Iceland, a destination which is surely on every travellers bucket list and one we managed to finally tick off this summer.
Out of all the places I’ve been, Iceland is unlike any other place I’ve travelled to. The pristine landscapes, the unparalleled natural beauty, the variety of adventures, the food and the local culture are definitely just a few of this things that makes this country stand out from any other travel destinations.
Our Trip : 5 Days covering the capital Reykjavik, famous Golden Circle and southern Iceland up to Vik and the Glacier Lagoon. During our road trip of Southern Iceland we typically scheduled one big activity a day and stopping at 3-4 sights while on the road.
Iceland is a captivating destination for any traveller but keep in mind this is one of the most expensive destinations you would travel to. If you are travelling from the UK / EU or America there are plenty of flight options and if you book in advance they are quite reasonably priced. We went with the national carrier Iceland Air which was very comfortable and gave us no reasons to complain. Meals are typically not included on most economy flights going through Reykjavik and can be pretty expensive when purchased on board. Bring some snacks or buy a sandwich at the airport.
Flight out of Heathrow on a Friday evening and we land in Keflavik International Airport, the largest in Iceland and the main transportation hub for the county. We landed close to midnight and Iceland is famous for its long perpetual sunsets during the summer months (9pm-3am) This is a photographers dream destination. If you want to see the Northern Lights, you must visit during the winter.
We picked a hire car from the airport and this is the best way to get around this island, You can consider bus tours or any group-travel options but the best way to maximise your adventure is to have your own ride. A 45 minute drive and you reach the capital Reykjavik.
Where To Stay There are plenty of accommodation options in Iceland around the entire Ring Road. Things book up quickly, especially in the high season, so plan ahead! Now, do you want to camp or do you want to stay in a hotel? This is the first question you need to answer, and this purely depends on your budget /plans and what you enjoy.Ours was the Ice Apartment,a modern beautiful apartment in the heart of the city on Laugavegur. http://www.iceapartments.is/reykjavik/
Laugavegur is the main (mostly pedestrian) street in downtown Reykjavík, and one of the oldest shopping streets. It is also home to many bars, nightclubs and restaurants. The nightlife in Reykjavik differs from many other places with regards to timing. Most bars look quite empty until after midnight when Icelanders, from Reykjavik and all the neighbouring towns, rush to the centre and usually stay until early morning!The Icelandic Phallological Museum is also located on this street.
Day 1. Started with a walk down the main high street and looking around the main attractions of this scenic city.
Things to do in Reykjavik. Capture the iconic Sun Voyager Known to Icelanders as Sólfarið, this ship sculpture is a tribute to the sun and represents discovering uncharted territory, progress and freedom. With Mt. Esjan across the sea, this is a photo op you don’t want to miss! It is iconic part of the city and there are always tourists taking photos!
Walk around the beautiful Harpa Concert Hall a gorgeous glass building right along the ocean that hosts concerts and plays. There is no charge to walk around inside and marvel at the design. Plus, it’s a great spot to catch a view over the harbour and Mt. Esja!
Window shop on Laugavegur the most famous street in Reykjavik. It’s easy to walk around and swoon over the adorable buildings. You can stick to window shopping, get a quick bite to eat if you’re hungry, or grab some awesome Icelandic souvenirs.
Admire Hallgrimskirkja the most iconic part of the Reykjavik skyline and top of every tourists list is this stunning church. The columns around the church were inspired by Svartifoss black waterfall in South Iceland. If you want to go up to the top for great photo ops then you have to pay a nominal fee.
Check out the street art around the city. Iceland is known for it’s creative and artistic culture, and the street art around the city is evidence of just that. There are endless displays of colourful street art on the fences and sides of buildings with more popping up all the time. Be on the lookout!
Take a free tour of the city and whilst there are plenty of paid guided tours, City Walk is FREE! You learn a lot about the history of Reykjavik and get to walk through some of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in the city. To top it off, the guides are fantastic with tons of knowledge about Iceland.
Stroll around Tjörnin Tjörnin is a natural pond surrounded by the beautiful Icelandic architecture in the heart of Reykjavik. It is a really popular pond to feed ducks and geese as well!
After lunch we headed to the famous Blue Lagoon. No trip to Iceland is complete without a visit to the Blue Lagoon. Set in the surreal surroundings of an ancient lava field, this geothermal wonder is the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate. It features the Lagoon, several saunas, a restaurant and various spa treatment options. Blue Lagoon has been selected the best Medical/Thermal spa and one of the top 10 spas in the world.The lagoon is a quite close to the airport so a lot of people visit this on the way in or out of Reykjavik.
Some Tips –The Blue Lagoon got its name because the water which looks blue when reflected in the sun. In reality the water is milky white.
The sulphur in the lagoon smells a little but the good news is that after a while you don’t feel it.The water of the Blue Lagoon is full of minerals, algae and silica, and it’s really good for your skin. Especially if you have psoriasis or other skin conditions.
The temperatures of the water hover between 37 and 39°C all year round and perfect when it’s freezing outside.Book in advance as the prices depend on: the season and time of day you visit, how far in advance you book and the extras you opt for from renting towels, slippers, robes and treatments.
Pre-book your ticket and this is important if you’re visiting during the high season (summer), be sure to pre-book months in advance. There are several packages to choose from, we went with the Comfort Package, which got us entrance to the Blue Lagoon, a free drink , use of a bathrobe,some skin care masks and a sample kit.
Day 2 – The iconic Golden Circle with the stars of the show: Geysir ,Gullfoss and Thingvellir National Park. We started early today after a heavy breakfast and this is a quintessential excursion when in Iceland. Everyone I know who has visited this magnificent county has completed this and the tour mainly covers the three main sights of the Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir geothermal area and Thingvellir National Park. As a suggestion don’t try to schedule in too much into one day. Driving distances tend to take longer then you think and special with the weather which is so unpredictable leave plenty of time to explore and enjoy Iceland’s natural beauty.
It will take you a full day to do this Golden Circle tour which is 237 kilometres and approximately 3.5 hours to driving.
Our first stop is the Geysir geothermal area in the southern part of Iceland near Laugarvatn Lake. The area is named after the biggest, and now mainly dormant, geyser Geysir. The biggest attraction today is the active Strokkur, which shoots up a column of water up to 30 metres into the air every few minutes.
After spending some time here and getting our share of Icelandic souvenirs we headed to our next stop the famous Gullfoss waterfall.
Gullfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland and the sheer size and the power of the fall leaves you speechless when you first set your eyes on it.
The three-step waterfall is a part of the glacial river Hvítá and falls into a 62-metre deep canyon. There were talks of using this power to generate electricity at some point but thankfully this is still untamed and as majestic as ever. Gullfoss means “Golden Waterfall” in Icelandic, and if you get to visit Gullfoss on a sunny day you will see that it is aptly named. We had lunch in a small café near the fall and soaked in the atmosphere before heading towards our final stop of the day, the Thingvellir National Park.
The drive from Gullfoss to this park is very scenic and you see nature at its best.
The Thingvellir National Park, is a historical and geological site, which is located by Lake Thingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland. The beautiful canyon running through the park is actually the meeting point of two of the earth’s tectonic plates.
The Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates pull the country apart by a couple of centimetres every year. This is a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland with a UNESCO listing. Thingvellir is also the only place in the world where two individual tectonic plates are visible above ground.
We headed back to Reykjavik after sampling some of the breath-taking views the park had to offer and memories of a lifetime.
Back in Reykjavik we headed to get a feel of the night life this vibrant city had to offer.
We continue our trip to the southern part of Iceland so make sure you catch up on our next blog.
Iceland – Part 2. Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, The Back Sand beach, Vik and the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
My Tips for Iceland.
- Take the weather seriously.
- If driving, stick to appropriate roads and don’t be experimental specially if you have kids.
- Dress appropriately & pack serious gear due to the weather which changes so rapidly.
- Plan ahead and this will help you save money and time.
- Drink the tap water you can’t get better.
- Cost of Food – I won’t lie to you – it is expensive.Car
- Rentals – they are expensive and so is gas to run them.
- Should you go to the Blue Lagoon? Yes definitely even though its touristy.
- When can I see the Northern Lights? – They are not out all year.
- Best Views in Reykjavik? – Hallgrímskirkja Church.
- Hours of Daylight – during the summer months you can see 24 hours of daylight which is probably the best time to visit.
- Waterfalls – they are everywhere.
- Food – Fish and Chips a must and the Icelandic food is based heavily on fish.
- Vegetarians it will be tough.
- Shoes – I would highly recommend waterproof boots.
- High Season – Summer ,which means you need to book in advance and prepare to pay a premium. But the best time to visit.
- Planning your Trip – decide on what is most important for you to see.
- Safety – Iceland is an extremely safe place to travel.