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 three days, Iceland was the next best thing.
1. If you’re going to the USA or Canada, do Iceland as a stopover!
2. Visit the Blue Lagoon – either to or from the airport
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 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, followed by a D.I.Y clay face mask from the surrounding buckets of mud (sounds grosse, but trust me).
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 three 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…
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 two pizzas and two 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 two 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. 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.
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 or 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 two 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! 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.
P.S. Fun fact for you – I actually caught chicken pox while I was there! Yes, at the age of 26 I finally caught a kid’s disease. Brilliant. I typed this from the comfort of my bed, all itchy and feverish. Good trip though!