Iceland seems to be top of everyone’s wish list at the moment. Personally I love nothing more than lying on a beach for 2 weeks and getting up periodically to grab a piña colada, but I have a boyfriend who wanted to see the northern lights (damn), so it was time to go and see what all the fuss was about.
In truth, we actually wanted to go somewhere “winter wonderland”-esque – wooden cabins, fires, snow you can fall into and instantly disappear, husky rides etc, but not wanting to blow a million pounds in 3 days, Iceland was the next best thing.
And we discovered we only needed one of those things to transform our concrete city break into a Christmassy bombshell – snow. And it didn’t just snow, it SNOWED. The heaviest Reykjavik has seen in 50+ years. Luckily, 55cm or so of snow didn’t stop us, and because a car would have been nearing on suicide, we whizzed round all of Reykavik’s must-sees in 3 days, and I still had time to develop chicken pox in the process. That’s efficiency!
Here’s my top 5 must-dos for getting the most out of a short stop in this icy Nordic gem:
1. If you’re going to the USA or Canada, do Iceland as a stopover!
We only had a small amount of holiday, but if you’re thinking of heading over states side, and Iceland is on your wish list, this routing is perfect for you, and Icelandair and Wow Air are currently serving up some of the cheapest fares over there, starting with the likes of Bristol to Toronto from £99 via Reykjavik.
And leading on from that, I’m not being paid to say this or anything, I’m just being an airline geek, but Wow Air weren’t actually half bad. In fact, they were better than half bad, they were better than BA by a long stretch. But then who isn’t. Ignore the bad reviews online, these are purely from people who don’t understand the concept of a low cost airline, and the fact that an addional bag will cost you £44 extra, whether you choose to ignore that fact or not. The legroom = BA premium economy. No brainer.
The Blue Lagoon was hands down the highlight of our trip. One of the 25 natural wonders of the world, it’s algae-blue waters were a ridiculously beautiful backdrop to the constant blizzard we experienced. It is a 100% natural geothermal spa, heated to an average of 38 degrees by a volcanic lava field.
On arrival we were handed futuristic wristbands with in built locker keys which you scan casually against a flashing blue wall implement. Then through to the lagoon itself, we stumbled half naked through sub zero temperatures, madly rushing to find somewhere to hang up our towels, before collapsing into the lagoon before our faces fell off with the cold.
We had the whole she-bang – clear blue skies, grey fog, heavy snow. A Gull beer in hand was the perfect addition from the swim up bar (three alcoholic drinks per wristband, just in case), followed by a D.I.Y clay face mask from the surrounding buckets of mud (sounds grosse, but trust me).
One tip, shower thoroughly afterwards to remove the sulphur smells, or smell like an egg sandwich for the rest of the holiday.
3. Three inexpensive (for Iceland) local restaurants to take advantage of
Eating out in Iceland is not cheap, so when you find a decent meal that won’t break the bank you know you’re onto a winner. Here are 3 not cheap but not painfully pricey delectable dining experiences not to be missed.
Laekjarbrekka – Bankastraeti 2, Reykjavik 101
Traditional Icelandic comfort food – think stews, pies, soups – definitely the most expensive out of the three but totally worth it. £54 for two mains, wine and beer and tip. I know, £27 each just for that, but it’s Reykavik, and I can’t tell you how much of a bargain that was, the pictures do not do it justice! I had the coq au vin which was every wine and meat lover’s delight but the lamb also looked divine, and there was even room on the menu for Icelandic classics such as fermented shark…
Primo Ristorante – Thingholtsstraeti 1, Reykjavik 101
What it says on the tin – Italian food, done well. Thin, crispy pizzas, creamy rich pastas, and of course more wine – although I avoided this as the cheapest bottle was about £60. Wine tends not to be the cheapest over here so I became a beer lover on most days. £41 for 2 pizzas and 2 beers inc tip.
Another brilliant choice to save a few pennies and to sample some amazing Icelandic/tapas fusion cuisine. The trick is to order the chef’s choice selection for one (just the right amount of food for 2 people). This includes an aperitif (two if you choose to share between 2), 7 meat, fish and vegetable dishes selected by the chef, and a dessert to share. The duck was probably the most amazing I have ever tasted. And to those sampling the puffin and whale on the menu? Yes, feel guilty, very very guilty. About £48 including the above plus beer and wine.
4. The Golden Circle tour
Perfect if you don’t want to hire a car and still want to see all the natural beauties that Iceland has to offer. The three highlights on the 300km route are of course the Gulfoss waterfall, with a 32 metre drop, the Geysir hot spring area and the Thingvellir National Park Rift Valley. Even if you encounter the amount of snow we did, the tour runs several times a day, with the tour guide happily churning out Icelandic myth after Icelandic myth to get you through the longest of the drives. We went with Gray Line but Reykjavik Excursions also do a very similar one.
The tour is worth doing for one of these alone.
5. See the Northern Lights (but don’t be disappointed if you miss them)
Like many others before us, we failed to see the northern lights. Best advice is to book a trip to see them through Gray Line of Reykjavik Excursions for the first night you arrive, and then if you don’t see them you get to go again each night for free! So give yourself the most amount of time you can.
If it happens, then awesome! If not, then you can also come back and try again within 2 years for free (generous aren’t they?).
We went solely for the northern lights and came back no more disappointed than had we not.
Iceland certainly lives up to the hype. And we did it all in 3 days whilst I also managed to develop chicken pox. Yes, at the age of 26 I have finally caught a kid’s disease. So as I type this from the comfort of my bed, remember, if you don’t see the amazing aurora borealis, please don’t be disheartened. It’s just another excuse to revisit Iceland’s rich tapestry.