Nature is now going on prescription across the UK and doctors on the National Health Service (NHS) are happily prescribing it to patients. Yes, just as you read it, this is not actually a joke. Not surprising really as it wasn’t that long ago that ‘being in nature’ was where we were most of the time, ‘naturally’ so to speak.
With more and more people living in bigger urban areas, it has become now the exception than the rule to spend time outdoors, away from the metropolitan hustle and bustle. We tend to reserve our outings for weekends and holidays, spending the majority of our days indoors, even when we exercise. According to the Environmental Protection Agency the average American adult spends 93% of their life indoors (6% of which is in cars). This is a staggering proportion of our time spent behind walls, and even if the survey methodology has its flaws, the general gist is still true - Western society is turning into an indoor species.
If you decide to visit Iceland you’ll be given plenty of opportunities to spend time outdoors. Depending on where you come from, you might be hard pressed to find ‘good weather’ in Iceland, you should nevertheless follow the local wisdom which goes ‘if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes’. As true as this is, you should not underestimate the power of an Icelandic storm and keep well away from the strong winds, especially if you are driving.
If you come to Iceland there will be plenty to do outdoors, and even if your doctor didn’t prescribe it to you, it’ll still be hugely beneficial for your mental and physical health. You don’t have to suffer from heart problems, diabetes or a mental illness to see the gains you’ll get from hiking in nature or spending a day out whale- or birdwatching.
Here we give you 5 ideas that will make the outdoors fun and unusual, and will ensure that your first trip to Iceland is unforgettable.
Ok, we said spending time outdoors is good for you and now we’re sending you inside a cave? Well, once you visit a glacier cave in Iceland, you’ll understand why. The ice tunnels and caves, sometimes called ‘crystal caves’ that you can find in Icelandic glaciers are a truly fascinating phenomena. The best way to organize a visit is to join an organized tour or hire a private guide as it is not recommended you go by yourself due to safety reasons.
The best (and safest) time to visit them is in winter between November and March. Ice caves are not a constant, they melt and form with the seasons, and are always different even throughout one season. In the summer they melt and it’s quite dangerous to attempt to go inside.
Deep under the ocean the mid-Atlantic ridge is pushing the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates further apart at a rate of about 2.5 cm per year. In Iceland however, you can see the boundary between the tectonic plates i.e. the ridge, running right through the middle of the country. Visit the Reykjanes Peninsula to see the large fissure that splits the rock formations right in the middle of the alien looking lava field landscape. So if you fancy a walk between the continents you can go to “The Bridge Between Continents” which crosses the ridge. We also call it “Midlina” and in the past it was called “Leif the Lucky” bridge, in honour of the famous explorer Leif Ericson, allegedly the first Icelander to set foot in North America about 1000 AD. It carries a lot of symbolism - connecting two continents, the old and the new world. It symbolizes the connection between two continents, North America and Europe, the new world and old one. So it will be a unique experience to hop between America and Europe, you just have to do it.
The Icelandic horse is a descendant of the ponies that were taken by the Vikings when they settled on the island around 9th 10th century. It is a hardy breed, accustomed to the harsh and inhospitable weather in Iceland. There is a law preventing the import of other horse breeds on the island which has ensured the purity of the breed. The horses have gaits not found in other breeds across the world and they are friendly and gentle so you’ll feel very good after spending a day horseback riding. Just join one of the many tours on offer or visit a horse farm as many offer riding lessons. Even if riding is not your thing, you can just spend some time grooming and feeding the horses to boost your wellbeing.
It might sound like the craziest idea ever, especially for those of you coming from warmer climates. But it’s surprisingly not so extreme and has been practiced by Icelanders for a millenium now, ever since the settlement. In winter the temperatures can go around or below zero but in summer the sea water can be about 12-15 C. It’s not the Med we know, but a quick dip into the chilly waters will really boost your immune system, stimulate your circulation and make you feel so much better when you relax in a hot geothermal pool afterwards . If you want the combination of Atlantic water and geothermal warmth, go to Nauthólsvík beach where the lagoon is heated by the geothermal waters. Even though this doesn’t bring the temperature to more than about 19 C in the summer, you can always relax in the hot tub afterwards.
There’s nothing more natural than to spend the whole day and night outside during the long midnight sun days. You’ll have endless opportunities to explore, hike, observe nature or just relax and unwind with the hours-long sunrises and sunsets.
Whatever you decide to do outdoors while you’re in Iceland, we’re sure that you doctor back home will agree that it’ll be better than any prescription. Don’t forget to keep safe by always checking with the locals and following the signs and heeding the warnings wherever you go. Iceland’s nature is beautiful and raw and we’d like to keep it that way by not turning the country into an amusement park. Therefore we rely on your good sense to be aware of your surroundings, keep yourself and everything around you just as it is.