Sibéal Turraoin is from An Rinn, Co Waterford. Having fallen in love with the Arctic since she sailed through the Northwest Passage in 2010, she came to Iceland on a hiking trip in 2016, and never went home. Trained as a graphic designer, she now photographs the Icelandic landscapes and writes a travel blog at www.sibealturraoin.ie
Where is the first place you bring people to when they visit Iceland?
Reykjanes Peninsula is where the international airport is located, but most people seem to skip it. It’s a fantastic introduction to Iceland with lava fields all along the coast, geothermal areas like Seltún, and you can walk from Europe to America at Midlina, where there is a footbridge between the two continental plates.
You can also visit the famous Blue Lagoon just outside Grindavík but I prefer to bring my friends to the more natural ones, like Reykjadalur where you hike up to a valley with a hot river. There are lots of little hot springs like this, the prefect way to relax after a long day travelling.
The top three things to do there, that don’t cost money, are …
Iceland is ridiculously expensive, but the best things here are totally free. I spent two months hiking around last summer. You can visit mighty waterfalls like Dettifoss, Skógafoss and Gullfoss, see mountains like Kirkjufell that was in Game of Thrones, or Snæfellsjökull that was the inspiration for Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and smell the really pungent sulphur at multicoloured geothermal areas like Seltún, Geysir and Hverarönd.
Campsites are pretty cheap but rules about wild camping are getting stricter to preserve the unspoilt nature. I spent almost a week on Hornstrandir, a very remote part of the Westfjords. The hikes are quite difficult there but you can see Arctic foxes roaming wild which is amazing. The regular swimming pools are very good value here at only a few euro, and are just as relaxing as the more expensive spas.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Iceland?
Some of the more traditional foods like hákarl (fermented shark) and svið (sheep's head), usually washed down by a schnapps called brennivín, are an acquired taste. Icelanders love their fast-food and their hot dogs, made with lamb, are really good. And cheap! Ask for "ein með öllu", to get one with both types of onion and all the sauces.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Iceland’s place in history?
The National Museum, Þjóðminjasafn Íslands, in Reykjavík is an excellent introduction to Iceland’s history. For a more cultural take, I love The Settlement Center called Landnámssetur Íslands in Borganes, which is two museums in one. One tells the story of the age of settlement and the other the old Icelandic sagas, which are often quite bloody! You can also visit Þingvellir, in the Golden Circle, which was the site of Europe’s oldest parliament; it’s amazing to stand in the same place as the names you’ve just been learning about.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Iceland?
A lopapeysa, which is a big thick Icelandic geansaí. I've a few of them; they are warm, almost waterproof, and don't need to be washed. I've also been making jewellery from fish skin, which is popular here.
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