Last weekend, to avoid the severe weather, Steve and I went to Iceland. Oh, how we didn’t laugh as we butted against minus double-digit temperatures after leaving a snowy, but warmer Bristol behind.
In truth, visiting Iceland had been a long-held dream of Steve’s (I really must stop that Lonely Planet subscription before we’re bankrupt) and I was taking him to see the Northern Lights for his 50th birthday.
Flights to Reykjavik are pretty reasonable. I paid around £200 for two return Easy Jet tickets from Bristol and you can fly from most airports in the UK. Our flight was early in the morning, which suited us as a band of bad weather that forecasters had predicted was due to blow in within hours after us. As it was, our flight was delayed, and I did feel a bit nervous as I watched men de-ice the wings. However, as soon as we got above the clouds the flight was smooth and in under three hours we had landed at Keflavik airport.
Where to stay…
My husband loves being near water, so I secretly booked the Icelandair Reykjavik Marina Hotel at the old harbour, which is the far side of town when you drive into Reykjavik and had received good reviews on Trip Advisor. It was middle of the road cost-wise, around £860 for three nights bed and breakfast. A trip to Iceland isn’t cheap. You’re not in Kansas anymore Toto!
We loved this hotel. It doesn’t look much from the outside, but inside it was stylish, warm, friendly and clean. The reception, concierge and dining facilities were on a par with a UK boutique hotel and Slippbarin, the restaurant and bar was good. It wasn’t an extensive menu and certainly not cheap, but the food we had was delicious – pizza-style flatbreads, one-pot fish of the day dishes and a cheeseboard we can thoroughly recommend. The gin was good too 😉 and Steve enjoyed his beer.
Our room was contemporary in design and big enough for us. If you don’t like frosted glass en-suites then this might be a problem for you, but we didn’t mind and the bed was super soft and freshly-cleaned. We were snug-as-a-bug.
The breakfast buffet had everything you can think of from continental choices to crispy fried bacon and bright yellow wedges of omelette and herbs. Icelandic options (fish and salads) were available to tuck into and we finished our breakfast each day with a wedge of seeded bread, toasted and topped with honey. We were set for the day.
Where to visit…
The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is halfway between the airport and the capital and a friend advised us to visit as soon as we landed to make the best use of time. There is a locker building at the entrance to the spa where you can drop off large hand luggage and then mosey on down to the spa itself.
Buy tickets ahead of your visit to Iceland and you can include travel to the spa and then on to your hotel, to make your journey seamless. Our tickets included a small locker in the spa itself (you pay extra for the locker room I mentioned above), towel and a mud mask to enjoy while in the water. It also includes a drink at the swim up bar, which was a lovely way to toast our arrival and the beginning of our weekend.
SP loves sea life so going on this trip for us was a given. I also spotted that blogger Best Before End Date had been and read up about this trip on her blog. We ended up going with the same company, Elding Whale Watching, https://www.elding.is/ which was based just along from our hotel.
We had to arrive for a 9.00 am start, were offered a sea-sickness tablet and asked to get on a bus when we arrived as a shawl of fish that whales like to lunch on had been spotted in another area off the mainland.
There are no photos of the two hump-backed whales that we saw as I was one of many who didn’t fare well on the waves. Do not decline the tablet when offered is all I can say. You are out searching and following whales for three hours and once you feel poorly it doesn’t stop until you get off. Many were absolutely fine, and I think I would have been worse if I hadn’t taken it.
The boat was big, with lots of space inside and outside and we were given bright red waterproof fishing overalls to protect our own clothes. Like everything else you do in Iceland in winter, wear lots of layers, the wind is even more biting on the sea.
As for the whales there were lots of ooh and aahs as we watched them come up for air and a flash of tail was even seen. If you enjoy a boat ride, don’t miss this.
The Northern Lights
Be prepared for a late, but fun night chasing the Northern Lights. Our guide with Sterna Travel was very informative and talked about the history of the Aurora Borealis, the region we travelled through and shared some Icelandic ghost stories as we drank hot chocolate late into the night.
We really shouldn’t have seen the lights as there was a 0% chance the night we went out, but we were very lucky, and a smattering of the mystical green lights came out for us.
It wasn’t much I grant you and if you don’t see the lights you will be offered a return visit out to chase them the next evening. Some companies keep the offer open for several years, free of charge, until you do.
For reference, we were picked up at 8.30 and dropped home at 11 to midnight, so make sure you don’t have another trip booked for early the next day.
The Golden Circle
This half-day trip leaves around midday and includes stop offs at three key locations in Þingvellir National Park in the south west of Iceland. You will see the gorge at Almannagjá, which marks the eastern boundary of the North American tectonic plate, a Geysir Geothermal Area and the beautiful Gullfoss waterfall.
Again, another really lovely trip, that you must do. Let me simply share with you the breath-taking views we enjoyed.
Where to eat and enjoy a beer
Icelandic Street Food
When you’re cold and hungry the Icelandic Street Food restaurant is the perfect place to take refuge. Offering re-fillable bowls of Lamb’s Soup, Shellfish Soup and Fisherman’s Fave – a warming dish of fish and mashed potato, the young owner here has hospitality down to a T. With his grandmother’s wishes close to his heart, no-one is allowed to leave this casual dining restaurant with an empty tummy. Therefore, you can sit, take a break from the cold, and eat to your heart’s content. Service even includes free sweet treats. When we visited there were mini macaroons, brownie squares and slices of carrot cake to tempt and make sure you had some sugary energy to carry on with your day. Worth a visit.
A small bar and you need to get on google maps to find it, but worth it. I had researched best venues for beers ahead of our trip and this one was 10 minutes’ walk from our hotel, so we had to pay a visit. We visited on a Thursday night and it was busy, but with plenty of places to sit. In a cellar with lots of candle lighting the room, they offer a ton of different beers and you can grab yourself a sample tray and work your way through a number of good craft options.
What to pack…
Don’t skip over this bit, it’s important. I cannot stress enough how frigging cold -15 can be. Single layers will NOT be enough. Therefore, keep an eye on the forecast and be prepared to pack this little lot:
- Thermal vests
- Base layers
- Thin jumpers, hoodies, cardigans (that you can layer)
- A padded/quilted coat (long if you have one)
- Opaque tights or leggings you can wear underneath trousers
- Trousers (jeans should be fine, but consider what you’re visiting, they’ll be horrid and cold if wet)
- Waterproof boots and/or hiking boots
- Hats (bobble, trapper, bean with earflaps just cover your head and keep your ears warm
- Gloves (take extra pair as back up)
- Flip flops are handy for the outdoor spas
- Lip balm
- Hand cream
What to expect…
I’m not going to sugar coat this bit. SP loved this trip, me not so much. It’s rare that I want to come home from a holiday, but after three days of cold, wintry weather, the kind where you get on a warm coach and promptly fall asleep like nana, you might do too.
I am so glad that we went. I loved the spa day, whale watching (I’ve forgotten the puking already), the Northern Lights and seeing the beautiful Gullfoss waterfall. Our hotel is even up there with some of the nicest we have ever stayed in, but at times I was too cold to really enjoy it and it felt like a school trip.
I think trying to fit in all the ‘must-sees’ into three days was probably a bit too much. We had high expectations and there wasn’t much down-time, which when you sandwich a weekend away in between two busy weeks, you probably should allow for.
I would say go but be prepared. I will leave you with the birthday boy’s take on the holiday, who said “It is a once in a lifetime trip that I’ll never forget”.
I’m happy he’s happy, now where’s the brochure for Mexico….
Have a great week folks!
Have you visited Iceland? What was your experience? Please do share your thoughts and comments below…