Iceland has always been high on my bucket list! Especially since I have seen and heard such amazing things since moving to Europe. Considering I didn’t get a proper Northern Lights show in Norway last January, I thought I would try again in Iceland. SO, I decided December 2019 was time! Please read on to see how that panned out…
The Blue Lagoon
Okay, I’m not going to lie… it is NOT cheap! At around £70 (the cheapest package) it is definitely a treat-yo-self splurge. The package we got included one face mask, the use of towels, one complimentary drink and of course use of the lagoon. It was AMAZING. We got a transfer straight from the airport to the lagoon at 11:30am (transfer cost around £30 for 2 ways) so we arrived at midday.
In the women’s changing rooms, there are lockers for your belongings, a few closed changing rooms (fair warning plenty of people just change out in the open or even walk around naked…) and showers. You need to change into your swimsuit BEFORE going to the showers, then shower without anything on… then put your swimsuit back on to go into the lagoon. They (and I) recommend putting some of their conditioner in your hair before going in, even if its just around your hairline/neck/ends. This will help protect your hair from the drying effect of the silica in the water.
It is HUGE.
We spent about 3 hours in the lagoon itself. So even if it is quite busy, it is pretty easy to spread out. There is a mask bar at one side and a drinks/smoothie bar on the other. Like I mentioned the package includes a silica mask and one drink. We got our mask then headed over and got a Skyr Smoothie (can recommend the strawberry!). We obvs took some cute pics with our masks on so we left them on longer than the recommended 5-10mins. I would stick to the recommended time… If you leave it on too long it can end up drying your skin out more than helping it. So my face ended up quite red and felt very tight and kinda burned (I do also have sensitive skin…Oops.) BUT we put on some moisturiser from our bags and it felt much better!
Just by the front door to the left (as you walk in) are some smaller, non-swimming pools that looks so pretty and perfect for some out of the water shots. The walk itself to/from the carpark is so pretty! Especially in the snow. The transfers from the Lagoon leave quarter past every hour from the carpark, so make sure you time your exit right if you are getting one.
If you follow me or have read some of my previous blogs (find them here! http://www.belleliddell.com/homepage/blog-posts/ ), you will know I am a horsey girl. So I 100% wanted to ride some Icelandic horses on my trip and let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint! First of all, just check out this view!
We went to Ishestar Riding Centre, which is about a 25 minute drive out of Reykjavik (they also provide a pick up if you need). The Lava Tour cost 12,200 ISK each (around £75) and went for 2 hours. For those of you who don’t know horse-related activity average prices – this is pretty decent! We were lucky and had a small group with just 4 of us plus our guide. They provided us with helmets and snowsuits to keep safe and warm. They also have rubber boots there but if going in winter I would recommend wearing your snow boots.
Riding up the hills you get the most gorgeous view of the lava fields, frozen lakes and surrounding mountains. At the highest point you can even see Reykjavik! There is a small break about half way through the ride at a beautiful view point (pictured above) where you stop and take some pictures and the guide told us the history and some facts about the Icelandic Horses (NOT ponies – they don’t like that). Once the ride is over, there is tea, coffee and delicious hot chocolate inside. You can even take home a horseshoe! (You know I did.)
Experiencing the Icelandic horse’s special gait, the tölt, was strange yet so fun. Google a video of it! Basically, at least one foot always touches the ground so it creates an almost bounce-free ride. I also learnt that some Icelandic Horses have an extra gait called the flying pace! It’s a fast, high speed gait reaching up to about 50 km/h, during which both legs on one side of the horse simultaneously touch the ground. Which means there are times when ALL four legs are off the ground for a few seconds at a time! They use this gait to race in a straight line because the horse has very little balance so can’t turn corner when travelling in flying pace.
The Northern Lights
Okay. Now, you will notice that this isn’t the highest on my highlights list… Like I said in the beginning, when I went to Norway last year I didn’t get a very good show from the Aurora (barely one at all!). So I wanted to try again in Iceland. Well… let’s just say, my hunt is not over! We did not get very lucky with the weather during our 3 nights in Iceland. It was very cloudy pretty much the whole time.
Book a Tour!
It really is recommended that you book a tour when hunting for the Northern Lights because the guides really know what they’re doing. It will give you the best chance of seeing them. We booked a Northern Lights bus tour through GuideToIceland.is (great website btw – not sponsored) that set us back a very affordable £28 each. When booking a lights tour always make sure they will take you the next night if your tour is cancelled or you don’t see the lights. Luckily ours did, because the first 2 nights our tour was cancelled. One night we attempted ourselves but the cloud cover was too much (100%…). I used the app called Aurora to track them. It’s super helpful!
Finally, on our last night we got to go out and at least TRY to see them. They drove us out to a spot in Thingvellir National Park – about an hour out of Reykjavik. Quite a few other buses went to the same spot so there were quite a lot of people. We stood outside staring at the sky for about an hour, as the clouds slowly made their way back across the momentarily clear sky.
I was watching the clouds and said to my friend Jessie, “That cloud is moving kind of weird, like flowy almost.” I had downloaded the app Northern Lights Photo Taker (99p on app store) so thought I would use it to see if it would pick up moving clouds just for lols… Took the picture and put my phone back in my warm pocket. We went back to the bus pretty broken hearted that we didn’t get to see anything. I thought, oh yeah let’s see what that picture looked like. And, my friends, it looked like this:
(which incase you are colour blind) is GREEN!
To our eyes it looked almost white and very faint BUT turns out it was the Northern Lights! Jessie and I literally screamed on the bus. We were adamant that that counts! On the drive back to Reykjavik we were having a snooze (it was now about midnight), when the tour guide said to look out the right hand side. Again, they looked pretty white/very light green, but they were clearer and less covered by clouds! Unfortunately by the time the bus found somewhere to pull over, they had gone and the clouds had come once again… so no pictures were taken but the memory will live in my head.
However, I am still not satisfied so will continue to try and see the Northern Lights in all their glory one day! (If not this winter, then next!)
Road Trips Stops
The Golden Circle
I’m sure if you’ve looked into Iceland at all, you would have heard of the Golden Circle. Basically, it is a circular route through the inland, eastern part of the country that takes you to a few of Icelands famous natural sites. The three main attractions on this route are: Þingvellir National Park, Gulfoss Falls (aka Golden Falls) and the Geysir. This route can also go via the Secret Lagoon (which I definitely recommend). The best part is; all of these spots (except the Secret Lagoon) are free!
Þingvellir National Park
is a beautiful area about a 45 minute drive out of Reykjavik. We did the Golden Circle from south first, so this was our last stop on the way back to Reykjavik. Which means we got to see it in the most beautiful sunset lighting! The combination of the sunset and the snow was stunning – everything was pink and purple! You can also go diving in this national park!
Gulfoss Falls (Golden Falls)
was probably the most mind-blowing (and body-blowing…windy) place on the golden circle for me. These enormous waterfalls are seriously beautiful. In December the ice around the falls gives it some serious texture and contrasts so nicely against the blue water. Although the wind did kind of ruin our experience of this whole day, they were definitely worth the slipping and sliding and freezing cold hands and faces. I can also recommend grabbing a hot chocolate from the cafe there. SO yum!
is exactly that; a geysir. Now usually… it spouts water 30m (100ft) into the air! Which is very impressive, if it actually happens. I don’t know what the chances of seeing it that high are, but I can tell you there’s a definite chance it won’t go very high at all. Although, I have quite a few friends that have seen it that high. The geysir goes off about every 4-6 minutes in my experience. We stood in the freezing, extreme wind and watched it go off 3 times and reach, what I would say was like, 5m before we gave up. I’m guessing the wind may have had something to do with it? It’s definitely still worth a visit though!
The Secret Lagoon
is Iceland’s oldest swimming pool. It is a geothermal hot spring that was man-made using natural resources. They charge £18 to swim, which is a lot cheaper than the Blue Lagoon if you’re wanting a more budget-friendly geothermal pool option. They do have a small cafe there as well as changing rooms, lockers and showers. There are a couple of bubbling hot springs around the pool too.
This glacier is honestly so impressive! It’s a bit of a walk from the car park but soooo worth it. It is huge and just incredible, especially up close. We walked up the paths closest to the ground. We followed the paths because there wasn’t any fresh snow so they were clear. If you go in the winter, they do guided tours where you can walk across it fully equipped with helmets, ice axes and crampons. Please be careful if you decide to walk up the paths without a guide and do not walk across the ice.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
This black sand beach is a definite must-see on Iceland’s south coast not far from the town of Vik. Unfortunately for us, we ran out of daylight before we could make it there. BUT that didn’t stop us going and checking it out anyway. It is known for its enormous basalt stacks and, of course, its black sand. The black colour originates from the basalt lava that covers most of the area. This can be a very windy and wet area, as it is one of the rainiest places in Iceland, so please be careful and keep an eye on the tides.
Iceland is the land of waterfalls! Honestly, there are so many… The two main ones on the south coast ring road are; Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. Skógafoss becomes very icy in winter due to the massive spray, so the path to walk behind it is closed. Seljalandsfoss however, IS open year round. Again though, please be carefully as the ground is very icy. The waterfall drops a great 60m and is part of the Seljalands River that originates from the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. Also, the icicles are insane! During winter, all the stairs to the higher platforms are completely frozen over (they look cool though) and therefore closed.
I would definitely recommend hiring a car in Iceland! We hired ours through Blue Car Rental. We chose this company for a couple reasons. 1; my friend had used them before and said they were very easy to deal with, 2; they are nice and affordable and 3; they don’t require you to have a credit card to book! Just for reference I am 23 and have a UK drivers license and there were no issues or extra fees (I also know Australian caused no issues either).
We chose to add all of the insurance options because it was the first time I had driven in snow and on the right-hand side of the road, so never too careful! Because it was winter, we chose a 4WD. Our total price for 2 days was 28,272 ISK which comes to £173.24. Which I think is a pretty good deal! We picked it up from their Reykjavik office on the Sunday morning and dropped it back to the airport on the Tuesday morning before we flew out. Nice and easy.
If you can’t/don’t want to hire a car, there are plenty of tours that will take you by bus to your destinations. This will probably just take some coordinating. For Reykjavik, we walked everywhere we needed to go.
Iceland can be expensive. That’s one of the things it’s known for. But that doesn’t mean it has to be! The best way I can suggest to save money is on food. If you were to go out to a restaurant and get a burger you would probably be looking at paying upwards of £30 … BUT if you go to the supermarket (Bonus is the cheapest) and buy supplies for at least breakfasts and lunches, it helps a lot. My friend and I spent £14 on groceries between the two of us (so £7 each) and that was our lunch and snacks for 2 days. We brought quick oats and 2 minute noodles with us from the UK, so that was part of breakfast and dinner! Our first night in Reykjavik we found the famous hot dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which was definitely a super affordable and yummy option.
We only had to fill up the car once. Blue car rental get a discount at the Olis petrol stations, which I stupidly forgot to use… but still, the petrol cost us about £80 (so £40 each) for the 2 days of driving. Which I think is pretty decent.
Iceland was one of my favourite holidays yet.
It really is like a whole other world! I would 100% recommend a trip at least once in your life. If you have ANY questions, please do not hesitate to comment/email/message me on insta. I would love to answer them.
So… has this made you want to go to Iceland now?