Updated: Feb 6, 2019
After just getting back from a short 3 night break in Iceland I already cannot wait to go back.
Iceland is a small island nation in the North Atlantic Ocean and is among the most geologically and volcanically active landscapes in the world. In fact, the island itself is born out of volcanic eruptions over millions of years and straddles the North American and European tectonic plates. Geologically however, it is “just a baby”, as our tour guide put it as up until only 8,000 years ago the entire island was still buried under ice. The country is defined by its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, glaciers and lava fields.
We arrived in the early evening at Keflavík airport and took a coach to the capital city, Reykjavik, which is only a short drive away. We booked a ticket with Airport Direct who have a coach waiting for every arrival but if you book with them make sure you book online as I noticed this works out quite a bit cheaper than at the airport desk when you get there. Also, I had read that you if you want any you should buy alcohol at the duty free when you arrive as it is expensive in Iceland (which it is), but I seemed to find the Icelandic supermarkets cheaper. “Bonus” was one of the best.
After being dropped off we walked to our apartment in the city centre called Alfred’s Apartments, which I would recommend as it was in such a great location with everything you need nearby. We settled in for a bit then headed out to explore the area and went to a few bars along the main strip. Conscious of an early start the next day my mum and I decided to head back at a reasonable time to get some sleep (we were out until 2am). There’s a handy app you can download on your phone called “Appy Hour” which tells you which bars have happy hours and when.
The next day we went on the Golden Circle Tour which unsurprisingly is one of Iceland’s most popular tours and is something I will never forget. First, we headed to Thingvellir National Park and because the sun did not rise until around 11am while we were there we got to see it rise over the mountains and lake which was really beautiful to watch. Here you can walk along the North American tectonic plate and around the lake. The rift caused by the two tectonic plates moving apart grows at around 2cm per year and was a really calm and peaceful area to walk through not to mention the amazing scenery to take in. We walked for about 45 minutes to our next pick up point so the coach could take us to the second stop on the tour, Gullfoss Falls. The coach waited for 15 minutes so if you wanted you had the option of getting back on at the first stop which I thought was good for disabled people or if you were cold but lucky for us it was a really mild morning, for Iceland anyway.
On our way to Gullfoss Falls our tour guide continued to tell us interesting facts about Iceland and the history of the country and was really good throughout (we booked through a company called Grey Line). At the waterfall I was taken aback by the sheer size of it and I had seen some pretty big waterfalls before. Its water can flow at an approximate 4,900 cubic feet per second during summer. Again, the scenery was amazing and I managed to get some great photographs from the viewing platforms. Here there is also a little cafe and shop so you can warm up with some hot food or drink and have a break.
Our last major stop of the tour was to Strokkur Geyer, a geyser which erupts every 4-5 minutes, so there are plenty of opportunities to get videos and photos of it while you are there. The eruptions can be over 80 feet tall and even though you are expecting it you jump every time when up close. It is surrounded by smaller hot spots between 80-100 degrees hot and is really cool to walk around. There were three smaller stops on the way back to Reykjavik like another smaller waterfall, a church and an old ski lodge with more hot springs which were all interesting too.
The following day we went on a whale watching tour and crossed our fingers that we would see something but went to the Saga museum first which was really interesting and fun to dress up at the end. After the museum we set off from the old harbour and the boat was comfortable with plenty of space to sit down inside in the warm if you needed to. After circling Viðey Island hoping to find a Humpback Whale that had been spotted there the previous day we still hadn’t seen anything after 45 minutes. Then we see a flock of Black Gulls feeding close by and headed in that direction and sure enough we soon spotted a Humpback Whale coming up to breathe. At first the Humpback seemed fairly idle, swimming slowly and surfacing regularly. Then we got the chance to observe the whale lunge feeding through a shoal of herring while Black Gulls were plucking out leftover prey from the surface. We also saw a pectoral fin once as the whale turned on its side. With our time over we had to say goodbye and returned back to the harbour but this was just a great experience.
That evening we went to Sundhollin Spa which is the oldest geothermal spa in Iceland, built in 1937. The whole of the city runs on geothermal power and the outdoor hot tubs are heated up to different temperatures between 37 and 42 degrees Celsius. It felt really nice breathing in the cold fresh air while your body was nice and warm under the water. Obviously at some point you have to get out if you want to go to the other hot tubs/steam room and that is freezing but it is totally worth it and everything is close by. This was also a much cheaper alternative (£6) to the more famous Blue Lagoon (£50, without transport). It had a steam room, sauna, indoor and outdoor pools, plus a variety of huge hot tubs so I understood why nearly all Icelanders go to one of these spas every week.
There was still so much of Iceland I wanted to see and loads more to do, plus we hadn’t got to see the Northern Lights as it was too cloudy while we were, but it was time to go home. It was a memorable time and look forward to going back again someday soon.