After a minor passport hiccup (If you don’t already – always carry a certified copy of your passport with you), we landed at Reykjavik airport, Iceland. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect from Iceland but it was the most unique and somewhat magical place I’ve ever been to and would highly recommend it as a destination. We flew from Gatwick airport, London to Iceland with Wow Air and back with Iceland Air – the later probably the better of the two and I would definitely recommend.
We took the Flybus to our hotel which was just outside the airport exit and ready to go. You can purchase these online before your trip. This dropped us directly at our hotel, Reykjavik Lights. Reykjavik Lights is on the outskirts of Reykjavik town but frequent buses go from a bus stop 500 metres from the hotel and a taxi is a very reasonable fare. The hotel is listed with all the tour operators and it is very easy to arrange pick up/drop off services. The hotel was modern, clean and everything we could have wanted for our 3 night stay including wifi and a great continental breakfast every morning.
Friday morning we set out on the Golden Circle tour with Reykjavik Excursions. It’s a great way to get your bearings of Iceland and see the main attractions including: Stokkur geyser that shoots water up to 30 metres every 4-8 minutes, the Gulfoss waterfall and Thingvellir National Park where the tectonic plates are pulling a part a few centimetres per year. There are a lot of tour companies in Iceland but we used this one for most of our tours and they were professional and effortless. Some of our friends had hired a car and I would recommend this rather than a tour bus if you are in Iceland for a few days as you can explore on your own terms. That being said, it was also nice to just sit back and learn a few interesting facts along the way.
That night we attempted our first Northern Lights sighting, again with Reykjavik Excursions. Unfortunately we didn’t have any luck and even though there was ‘activity’, it was hidden behind clouds. This tour is very reasonably priced however, if you are expecting a quiet, intimate experience then it is worth paying a bit more for one of the more exclusive, private tours. The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon on many people’s bucket lists. The alternative name for them is the aurora borealis and they hang above the planet in an oval-shaped halo. The lights are formed by fast moving, electrically charged particles that come from the sun. These are driven towards the poles by the Earth’s magnetic field – their varying colours are a result of the different gases in the atmosphere. The optimal time to see them is from late Sept to early April with November – February giving you the best chance. (Tisdall, Nigel, The northern lights: Trip of a Lifetime – Telegraph Travel, October 2014)
For a forecast you can visit this link.
The next morning we set off to Thingvellir National Park Dive.Is and geared up for snorkelling. You stay completely dry throughout the experience and can even don thermal underwear with a recommendation of 2 pairs of thermal socks. The experience is quite something as you snorkel in 3 degree Celsius water. Silfra is where the two continental plates meet so you are swimming between two continents. Visibility is over 150m and it is said to be some of the purest water in the world – they even recommend taking a gulp. We were lucky that the sun came out for our snorkel as this amplified the colours. One thing I love about Iceland is its soft lighting and it always feels like ‘golden hour’ with the sun never quite reaching its usual intensity giving an almost dreamlike glow.
After snorkelling we had time to visit Reykjavik again and this time took to the harbour area. Here you will find a variety of restaurants from casual take-away to fine dining. We are at Icelandic fish and chips for some of the best crayfish I’ve ever had. We didn’t get a chance to go but the Fish Market restaurant also comes highly recommended.
Luckily at our snorkelling tour we met some local students who recommended we go to the Rejk lighthouse as they will be clear over Rejk that night. We hopped into the hired cars of our friends and set off to the lighthouse, only a 10-15 drive away. We were one of about 3 groups there and within 10 minutes of our arrivals, we saw the first sign of the Northern Lights. They continued to grow and brighten and for 5 minutes were a flurry of dancing lights. A great way to describe what they look like is a lava lamp you may have had as a child. Elusive and other worldly, seeing them is a wonderful thrill and a humbling experience that leaves you quite breathless. It really is a once in a lifetime experience to see something like that and I will never forget the.
Sunday was our last day in Iceland and we headed to the infamous Blue Lagoon. Again we used Reykjavik Excursions and the experience was effortless. This particular tour included entrance plus instead of a return to our hotel, we opted for drop off at the airport. There is place to store your bags at the Blue Lagoon and frequent buses to the airport allow plenty of time for you to enjoy some R&R. I opted for the ‘comfort package’ which includes a robe and slippers, a drink of your choice and an algae face mask which you collect at the bar inside the Blue Lagoon. The bar serves smoothies, beer and champagne so while you sit in the hot thermal water, face covered in a mud face mask you can sip on champagne. Barring the Northern Lights, this was my highlight and it was wonderfully relaxing and pampering and again, something so unique and special.
We were sad to say goodbye to Iceland, there is so much to do there and we only really skimmed the surface but we had ticked the Northern Lights off our bucket list, surprised ourselves by snorkelling in freezing cold water and had some truly unique and memorable experiences. It is a very tourist friendly place and all our of our pre-booked tours ran very smoothly with Reykjavik Excursions so I would highly recommend using them however, I would also recommend hiring a car to explore the beautiful island on your own terms and explore the greater island beyond the city of Reykjavik.
We covered a few of the main tours and attractions but there is a lot more to offer including hikes, snowmobiling, skiing, glacier climbing, dog sledding and many other activities off the beaten track. Iceland is good for both summer and winter and although in the summer months you might not see the Northern lights, you’ll be privy to wonderful scenery, beautiful landscapes and the great outdoors of this wonderful island.
For more inspiration visit New York Times 36 hours in Reykjavik
For more information on the Northern Lights visit (Tisdall, Nigel, The northern lights: Trip of a Lifetime – Telegraph Travel, October 2014)
‘The world is a book and those who do not travel , read only one page’ – St Augustine