Back in January I ticked off a place I had been wanting to visit since I was 14 – Iceland. Admittedly, I had seen an ad in a magazine when I was a teen that showed the infamous snow igloos and I could think of nothing dreamier than lying in a cosy warm igloo lodge looking up at the Northern Lights through a glass ceiling. So when it came to booking my trip to Iceland the first thing I did was try to find the most affordable snow igloo to book for a nights stay (they’re about £600 a night) but just before making my hasty purchase I decided to check where in Iceland it was located, and it turns out they are in Finland! So Finland is now firmly on my bucket list.
I went for a total of 4 days with my ultimate travel buddy Rosie, who’d also wanted to visit Iceland for many years. In our usual fashion, we planned the trip down to a T, cramming our days with morning, afternoon and evening activities to make the most of our short time there.
I’ve shared some of the best places I visited along with things I wish I’d had time to do!
This is probably the most famous attraction in Iceland and for good reason to! It can be easily reached by bus from Reykjavik or from the airport for about £30 return (transport, like pretty much everything else in Iceland is expensive, it makes London look cheap). When you arrive you’re given a dressing gown, slippers and a wristband. As you can imagine the short walk/cautious run into the lagoon is FREEZING (it was between -2 to -9 degrees whilst I was there). but thankfully once your in the thermal spa, the water is a toasty 40 degrees. It’s impossible to describe how incredible it feels to be floating in crystal blue water looking up at snowy mountains as steam evaporates from the lagoon. My worries and stresses from my hectic life in London felt light years away and it was impossible not to immediately relax. Your wristband gets you entry for an hour and you can buy snacks, facemasks and drinks whilst your in the spa. One thing noon tells you when you get there is that the water STINKS. I suppose with it being made from sulphur it was a no brainer, but it still slightly taints the whole experience.
The Golden Circle is perhaps the second most popular thing to do in Iceland. We did this through an organised tour but you can just as easily rent a car and drive to each spot yourself ( we were just too chicken to drive on snowy roads). We started off in a beautiful National Park to see the sun rise at about 9am (a very surreal feeling), before travelling to a geyser (basically a hot spring) and a series of incredibly beautiful waterfalls. The tour gives you an awesome feel for just how vast and sparse Iceland is.
This was by far my favourite thing to do in Iceland and if there is one thing I would recommend over and above anything else, it’s snowmobiling. Whenever I visit a new country I love to do things that I wouldn’t be able to do anywhere and snowmobiling has been on my bucket list for quite some time. We combined this with our Golden Circle tour but it can also be done by itself. The place where you snowmobile is about 2-3 hours for Reykjavik across very snowy roads ( we got stuck a heap of times and were in a monster truck – I definitely wouldn’t recommend driving there by yourself incase you get stuck – it’s not the most populated roads so you may be stuck there for a while).
Once we arrived we had a quick briefing and then hopped onto our snowmobiles. I think it may be the best thing I have ever done on my travels to date (and I’ve done some pretty amazing things!), the landscape in Iceland is so barren that it didn’t even feel as though I was on earth. I felt as though I was gliding across clouds, or travelling across Mars, and I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face the entire time I was doing it. If you go to Iceland – make sure you add this to your to do list!
This was also something I’d wanted to try (can you see a pattern here? I basically wanted to tick off about 4 things from my travel bucket list). There are several levels of difficulty for these hikes and again they can be done by yourself but we chose to do it via an organised tour because we a) didn’t have any equipment b) we didn’t fancy falling down a crevasse and dying. The views are incredible, and it’s pretty surreal to see a glacier up close. I’m a Lord of the Rings nerd and it felt as though I was part of the Fellowship trekking across Middle Earth! The tour guides are super friendly and explained just how fast the glaciers melt – the equivalent to 20,000 football pitches worth of ice melt every year in Iceland alone. The glacier we hiked up, 10 years ago was accessible from the opening of the National Park yet we had to walk for 15 minutes to reach it as it had eroded so much.
The Northern Lights
As we were short of time and didn’t hire a car we again did this via an organised tour. Pretty much every tour company in Iceland offers Northern Lights tours in the evening, but be warned – they tend to go on until 2-3am! If you don’t see any lights you’re entitled to free tickets the following days until you eventually see them. If I’m honest it wasn’t the most fun experience trying to find them, I was cold, frustrated and exhausted the entire time, but a good friend of mine had the better idea of staying in a hotel away from Reykjavik and was lucky enough to see them from her room one evening. If seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, try to get away from the city and spend a few nights in a more remote location to increase your chances of seeing them.
Visit a Volcano
We sadly didn’t have time to do this but if I was to go back I’d definitely add visiting a volcano to my list. After all, how many places can you visit that allow you to go up close to a volcano? Tours tend to include hiking to the top of the Volcano and time to wander around the craters.
Ice Cave Exploring
I’m a bit of a wimp and quite claustrophobic so I avoided any ice cave tours but if you don’t mind being underground for a while then ice cave tours are definitely worth trying. This picture makes it look as though you’re stepping into the Upside Down.
Local Tasting Menu
Iceland is EXPENSIVE. Absolutely nothing is cheap there. A plate of pasta will set up back £35 and even a slice of cake is £8. Most evenings we cooked dinner in our Airbnb but on our last night we decided to try a 7 course local tasting menu and I’d hugely recommend it to anyone that wants to sample some of the local cuisine. We visited Grillmarkadurinn in Reykjavik and tried whale (I felt bad eating this!) puffin, duck, beef, and a mix of local deserts.
If you prefer spending a bit less, some of the local cafes have cheaper options on their menu. However, the main delicacies available in the cafes are rotten shark and sheep dung, so we decided to avoid that option and go for something slightly more high end!
To my lovely readers, have any of you ever been to Iceland? If not, would you go?