feels incredibly empty: all the places indicated as “towns” on maps are actually a bunch of small red-roofed houses together with a gas station, a church and occasionally a supermarket.
Nevertheless, the amount of Icelandic music artists which were played on local radio stations was incredible. Iceland, together with other nordic countries such as Sweden (which is the world’s third music exporter following the US and the UK), considers music as a big aspect of their life and culture. However, outside this small and remote Nordic island, people hardly ever talk about “Icelandic music”. This is either because we listen to Icelandic artists without knowing they are Icelandic (“Of Monsters and Men” or “Sigur Ròs” to name a few), or because the music genre produced in this country (Indie/Rock) is not typically played on popular western radios. However, looking up “Icelandic Indie” on Spotify or Google, is the best way to discover an incredible number of artists who produce good quality music. Listening to local radio stations during the two week trip was an incredible way to discover this hidden yet amazing aspect of the country’s culture.
On one of our many stops around the country, we met a group of Spanish travelers who were driving around the island to discover the places where their favourite Icelandic band “Sigur Ròs” found inspiration for their music. They felt such a strong connection to the band and their music that they told us how it helped them “understand Icelandic nature at its fullest”.
On our last day in Iceland, our “Couchsurfer” Brynja, born and raised in Reykjavik, explained to me that many Icelandic young people would stay home and simply make music in order to escape the freezing weather and the long dark winter days. She enthusiastically told me how she dedicates her time to music production, together with many other fellow young Icelanders. Its stunning nature and quality music make Iceland a hidden gem of the north and a recommended adventure for all travelers out there.