Travels Abroad

Travelling Iceland…

Iceland has been on my top place to visit list for as long as I can remember. I always imagined the country to be a snow covered fairy tale landscape full of pretty trees and mountains and perhaps, just perhaps… the odd elf and troll!

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As it is, the country is actually a glistening snow covered landscape (this time of year) with incredible mountains, lava fields and hidden wonders such as hot springs, water falls, unique rock formations and black beaches. The country used to be around 30% trees but this has sadly vanished and they now have only around 2% due to the severe weather conditions (of which we experienced a wide range) and deforestation.

For this blog, I want to glide you through a few places we visited, things we did and where we stayed to give you a taste of Iceland and maybe help you plan your future trip! I hasten to add, this blog won’t be about lavish, expensive things to do – but a way to encourage those of us who love to appreciate and enjoy a country, and might be a little more daring too!

Where to stay?

We looked around A LOT for hotels, different places to stay and even toyed with the idea of just hiring a van! However, if you’re travelling in the winter like we did, I’d suggest (nay, encourage) you to book a hotel because trust us, you won’t want to be outside without heating for longer than a few minutes!

Whilst it only got to -9 for us in Iceland, the winds and snow storms did suddenly appear out of nowhere and left us feeling chilly in seconds so having a hotel to de-ice in and relax is definitely preferable. We stayed at the lovely Hotel Holt, an idyllic hotel located smack bang in the centre of Reykjavik. Our hotel had both a saloon, library and breakfast room as well as a famous restaurant. Whilst our stay was gifted to us very kindly by the hotel, it would have probably sent us back about £1,500 for 6 nights which in total, isn’t bad as this included breakfast!IMG_5541Another bonus about hotels is you can try to book one with breakfast included, because without booking that and instead eating out is going to easily set you back a few hundred pounds if you’re staying any longer than 2/3 days. Top tip: try to make yourself a little packed lunch from breakfast. We put together some bread rolls, salad and fruit as well as a sneaky pastry! That way, even if you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere you won’t go hungry and your wallet will thank you later!

To find out more about Hotel Holt, visit there website here.

Reykjavik

Having google mapped the city prior to visiting, I had fully expected to find ourselves in a pretty dull and uninteresting city with most of our trip being spent in the countryside! However, on our first night we were both pleasantly surprised to find after a stroll round the city, just how beautiful and safe it all was. Having read a lot about the city, I think it’s fair to say it’s incredibly underrated and is somewhere I found inviting, friendly and enjoyable. Whilst there are some unattractive buildings, there are also some incredibly pretty ones, and this time of year the city goes all out on its festive decorations with not a tree, house or window empty of festive lights!

Within the city there are a number of amazing things to see and do, so I suggest if you’ve got a morning / evening spare, to spend it in the city. Below you can find my top 10 things to do in the city centre…

1. Visit the phallological museum. This museum is in essence a museum full of penises from hamsters to whales, bears to trolls and there’s even a room on humans! A little bit of a laugh and originally started as a joke between friends, it is now a world famous museum in Iceland.

2. Go on a boat tour! If you scroll down you can find a whole section on boat trips in Iceland with Elding Whale Tours. They do both Whale and Northern lights tours.IMG_5398

3. At Christmas the town is covered in decorations, so look for the Christmas cat and the Yule Lads dotted all over the place!IMG_9734

4. Take a walk round the town, down rainbow street and past the Sun Voyager, with a look in at the Harpa Concert Hall.

5. If you’ve got a car, we suggest a visit to the lighthouse around 10:30pm on a clear night! You might get a glimpse of the northern lights like we did!IMG_0321

6. Visit some of the city’s cute shops! This time of year you’re sure to find yourself stumbling into the Christmas shop in downtown Reykjavík! We came away with a decoration for our tree and a little memory of our trip!

7. Try somewhere for dinner! On our trip we ate out 4 times, once at the cat cafe near our hotel, once at a lovely little local restaurant in town, another a quick bite at the cheapest food place in the city (1000ISK for dinner) & the last night visited the Viking Restaurant, 30 min bus (or 10 min car) outside the city.

8. Visit some of the modern art museums! The city has a number on offer.

9. Visit the church! The city is famous for its spectacular church which can be seen from most places in the city!IMG_5348

10. Pick up some local food in a store and try some Icelandic doughnuts and bread cooked in hot water springs!

Travelling round Iceland

Whilst most people opt for staying in the city and venturing out on tour buses galore, we decided to take the roads into our own hands and explore Iceland on our own terms. Speaking to a Norwegian friend of mine about her trip to Iceland a few years ago, she assured me it was more than drive-able and not to waste money on tour buses and do Iceland our way. Firstly, it is SO much cheaper hiring a car (petrol included). In total we probably spent about £320 on our car and saw mostly all of the west, north region and south region!

IMG_0074If however we’d opted for a tour, we would probably have only seen the 3 golden circle items & a few shadowy mountains, but as it happens we saw SO much of the countryside, driving through snow drifted roads, round icy corners and across ocean splashed tracks!

(I do however get that not everyone is as confident at driving as Jon is, he has driven through most terrains and countries, so if a tour is for you, then enjoy Iceland your way! But if you do opt for a car this time of year, get full insurance and be prepared for a few close calls along the way)!

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Where to visit over 5 days…

Whilst you are guaranteed to have an incredible time whatever you do, I’ve put together a few suggestions of places to visit, some of which are off the usual tour routes and not somewhere many people go, you’ll still find the usual places everyone goes in my list, so pick and choose and make your trip yours!

Day trip 1… You can’t visit Iceland and not do the ‘golden circle’ so take a road trip from the city across to Thingvellir National Park and walk between the canyon separating the North American and European tectonic plates to the site of the first parliament (set up in 930AD).

Next head over to the Geysir Hot Springs and watch as Geysir explodes gallons of boiling hot water in the air and if you’ve time, pop into the place where Icelandic’s bake hot spring bread. Next jump back in the car and drive over to the magical Gullfoss Falls, Iceland’s take on Niagara. To head back to the city, take a different route and visit Kerid Crater, perhaps my favourite part of this journey (and weirdly not included in the circle). Take a look below to see some of our photos from this day trip…

Whale watching… Like with any wildlife it’s hit and miss whether you’ll be lucky enough to meet any whales or dolphins but I would highly recommend booking a tour on the chance you do so! December is often quiet for whales, but they do pop up and my brother and friends have seen them in Iceland this time of year, so make sure you don’t miss out on a boat trip, even if its just to see the pretty scenery, enjoy some fresh air and feel that cold, crisp Icelandic sea water splash across your face.

We went out on a tour with the lovely team at Elding Whale Watching, who not only do tours to see whales, but have tours for the Northern Lights too. We decided just to opt for the Whale Watching trip, however when we go back to Iceland I will be jumping into the boat to go off on one of their Northern Lights tours too, because its much more fun than driving around for hours (like we did) searching for them, plus you have a lot less light pollution at sea, so will find the lights shine bright and beautiful… I am dreaming of them now!

I wanted to talk to you a bit about our tour; whilst we didn’t see any whales, I am so pleased to have gone out with Elding.is, if only to appreciate their promotion of ‘responsible tourism’ and educating people about the effects fishing, sonar and the meat industry for whales actually has on them and the ocean.

Elding is a family owned company that began with their own personal interest in wildlife, boats and people. The team follow IceWhale’s codes of conduct for responsible whale watching as well as following their own stricter guidelines, which means they not only show off the beauty of the ocean, but do it in a respectable way that also supports marine biology research in Iceland. Elding is also the first environmentally certified whale watching company in Iceland and is now the only Earth Check Gold Certified whale watching company in the world, meaning if you go with any company and want to be sure its ethical, then book with them.

When you board the boat you are welcomed by warm drinks, a cute cosy shop and a little museum downstairs (that I LOVED). The museum is home to a lot of educational materials about wildlife, a whale chart (they have named some they see regularly) and whale skeletons. We loved walking around the museum and I learnt so much about the effects of fishing on whales, that it gave me a new-found respect for the animals and (even though I don’t eat fish) reminded me how terrible fishing is for not just our oceans, but our world as well. I think everyone knows how important wildlife is to me, and it’s heart warming to see companies such as Elding promoting this in a very Blue Planet kind of way.

So, once we got going the boat took us out into the ocean with the cool breeze chilling our faces, we were luckily all cosy and tucked up in our overalls that are free to borrow whilst on the boat (hugely recommended) as it meant we could stand on the top deck right at the front of the boat on the look our for marine life. Whilst we didn’t see anything, we had a great guide giving us a tour of the ocean, educating us and telling us all about the different whales in the area making it a fun trip!

One of my favourite bits about the boat ride was watching the sun set across the ocean and seeing the beautiful moon rise over the city of Reykjavik. I can’t wait to return to Iceland, perhaps in the summer and re-do our whale tour with Elding! I will also be sure to book in our Northern Lights tour too, and if this is something you fancy doing visit their website and book your package here!

Day trip 2… Drive to Kirkjufell, or ‘Church Mountain’…. Church Mountain is a distinctly shaped mountain found on the north shore of Iceland, on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It is a short distance away from the town of Grundarfjörður (where nothing was open). It is probably one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland, due to its unique shape and beauty!

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Kirkjufell takes its name from its resemblance to a church steeple, sharpened at the top with long curved sides. From other angles, the mountain has been compared to a witch’s hat or even a freshly scooped ice cream (I personally love the witches hat!)

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On the way to this trip (if you drive from Reykjavik) I suggest the following stop off points…

  1. Stop off and visit Gerðuberg basalt columns near snæfellsnes (we did it in snow as you can see below and it was fine – just drive carefully!) 
  2. Next, head over to what I like to call ‘seal beach’ and visit the seals on a black sand beach called Ytri Tunga. We saw 6 seals here having such fun in the water, it was adorable.Visit the black church in the middle of winter and you’re sure to feel all Game of Thrones… (or summer and see the surrounding lava field in all its glory!) On the drive up the mountain, check out the waterfall on the right and another as you go up. When you get to the top, take a look back at the view over the glacier, its magical!If you have time (we didn’t) drive to the end of the peninsula and visit the national park. There are some incredible mountains here.
  3. Arrive at church mountain and visit the waterfall – it was stunning.Day 3… Drive to the Blue Lagoon, but go via Krysuvik a massive solfatara steaming away on the hilltop. Please be aware, it is very, very, VERY smelly here!

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions with its unique beautiful milky-blue water unlike anything else found on earth especially in contrast to the surrounding area featuring a black lava field covered in white snow during winter times. The lagoon is usually heated to 39°C (102°F) all year round, making it the perfect temperature for bathing.IMG_5567

The lagoon can be driven to in about 40 minutes, as it is across to the south on the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland, a region renowned for its desolate landscapes and huge volcanoes. It is only a 15-minute drive from the Keflavík International Airport, so most people go before or after a flight, but we made a day trip out of it and went at 1:30pm staying till 5 to watch the sun set.

We thought long and hard about which package to go for, having had friends advise we stay there, dine there and go for the most expensive package… Needless to say, we ended up ignoring them due to our budget and went for the comfort package which got us a towel, drink and face-mask. One of my friends had told me there is little to no point in getting a bath robe as they get moved / stolen and you know what, she was right! So really, don’t bother unless you do go for dinner. There are plenty of towels.

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Blue Lagoon around 4:30pm

In the lagoon we had a tour and a talk from a lovely lady called Brie, she told us the Blue Lagoon’s history and how it started in 1976 after the geothermal power plant dug it up by accident looking for sulphur. They didn’t like what they found so they moved the water into the lava field expecting it to sink into the ground, but instead it created a lagoon which the locals started to take interest in. One man who visited the lagoon had psoriasis, but after a few dips in the water, noticed it started to go. He told his doctor who was astonished and so his doctor asked him to take him there and cut a long story short, the doctor started a spa out of the water and thus, the lagoon was born!

The current location of the lagoon, contrary to many people’s belief,  is not a natural hot spring but a pool created by a man-made structure. It is, in fact, waste-water from the power plant, that is drilling for steam and hot water. The lagoon was re-located in the 90s due to it being in a sharp, uncomfortable location and too close to the power-plant near by (that produces natural energy from the earth). So whilst the structure is man-made, the waters and everything about it are natural with the water being cooled in tanks after it is pumped up from the earth into the lagoon.

The water is completely clean and does not contain any chemicals, only natural minerals that have proven to be very good for people’s skin (silica). Since the water is continually streaming into the lagoon, all the water is renewed every 40 hours, making it one of the cleanest spas in the world!

Day trip 4…

Now, this is not really a trip so much as an explore! I would suggest just spending time in the town and taking in some of the beautiful things to do (see top of the post) in the city. it is a totally under-sold city, with so much to see and do. It is really quite beautiful.

IMG_9850Day 5…

Visit the black sand beach in Vik. Now we didn’t do this and intend to when we come back in the summer, (as Game of Thrones was filmed here) because there is a walk we want to do to a plane that crash-landed!

In 1973 an American Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur, on the South Coast of Iceland. Luckily, everyone in that plane survived so it isn’t a morbid or scary place to go, just strange! The remains are still on the sand very close to the sea, making it a very photogenic place to visit.

IMG_9830There you have it. a few suggestions, my top tips and ideas, and some secret locations for you to go and explore! I cannot wait to go back to Iceland and visit lots of different places in the summer months! We hope to see Diamond Beach and also Stuðlagil Canyon on our next trip. So keep an eye out on my socials and blog for future posts!

4 thoughts on “Travelling Iceland…”

  1. What beautiful pictures from winter! We’ve visited three times in June – can’t seem to tear ourselves away from the puffins and lupines. You got around nicely – we always rent a car. Looks like a wonderful time – I bet you’ll be back!

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      1. Us about the same – see it again in a couple of years! We like staying at rented summerhouses – it’s our favorite. Got a nice beach farmhouse we always stay at in the Reykjavik area that is near the airport and Blue Lagoon.

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      2. That sounds amazing! We stayed at Hotel Holt this time (which was beautiful) but I’d love to look at a summerhouse for the next trip!!!

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