The land of ice and fire, eclipsed in stunning scenery and natural phenomenons such as glaciers, geysers and volcanoes. There is not another place like this in the world.
This underpopulated island has an adventure for everyone and the quietness of the roads and countryside makes if feel like it’s yours to explore.
We’ve now visited this island twice and each time are blown away by its natural elements. Each visit is like a lesson, we learn so much and feel lucky to have made new experiences.
What makes this an even better trip is the warmth of the Icelandic people. They’re helpful, charming and so proud of their country. Fortunately, we’ve been able to visit this beautiful country in two different conditions of snow and non-snow.
Our base in Reykjavik
Reykjavik became a favourite place to visit because of its much more chilled out (no pun intended) atmosphere compared to the rest of Europe. We decided to base ourselves in the capital of Reykjavik on both of our visits. The first visit was in an Icelandic neighbourhood situated in the Vesturbær district on the old west side. We found it around a 20-30 minute walk to the centre Our 2nd visit was much closer to the centre and in the Norðurmýri area. This has helped us see the different areas of Reykjavik and what it has to offer.
You’ll feel completely at home and we really do recommend renting a place off airbnb. You’ll find much cheaper accommodation and still be in easy access of trips and facilities despite being a little out the city in a nearby neighbourhood.
Most trips are organised to pick you up in Reykjavik and the process is very simple. Find a nearby hotel, arrange a time and it’s as simple as that. All trips are most easy to access from Reykjavik which is why we highly recommend staying here. Besides, it’s such a beautiful city and in itself has so much to explore. Based by the sea, you’ll catch the lovely sounds of the ocean and have extraordinary panoramic views of nearby snow-capped mountains.
Getting to Reykjavik from the airport
Taxis are uncommon in Iceland but getting around is very easy. Taxis will cost you a lot, so the easiest way of getting around is by the tour bus operators. You’ll want to book on the flybus, where you can arrange to be dropped off at a hotel. Ring up the operator 1 or 2 days before you need to be dropped back off at the airport, they will arrange a time and place for you to be picked up. More information can be found here.
Can it be done on a smaller budget?
The simple answer is yes, if you select the trips you want to do carefully (day trips can cost around £100). However, it is quite easy to rack up a hefty bill as prices are very expensive here. Make sure you prioritise what you would like to do. Flight prices from the UK are more than reasonable (we had return flights at around £100). Next, the important thing to consider is accommodation prices because hotels looked too expensive for us. Staying in the centre is important so you don’t have to linger in the cold as much on long walks, so find the best location.
The first time we came, we stayed in a shared airbnb apartment which was absolutely fine and we had a great time. The second time we wanted our own space and again found our own flat, near the centre in a local neighbourhood. This was also booked on airbnb and three nights worked out at £135 each.
Due to the day trips we booked, we found that we weren’t spending much on expensive food during the day. Prices are very expensive as expected when staying in Iceland, so be sensible with when you choose to spend money as even snacks from a shop will pick at your budget. Lots of bars have half price happy hour until 9pm, so beers are around £6.
When to visit
When thinking of Iceland, you do not think of sun. You’re already expecting cold because of the name, so coming during winter should not put you off. We have visited in October and January. Now we have experienced Iceland with normal, cold conditions and with freezing, snowy conditions. During January we experienced temperatures as low as -19 degrees. This was mainly in areas of the countryside which struggle to gain warmth during the winter months. At no point did we feel too cold thanks to being well wrapped up (as you can see from our pictures). A lot of people visiting also want to witness the northern light, the best time to see these are from late September to late March. The Northern Lights can’t be seen from mid April to mid August because there’s too much daylight.
Things to see in Reykjavik
Hallgrimskirkja is the largest church in the country, and towers over the centre of Reykjavik. Its 73-metre-high tower provides a wonderful 360° view over all Reykjavik, the mountains around and the ocean stretching west to Greenland and the Americas. The Tower admission is:
Adults: ISK 1000
Children: ISK 100 (ages 7-16)
This was our favourite place to capture the views and we’ve now seen it with snow and without.
Harpa Concert Hall
This is a relative new addition to Reykjavik and has become one of its new attractions. The stunning architecture is made of 3D glass panels and reflects the sea and sky by day, and has colourful lights come night time. You’ll find a restaurant and gift shop here and you may be able to watch a performance from the symphony orchestra. You can check out there schedule here.
Sun Voyager Sunset
Along the waterfront, near the Harpa concert hall, you’ll see a Viking longboat-like statue. Made of stainless steel, this has become iconic in Reykjavik. If you arrive during sunset, you’ll see it act as a silhouette against the different colours in the sky.
Tjörnin is a small, prominent lake in central Reykjavík. Most visitors to Reykjavik will pass along its shore. It’s situated in the city centre next to the Reykjavik City Hall and several museums. It’s great to sit down and take in the scenery and some lovely photographs. You’ll find a wilflife chart which documents the many different bird species that visit the lake.
An unexpected trip which we found out about after talking to a local was the Perlan Nature Exploratorium. This museum allow our inner-nerds to come out. It was fascinating and we learned heaps about the land of ice and fire. You’ll learn about the history of Iceland, the geography of the world, aurora borealis (the northern lights) and the animals that live in the country. You will also have a chance to walk through an ice cave.
Trips in Iceland
The trips we’ve been on are:
- Seeing the northern lights by coach.
- A visit to the Blue Lagoon thermal spring.
- A whale watching tour.
- Perlan Nature Exploratorium.
- A visit to the golden circle.
We did some research on the weather prior to booking our northern lights so that we could make sure the sky was going to be reasonably clear. We were very lucky and witnessed the northern lights on our first night. Bear in mind that they’re not like the pictures you see plastered on the internet as the human eye can’t see the colours like a camera. However, what you do see is shoots of green in the sky, which feels magical and nothing like anything we’ve witnessed before. If you don’t see the northern lights on your booking don’t worry because most companies give you a free ticket to try again another time.
Tip – Unfortunately, we could only take pictures of the northern lights on our iPhone, so the quality wasn’t great due to the darkness. If you’re using a proper camera, click here and change your settings in advance.
We certainly recommend a visit to the Blue Lagoon thermal spring. Book in advance because it gets sold out quickly. We found Attractiontix to offer cheaper prices for the tour. If the time you want isn’t available on the website, it’s worth checking these 3rd party websites as they often have tickets for other time slots.
Back to the experience, this felt surreal because we loved being warm in the hot thermal spring whilst it was snowing around us. You’ll never run so fast in your attempt to get in the hot spring because outside it are the freezing temperatures of Iceland. After leaving the changing rooms semi-naked, you’ll be met quickly by the arctic wind.
Our next trip was whale watching. Never go whale watching hungover!! I don’t need to describe how cold the arctic wind is late October. This was a struggle and we didn’t get to see any whales. I think at this time of year (October) they have migrated elsewhere. We did however get free tickets to go again in the future, this is common practise. Even though we didn’t get to see the Whales, we saw some beautiful landscapes and it was fun being in the ocean on that side of the world. A rare opportunity.
Golden Circle Tour
This was definitely our favourite trip, we got to see so much throughout the day. Many companies offer the golden circle tour, not all of the places we visited are on each tour. You need to do your research and decide which things you’d like to visit the most. It offered an excellent opportunity to visit a different lagoon to the famous Blue Lagoon as our 2nd visit was cancelled due to bad weather. We also wanted to visit the Kerid Crater, as we had seen some beautiful pictures. If you want to book the one that we did, you can find the link here. If not use Trip Advisor and try and find your own perfect Golden Circle Tour.
This was an inspired trip from pictures we’d seen off instagram. The images we’d seen were without snow and we were in awe at the stunning scenery we saw with snow. The sky had unusual colours which we’ve managed to capture too, which made the experience even better. We’re still not sure if what was in the sky was part of the northern lights as it was day time but it was really unusual. That’s something you’ll notice on a visit to Iceland, the sky often displays such beautiful patterns and colours. The Kerid crater is over 3,000 years old and filled with a lake.
This was a blessing on such a cold day with temperatures as low as -19 degrees. Much smaller than the Blue Lagoon but this lagoon was completely natural. Farmers used it as a bath in the early 20th century and it would also help people learn how to swim. Not so much of a secret these days, you will notice geysers nearby which show it’s natural, thermal heat.
Gullfoss is deservedly the most visited waterfall in Iceland. It is formed by three separate levels and two cascades. The height of the upper level is 11 meters, and the lower level is 21 meters. But this is also present in other waterfalls. The unique feature is that the cascades are turned to each other at an angle of 90 degrees.
This geyser emits fountains of hot water and steam under pressure at intervals of every 5 minutes. The boiling point of water in Strokkur is located at a small depth, and the accumulated underground steam pushes it up. Strokkur is an old geyser, over one thousand years old.
Thingvellir National Park
Historically, it’s a place of great interest and the place where Althing was created in 930. It was an open-air Parliament gathering representatives of all of Iceland. Parliament met here until 1798. It lies within a volcanically active area. It’s also home to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. You will be able to capture some stunning scenery when visiting this national park.
Where to eat
As previously mentioned, we aimed to travel Iceland on as much of a small budget as possible. Because of this, we only decided to treat ourself with nice food occasionally, but wow what treats they were! A few recommendations are:
- Svarta Kaffid – They serve delicious soup in a bowl of bread. This is reindeer soup but there is also a vegetable option.
- We’d also recommend trying fish and chips, it’s hard to specifically choose one as we’re sure all of them are high quality.
- Rio Reykjavik – Mexican and South American food.
- Food Hall at Hlemmur. There’s lots of different restaurant choices with reasonable prices.
Where to drink
Our favourite place to drink was ‘The English Pub’ (no it wasn’t because we were missing England so much that we visited here). Firstly, they have happy hour which makes beers around £5 as well as great drink offer prices. Don’t miss out on the entertaining spin the wheel game behind the bar, because you can pay to have the chance of better offers in the pub. If you’re wanting to watch some sport, then no problem (they have most sport channels). Come night time, they have live music in the bar and the atmosphere gets much more lively.
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