Iceland is by far one of my all time favourite destinations. I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice now and hopefully it won’t be too long until I visit again. The desolate silence mixes with the natural beauty and wonder with a light show for added benefit and I think it’s just great!
This was our first Airbnb adventure and whilst it was just as pricey as booking a hotel, it meant we had a kitchen, handy for breakfast and making packed lunches because as everyone knows – Iceland isn’t cheap.
We flew Easyjet (courtesy of a year’s worth of Nectar points!) and landed at about 9.45am. There’s no time difference in Iceland (from the UK) but the sun was only rising. Daylight in Iceland is at a premium and in November you can expect as little as 6 hours a day. Picking up our trusty VW Polo we headed straight to our home for the next 4 days. Once keys had been picked up and bags dropped off we went for a drive to assess the local area and check out the Northern peninsula, where we experienced the Hvalfjörður Tunnel which dives a whopping 541 feet under the Hvalfjörður fjord. Unfortunately the weather didn’t hold up so we headed back to Reykjavik and explored some of the local taverns – Lebowski Bar becoming our favourite with its good music and reasonably priced food (as reasonably priced as Iceland gets).
After an early night and a good kip we were ready to face the next day – and what a day! We started with a trip to The Bridge Between Continents which is exactly what it sounds like – a bridge that joins the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates that you can walk across and beneath.
Next we ventured on to Gunnuhver – a geothermal area famed for its strong smelling sulphur and breathtaking views. It stank.
Finally we headed to The Blue Lagoon. It doesn’t need much of an introduction – it’s a large blue lagoon filled with 9 million litres of 40 degree water and minerals that are great for your skin! We were there for hours, exploring the newly expanded areas, treating our skin to clay and algae masks and just enjoying the warmth. Just lovely!
Our third day was dedicated to the Golden Circle – we drove through through the beautiful Icelandic scenery to Gulfoss Waterfalls, stopping off for photos (where safe of course!). Then on to Haukadalur, a well known geothermal area, home to Geysir and Strokkur where we got some lunch and watched a very old geyser blow his load every few minutes.
We drove back via Pingvellir National Park – a vast expanse of natural beauty where we waited as the sun set to spot the Northern Lights. After a long wait we were not rewarded! If you don’t have much time in Iceland, or have to choose to only do one excursion if you’re not driving, then I would suggest The Golden Circle. It will give you a very good taste of the natural beauty of Iceland and whilst driving time is not huge, the whole experience will take a full day as there’s so much to see and do.
The rental car needed to be returned by 5pm and our flight was scheduled at 7pm (though for both my trips it was delayed by an hour) and we were determined to make the most of our day. Gljufrabui and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls are south of Reykjavik and about a 2 hour drive but definitely worth it.
Seljalandsfoss is HUGE, loud and in the winter quite dangerous. Many people chose to move around the immediate area on their bum to save themselves from falling / breaking cameras. In the warmer seasons visitors can climb the steps up either side of the waterfall and even get in behind it. However, in November everything in the immediate vicinity is frozen and extremely slippy. We then moved on to Gljufrabui. If you’re brave you can walk up the stream and actually get inside the waterfall. You’ll need good waterproof shoes with grip but if you’re up for it, I would definitely recommend the adventure.
With that our time in Iceland was over. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a holiday that’s a little different!
10 Tips for Iceland
- Book everything, including the Blue Lagoon, in advance. Iceland is now a very popular destination so hotels, flights and excursions book out very quickly.
- Check sunrise and sunset times – sunset can be as early as 4pm and sunrise as late as 10am so make your plans accordingly.
- Blue Lagoon – when you finally manage to drag yourself out of the cosy warm water, leave around half past the hour so the changing room isn’t bunged with the hourly tour groups. Not for prudes, there is no private space so you’ll have to get changed in front of everyone.
- Those under 20 are not allowed to buy alcohol. Supermarkets are not allowed to sell alcohol of any kind but most restaurants are. The only stores that are allowed to sell alcohol are government owned alcohol stores called Vínbúðin which close at 6pm. Beer was illegal until 1989 (yes, really). If you plan on having a couple of drinks, pick some up in the airport – it’s still costly but definitely cheaper than buying in bars or Vínbúðin.
- Rent a car if you can, it’s the best way to see Iceland and gives you the freedom to visit what you want, when you want plus it actually works out much cheaper than excursions.
- If the weather is clear you should get to see the Northern Lights. We actually didn’t until we were at 36,000 feet on our way home! Use http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/ to find out when they are active and whether the sky is clear enough to see them. Make the effort to go out of town by about half an hour to get away from the artificial lights to get the full effect.
- It goes without saying but dress accordingly. It gets seriously cold so invest in some thermals, good gloves and decent walking boots with good grip.
- As always – download the TripAdvisor app. Particularly useful in Iceland as you can see nearby restaurants and filter by price helping you find (relatively) cheap eats.
- Petrol prices are high (about £1.50 per litre). Make sure to fill up when you can. There isn’t a shortage of petrol stations but the further out you go, the fewer towns there are.
- Money. Iceland is up there with the likes of Copenhagen in priciness. A main course in an average restaurant will set you back £25-30 each before drinks (a pint is about £7.50) so budget accordingly. See tip 8 on how to find the cheapest restaurants.