Remember that opening scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, where our revered ape ancestors were chanting to the black monolith? Well, if you ever wanted to see those structures in real life, come to Vik, a fishing village in Iceland, where you will come across nature’s answer to Kubrick’s portrayal of those mysterious alien artifacts.
And it’s not only because the tall hexagonal structures look similar to monoliths. Everything about the place, the outcrops rising from the ocean, their craggy silhouettes, the dark sand grains from which pebbles shine like jewels in the Icelandic light, the caverns that reflect light in a way that you can never take a decent photograph no matter how hard you try, the strange topography of the region, and most of all, the secluded beaches which almost mostly remain devoid of humankind, are sure to give you the feeling that you’ve perhaps landed on an alien planet.
When Should You Go?
Um, That Depends...
We visited Vik in two different seasons. We were first there in early October, considered to be a shoulder month, and although very windy, it wasn’t particularly cold. And we liked it, so we had to go back in December during the long, dark Icelandic winter. But if you ask, we couldn’t really tell you which one we liked more; both had their own charms, both were unique, and most of all, both gave us absolutely the same ethereal feeling. Of course, December would be particularly eerie, so if you’re up for that challenge, just travel during the winter.
If you really want to explore the region, then you should give it at least an entire day. This is even more relevant in the winter, when the days are only a few hours long. But fret not, the faint glow of the rising and setting sun this close to the Arctic circle stays for a very long time, and so with sufficient warning you’re not likely to have to grope your way out all of a sudden from the blackness around you.
If you’re there during the winter, make sure you hit the beach very early. The sunrise behind the ocean outcrops make for a particularly photogenic moment. Again, remember that since you’re so far north, sunrise sticks around for tens of minutes instead of the few seconds you’re likely used to back home. So, take the time to get your photo gear ready, have the family scout out the best photo opportunities among the many caverns and monoliths, and when the time comes, you’ll have an extended photoshoot as the sun crawls up the sky. Actually, the sun doesn’t go up too far in the sky during the Icelandic winter but goes around in a circle just over the horizon until it slowly sets again in a narrowly sloping arc.
Here’s a handy tip for some unique photography. If you can lay your camera low enough close to the ground and point towards the sun, you’ll find sparkling jewels suddenly light up from the black sands. During this time, the light shining on these pebbles can actually make them glow. It’s a subtle event, and you’ll miss it if you don’t actually look hard, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with some great shots during these times.
During summer and shoulder months, there will be more people on the beach, but I’ve never seen it anywhere near being even remotely crowded. But during this time of the year, you’ll likely be able to take the family on to the hiking paths around the shores. And as a bonus, if you’re there during the early part of summer, you actually get to see the puffins.