If i were to personify Iceland, i’d call it “ruggedly handsome” instead of “pretty” or “beautiful”. It’s a country that despite its harsh landscape, lies good-looking sceneries and despite its unpredictably moody weather lies some of Father Nature’s best natural wonders.
Â Depending where you are flying from in Europe, there are a decent selection of flights flying into Reykjavicâ€™s Keflavic Airport from the lower-cost carrier like EasyJet to the countryâ€™s National Carrier (the one that I took with seamless experience) IcelandAir.
The latter also offer free Stop Over in Reykjavic when you are flying trans-atlantic between European and American destinations. Iâ€™d say this would make a very convenient and scenic stopover when you happen to be flying between these 2 continents.
Our trip started from Reykjavik towards our first stop in Grundarfjordur ( Estimated driving time: 2Â hours / 4 hours in bad weather)
Things to do:
*Bear in Mind that in Winter, the Falls are mostly half frozen and do not look as spectacular as in the pictures online
We stayed at : Hotel FramnesÂ
Simple basic clean hotel with not much amenities. There is not much hotel selection in Grundarfjordur (The other one being Hotel Budir being in a different town) but there are more selections for Motels/Hotels/ or BNBâ€™s around the area. You can have breakfast and dinner here as there is not much other options elsewhere.
– Quick Stopover en-route to the Snaefelsness Peninsula from Reykjavic
– Aurora Hunt (They have a wake-up call for Northern Lights Sighting in case there’s an activity). Visits to the famous Kirkjufell Mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfalls which are 7 minutes drive away
Tips: Ask for a Sea/ Mountain facing view in advance (Itâ€™s Magnificent!) as the other option would be a street/carpark view.
After seeing the Kirkjufell Mountains and Waterfalls in Grundarfjordur, off to the nextÂ destinations: Londrangar Cliffs at the Snaefelsness Peninsula and a quick stopover at the Church in Glymur. This trip did not materialize as all the routes heading towards West Iceland direction during that day were closed due to the snow piles. Therefore, we headed to our next destination Thingvellir.
Thingvellir National Park
Things to do/view:
A unique site where the Europan and American Tectonic Plates meet and actively moving at an annual rate of 5 cm ! You can have a unique snorkeling experience between 2 continents in a dry suit (that is supposed to keep you relatively warm and dry during your swim). Make sure to pre book this itinerary days in advance !
This famous hot-spring Geysir and its area are created by earth-quakes (a.k.a Geysir Strokkur) they erupts much more frequently than Geysir. Incidentally, there is a big Geysir Shop located here (Geysir also happen to be an Icelandicâ€™s biggest curated stores with vast knit wear selections as well as other typically Icelandic souveniers). There is a decent cafÃ© here, ideal for lunch stopover.
Gullfoss (Golden Falls)
The biggest waterfalls in Europe. Ideal for scenery photographers but would not be as easy to capture its beauty for novice photographers like most of us given its size and distance.
We stayed at : Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel
A Luxury green and sustainable hotel with its own Spa, Meditation room, Geothermal Pool and Lounge area with a Spectacular vast mountain view.Â The rooms are rather small but not uncomfortable.
- A more luxurious Icelandic experience away from the city lights ( About 45 mins to an hour away from Reykjavic)
- Aurora Hunt (Being away from the city, there is a higher likelihood for Northern Lights activity to be viewed here. Like most out-of-town hotels in Iceland, you can register yourself for a wake-up call in case of activity.
- Visits to Thingvellir National Park (15 minutes drive away)
- Try to spend sometime at the hotel Lounge and enjoy your afternoon coffee with a view of the vast landscape ( The Lounge while accessible at any time only starts offering beverage services from 3 pm onwards)
- Have your camera ready while luxuriating in the Geothermal Pool (esp at night)! Your never know when your are going to see a moonlit night full of stars or (drumrolls please). . .The oh-so-elusive Aurora !
- If you plan on soaking your hair in the pool, put on a a conditioner beforehand as the minerals in the pool might dry up your hair.
From Thingvellir National Park, we drove back to the city of Reykjavic and headed off to the Blue Lagoon the next day (45 mins drive from the city)
With glistening turquoise blue water (Hence the name), Blue lagoon was initially a waste water site from a nearby Geothermal Plant. Many of the locals start bathing there for the skin benefits from the minerals-containing water. Since then Blue Lagoon has become one of the biggest Natural Geothermal Pool in the world with spectacular mountainous views spectacular mountainous views. To date, a luxury hotel is built on site the Blue Lagoon with an estimated completion in the year 2017.
- Book your tickets online as they do not accept same-day entry fromÂ http://www.bluelagoon.com
- The Exclusive lounge costs a premium but is a worthy purchase if you are looking to have Â a more private locker space
- Donâ€™t forget to condition your hair before soaking them in the mineral-rich water to avoid drying
- Pre-book your Table at the Lava Restaurant. Serves one fresh Nordic / Icelandic cuisine !
Things to do:
- Sun Voyager
- Shops : Geyser , The biggest Curated shop on local as well as foreign brands designed with a Nordic Lifestyle in mind
- Dining & Street Food
BBP is the most talked-about Hotdog in town, its location is just behind the Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel. Like most hotdogs in Iceland, they are served simply with chopped raw & fried onions with simple sauces. The key to its delicious-ness lies in the freshness of the process meat itself. You may ask how can processed meat tastes so fresh, well you gotta try it yourself to find out!
Reykjavik- The city that is most unlikely to find one of the best Thai beef noodle! Maybe it’s the cold weather outside, maybe its the holiday mood, maybe its the freshness of ingredients typically found in Nordic eateries, maybe its the spices they use, the chewiness of the beef brisket Â or the sweet savory taste of the warm broth. It just works! Don’t bother getting the other dishes in this place, they name themselves Noodle Station and that’s what you should get and you’ll be very pleased !
One of the most recommended places in the city of Reykjavik. Your can get a 9-course fresh seafood culinary experience for around 100 usd ! Reservations in advance.
Crepes: Eldur & Is
A Fine selection of sweet or savory crepes made with the freshest ingredients. They have pelt (a somewhat healthier and more wholesome version of crepes) and Glutten free crepes as well.
We stayed at: Radisson Blu 1919 ( There are 2 Radissons in the city so be careful whilst booking, the one with a 1919 on it is the one situated downtown)
- Downtown Reykjavic experience.
- Right where to shops and notable restaurants are
- Walking distances to the Hallgrimskrja Church and Sun Voyager
Make sure that you get a room with proper windows. The original room that we stayed in was practically in the attic without any view whatsoever, they only changed it after some persistence on our end to a much better room
Other similar hotels in the area: Hotel Borg/ Hotel Apotek.
Weather & Driving Conditions:
In Iceland, there is a saying that If you do not like the weather you see outside, give it half an hour. Weather condition in Iceland is unpredictable and it changes ever so quickly within a single day. This affects driving condition when you decide to do a self-driven road trip around the country. Here are some tips from my personal experience:
Snowy Night’s Driving in Iceland
- Stock up on food, Snack & Fuel when you see a gas station/ convenience store. It may take a while before you bump onto another one along your journey.
- Be prepared for alternate routes. The routes given to you by Google Maps/ Waze may not always be accurate as some roads may be closed due to snow buildup or weather conditions.
- Make sure your designated driver is an experienced driver. Driving in the midst of snowstorm at night with very low visbilitiy may be a challenge for novice drivers
- Always hire a 4 x 4 ! You will be thankful that you do when your wheels are stuck in the snow
- Always get a full coverage insurance when hiring a car. Iceland has a very harsh driving terrain , the odds of you needing these insurances are much higher here
- Never leave your car door opened. The wind/ storm blow may be strong enough to slam your door to break the glass windows (and most insurances do not cover this as they perceive this more as negligence than accident)
- There are many decent car rental companies to choose from that enables for airport pick-ups and city drop-offs & vice versa. The one that we picked and was completely happy with was Green Motion.
Other popular Itineraries that I did not make during my visit (due to time/ weather constraint) but would definitely do in my next trip to Iceland:
- Village of Vik
A charming little town with all black sandy beaches and very adorable inhabitants:
These little fellas are native to the Arctics just as Penguins are to the Antarticas
- Glacier Lagoon Jokulsarkon
Perfect for taking a speed boat ride or kayaking amongst the glaciers (Only operate in the Summer months)
- Svartifoss Falls
A bit of a hike but youâ€™ll get an up close view to a waterfall with textured stone walls framing it
- Vatnajokull Ice Caves
Must go ! One of th things that I regret not going on this trip is a visit to this particular Ice Caves with beautiful, ornate and colorful, naturally-carved ice of what I imagine would be a marvel to witness.
Vatnajokull is located quite far from Reykjavic City Center and there is only one tour that goes here straight from the city and this tour is always fully booked make sure to book yours in advance. The hotel concierge of where you stay may be able to help with this.
Alternatively you can visit this cave with tours operating from the Skaftafell National Park area.
The appearance of Northern Lights depends on various factors:
- Sky clarity
- Dark Nights (hence the further away from the cityâ€™s light pollution the higher likelihood)
- Some say extremely cold weather (hence Aurora hunting during winter months would increase your odds)
We were on the Reykjavic Excursion Bus tour that leaves on either 19.30 or 21.30 on most nights (They do not operate when the prediction for Aurora is Low). This excursion leaves the city to a darker part of the islanda and the journey takes abt 45-60 mins. Once you are on site, the bus will stay anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours depending on the condition while waiting for Aurora sighting. Aurora, however, being a natural phenomenon is NOT guaranteed and when during your trip, no Aurora was sighted, you are allowed to take the same excursion on the following nights until there is actually a viewing. We took this excursion for 2 consecutive nights and both nights coming home without much success (I overheard some people on the bus were there the night before without much success as well), this means that for 3 straight nights no aurora was sighted during this excursion. If you are really serious about your Northern Lights chase, my suggestion is to hire a smaller tour or even better a personal Aurora Hunter, who can personally drive you around to places where you may have the highest chance of a viewing !
- Always book your tour groups in advance ! Iceland is a popular tourist destination and most tours are filled up from days before so for higher likelihood to get ion the tour that you really want and avoid disappointment its wiser to pre-book your Itineraries.
- City of Reykjavic offers plenty of really good dining experiences. While most of these restaurants donâ€™t come cheap, they mostly require advance reservation ( a day in advance is sufficient and you could ask your hotel reception to help you book any restaurant). Tipping is not commonly expected as service fee has been factored into your meal but often appreciated
- For a population ofâ€¦.., Iceland hasâ€¦.Pools. Thatâ€™s pool to every Icelander. So regardless of the season you go, DO pack your bathing suits!
- Chasing for the Northern Lights in itself is a very popular itinerary for tourists visiting Iceland. However, there are myriads of beautiful wonders of the world waiting to be explored in Iceland. Therefore donâ€™t be too fixated chasing for one thing that you forget to enjoy the rest!
Kirkjufell Falls & Mountain:Â https://id.pinterest.com/pin/534661786982708162/
Village of Vik : https://id.pinterest.com/pin/301741243757237279/
Jokulsarlorn Glacier Lagoon :Â http://www.theculturemap.com/2014-good-bad-ugly/
Svartifoss Falls:Â http://iliketowastemytime.com/2013/09/02/daily-wallpaper-svartifoss-iceland