I bounded down the steps of the plane, desperate to take refuge from the brisk Icelandic chill in our awaiting bus. It wasn’t a conventional week-long holiday, far from the shining sun of Spain or the cute cafes of Paris, but it would turn out to be the greatest trip of my life. Iceland has the population of just over 300,000, around the same as Leicester, but that seems to only add to its mystery. In recent years, hotels and travel has become expensive, but if you search for cheap hotels, group deals and excursion deals, it can be affordable. This isn’t a blog about transparent commercialised landmarks you must visit in order to validate your trip, but a quick guide into the five things I loved about this mesmerising country and cannot recommend highly enough.
The Blue Lagoon-
The first stop on our brief tour of Iceland, the famous Blue Lagoon. My expectations had actually been fairly low for this section of my journey, as I couldn’t help but picture a glorified heated swimming pool, but I could not have been more wrong. The entrance price itself was rather steep, with tickets starting from around one hundred pounds, but if you’re travelling in a group I would still highly recommend it.
Most of the best sights in Iceland won’t cost you much money, so this is definitely one to fork out for. As with most locations in Iceland, you need to drive to reach the Lagoon, as many major cities and landmarks are separated by miles of desolate wasteland. If money is no object, I would recommend investing in a tour guide for your trip. For directions, check out this link.
Once I emerged from the changing rooms and made the short walk outside to the Lagoon itself, I realised how wrong I had been. In that moment, what had been the least exciting attraction in my head became one of the best. The translucent milky-blue water stretched out as far as the eye could see, bordered by huge rocks. Plumes of steam poured from the surface of the water, evaporating into the biting chill on the Iceland air. I dipped my toe in and warmth spread through my foot, the shocking difference between the brisk chill in the air, and the pleasant heat of the water was an experience.
As we jumped in, I could only really describe it as the largest and best hot tub I have ever been in. For the next hour we swam around, exploring every nook and cranny of the Lagoon, from the mini waterfalls, to the pots of clay left to paint your body. We were told that the clay and water were supposedly good for your skin, but in all honesty, it was just good fun. If you want to eat/drink here, there is a lagoon-side bar for drinks, and places to purchase snacks indoors.
The Northern Lights-
Sadly, this is the one part of my list that you have no control over. I’m sure most people travel to Iceland purely for a short glimpse of the stunning aurora borealis, but the elusive beast doesn’t always appear. There is no guarantee you’ll see it if you visit, but all I can say is it’s worth the risk. Organise loads of other things to do, and then give yourself the best chance to see it, that’s all you can do. There are a few different ways to enhance your chances:
Pick a good spot- always research the best places to see the lights before you go and plan accordingly.
No light pollution- Don’t expect to be able to see the lights from your hotel window in Reykjavik. An abundance of light pollution from street lights and houses will mask the phenomenon completely.
Pick a good time- No, I don’t mean night time, I’m hoping that’s a conclusion you’ll come to without my help, but the time of the year does matter. The lights appear far more between October and March, so if possible, plan your trip between those months.
Be prepared to wait- The one thing you simply must have is patience. You might not see the lights straight away, you may not even see them in the first hour, or first day. Be patient and hopefully you’ll be in luck.
I have to admit, I’m typing with a strong sense of hypocrisy at the moment, as I did give up on rule four myself. Our little party trekked away from our hotel to a quaint hill-side spot, famed for being a decent place to view the Northern Lights. We were away from any light pollution, at the perfect time of the year, and there was nothing. Not a glimmer of green in the sky at all. The first hour ticked by, then the second and third. It was freezing cold, our hands were numb, we were cold and miserable. Half our group decided to give up and call it a night as we headed back to our hotel, disgruntled at our horrible bad luck. We arrived back home and got ready for bed, drawing the curtains on a disappointing day, and that’s when we saw it.
The rest of my room leapt onto my bed and pressed their faces to the window in joy at the faint colourful waves. We sprinted outside, forgetting even to put any shoes on, and ran away from the hotel towards open ground. The sky was now dancing with colour, greens and purples and blues flowing together in such contrast to the black canvas behind. It was, and still is, the most natural and beautiful thing I have ever seen.
No, I haven’t just mashed my keyboard, this is in fact the name of a famous Icelandic volcano. You may remember it from the 2010 eruption, after which 600 people were evacuated from their homes and the resulting ash caused air travel disruption for weeks. But don’t let that put you off, when Eyjafjallajokull is dormant, it really is a unique place to visit.
We packed food and water into our backpacks and met in front of the hotel bright and early ahead of our climb to the summit of the volcano.
My friend Sam emerged in an Arsenal shirt and Hawaiian swimming trunks to a chorus of laughs from the rest of the group.
“What?” he asked. “It’s a volcano, it’s going to be hot at the top, right?”
It wasn’t hot. In fact, after the hours of trekking and climbing to the very top of the mountain, we were met with a barrage of snow (Sam was not best pleased).
The view from the summit was staggering as we looked down on the landscape below, a mix of white snow and black lava fields, constantly contrasting each other. We were able to look down the mouth of the volcano too, it’s innards hollowed out by past eruptions. I can’t say I’d trekked up many volcanoes before that, and I doubt I will get the chance again, but I’m very glad I did.
The volcano is situated around 90 miles from the capital Reykjavic, so you will either have to rent a car, or take advantage of some online excursion packages. Nordic Visitor offers a three-day volcano tour, two nights’ accommodation, airport transfers, guided superjeep tour and entrance to the Blue Lagoon for just over £400 per person. The climb itself is free, and you are allowed to take as many pictures as you like, the only thing you have to sort is the travel there and back.
Possibly the strangest item on our agenda was the geysers. Geyser basically means “gusher” in Icelandic, and has been a natural phenomenon for the past 10,000 years. The Great Geysir, the most famous of all, has become sporadic in recent years, but you shouldn’t have to wait too long to see some action. Strokkur, another nearby geyser erupts every five or so minutes, so you’re guaranteed to see something very quickly.
We had only been standing next to Strokkur for a few minutes, desperately trying to remove our gloves in order to get our cameras at the ready, before it went off. A huge two metre wide jet of powerful water erupted from the ground, shooting up twenty metres into the air before plummeting back down to earth. For a ‘natural’ phenomenon it was one of the strangest things I have ever seen and definitely well worth a look for any travellers. Tickets and tours around the geysers start at around fifty pounds, which I would say is affordable and worth it.
I cannot express this enough, please, if you do visit Iceland, just explore the landscape. Some of the most memorable moments I had on my visit came from just travelling around the country via tour bus. Whether it was driving through the jet black, molten lava fields, or climbing hills and mountains, just appreciating the natural beauty this place has to offer is a privilege. I have listed a few quick examples of easy things you can see for almost no money at all.
The lava fields- Driving between major towns and cities, you will spot miles and miles of old molten lava fields. While there isn’t much to actually explore, it’s well worth a look as you drive through.
You can book glacier walking tours, in which you strap spikes to your boots and walk across icy plains with a local guide. It’s an interesting, unique and fun experience, so if you have some money spare, do it.
Waterfalls- Iceland is famed for its hundreds of waterfalls, and while you may not want to visit many of them, I would definitely take the time to see at least one or two. They are popular attractions due to their beauty, with some even featuring their own mini rainbows within the waterfall itself.
Iceland is still my best ever holiday to date, and I can’t wait to return there in the next few years. I cannot recommend it highly enough and urge you to make it your next holiday. My list is by no means an instruction of what you HAVE to do, but merely a bunch of stuff I whole-heartedly enjoyed, I hope you enjoy them too.