The land of fire and ice
Updated: Jan 6, 2019
From chasing the aurora to having a snow fight on glaciers, from whale watching to ice caves, from so many waterfalls you can lose count to the great geysir, Iceland has so much to see and do, will one trip will ever be enough?
Iceland. It was this holiday, the one I had planned for so long that did it for me; sparked that traveller within and made me realise we still have so much to see in our world and really will I ever see it all? So I decided I want to see as much as I can and have never looked back since.
I have been to Iceland twice now, both visits were very different and remind you of how extreme the weather can be. In 2013 it was so calm, very little snow but still cold. Fast forward to the same time in 2018 and all we saw were extreme snow storms, coupled with such amazing wind to the point I fell and broke my ankle! Yup, clean break. It ruined the holiday a bit, but with continued snow storms and road closures not much could be done anyway. I was very thankful for great views from the hotel room and the office chair which became my room wheelchair. :o)
You wouldn't think there was much to do in Iceland, people generally associate it to just the Northern Lights. In fact both times we did not have enough time to see it all. Ok so the second time I broke myself, but still I still need at least 2 more visits to just see everything and appreciate the country.
Iceland is not just about chasing the Northern Lights, everything from the waterfalls to husky sledding is worth travelling for.
The North is not as popular as the South/West, however visits to places like Akureyri and Godafoss are becoming increasingly popular with the north having its own version of the 'Blue Lagoon' in Myvatn and it being easier to get to the East coast. Bookings to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) can be from anywhere across the country so whether you fly into Akureyri or Reykjavik doesn't matter if you are travelling all the way round as its then just planning your trip. If travelling a few days, decide what you want to see first.
So what is there to do? Sooooo much! You will find that there are many tour operators vying for your business. It is good practice that you do your research BEFORE you travel. I've learnt if you're travelling in peak season many excursions are fully booked and it is not advisable to wait until you get there, you will be disappointed. For GoT fans there are several locations dotted around the country where filming took place and you can visit them.
This tour will cover several key locations - Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir geothermal area and Thingvellir National Park. Some tours will also include Kerid Crater so check the one you want to visit carefully or map your own route well. This tour usually takes a day to cover all parts and costs in the region of £40-60pp.
Considered a must by many, I missed this on my first trip and was broken before I was able to book for my second trip, so for me this is still on the pending list! You will find many places giving this trip as a combo with others. It is worth considering this as this is a costly 'to do', some bookings will include entry fee, some only the bus ticket to the lagoon so read carefully before booking. For bookings to just the lagoon the cost is approximately £60 - 80pp.
Of course this is on your list. It's on everyone's list that's why you're going! Many hotels or packages that you book your travel with will include this as part of the trip. If you can get it included it saves around £25pp. Its not expensive to purchase if not included and you will find plenty of operators running it. It would be worth booking with a company that offers an alternate date if the weather is not favourable on your selected date, and if for any reason you do not manage to go (you're there for only a few days and the weather is bad for example) you get your money back. Don't put your holiday on hold for this, enjoy everything else too. If you plan ahead then you have the rest of the day to go out and be back in time to head out for the lights.
This one is very much recommended. One of the best things I did on my first trip but fully booked on my second despite trying to book before flying out! There is only one company that offers this in the south of Iceland, hence with peak season demand it sells out fast. Book well in advance to avoid disappointment. Costs in the region of £130-150pp
Is that all?
No, don't be silly. There are so many other sites to see and whether you are driving or booking the individual excursions. If driving and staying in different locations as you go around, follow the ring road or what is called Route 1 and branch out as you need. This route goes around the perimeter of Iceland. For many parts it is recommended to have a 4x4 as you will face off beaten roads and in the winter, snow and ice.
The south coast going east has a lot to see, Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach (where I broke my ankle) and the small fishing village of Vik are 2 beautiful sites.
If you are staying in Reykjavik there are many trips from the harbour that go whale watching. Iceland is a great location to see some of these majestic beasts at the right time of the year - summer months are better to spot them although tours run all year from Reykjavik, they only run in the summer months from Husavik. Cost is approx £80.00pp. They were of course hiding on the day I was out.
Puffin tours also operate from April to October when they are nesting, you would be looking at an approx. cost of £40.00pp
I would also keep a day free for the free stuff you can do. Yes FREE. On foot, get out and about in Reykjavik town, there is plenty to see starting with The Sun Voyager on the shore walk. You can follow the road up to see the Harpa; a modern glass building housing the concert hall. Hallgrímskirkja is the iconic church you will have seen in many Icelandic pictures, walking through the old shopping street of Laugavegur you will easily spot this. You might want to grab a taxi to get to Perlan or Grotta, the latter is quite a walk but with the lighthouse there is a hot spring and view to soak in.
Iceland is home to so many waterfalls you will often see them in the distance as you drive around. Many are a bit more famous and are accessible, these are some that you can easily weave into a travel plan and will find excursions that cover off most.
Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Gljufrabui: All near close to each other and you will find these as you travel from Reykjavik towards South of Iceland. In the summer months you are able to walk behind Seljalandsfoss - so take a raincoat you will get wet but for those views it will all be worth it!
Hraunfossar, Barnafossar: Almost next to each other, approx. 100km from Reykjavik in the West of Iceland.
Faxi: Located in the Golden Circle, east of Reykjavik.
Godafoss, Dettifoss, Selfoss, Svartifoss: All in the west and North of Iceland. Planning a trip to Vatnajokull and following the route round will cover these.
There are several glaciers around Iceland, many have excursions to see, hike, climb. Prices for each will vary. The more popular ones include Vatnajokull, Myrdalsjokull, Eyjafjallajokull, Breidamerkurjokull, Langjokull, Saefellsjokull. If you are on a short trip and really want to see an ice cave and walk up a glacier find the one closest as these are scattered around Iceland, they are all very similar and rather expensive to book - you don't need to see them all!
If however you are travelling in the winter and have more time at your disposal, Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon should be a must on your list. Right near Vatnajokull, this lagoon offers boat rides with huge chunks of floating ice where you will also see many of these pieces washed onto the beach, quite rightly called Diamond Beach! This is a must to complete your trip.
There are several day or 2 day excursions for the non-drivers like me who can enjoy these trips. If you look for South shore adventures or excursions to the East, they are long days but will tick off many of the above.
Wrap up warm. It's all about the layers, so make sure you have those thermals on and finish off with windproof/waterproof. In the summer months the layers will still be handy.
If you are hiring a car and are planning to drive yourself, take extra care in the weather conditions and check the website daily for updates on road conditions and closures.
Carry water and snacks. Iceland is expensive and in between the travelling you may not get the lunch you planned for so pack these!
If you are travelling in the winter it would be a good idea to invest in a good pair of crampons you can pop on over your snow boots.
Taste the local food, the sea food is amazing and very fresh.
If you decide on a pub crawl like we did, don't be fooled with the 'Happy Hour' it is likely to be Viking beer (or just beer) that is slightly reduced in price or BOGOF. It is unlikely you will find another drink being offered.
And of course, take a good camera.
Hotels: On my first trip I stayed in Hotel Reykjavik Natura and on my return trip at the Grand Hotel Reykjavik. Both are lovely hotels but my personal preference was Natura and I would try to re-book this on any future trip.
Places to eat and drink: Between the two trips some places have changed like the restaurant in Perlan, it had closed down but a new one has opened, I had visited the old which was amazing and would go to try the new. Others are I would recommend to try are Satt, Mixed Thai Food, Babalu, Shalimar and Reykjavik Fish Restaurant. For thirst quenching these are the places we managed to get into and try, there were others but too full so we didn't get round to them: The Drunk Rabbit, Kofinn Bar and Bistro, Kaffi Brennslan and Kaldi Bar.
Don't forget you can check out my Iceland album online.