Last November, after years of wishing, hoping, and planning…
…this mum finally went to Iceland!
I’ve always wanted to see the northern lights and I am fascinated by wild, wintery landscapes; so Iceland has been on my wish list for quite a few years. My other half loves warm and sunny climes, so it took me a while to persuade him to dig out the thermals and experience this amazing country…. Plus the added incentive of a whale watching trip helped, as whales were on his bucket list😉
After excitedly visiting Arundel travel to book our departure day came, packing our suitcases with plenty of warm and waterproof clothing (just in case!) we were on our way.
Flying from Leeds Bradford is always a bonus, as it’s only 15 minutes from home, and easy to navigate.
The flight passed comfortably and quickly, and soon we were landing at Reykjavik. The first views of this magical island were real ‘wow’ moments, the landscape was almost other worldly.
After a short coach transfer, we were dropped at the Skuggi hotel. What a gem! Cosy and welcoming, with some fantastic local artwork in the bar and reception areas. After an efficient check in, we were shown to our room. Everything was spotlessly clean, minimalistic and tastefully decorated (and warm!) After a very brief unpack and donning another layer, we headed out into the sunshine to explore.
First (after consulting the wonderful reception staff) we decided to visit the famous Hallgrimskirkjachurch, about a 10 minute stroll away. Beautiful and imposing, it dominates the skyline. Entrance is free, and it’s well worth a visit to take photos of both the exterior and stunning interior.
After this, we set off to explore more of Reykjavik. Although cold, the sun was still shining, so we headed down towards the seafront.
As well as spectacular views of the sea and mountains, the gorgeous little streets are full of individual shops, bars and cafes. We walked down the rainbow road, and soon found ourselves at the waters edge.
The views were fantastic and the sculptures were fascinating – from the cairns along the seafront to the sun voyager sculpture, representing ‘the promise of undiscovered territory, and a dream of hope, progress and freedom’.
We had booked our Jet2citybreak package through Arundel Travel and this included a free northern lights excursion. The weather was going to be clear that night so we our trip was going ahead as planned! We headed back to the hotel for a little rest, before gathering up another extra layer of clothing and heading out to eat before our trip started!
TOP TIP; Eating out is expensive in Iceland, as is drinking. Take advantage of the duty free shop in Keflavik airport before heading to the baggage claim.
We found a lovely restaurant 2 minutes from the hotel called Loa ( it was next to where we were getting collected by the coach) Although we hadn’t booked, we were made welcome by the friendly staff. They really went out of their way to help. A member of our party was coeliac and they even baked her some fresh gluten free bread ! The meal was delicious, all made from local produce.
Then, the skies were dark and it was time to cross our fingers for a glimpse of the aurora borealis as we climbed aboard the coach !
Be prepared and wrap up warm, it was absolutely freezing, but no one was complaining !
As we left the lights of Reykjavik behind, we noticed some fuzzy white stripes in the sky, only to be told that they were the aurora beginning to appear! We drove along dark roads into the middle of nowhere towards viewing area in Thingvellir national park, The excitement was contagious! We hopped of the the coach and looked up at the clear, moonlit sky. What an absolutely amazing experience watching the lights dance for over 2 hours – spotting shooting stars and drinking hot cocoa…
Then, everyone sporting enormous grins and cold hands (difficult to take photos with gloves on!) we headed back to the hotel for a good nights sleep, after a fantastic first day.
FACT: the geometric glass reflects the sunlight, changing colour with the time of day and the weather.
Day 2. Another lovely bright day and because the sea was calm we decided to do a whale watching trip from Reykjavik harbour. After a fantastic complimentary breakfast in the hotel, we strolled down towards the harbour. As we were early for our trip, we called into the Harpa concert hall and conference centre in the old harbour, for a coffee. Amazing architecture both outside and in.
FACT: The geometric glass reflects the sunlight, changing colour with the time of day and the weather.
We then headed to the harbour boarded our boat and in the sunshine sun made our way out to sea. A lot of staring at the open water followed 😆 the guides were great and kept our interest by giving us information about the habits and characteristics of different whales… … And then we saw them- preceded by their water spouts, 2 whales surfaced near to the boat! What an absolute joy it was to see them, even for a brief few seconds! Well worth the waiting and watching, another fantastic memory from our trip to Iceland.
JUST SO YOU KNOW: we were lucky and didn’t need them, however there are waterproof suits onboard.
Once back on dry land, we headed to the Hard Rock Café for a burger before a twilight stroll around the town. The town is full of quirky buildings and there is artwork everywhere. As all the shops are well heated. A great excuse to pop in and browse (or treat yourself to something unique) and keep warm at the same time.
We also saw the John Lennon Imagine Peace Tower. This is an outdoor light memorial, which is lit on certain dates, from sunset to midnight. It is on Vioey island in Reykjavik, and can be seen from most of the city.
After another restful night at the Skuggi, our next adventure began. We took a trip, booked through the Get my Guide app, to visit national parks, geysers, and waterfalls…
After boarding our assigned coach for the Golden Circle trip, our guide for the day gave us some excellent information and history about Iceland. The coach was warm and comfortable perfect for passing through some stunning scenery en route to our first post of call – the Thingvellir National park. Here we stopped, layered up and walked through the rift valley. This is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. We saw waterfalls, streams and rock formations.
Be warned, the wind chill can be absolutely freezing at times so be prepared walk briskly. The hot chocolate is very welcome when you return to the visitor centre !
Back on board the coach and peeling off a few layers, we next headed towards Haukadalurgeothermal fields – the home of the geysers. The smell of sulphur was a little strong, but didn’t put us off walking up through the steaming landscape to stand next to the great geysir and wait for it to erupt! Many of the rocks have turned green and yellow with the sulphur, and the landscape is quite barren. The visitor centre here has a lovely café, and a shop selling traditional Icelandic gifts and crafts, and it was good to get out of the biting wind to warm up with another a nice mug of hot cocoa.
Next stop was Gullfoss waterfall, where the water of the glacial river Hvita plummets 32 meters into a deep crevice. The sheer power of the waterfall is awe inspiring, as the noise and spray envelop you. The guide continued to explain the history of the area, and offer advice on taking the best photos, but the photos just don’t do it justice.
After leaving the splendour of the waterfall, we were treated to an impromptu stop at a stable, giving us the opportunity to get up close with some Icelandic horses…
…they are small, but magnificent!
Whatever you do though don’t call them pony’s in front of the locals, as they will be offended !
Driving through more dramatic scenery, we made our way to the Kerid crater for a short photo stop, and brief history / geography lesson.
Our guide was great throughout the day, explaining things in a fun, informative way, without swamping us with facts.
More waterfalls, rivers, lakes and mountains followed, as we made our way back towards Reykjavik, after a fantastic day of exploring.
With our last day upon us, we decided to spend the day at the sky lagoon, just outside Reykjavik.
TOP TIP – the Sky Lagoon isn’t accessible by public transport . Our receptionist booked our tickets and arranged our taxi.
After a 30 minute journey, we turned off the main road into what looked like a small trading estate, it did make us wonder where we were being taken! Then we pulled up in front of the spa which is built into the earth, and looks like a large grass covered mound and we were amazed at how large it was inside. The decorations were mainly dark neutrals, wood, glass and slate and the aroma was amazing. We’d paid extra to have private changing facilities, so were led to a row of beautiful individual rooms, containing showers, mirrors, towels, toiletries and baskets for your clothes. After donning our swimwear and taking a quick shower, we entered the outdoor spa pool. The huge spa pool is built into the hillside, overlooks the sea and it’s toasty warm . We swam over to the outdoor pool bar to pick up a glass off fizz, which we sipped whilst gazing out to sea.
You are allowed to buy a maximum of 3 alcoholic drinks per person.
It’s such a relaxing and peaceful experience, despite other tourists and locals chatting around you, never feeling crowded or busy. We then headed into the spa, to start the 7 step spa ritual, which included sauna, steam, mist and body scrub. The view from the sauna was breathtaking, a whole side of the sauna was glass overlooking the sea.. another wow moment.
After another relaxing hour (or 2) in the lagoon, we headed back indoors to visit the restaurant and shop. I treat myself to a bottle of the gorgeous smelling organic body lotion that was in the changing rooms, so now when I use it at home I can re live our blissful day at the spa ! Then, it was time to head back to the hotel to pack for our return journey.
We had an absolutely amazing time, and can’t wait to return to Iceland. Yes, it’s expensive, but the food is local and fresh, everywhere is spotlessly clean and the people are friendly and helpful plus the scenery awe inspiring and unique…
… and that’s why this mum will definitely go to Iceland again!