4 magical days in Iceland
When one has a burning desire to travel, it doesn’t come to a halt just because it’s peak winter. So when that pricking sense of wanderlust filled the pit of my stomach late January and, coincidentally, a photo of the northern lights emerged on my Facebook feed (they’re listening to us), it didn’t take much convincing for me to book our next adventure. Iceland it was …
Before I go any further, I will say now that, no, we didn’t get to see the northern lights *shrieks fill the room*. Shockingly, the northern lights weren’t at the top of our to-do list, rather a cherry on top of the cake if we happened to catch a glimpse of them. Why? The northern lights are notoriously difficult to predict. In order to see this fascinating aurora with the naked eye, the following three things must perfectly align; darkness (night time), clear skies and an increase in solar activity. Needless to say Mother Nature was not in our favour. But believe it or not, you can have a bloody awesome time in Iceland without observing the lights.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get on with the trip.
We arrived late on a Friday night after a far from smooth landing. In fact, the wind was so strong that we were held prisoner on the plane for 45 minutes post touchdown. We got chatting to a lovely Iranian lad sitting next to me who had ordered four pints of beer within the first five minutes of takeoff (our kinda’ guy). Once we were finally given the ‘OK’ to disembark the plane, we took a shuttle bus to Green Motion Car & Van Rental where we picked up a little Fiat. I wouldn’t particularly recommend these guys – they demanded a £2000 credit card deposit or else you’re forced to take out their most expensive insurance, which, I might add, doesn’t even cover you for the majority of likely vehicle damages in Iceland; stone dints etc. Nonetheless, we made it through the trip without a speed bump in the road. Pardon the pun.
Our first two nights were spent in the centre of Reykjavik in a gorgeous two-bed home, Ilmur Apartments. We woke up early on the Saturday morning and ventured into town to a divine little bakery called Sandholt – an absolute MUST if you are visiting Reykjavik! They have everything from freshly baked Icelandic cinnamon buns and warm cakes to homemade sourdough and eggs, waffles and fruits. From there we stocked up on food supplies at the local supermarket and headed off for a day exploring the Golden Circle.
Our first stop of the Golden Circle was the magnificent Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir), a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated between two continental plates. There’s quite a history to this site, home to where the Icelandic parliament was assembled for the very first time. We enjoyed looking upon the steep cliff which offered a spectacular aerial view of Iceland, our first of many. We then, quite literally, walked along a valley of two parting continental plates, the Eurasian and the North American plates. It was rather remarkable.
After a toilet break and a delicious cornetto (I know, who eats ice-cream in Iceland?), we moved on to probably the most fascinating destination on our trip, Iceland’s great Geysir Hot Springs. It was most peculiar to find ourselves surrounded by pools of scorching hot water in Iceland’s freezing cold temperatures, bubbling like boiled soup. Geysir’s waters erupt in front of your very eyes every 10 minutes or so, causing an explosion that reaches metres into the air … amazing! We tried oh-so very hard to capture the mammoth explosion on video, but unfortunately failed again and again and - you guessed it - again.
Geysirs also happened to be the place where we realised where that foul rotten egg-like smell was coming from. Ever since we had landed, it had followed us around like, well, a bad smell. Turns out the putrid stench was just the sulphur in the natural geothermal water. But seriously, they should have a warning sign when entering the country (note to self: bring a nose peg next time you visit Iceland).
Next stop on the Golden Circle was Gullfoss Waterfall. This majestic cascade was one of the biggest highlights of the trip - it downright took my breath away! You can view the powerful waters from above at the upper outlook, which presented what was probably the most phenomenal sight I have ever seen in my entire life. I would have stayed overlooking this brilliant fall all day if it hadn’t been so windy up there (to say I was cold would be an understatement). Luckily, Gullfoss has a large café, restaurant and gift shop onsite where we warmed our hands around a nice hot cup of tea and gushed over the hundreds of snaps in our camera roll.
That night we dined at a delightful - yet overpriced - restaurant called Snaps Bistro Bar (OK, OK, maybe the bill amounted to that much because of those sneaky cocktails). I tried my first traditional Icelandic meal, the pot-au-feu-de poisson, which is whitefish and prawns in a tasty broth with vegetables and herbs. The boiled fish was a little dry but I wasn’t complaining - there was not a trace left in my bowl.
A little word of caution: be sure to book your dinner reservations in advance in Reykjavik. We tried everywhere for a booking on this night and failed, so we had to wait an hour at Snaps for a table (hence the one-too-many cocktails).
Day two didn’t go quite according to plan. We had intended to follow Iceland’s Ring Road far south until we reached the small town Vik, which we did, whilst visiting five sights along the way, which we didn’t. We managed to reach our first destination, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, when the heavens opened up above us. Once I’d built up the courage to get out the car to take a close look at the fall, the wind blew so forcefully that I could barely open the door, and then it nearly blew the door right off it’s hinges! We were warned about this happening by the hire car company, but we didn’t realise just how easy it could happen.
When I finally did get out of the car, I tried to walk towards the waterfall but the storm was so strong I wasn’t getting very far. I decided to take shelter at a small onsite mobile café only 20 metres from the car where I purchased a cup of tea. The wind picked up so much that the entire contents of my cup lifted up and out onto the cafe bar before I’d even had the chance to take a sip. RIP tea. A soggy, very grumpy, and tea-less Riana made her way back to the Fiat where we viewed the waterfall from a much drier distance.
We made it approximately one mile up the road before the windstorm forced us to pull over again. We, along with four other vehicles, sat swaying on the roadside to wait out the commotion. Even the Icelandic folk were pulling over – we knew then it must be a bad one. After what must have been 45 minutes of shrieks and intermittently holding our breath in alarm, the storm still didn’t seem any closer to ending. We made the decision to get back on the road and find a safer spot before the rental (and we) were destroyed. We drove at a whopping 10 mph with our eyes peeled for any sign of shelter.
By the time the storm had passed we were almost at Vik. There’s not a lot to do or see in this remote little town, aside from a pretty church perched gracefully at the top of the hill, Vik i Myrdal Church. So we checked into Icelandair Hotel Vik, found a cosy little restaurant called Suður-Vík where we had a much needed glass of wine, and wrote-off the day as a highly memorable adventure.
The next day we were determined to tick off as many of the sights that we had missed the previous day. After breakfast we visited the church, which offered beautiful views of the little town, the sea and the surrounding hills.
Next we drove to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, a most extraordinary seaside. Beware of the ‘sneaker waves’ that catch you completely off guard - we were almost swept away by sudden waters that flooded the shore within seconds. I’ve truly never run so fast in my entire life!
Next we headed to Dyrhólaey Lighthouse. Our route was halted by a flood in the road; half of all road users were turning around, and the other half were powering through. I was team NO WAY! And Cameron was team HELL YES! … he won the battle. Turns out it was worth the risk as we didn’t flood the engine, and the views from the lighthouse were spectacular.
Our final, and probably the best, stop of the day was Skogafoss Waterfall (partly because we found the name so amusing - so mature). While you can view the almighty waterfall from the bottom, you absolutely must climb the few hundred steps up the side of the fall to see it from the top. It’s impressive.
We then carried on back to Reykjavik where we checked into our final (and most indulgent) hotel of the trip, Hotel Borg. Cameron had been keen to treat us to a little extra comfort, so we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon soaking our cold toes in their luxurious spa.
That evening we had our best meal of the trip at the restaurant Messinn - I can’t recommend this place enough! You HAVE to try their fish pans, O-M-G, I am actually drooling just writing about it!! Please, if you get the chance, visit this restaurant. You won’t regret it.
The next morning we packed our bags and headed for our final planned stop of the trip, the Blue Lagoon. There’s a lot of reviews online about whether or not you should bother visiting the Blue Lagoon, but, in my opinion, this was the absolute highlight of the trip. I highly recommend visiting this geothermal spa on your last day before heading to the airport like we did, it was the perfect end to the holiday. Visiting the lagoon feels like a bit of a party, but also like everyone is swimming around in a large bath tub together. Whilst you’re in the lagoon they offer you a free face mask as well as complimentary drink at their pool bar (cocktail at 10 am? Why the hell not!). We seemed to be the only ‘sensible’ thinking people who didn’t bring their phones into the lagoon for obvious reasons. But we soon regretted our decision after watching everyone else snapping away at this divine location with their waterproof cases. A kind enough lad offered to take a photo of us, so we do have just the one snap of us in the lagoon for memories. But I recommend taking a phone or camera with you, if it’s somewhat moisture resistant and you have a protective case.
And that brings us to the end of the trip folks. Did I mention Iceland is bloody awesome? Well I said it again!
Kudos to you if you made it to the end of the blog - it’s much appreciated! And if you have any other recommendations or questions about our time in Iceland, please leave a comment below.