We were only in Iceland for three full days but we packed in as much of the island as possible. There’s so much you can do from Reykjavik, it was hard to decide what to choose but easy to fill our time. The main filter for everything on offer was probably the budget, money quickly adds up there and not wanting to go overboard I tried to find a balance. We had so much fun I think I did a pretty good job on our itenary, if I do say so myself.
Here’s what else we squeezed into our trip.
The Blue Lagoon seems to get mixed reviews but I decided to ignore it all and make my own mind up. It was so close to the airport I thought it would be a great start to our trip, so after we picked our rental car we made our way straight there.
There’s a huge car park on site but at about 5pm I was relieved to find it wasn’t that full. Everyone knows that the lagoon is one of Iceland’s biggest tourist attractions and given its proximity to the airport, it’s popular with stop over trips to America and elsewhere.
If you don’t want to pay the entrance fee, you can just explore some of the geothermal area so we did that first.
The rich mineral content of the water (silica and sulfur) is provided by the underground geological layers which are pushed to the surface by the hot water. The silicate gives the water its milky blue appearance.
Once we’d got through the gates, I was directed to a large changing room a little bit like the ones you’d find in a nice swimming pool. I took the required shower and ran from the sides into the warm milky water as quickly as possible.
It was just like easing into a hot bath and I loved it. I could feel my muscles loosening by the minute and couldn’t stop myself from going “aaahh” whenever a hot rush of water went past.
The silica provides the free mask you can pick up by the handful. I’d paid a bit extra for some added algae and once I’d washed it off my skin did feel pretty good.
I couldn’t tell you how long we were in there as the time just seemed to melt away.
The Blue Lagoon has always been a commercial site, being brought to life by the water output of the nearby geothermal plant. It’s completely man-made, although the content of the water is all natural. I think if you take it for what it is, and don’t expect an authentic natural experience, you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. We went at an off peak time so it wasn’t too busy.
All of the activities in Iceland are naturally centred around its beautiful landscape and its surprising just how much you can do. Since our activity day was James’ actual 30th birthday, I narrowed down the options to three and let him choose. Luckily he went for the option I was hoping for – lava caving and snorkelling Silfra.
The tour takes you to Leiðarendi, which just a 30 minute drive from Reykjavik but, like other parts of Iceland, it looks like you’re on another planet.
There are over 500 lava caves in Iceland and there are two ways they can form from volcanic lava. Leiðarendi was a result of super hot magma running underneath cooling lava creating a cave it its path.
I’m fairly good with small spaces but given the seismic activity in Iceland I was a little apprehensive.
We crawled through tight spaces and squinted under the light of our head torches at stalactites and stalagmites. Then we turned off our headlights and took in the pitch darkness and utter silence. It was both relaxing and eery.
With the lights on we made the most of the photo opportunities.
We were probably underground for about 40 minutes. I really enjoyed it but I was quite happy to be back above ground and moving on to our next activity.
You may remember Silfra from our drive around the Golden Circle. Silfra is the frissure between the North American and European tectonic plates. I’d first heard about snorkelling between the two continents from Kaelene via her blog Unlocking Kiki. I knew it was something James would love to do so it had to be an option. I actually really wanted to scuba dive Silfra but between the cost and the challenge of managing the buoyancy of a dry suit for the first time meant I had to take it off the list.
We pulled up to Þingvellir National Park and got into our kit.
I waddled into the water in my flippers and manovered myself into a sort of floating starfish position. At just 2°C my exposed lips went a little numb but the rest of me was pretty warm and dry. I was quickly distracted by the views and all else just floated away.
The glacial water that runs through Silfra offers some of the clearest water in the world. It’s so clear it feels like you’re looking deep deep down into the depths of the earth.
As the sunlight flickered through the water I couldn’t get over the views and of course ended up being at the back of the pack completely mesmerised. We only had a disposable camera but the pictures we took are some of my favourite from the whole trip.
One thing I think everyone should try to fit into their intinerary.
Despite it being one of Reykjavik’s best-known landmarks, I have to admit I hadn’t actually heard of Hallgrimskirkja until I started trying to find where the iconic view of the capital came from. But once you’re in town it’s impossible to miss.
The church was commisioned in 1937 but wasn’t finished until 1986. The design is said to resemble basalt lava flows. I was expecting a tall climb but since it’s quite a modern building there’s a lift right up to the top.
At 73 metres high the church offers some of the best views of the city and beyond.
Little attention is often paid to the views out to the mountains but I loved seeing how the city thinned out.
Of course I was still keen to get that iconic snap and patiently waited my turn.
Between the painted buildings and the sight from up high, Reykjavik looked liked a little cute toy town.
It was about 8 Euros to enter the church, which I felt was comparative to the price of other things in the city.
I was so convinced that we wouldn’t see the Northern Lights I decided not to book a tour and rely on having a car to see them if they turned up. But we were so so lucky and saw them for three nights in a row!
The first night was just a ribbon of green in the sky, enough to get me dancing on the spot though. On the second night we went out to Grótta but I failed to take any pictures and the strongest point was whilst we were tucked up in bed. So when I saw the sky come to life after dinner on our third night I was pretty determined to get out there with my tripod and sat on Reykjavik’s harbour with a few others for well over an hour. It was worth it to watch the sky come to life and take away these snaps.
I had no idea what I was doing but using a tripod, choosing a slow shutter speed, turning auto-focus off and experimenting with the ISO settings seemed to do the trick.
A little part of me regretted not doing a tour but that’s life I guess. I still felt so lucky and enjoyed getting to watch my own little show from the convenience of a short walk from our hotel.
Sadly, that brings us to the end of our trip. Although Iceland felt like a once in a lifetime trip (partly due to how expensive it is) I would absolutely love to return. We saw a few campervans on our drives out there and I think it would be a fun way to explore the island in summer.
Have you been to Iceland? Do you have any trips planned?
If you’re planning a trip and have some questions, I’d be happy to try and answer them so leave a comment or get in touch.