Without a doubt, Iceland is one of my favourite places that I have visited. One, because of the sheer beauty of the country. And two, because of the wide variety of activities available.
I was lucky enough to travel to Iceland with one of my closest friends. We were there for 5 days and did a lot in that timeframe, but there’s plenty more to keep you occupied if you do choose to stay longer. We were also extremely fortunate to visit in perfect weather conditions; snow on the ground, but with clear blue sky and perfect sunshine, enabling us to experience the sheer beauty of the country in winter.
We visited from the 10 – 14th February 2016. Having both recently split up from our partners we were determined to make it a trip of a lifetime. And it didn’t disappoint…
Where to stay
Reykjavik itself is quite small; you can cover most of the main attractions in a day. We chose to stay at the CenterHotel Arnarhvoll – one of the only hotels with a sky bar. The bar was great for watching sunrise and sunset, plus if you’re lucky enough, you can even catch a glimpse of the northern lights from the rooftop too (so I heard).
The hotel is also in a great location; near the Harpa concert hall and water, but also close to the main shopping street for shops, food and nightlife. We only ventured out for drinks on one night as we had trips planned early most days, but one thing worth noting is that you can’t buy alcohol from any shops other than off licenses.
Things to do
If you want to get to know your way around Reykjavik in a short space of time then book a place on one of the free walking tours in Iceland. Starting in the centre, the tour takes you around key spots in Reykjavik from the best hot dog stand, to the city church and local school. The tour was informative and engaging and the tour leader is very knowledgeable. I learnt a lot from the tour about the area and Iceland’s culture (including the humour of the Icelandic police force – check out Lögreglan on Instagram). I recommend joining the tour on your first day to help you get your bearings.
The company also offers a pub crawl. Unlike the walking tour, there is a small charge for joining the tour, but this is minimal and well worth it in my opinion. We booked on for the last night of our stay and really enjoyed it. As well as a chance to experience the Icelandic nightlife first hand, it was also a good opportunity to meet and mingle with other people from different countries.
View Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrimskirkja
For great views of Reykjavik climb up to the top of the city church. There’s a small entry charge to pay, but the views are worth it. I recommend doing this after the citiwalk tour (visiting inside the church is not included).
Take iconic pictures of Solfar (Sun Voyager) structure
A well known landmark in Iceland, this can be found not far from the church on the waterfront. Worth a visit as part of your trip around Reykjavik (again this is not included in the citiwalk tour).
Golden Circle Tour
A must-do trip for anyone visiting Iceland is the Golden Circle tour. The tour includes three stops:
- Thingvellir National Park; also referred to as Þingvellir, this one of the most beautiful places I have visited. It is home to a huge natural lake where two tectonic plates drift apart (you can see the divide clearly and, if you’re really daring, swim in-between the two plates too). It’s also a perfect spot for watching the sunrise if you visit it as the first stop on the trip (see the photos below).
2. Geysir hot springs: The second stop on the tour is the Geysir hot springs. Here you’ll find a number of geysirs, mud pools and hot springs, a couple of which will shoot out water every couple of minutes (see photos below).
3. Gulfoss Waterfall: The third and final stop on the tour is the Gulfoss waterfall. This is one of the biggest waterfalls I have ever seen and it looked even more impressive because of the covering of snow and ice. Word of warning, if you go when it has snowed or is icy be sure to wear good shoes; I found it was hard to walk without slipping at times.
Snowmobiling on a glacier
There are a number of additional extras that you can add on to your Golden Circle tour. We booked through Reykjavik Excursions and chose to add on snowmobiling. If you’re an adrenaline junkie like me then this is something you shouldn’t miss!
After a long and bumpy ride to the top of a glacier in a monster truck, we were given overalls and a quick safety briefing before getting on one of the snowmobiles. I don’t have a great track record with things such as quad bikes or ATV buggies, so I opted for the passenger / photographer role and let my friend do the driving. Even though I wasn’t driving the experience was amazing nonetheless.
Hunt down the Northern Lights
Like many people, one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Iceland was to see the northern lights. We were advised to book on the trip the first night of the tour so that if we didn’t see them, we had extra days to try again.
The trip involves racing to different areas outside of the city where there are no street lights or buildings following the aurora forecast. Fortunately for us, we managed to catch a glimpse of the lights (sort of) on a couple of occasions.
Full disclosure: the pictures below were taken with special settings on my camera and are not how the lights looked to the naked eye. Unfortunately when we went, the only way to see the lights properly was through the camera lens, but I know others that have been luckier.
South Island Tour
Another tour worth joining if you have the time is the south Island tour. The tour goes around the south coast of the island, stopping at a number of places including two waterfalls, a black sand beach and another glacier. We booked through Viator, a site I would recommend using for booking any trips as you can see pricing in your local currency too.
Another trip not to be missed whilst in Iceland is a visit to the Blue Lagoon. We booked our trip on the last morning as a final relaxing treat before heading home.
You can opt for different packages depending on what you want from your visit. We chose the comfort package which gave us entry, a towel, mud and algae face masks and a free drink. And if simply being in the lagoon is not relaxing enough, you can also choose to have a water massage.
Hand on heart, I can safely say this was one of the best trips I have ever taken. Not just because I was experiencing it with a close friend, but because I fell in love with the beauty of the country. Over the course of the 5 days we saw a lot, but I wouldn’t hesitate to come back again; perhaps next time in summer to see a different side to the country.
For a better overview of our trip and we got up to you can watch the video here.