For those of you who live outside the UK, let me just give you a brief description of British weather. It rains, then it rains, it rains a bit more. If you’re really really lucky and haven’t walked under any ladders or broken any mirrors then you might possibly see a glimpse of the sun. It’s a rare moment but quite a sight when it happens. Understandably, the majority of Brits choose to travel to countries that have a much warmer climate. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and I salute all Brits who return from their travels with a tan, however, I’m in the minority who don’t aim for the beaches. My number one bucket list country is Iceland and I finally got to visit the most beautifully epic country a few weeks ago! Most experienced travellers recommend exploring the island for a least a couple of weeks. At a push, it could be done in seven days.
Certainly not three days.
No, three days would be nowhere near enough time.
No . . . *looks at the price of hotels* . . . three days is fine! Yes. Yes, lets do it! Challenge accepted!
Unfortunately, my friends and I are all poor twenty somethings and we could only afford to go for three days and three nights. However, we were determined to make the most of every minute! Obviously, we would never be able to explore the whole island in three days but we did manage to scour the best part of south west Iceland so if you want to travel to the land of fire and ice on a budget, here’s how you do it.
23:00. Keflavik International Airport. We arrive in chilly Iceland and are met by our shiny rental car! Renting a car turned out to be the best option for us as it gave us plenty of independence during the trip and was a lot cheaper than the bus tours. Plus, none of us had ever rented a car abroad, let alone driven on the other side of the road so we were very excited to give it a go! Fast forward forty minutes and Sparky (our Chevrolet Spark, original I know) got us safely to Reykjavik Downtown hostel where we promptly fell asleep.
The plan for day one was to drive to the southern town of Vik as there are plenty of attractions to check out along the way. If you decide to rent a car, stick to the ring road as most of the landmarks are accessible from there and it’s the easiest road to drive on. Iceland is the most stunning country I’ve ever visited, with an epic landscape to match, so we naturally stopped every fifteen minutes to explore and take pictures. However, after realising it would take us forever to get to Vik at that rate, we eventually set off and came across our first landmark which was Seljalandsfoss, the first of many waterfalls we would visit. We particularly liked this site because of a path that allows you to walk behind the waterfall. The terrain is very uneven though so if you have kids or elderly travellers I’d stick to the front of the waterfall.
Next, we travelled down to Vik to see the black sand beaches. I was adamant on seeing these beaches because they looked incredible and I wasn’t disappointed. The contrast of the deep black volcanic sand and the white foam from the sea was truly beautiful. After a quick lunch we then headed back on the road to Reykjavik and our next pitstop was the glaciers at Solheimajokull. This was a spontaneous decision but it was by far the best moment of the day. We didn’t take the tour up the glaciers but the landscape was enough to keep us entertained for an hour. The tongue of Solheimajokull extends right down to the south coast where there is a lake surrounded by astonishing mountains. It was one of the most epic landscapes I’ve ever visited and I spent half of my time just trying to absorb the view. Next, we visited our second waterfall of the trip, Skogafoss. Skogafoss is a lot bigger than Seljalandsfoss and has a great observation platform at the top of Skogafoss which provides an incredible view. Be warned, the steps to get up to the observation point are a killer. Be prepared to reach the summit holding your coat, thermals and jumpers and struggling to breathe. However, the view is totally worth it.
After all that excitement, we were starving and decided to head to Hveragerdi to eat at Kjot and Kunst, a restaurant using geothermal heat to cook food. It wasn’t cheap but the food was tasty and really comforting. Our next aim was to see the Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis had been so bright a couple of nights before that they had made global press. We were hoping the good weather would stay long enough for us to see them. If you’re planning viewing the Northern Lights, be sure to check a map online that shows the clear spots in Iceland. The blessing of a car meant, at no added expense, we could park anywhere in the countryside to try and spot them and, almost straight away, we had a sighting. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the Northern Lights are hard to spot with the naked eye so I was a little bit underwhelmed when, instead of seeing vivid green light, we saw milky strips in the sky. However, it was still an impressive and humbling sight and I wouldn’t have traded that moment for the world. Fortunately, a professional camera can pick up the Northern Lights easier than humans can and my friend is a professional photographer so we left with some great pictures.
Our second day was dedicated to travelling around the Golden Circle, a hotbed of attractions! We started off at Thingvellir National Park where I naively expected to stay for about half an hour. Boy oh boy, I was wrong. Thingvellir is absolutely huge and contains so many mini landmarks that you could easily spend a day exploring. We started off by visiting another waterfall, Oxarofoss, then the rift valley, then Law Rock and finally investigated where the Eurasian and Northern American tectonic plates meet. If we had more time I would have loved to dive between the plates with Silfra Diving but that’s for another trip! We only scratched the surface in Thingvellir as there is much more to see so don’t make our mistake and give yourself plenty of time to explore.
After a quick hot dog we then visited the iconic Geysir’s. You won’t spend a lot of time here because there isn’t a huge amount to do but they have the best facilities at Geysir with shops, restaurants and even a hotel in construction so you can take refuge if you’re getting cold. Naturally, we thoroughly enjoyed watching the Geysir’s and took many pictures but I will warn you about the stench of rotting eggs. I’d heard that areas in Iceland smelt of Sulphur but the smell was quite overwhelming at Geysir, however, it is worth it!
Onwards, we headed to the most dramatic and biggest waterfall of our trip, Gulfoss. Measuring a massive thirty one metres in depth, Gulfoss can clear 140 cubic metres of water per second. As you can imagine, it’s massive and incredibly impressive. We saw a lot of waterfalls on our trip but this one was entirely unique. If you’re into Niagra Falls, put this Gulfoss on your must see list.
At this point, we were pretty knackered and started to head back to Reykjavik but before we made it home, we stopped off at the Kerid Krater, a beautiful krater created from a volcanic explosion. Strangely, this is the only natural landmark we had to pay to access on our trip. If you don’t mind paying 300 ISK and being served by a moody teenager on his phone then you’ll love Kerid! Again, I feel like this sentence is being overused, it was beautiful. What’s really surprising is the vivacity of the colours. The krater is composed of red volcanic rock whilst the minerals in the soil make the lake at the bottom of the krater a striking gemstone blue. Once again, I would definitely say it is worth a visit.
Once we made it back to Reykjavik we were exhausted so we decided to relax and explore the city. We visited the Harpa Concert Hall and Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavik’s main landmarks, both of which are gorgeous. We also wondered around the high street which was the perfect mix of quaint and commercial. Reykjavik is a really cute city full of personality. A couple of hours is plenty of time to explore this tiny city but you’ll be glad you did because it’s a lovely place.
Today was our last day but we wanted to go out with a relaxing bang which can only mean one thing, the Blue Lagoon! What better way to spend your last day than relaxing in a geothermal spa?! As expected, the Blue Lagoon is expensive as it’s a commercial venue but I didn’t mind because the experience was fantastic and the facilities were clean and professional. If you have plenty of money, there will be plenty for you to do and eat that you can easily spend the day there. We weren’t so flush with cash but there was certainly enough to do for half of the day. Aside from relaxing in the pool, we made use of the free face masks, bought some drinks from the pool bar and used the many saunas and steam rooms. The view is spectacular, the water is deliciously warm and the pool is very large so you won’t get cramped, which is more than I can say for the changing rooms. Above all, the experience of relaxing in a hot geothermal spa with the wind blowing against your face was an incredible experience and I loved it! It’s easy to understand why it is one of the twenty five wonders of the world. However, my hair never felt so dry and tangled after coming out of the Blue Lagoon so I would seriously recommend putting your hair up or investing in some decent conditioner if you can before visiting.
And that was it. The best holiday over in a flash. Iceland has been my dream destination since 2013 and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Obviously, it would have been nice if we had more time as there is so much more to see but, in three jam packed days, we had a well rounded, exciting and adventurous trip to Iceland!
Let me know your thoughts and check back next week for Part 2 of my Iceland series!