Iceland is such an incredible country it is hard to know where to start. I spent four days exploring and can safely say that it is a good amount of time to fit in a lot of adventures. For the Northern Lights, January to March is a good time to go. Although be prepared for an arctic chill plus only a few hours of daylight. I visited in January, sunrise was at 11am and sunset around 4pm. It is strange adjusting to very dark mornings. The opposite can be said for the summer in Iceland, the daylight hours go the complete opposite way with the midnight sun making an appearance. This means pretty much twenty-four hours of daylight and warmer weather.
If you are planning a trip to Iceland here is my four-day itinerary…
From the airport Flybus operate services to Reykjavík in conjunction with all arriving and departing flights. Bus services go via the BSI bus terminal, and onto Reykjavík. (Pay for Flybus Plus to be dropped right outside your accommodation.) The journey takes about 45 minutes, pre book before you go or pay at the airport. It was a really fluid service plus there is WIFI on the buses.
You might be interested to know that the restaurant at the bus terminal sells not only burgers but also sheep heads. A traditional Icelandic dish which dates back to a time when people made use of every part of the animal. Not one I tried while I was out there, but very interesting to learn about Iceland’s culture.
We stayed in the centre of Reykjavík at Loft Hostel, locatedon one of the main streets it was perfect and in walking distance of shops, restaurants, funky bars and the city’s main attractions.
A visit to Hallgrimskirkja church is a must; the impressive concrete structure was designed to look like volcanic basalt. Inside it houses an organ with 5727 pipes. For a small fee take the lift 74.5 metres to the top for beautiful panoramic views of Iceland.
If you are visiting in winter you will definitely need to warm up. Icelanders are into coffee in a big way so there are plenty of coffee shops dotted around to escape in from the cold. My favourite was Kaffi Brennslan, they had a delicious chocolate cake. Most of the coffee shops turn into restaurants and bars at night too with a quirky little place on most corners to choose from.
After you’ve warmed up take a stroll to the harbour. The famous Sun Voyager statue is a worth a look at and the mountainous backdrop is stunning.
If you are hoping to see the northern lights book a trip early on in your stay, that way you can increase your chances of seeing them. Many tour companies offer a free trip if you don’t spot them the first time around. Use Icelandic Met Office to check the Aurora forecast. On our first full evening there we went on a Northern lights hunt with Iceland Travel. With clear skies and a dark night we were very lucky to see the Aurora Borealis dancing and gliding in the dark sky. A super jeep tour meant a smaller group and we could go where coaches couldn’t, boy did those Land Rovers plough through the snow! After an awesome evening we even got see the lights again from the roof terrace of the hostel shining brightly above Reykjavík. For tips on capturing the Northern Lights on camera head here: Northern Lights Photography Tips.
You can’t come to Iceland without seeing the Golden Circle. Matt and I decided to go on an organized tour, we had initially thought about hiring a car but were pleased we didn’t as due to a lot of snow the road conditions were pretty harsh and the Icelanders definitely have the skills to drive on their roads!
We chose a small group tour with Sterna Travel, the first stop was Þingvellir national park the sight of Iceland’s Viking parliament; here you can walk between shifting tectonic plates. Next up was the Geysir hot spring area; hot steam rises from bubbling geothermal water, and the famous geyser Strokkur is here. Pushing out hot plumes of water every few minutes it is very exciting and addictive to watch. The thundering falls of Gullfoss was one of my favourite stops of the day; this icy beauty was definitely worth getting cold for. As well as stopping at the main sights the tour also included a visit to a geothermal pool, Gamla Lagoon. As I’m pregnant I didn’t get to go in but Matt thoroughly enjoyed the 40°c dip with a beer for company!
For dinner we chose Islenski Barinn, a cosy restaurant with a quirky interior. I had halibut which was delicious. They had some interesting specialties on the menu, the Icelandic people like some weird stuff! Fermented shark, puffin and minke whale. We didn’t try any of these, as we weren’t sure if they were just a tourist fad. For dessert we had Skyr, an Icelandic speciality and very similar to Greek yogurt.
We were up early for an adventure to the south coast, again with Sterna Travel. I was so excited to see Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 cancelling over 100,000 flights all over the world. Next was the mighty Skógafoss one of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls, it has a 200ft drop and legend has it that there is buried treasure in the cave behind, unfortunately it was too cold that day for me to find out! We stopped for lunch at Reynisfjara beach near Vik. Black sand and basalt sea stacks make this a striking place for photos. My favourite stop on this trip was at Mýrdalsjökull, the most beautiful glacier. Having time to explore the base of this gigantic beauty was awe-inspiring. Deep blues and thickly patterned ice, topped off with snow-covered mountains high above, it was an epic spot. The last stop of the day was Seljalandsfoss waterfall, you can walk behind it, but it was so cold the staircase leading to the path was completely encased in ice. I was more than happy to just admire it from the front anyway!
We rounded up the evening back in Reykjavík with a very tasty lamb stew. Iceland is well-known for its lamb so it only seemed right to warm up with this dish after a very chilly but awesome day.
Our final morning was spent relaxing over a leisurely breakfast after two busy days of sightseeing followed by souvenir shopping. A Lopapeysa or Icelandic sweater made with Icelandic sheep wool is the thing to buy here. However, at £100 – £150 they were way out of my budget. I did however stumble across some very cool vintage charity shops on Laugavuger, the main shopping street. Inside I found a few jumpers for £30, sadly they didn’t fit! This was followed by more coffee drinking and cake munching to keep warm. You can buy all sorts of weird and wonderful souvenirs; my favourite ones were glass tea light holders with volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajökull and lava rock ornaments. I did go into a Christmas shop and buy a Christmas decoration, as if you saw my blog back in December on all things Christmassy you will know that I love collecting decorations from my travels. A little Icelandic elf, I thought it would be a great reminder of our trip.
I loved everything about Iceland, it has such a trendy, cool vibe, the locals are super friendly and I even loved the cold. For me it added to the whole experience. My one tip would be to pack a lot of thermals and layers if you go during the winter, you will definitely need them.
Iceland is one of the most incredible countries I have visited. Found on the edge of the arctic circle winters are chilly with very little daylight and summers are bright and warm as Iceland becomes the land of the midnight sun. Whichever time of the year you choose to visit you are sure to have a blast. Breathtaking landscapes, very friendly locals and the lovely city of Reykjavík full of nordic charm, cool bars and quirky places to eat are sure to win you over. Iceland is easy to get around, hire a car, catch a bus from the airport or book on to a small group tour with transport provided. There is so much to see and do in Iceland so to help you plan your own trip here are my favourites…
1. See the Northern Lights
If you go to Iceland during the winter look out for the Northern Lights, watching them dance across the nights sky, ever-changing in shape and colour is unforgettable. The Icelandic Met Office is a great website for checking the Aurora forecast and upcoming weather conditions. It has a helpful scale to indicate the likeliness of seeing the lights. Hunt for them yourself or go out with a guide. When I was in Iceland last year I went on a Super Jeep tour with Iceland Travel, it was a fantastic night. Not only did I see the Northern Lights I also got to experience the thrill of exploring Iceland at night in a Super Jeep. Huge wheels meant the 4×4 could plough through the deepest of snow drifts and go where others couldn’t. We stopped at two different locations and got to witness a lot of Aurora Borealis action, once they disappeared at the first location we moved on to the next. Finishing off the night with a hot chocolate topped with an optional glug of vodka helped to keep us warm in the freezing weather conditions.
2. Swim in a hot spring
Iceland is famous for its geothermal activity and what better way to celebrate this than with a dip in a hot pool. The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most famous geothermal spa, located in a lava field it is a must visit. This is not the only hot pool though, there are plenty of others to be discovered. The Blue Lagoon was sadly closed for refurbishment when Matt and I were in Iceland, so we visited the Secret Lagoon instead, a lovely small geothermal pool which we stopped at while exploring the Golden Circle.
3. Climb to the top of Hallgrímskirkja
The very impressive Hallgrímskirkja church can be seen throughout Reykjavík, its magnificent structure was designed to look like the volcanic basalt stacks which can be spotted around Iceland. Inside, the beautiful architecture continues and includes a huge organ with 5275 pipes. Take the lift to the top of the 73 metre tower, it costs 900 ISK (around £6) and is well worth it. The views of Reykjavík and the surrounding landscape are breathtaking.
4. Walk on a glacier
It’s not everyday you get to visit a glacier and Iceland is the place to do it. Mýrdalsjökull glacier near Vik was incredible to see and get up close to. Unfortunately as I was six months pregnant I couldn’t hike it but it was fun to watch others making the trek up and along this impressive landscape. Hearing the cracks and seeing the incredible blues of the ice is just out of this world. If you get the chance to walk on one, do it!
5. Walk along the black sand on Reynisfjara Beach
This beach near Vik is famous for its black sand, caused by volcanic activity it is a beach like no other and worthy of taking plenty of photos. Stroll along the mysterious shoreline looking out for the huge basalt columns jutting out from the cliffs and the basalt stacks out at sea. Icelandic folklore suggests that mischievous trolls trying to drag a ship to shore were unwittingly turned into these imposing structures. Watch out for the waves here, there are dangerous undertows and the water can be unpredictable. Be sure to stay out of the water and admire it at a safe distance from the shoreline.
6. Stroll between tectonic plates
Walking between tectonic plates is a unique experience, head to Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir) the sight of the world’s oldest parliament for a great walk full of beautiful views. Walk through Almannagjá canyon created by the division of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. For more information take a look at Þingvellir National Park website.
7. Watch Strokkur geyser exploding
A highlight of the Golden Circle, this geothermal area is awesome! Water bubbles away at 100ºC and huge plumes of steam rise from the ground. Watch the mighty geyser Strokkur explode into action, the giant jet of water erupts every 5 – 10 minutes and is an incredible sight.
8. Say hi to the local wildlife
Iceland’s resident horses are very friendly, take the time to stop for a selfie with them amongst the gorgeous landscape. Standing between 13 and 14 hands high they could be mistaken for ponies, in Iceland they are horses so be sure to get it right or risk offending a local!
9. Marvel at the beautiful waterfalls
One of Iceland’s most famous and beautiful landmarks are the waterfalls. There’s nothing quite like watching water majestically fall over rugged hillsides, especially in the winter with snow underfoot and icicles hanging from the edges of the falls. My favourites are Gullfoss, which can be seen on a tour of the Golden Circle. It is one of Iceland’s most popular falls and it’s not hard to see why. Standing up close to this powerful beauty and watching water thunder down below is an exhilarating experience. Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss are both found in the south of Iceland. Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls, you can get really close to it which is fantastic for capturing photos. Seljalandsfoss is a must see, go behind the falls for a completely different view point, it is worth noting that the path is often closed in winter months due the danger of slipping. Whichever waterfall you choose to visit in Iceland you certainly won’t be disappointed!
For more on what to see and do in Iceland click on the links below…
You can’t go to Iceland without seeing the natural wonders of the Golden Circle, either hire a car and do your own thing or book onto an organised tour. Matt and I went on a small group trip with Sterna Travel. As well as seeing the main sites there were a few other interesting stops along the way, we also chose to add a visit to a geothermal pool as when we were in Iceland the Blue Lagoon was closed for refurbishment. If you are visiting during the winter months wrap up warm with plenty of layers as the minus temperatures are definitely part of the experience!
The highlights of the Golden Circle are Þingvellir National Park, Geysir hot springs and Gullfoss waterfall. The drive itself was fantastic and a great way to see Iceland’s incredible landscape, we drove along mountain passes, through lava fields, past lakes, over fresh water and glacial rivers which are apparently clean enough to drink, across fault lines and past plenty of steam billowing from the ground from geothermal activity; you could smell the sulphur! Not to mention catching glimpses of volcanoes such as Hekla, which erupts every ten to twelve years making it one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes and Eyjafjallajökull the volcano which erupted in 2010 causing disruption to air travel worldwide. I got up close to this volcano whilst exploring the south of the island. Visiting in early January meant not seeing daylight until around 11am. This was the perfect time to stop in the mountains to watch the sunrise; it was an epic start to the day….
The next stop was Þingvellir National Park, the site of the first Viking parliament it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also has a lot of geographic importance due to being on a fault line. You can actually walk between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates through the Almannagjá canyon, which is pretty cool!
Iceland has its own breed of horse. These hardy creatures stand between 13 and 14 hands high and could be mistakenly classed as ponies. But make this mistake at your own peril, as you will offend an Icelander by calling them ponies! They are very good-natured and I got to make friends with some of them on a short stop.
Onto the geothermal hot spring area where water temperatures hit 100°c and water continually bubbles from the ground, steam rising high into the air. The showstopper here is the hot spring Strokkur, it explodes regularly every 5 to 10 minutes without fail, shooting a high spout of water up into the air. It’s fascinating and addictive to watch!
Gullfoss was one of my favourite stops of the day and I think one of the coldest. The thundering falls are enormous, the power and noise of the gushing water falling into the crevice 105 ft below is like nothing I have experienced before and as I already mentioned the cold was extreme too! Removing your glove for just a second to take a photo led to instantly frozen and painful fingers, but it was worth it!
Next was a quick stop for a selfie at the beautiful Faxi waterfall before the final stop of the day at the Secret Lagoon. As I mentioned the Blue Lagoon was closed during our trip to Iceland so the Secret Lagoon was for us the next best thing. As I was six months pregnant at the time I was unable to go in but Matt went for a dip and loved floating around in the hot pool which is generally around 36-40°c with a beer in hand. I loved wandering around the edge of the hot pool watching the steam rising and taking photos of icicles hanging from tree branches, retreating into the warmth with a hot chocolate when I got too cold. This natural geothermal pool was first opened in 1891 and is such a unique experience.
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