Getting to Iceland:
Iceland was at the top of our travel list for about two years before we even contemplated being able to visit. Getting to Iceland all the way from Cape Town is quite an ordeal, so Luke and I figured visiting would remain a dream for the next few years. The big game changer for us was planning a trip to London first. A few days of free accommodation from family friends and an amazing competition Luke won allowed this trip to become a reality and our dream of visiting Iceland a little more do-able. Flights from London to Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland) are really affordable – it was now or never! Our return flights to and from London, as well as our return flights to Reykjavik, cost us less than a return flight from Cape Town to Reykjavik, so it made perfect sense.
We flew to Iceland with EasyJet – one of Europe’s budget airlines. The duration of the flight is just over three hours, which is surprisingly long. We had no movies or monitors so prepare by downloading some podcasts or Netflix episodes or bringing a book. We did experience awful turbulence, complete with panicky passengers, crying babies and shouts of surprise as the plane dipped. Neither of us get motion sick, but we did feel a little queasy after 10 minutes of bobbing up and down. This was our first taste of the craziness of Iceand’s weather and we even set foot on the country yet! If you’re prone to feeling sick, definitely take a nausea pill.
What to expect:
Our trip dates fell during mid-January, right in the middle of winter. Although we had the best time, I would probably recommend visiting closer to the end of winter – during February or March – if you want to get the Iceland winter experience. Exploring during this time will mean that you’ll get a bit more daylight, the temperature will be warmer and the weather may just be a bit less harsh. Iceland is a country that you could visit at any time of year and have a blast – it just depends on what you’re after. We were keen for snow and the chance to see the Northern Lights, which is why we chose to go during winter. If comfortable temperatures, safer conditions, long days and green landscapes are what you’re after, it would be best to visit during the summer.
Day 1: Keflavik – Reykjavik
Day 2: Reykjavik –Kirkjuffel
Day 3: Kirkjuffel –Skaholt
Day 4: Skaholt – Golden Circle
Day 5: Skaholt – Vik
Day 6: Vik
Day 7: Vik – Hofn
Day 8: Hofn
Day 9: Hofn – Vik
Day 10: Vik – Reykjavic
Day 11: Reykjavik – Keflavik Airport
Where we stayed:
Night 1: Capital-Inn Reykjavik. Accommodation type: hostel. Rating: 7/10.
Night 2: Grundarfjordur Guesthouse and Apartments, Grundarfjordur. Accommodation type: hostel. Rating: 8/10.
Night 3 & 4: Sel Guesthouse, Sel, 801 Skaholt. Accommodation type: B&B. Rating: 7/10
Night 5 & 6: Skammidalur Guesthouse, SkammidalurVík. Accommodation type: hostel. Rating: 8/10
Night 7 & 8: Guesthouse Nypugardar, Nypugardar. Accommodation type: B&B. Rating: 6/10
Night 9: Bergthorshvoll Guesthouse, Iceland. Accommodation type: hostel. Rating: 9/10
Night 10: JodEmm Homestay, Reykjavik.Accommodation type: home stay. Rating: 5/10
What we saw:
Kirkjufell – This little waterfall/mountain combo is definitely worth a visit. The mountain is one of Iceland’s most photographed and recognisable landmarks and the view from the top of the waterfall is really beautiful. Kirkjufell is also located near Grundarfjörður, one of the most picturesque towns we stayed at. There are also plenty of gorgeous beaches nearby that are worth a visit. Rating: 8/10
Gullfoss – The Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s most touristy areas. Both Gullfoss and Geysir were packed with people on the day that we visited, despite it being mid-winter. For this reason, Gullfoss wasn’t our favourite, but it is dramatic and very picturesque so I’d stop by if you’re doing the Golden Circle. Rating: 7/10
Geysir – Although Geysir was also packed with tourists, I loved it. Several steaming pools bubble away like witches’ cauldrons, the big ones shooting hot jets of water high into the air every few minutes. The pools are natural and the water is 80-100 degrees Celsius! This is definitely one of Iceland’s most fascinating attractions, so I wouldn’t miss it. There’s also a really cute gift shop here where we bought some corny fridge magnets and Icelandic chocolate (they were all we could afford). Rating: 8/10
Seljalandsfoss – One of the most recognisable waterfalls in Iceland, Seljalandsfoss is definitely a favourite of mine. The waterfall itself is relatively compact and is located in front of a large cave opening, making for unbelievable photos. Unfortunately the cave isn’t open in winter, as the path is covered in slippery ice and snow, but the waterfall itself and the stark surroundings made up for it. This is a must-see. Rating: 8/10
Skogafoss – A curtain of water, Sokagfoss is another one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. This enormous waterfall is extremely photogenic and makes for beaut photo backdrops as well. I’d recommend heading here on a clear day so that you can climb the (rather steep) steps to the top of the waterfall, giving you a different perspective and a stunning view of the surrounding area. Also – look out for a large heard of tame Icelandic horses nearby. We got out of our car and walked between them, making plenty of horsey friends. Rating: 8/10
Dyrhólaey – This natural arc-shaped rock is one of the most unique sites we stopped at during our trip. Although the rock formations are undeinably unique and beautiful, but the views from this cliff edge are what make this spot so worth the visit. Large black sand beaches stretch out on either side of the natural sculpture and rolling green hills cover the mountain face. The sky was filled with birds riding the icy ocean wind to hunt for food. If it wasn’t so unbearably cold I could have spent hours watching them soar. Take binoculars if you have them! Rating: 8/10
Black sand beach, Vik – Vik’s black sand beach is rated as one of the best places to visit in Iceland due to the dark volcanic sand that stretches along the ocean. Iceland’s black sand beaches are other-wordly, but Vik’s beach was a bit of a letdown. To be fair, it was raining and overcast on the day that we visited so maybe it’s prettier in the summer. I’d recommend stopping at beaches whenever you can, but in my opinion, this one is missable. Rating: 6/10
Svínafellsjökull glacier – This glacier wasn’t on our list but, luckily for us, we noticed the crystal blue ice glittering in the distance as we drove past. We 4x4ed down the rocky path and stumbled upon one of the most beautiful sights of our whole trip. Pastel blue ice juts out of the water in sharp cliff-like structures, forming an enormous glacier. We basically had the area to ourselves for the full hour we were there, admiring it from various angles. I’ve never seen anything like this. Even the icebergs of Jökulsárlón couldn’t compete. This ice blue mini mountain is worth going out of your way to see. Rating: 9/10
Diamond/Ice beach – This beach is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Chunks of ice wash up on the dark sand from the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon nearby, creating the most beautiful contrast of light and dark, sharp and soft. It’s completely otherworldly and resembles space more than earth. The diamond beach was my favourite attraction in Iceland. I couldn’t recommend it more. I would suggest trying to time your visit with sunrise/sunset on a clear day so that you can see the ice glitter and sparkle in the sun. This beach is magical. Rating: 10/10
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon – Located over the road from the diamond beach, the glacier lagoon is another one of Iceland’s most popular attractions. Although not quite as spectacular as its neighbour, the lagoon is definitely worth a visit. The mixture of the surrounding snow-capped mountains, partially frozen lagoon and the ice-blue glaciers is super pretty. It’s also interesting to see how the diamond beach has come to be, as you can see how the bits of ice float out of the lagoon and around onto the beach. I imagine that this would be a great place to explore on foot in the summer. We saw plenty of paths all around, but decided against going on a walk because it was so cold and icy. Rating: 8/10
Vestrahorn – Another often photographed mountain, visiting Vestrahorn was unexpectedly enjoyable. The mountain itself isn’t anything fantastic (but then compared to Table Mountain what is?) but the surroundings make this spot worth heading to. We spent an afternoon hanging out at the lake that’s located at the foot of the mountain. The sun was out, casting its glorious winter golden light on the frozen water and nearby peaks. My favourite part of this visit was that there were no other people in sight. It felt organic and unspoilt which was special. Rating: 7/10
Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon – This epic canyon has welcomed hundreds of thousands of new visitors over the past few years, partly due to Justin Bieber’s ‘I’ll Show You’ music video. The canyon is undeniably spectacular, but I do think it would be better in the summer. It was extremely windy on the day that we visited and absolutely freezing cold. I think we lasted about 15 minutes outside the car as the weather was just too unbearable. The canyon is very cinematic though and is great for photos, so if you’re a videographer or photographer I’d definitely stop past. Rating: 7/10
Secret lagoon – After looking at Instagram pictures of Iceland for months, the Blue Lagoon was at the top of my list of places to visit. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise that you had to book in advance (note to all prospective visitors!) so when we called to book on our last day in Iceland, we were turned away rather rudely. We were both determined to have a hot bath experience before our evening flight though, so we decided on heading to the Secret Lagoon – a natural spring located about an hour and 20 minutes outside of Reykjavik. This place was an absolute winner! We both ended up being so chuffed that we headed here instead of the touristy blue lagoon. This experience was cheaper and far more authentic as the pools are natural. Swimming in a pool of 30-40 degrees surrounded by snow and the icy air was unforgettable. The outside temperature was -12 so our wet hair actually froze as we paddled around in the pool. Even if you’re set on the Blue Lagoon, I would think about including the Secret Lagoon in your itinerary as well. You won’t regret it. Rating: 10/10
Thanks for reading,