Since moving to Europe, Iceland was yet another place on the bucket list. This was further egged on by watching ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ a couple of years ago, which was completely filmed in Iceland (except for the scenes in New York). It seemed too difficult to get to (does this sound familiar for the last few blogs I have done?) so I was worried we were never going to make it. Flights with Iceland Air were too expensive, and WOW Air only started flying out of Frankfurt in the past few months. Despite that, we ended up taking the easy option and doing an organized tour. I know, go ahead, judge me. I’m not an organized tour kind of girl. I’ve resisted cruises due to the inflexibility. However, this was a no brainer. It was cheap, and all of the organizing was done for us for once.
How nice it was to park up the car and have everything taken care of for us! We boarded a bus from a central location and ended up with a group of about 30 other Americans. To the usual me, this sounds like torture, but after some of the trips we have done recently, it was a nice reprieve. We sat back for an hour and were quickly at Frankfurt Airport with enough time to grab a bite to eat before boarding. Iceland Air was fantastic – a modern Boeing 757 with great entertainment options for the three hour flight.
It was of course pitch black when we arrived at around 5pm local time and fiercely windy. If it wasn’t for the wind, I don’t think it would have been much colder than Germany. We were boarded on a bus and were soon at our hotel in Reykjavik. The hotel was recently updated with huge rooms – a quite unexpected delight! Our room looked out across the water and had a small balcony.
We bundled ourselves up in the warmest clothes we had (ski pants included!) and headed out in search of food. We initially tried the new Hard Rock café, but it was so packed that it had an unknown wait time. After wandering around aimlessly, we decided that street food was the best way to go. Somehow we stumbled across the famous hotdog stand that Bill Clinton had his heart attack after eating there. Nick enjoyed his hot dog, and then he had another hot dog, and then we found a cute little pizza joint that sold pizza by the slice.
For the record – I found Iceland incredibly expensive. More expensive than Norway. Usually no matter where you are, certain things are cheap. That didn’t seem to hold true for Iceland. However, it’s ok, you just need to plan your budget accordingly. It’s not held out as a budget location, for good reason!
Despite almost getting blown away by the wind, we made it back to the hotel with full bellies. We had done our usual thing of bringing our own bottle of alcohol with us, which saved us a bit of money in the end as we didn’t drink out. Our room had a decent size mini-fridge and a table with chairs so it was quite the oasis at the end of the day.
We set off bright and early the next morning as a group on the Golden Circle tour. This tour took us around the lower edge of Iceland to visit some of the places that Iceland is quite well known for. The first stop (where it was snowing) was the tectonic plate gap between the American and Eurasian plates. The rocks were jagged from the impact of being torn apart during earthquakes and were pretty cool to see. It’s interesting seeing the impact on another country being on top of tectonic plates that are constantly moving.
The next stop was to the famous geysers. The most famous (and largest) only goes off on occasion, and usually around times when decently large earthquakes have happened. Strokkur, the smaller geyser, erupts regularly and we were able to see it several times on our visit there. It erupts every twenty or so minutes. It begins with some bubbling, then some gurgling, then a whirlpool, until suddenly the water is sucked in and goes shooting up into the air some 20-40m. It is pretty cool to watch!
The area around the geysers was full of activity. The ground was steaming, there were little mini geysers bubbling away in various places and you could tell it was a hot-bed of seismic activity. It reminded me a lot of New Zealand!
Our final stop was to a massive rushing waterfall called ‘Gullfoss’. The sound flowing from the river was deafening as you edged closer to the side of the cliff. There is a story, widely claimed to be untrue, about how the owner of the farm wanted to sell the waterfall to an electric company. His daughter fought and fought against the idea, travelling by foot into Reykjavik to speak against it. Eventually, the farmer agreed to sell the waterfall. His daughter told him if he went through with the sale that she would throw herself into the waterfall. Luckily for her, he loved his daughter more than the potential riches and and pulled out of the sale.
Our tour guide was really great. She shared some interesting stories about Iceland and I feel like we were able to find out a lot about the culture from her. For instance, they believe in ‘hidden people’ in Iceland. They’re a type of people who are living outside of our field of vision, who have their own communities. Legend has it that when certain roads are being built, that they have had construction disrupted by the hidden people as it would be going through their towns. The hidden people have made it impossible for some projects to go ahead, by rendering equipment useless and stealing tools. The machines miraculously begin working again when they are taken away from the areas.
After our tour, we were returned to our hotel with free time available for the rest of the night. We were supposed to go on a Northern Lights Boat tour, but the weather was too cloudy so it was postponed. We found a great little Thai restaurant not far from our hotel that we ended up eating at twice. It had been recommended to me by my friend Toni who had been in Iceland the year before. The pad thai was excellent and it was a reasonable price for Iceland!
On the main street of Reykjavik there is a small supermarket called ‘Bonus’ with a pig on it. We were able to get some snacks from there to keep in the fridge for our lunches. They had delicious long baguettes filled with a lot of different options and they were around $5 each – bargain! I highly recommend heading there if you are looking for budget food on the go.
This was the day I was most looking forward to. In the morning we set off for a Reykjavik city center walking tour. We did about half of it and then cut out and went back to our hotel as we were getting picked up for our horse riding tour on Icelandic horses. We had opted to do this outside of our tour package, so I booked through Ishestar Riding Center online.
We were promptly picked up and escorted out for our afternoon ride. It was about 30 minutes outside of town and we were quickly driving through volcanic looking fields towards a great big barn of Icelandic horses. Technically the horses are pony in size – most are about 13-14hh, small, stocky but extremely strong and hardy. They have big shaggy coats to keep them warm during the harsh winters they face on the island.
My horse was called Thor. He was quite the character, definitely used to his job but responded well. We were in a huge group of riders – something like 30 riders and horses set out together. After our first trot we were split into groups of ‘faster’ and ‘slower’. Nick and I opted for faster and this cut our group down to about 12-15. Still a big group – but better than the 30 we started with. The rest of the tour had us mainly trotting through the volcanic fields, but I think that I got to experience the famous tolt that the horse does (it is a horse with five paces compared to the usual three). It was a smoother action that you’re supposed to be able to easily sit to – kind of like a pace but a little different.
Our ride went for about one and a half hours, so we felt like we definitely got to see the countryside and experience the wonderful Icelandic horses in that time. We were bundled back inside to the warmth after untacking the horses and were back in Reykjavik by dinnertime.
We were supposed to go out on the Northern Lights boat tour again, but no luck again. It was simply too cloudy. We decided to go and get Thai again since it was so good the night before and we weren’t disappointed.
When we were back in our room, the clouds started to part slightly. We started staring outside from our room in the hope that maybe – just maybe – we might get lucky and see some of the Northern Lights. Behind those clouds were some impressive activity – we just couldn’t see it. At one point, I was convinced I saw it. A cloud became green in colour and slowly moved across the sky. We rushed outside to the waterfront to try and get a better look, but by then it was gone and the cloud cover was back. I am sure it was, but even after sitting out there for another hour we weren’t able to get another glimpse. Oh well!
Our last full day in Iceland was a completely free day. We decided that we would go to the hot pools that Iceland is famous for called the Blue Lagoon. It was extremely difficult to get tickets. I had to sign up for a tour through Grey Line Tours to get the tickets. We were due to leave at 1pm and we could stay as long as we wanted to. The bus left back to Reykjavik on the hour until 8pm.
Wow – the pools truly were great! I know people say it is overrated. There’s a lot of people there, the changing rooms are packed full of people with not a whole lot of privacy (I was too excited to get into the water to wait for a private changing room). You have to shower before you enter the pools, but at least those were private with most having doors.
The colour is unbelievable. It truly is the colour that is in the photographs. The water is deliciously warm and cosy. It’s something you don’t want to leave. They have swim up bars where you can buy drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and there is also a place to swim up to to get the famous facial treatments.
At one point a vicious wind whipped through the pools bringing hail with it. We were luckily in a cosy little nook that we had found, so we were able to watch everyone else panic while we enjoyed our little haven. Haha.
I absolutely loved it. We only stayed for a couple of hours as we actually got bored just sitting there and we got to the point where we were trying to determine whether we wanted to stay for a whole more hour for the next bus. There are places to eat there though, so if we had stayed we could have just got out and got a bite to eat. Don’t miss this place if you do decide to go all the way to Iceland!
After making it back to the hotel, our tour leader told us that the North Lights boat tour was on that night. I was kind of surprised – the weather was somehow worse that night and extremely windy to go out on a boat into the freezing cold waters. We were trying to decide what to do, and Nick finally convinced me that we would regret it if we didn’t. So there we were, bundled up walking down to the pier as we weren’t given any transport. In the freezing cold wind that was almost blowing me away. As we walked down the street we were noticing that most of the boat tours were cancelled.
We made it to the pier early and decided to eat before we went out on the boat. I had some Dramamine for sea sickness ready to go as I knew it would be choppy. We found a fish and chips shop and ate there for dinner – the fish was divine and clearly straight out of the ocean. I heard some kiwi voices in that restaurant also, which was quite funny. I guess we’re all drawn to some good old fish’n’chips!
As we sat there, I grew more and more convinced that the tour just couldn’t be happening. Sure enough, I googled from my phone and the tour was cancelled again. We then had to make the journey back to the hotel by foot in the freezing cold again – but hey, at least we got some great fish and chips out of it! So needless to say, if you book a Northern Lights tour, I would wait until you get there so you know that the tour is going to be on or not. None of us received a refund or any kind of compensation, so the tour company basically got to keep all the money for boats that never went out. Sounds like a good deal for them!
Not much to say about day five. Our flight left bright and early back to Germany but we were able to have some time to kill in the airport. I would recommend waiting to purchase any souvenirs until you are at the airport. It’s actually tax free there, and it’s a big difference – something like 20% in savings. A lot of the same stores were at the airport also – to me that would be worth the wait!
My thoughts on Iceland
I thought Iceland was great. I do not think it is the New Zealand of the Northern Hemisphere. It’s much more barren and obviously doesn’t have the beautiful alps or beaches that are littered around New Zealand. However, I do think it’s an amazingly different place to visit. The seismic activity there is insane. If I was to visit again, I would go in summer and do a self-drive tour around the whole country to dive deeper into it and see puffins. I know we only got to see a small glance of a small part of the country.
Nick and I were talking recently about our favourite trips since we have been in Europe. I’m going to dedicate a blog post to it, but I can say that this trip is not up there on the top of the list. Norway really spoiled this year – it would be hard to top that for 2016.
I am one blog behind at the moment. We did an amazing trip to the west coast of Ireland that will be my next one.
Keep on travelling!