We may have only had a few days in the country but we can understand why it is a place on people's to do lists. We loved it! With great company, great planning and great weather we had such a great 3 and a bit days that we highly recommend visiting if you can. It's only two and a half hours from the UK after all.
We arrived in Reykjavik around lunch time on Friday after flying from Luton airport on-board an EasyJet plane that left at 7:30am- nothing like an early start! The journey was quick, efficient and allowed us to pass out asleep so we were a little more awake on landing. At the airport we found our pre-organised bus and headed for the city.
Most of the time we were in Iceland it never really got fully light, it was either completely dark or a kind of twilight. It meant that we only had a few hours a day to explore things in the light, in some ways that was no bad thing. Driving from the airport the scenery was very much like we imagine the craters of the moon (or, in fact the national park in Idaho by the same name) - mainly rocky and vast. On approach to the city this changed to a hotch-potch mix of colourful houses and modern buildings - Reykjavik is quite the new city!
We arrived at our third hotel- the one we had originally booked through our GroupOn deal had been changed and then the one we turned up at had a leak- so we ended up at the Foss Hotel Barron on the seafront. We even got lucky enough to have a room overlooking the sea! Bonus! Further still, just opposite our final hotel was a highly rated restaurant (in Trip Advisor) - it specialized in typical Icelandic food and we ended up with a mixed lunch of soup and salad but we were... well, hungry afterwards. We aren't really soup or salad people!
After lunch we strolled around the city making an effort to work our way towards a church that provides the best views of the surrounding city and bay area. Thankfully the very modern church had a lift to take us up the tower but nothing protected us from the blasts of very fresh air at the top. We did have a chance to warm up in the main part of the church listening to the magnificent organ playing. As we hung our hands out of the top of the steeple to take pictures we really got a sense of just how condensed the community is. 65% of Icelanders live in Reykjavik.
After refreshing at the hotel we took a stroll down towards the modern theatre building and came across an art exhibition and a number of interesting shops where we found books telling us how friendly Iceland was to the LGBT community - including having a lesbian Prime Minister - and how 75% of Icelanders believe in 'hidden people'. There are actually areas that they aren't allowed to build on because these hidden people are said to live there. Laura even found a book about the 13 Christmas trolls of Iceland - traditional folklore!
Our first dinner was at a restaurant that we found on TripAdvisor - it was a tapas restaurant (appropriately called 'Tapas!') that served a mix of Spanish and Icelandic food and was delicious. It was a popular place - we were sat by the door and they turned away over 20 people in the hour and a half we were there. Well worth making a reservation for!
Our second day was mainly spent at the Blue Lagoon, a 45 minute drive by pre-organised trip, from Reykjavik. The natural hot springs have been turned into a plush resort with spa facilities and a pool that allows you to access a sauna, steam room, steam bath as well as mud so you can give yourself a facial as you relax. It was a beautiful clear day when we visited and we spent the entire trip hoping it stayed that way into the evening as we had booked on to a Northern Lights tour.
The Blue Lagoon was about £25 a person but well worth the visit although we did find out there were several local 'natural hot springs' near to the city centre - none nearly as impressive, though!
Once we were back from the Blue Lagoon we had a few hours before setting off in search of the Northern Lights. We headed into the town and found our way to the 'world-famous' hotdog stand visited by Bill Clinton and Madonna. That's right, Reykjavik is allegedly famous for their hot dogs. We dropped our vegetarian friends at a crepe cafe where we later returned for a dessert pancake - chocolate and strawberry! Delicious (and also rated in TripAdvisor (that website has signs everywhere!!!!). The hot dog stand had little protection from the elements, but was well worth it - we can honestly say these were hot dogs to remember! At best guess, they had honey mustard, onions, and something sweet and crunchy on them - very different, and very good.
The Northern Lights tour departed at 8pm from our hotel. Our mini-bus dropped us at the main bus station and we boarded a coach, there were around 600 people setting off on the search on over 10 coaches as it had been unsuccessful the night before. Our coach drove 45 minutes towards a beach at the Easterly point of Iceland where forecasters had predicted clearer skies. We got off the coach and joined hundreds waiting at the sea wall, thankfully we were dressed in every item of clothing we had packed as two hours later we were still standing in the same spot without a sighting. We had become great fans of the moon, the stars and the American standing next to us who said 'right' after every sentence! (side note, has anyone else noticed that Americans tend to say 'right' after every pause of someone telling them a story? We noticed Laura's brother doing it, then a few others when we were there in September, then this poor guy, who was the only only one talking as we were freezing!)
After two hours in temperatures of -2 degrees and losing hope and feeling in our extremities we boarded the coach as our tour guide had received news saying the lights could be seen in another location. No sooner had we boarded the coach than we were being told to jump off as the lights were visible. We stood no more than 10 feet from the coach as the Northern Lights started. They danced, they changed colour, they looked like curtains, they were everything we had hoped and more. They were magnificent! Although in all honesty until they really started dancing I had to ask what I was looking at. I thought it was just clouds! To be fair, they weren't as green as they look in photos. It was different though, more magical, more surreal, more impressive!
The Northern Lights lasted for almost two hours - far longer than we expected - and we didn't get back to the hotel till nearly 2am! It meant that our plan to pick up a hire car at 8am was a bit ambitious - especially as our hotel breakfast was AMAZING! And involved at least 3 courses. (oh, the waffles!)
When we eventually picked up the car at 10am we had our entire route around the Golden Circle planned out. My wonderful L did an amazing job driving, her Idahoan driving experience put us in good stead as the snow hit with the gale force wind. She delivered us safely to the Pingvellir National Park and the tectonic plate great divide. Iceland has beautiful landscapes and the car was a great way to see it. Once we had visited the sight of the first parliament and admired the frozen rivers and lakes we jumped in the car and headed to the Geysers.
Iceland has a number of Geysers, some erupt frequently, some don't and one in particular goes off as regular as every 5 minutes. And made us jump every time it went off! The freezing weather together with snow made the 80-100 degree temperature of the Geysers an interesting sight. The landscape was covered in steam and we had to watch every step.
After the Geysers we decided food was in order and L had found us a Tripadvisor recommended restaurant that saved us from hunger. We ended up with a massive pizza - not very Icelandic - but sooooo good! However, the time it took to indulge in our food, darkness had descended and our plans to head to the Fjordlands in the west had to be abandoned. Maybe next time!
Hopefully we will get to go to Iceland again. It may not be cheap, but with planning by the amazing Laura we spent less that £200 spending money for the whole weekend. We couldn't have fitted anything more into the time that we had there but we still came back feeling rested, refreshed and buzzing from the incredible experience.