Iceland became the top travel destination for several years now and we just needed to see why for ourselves. Wow, it does not disappoint! If you haven't added it to your holiday list, do it now. It is an incredible place to visit and one of my favourites for sure. Are you a fan of Game of Thrones like me? Iceland was the main filming location for the series.
Most people go on holiday and expect sun or plan than the weather is warm and nice. Not this time. January (winter) was the time when we decided to visit the land of ice and fire. Instead of dresses, shorts and summer tops I was packing thermal wears, winter jacket and shoes. Present from my Mum of knitted warm socks were perfect for this trip.
Carry on and read about four friends spending FOUR days exploring ICELAND in winter and embracing the strong chilly winds!
Check the short video of the trip at the end too (don't forget to select HD quality!).
We used budget airlines going to Keflavik International Airport (near Reykjavik). Read my TOP TIPS how to get cheap flights here.
If you are planning to see more of Iceland than just a Reykjavik, you will need to rent a car. The public transport in Iceland will not get you to waterfalls or the glazier lake, basically to places that are gems of the island. Of course you could book trips but that will cost you much more and you will lose flexibility. We rented our car from the renting place based in the airport (outside the main area) so this way we avoided spending extra money in getting to/from the airport. Because we visited Iceland in winter we got the 4x4 car and it was the right decision. There were lots of snow and some roads were icy! When you rent a car, don't take insurance for the car from the renting provider. Instead buy car insurance at home before the trip and you will see that it will be much cheaper.
We choose Reykjavik as our base for the trip. Reykjavik is quite a small city and it does not really matter in which area you book your accommodation. Most of them will be maximum up-to 30min walk to the town centre. Being a group of four we wanted to find a flat and Airbnb offered many options. We booked a lovely self-catering two bed flat 15min from the town centre for only $21 per person, per night and including all fees. You can get £15 off when register with this link.
Arriving to the flat at midday we had good 4 hours to explore Reykjavik before the suns sets. As I have mentioned earlier it is relatively small town, so everything is in walkable distance. We did not have a specific plan, we just walked towards the town centre and were intrigued by everything we saw on the way. The Hallgrimskirkja church is the main landmark to see in Reykjavik. It has unusual shape and the tower can be seen from almost everywhere in city. Next to the church is a statue for Leifur Eiríksson, the first European to discover America. You can also get to the top of the tower and see panoramic views of Reykjavik for ISK900. On our way to the church we walked on the frozen Tjörnin Pond lake, which is next to Town Hall (Ráðhús). If you have time, go inside the town hall and see a massive map of Iceland.
When you stroll around the city centre, you will see the that Icelanders like street art. It really brightens the mood on dark and cold winter days. There are many little coffee shops and various restaurants to grab a drink or lunch.
We walked around the city till it got dark and four hours passed very quickly. There are quite a few things to see in Reykjavik and not only the Hallgrímskirkja church. Make sure you see the Sun Voyager sculpture on the seaside and go close to the the Harpa Concert Hall (Concert Hall), which has very interesting architecture and looks different as the sun light changes.
Our day planned ahead incorporated some sites from the popular Golden Circle route. We started early and our first stop was the Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. We even went down and walked on it as it was frozen. It must look even more beautiful in the summer. There is a small entrance fee to the area.
The next stop was the highly active Geysir Hot Spring area. When you are there you cannot think that the nature is incredible! The biggest and most popular geysir there is the Strokkur. It shoots to 15-20metres up every 6-10minutes. It was so much fun just waiting and seeing how it erupts. The entrance to the area is free.
After seeing geysirs we drove to Gullfoss waterfall, which was close to the hot springs. It is one of the most popular sites to visit in Iceland. The waterfall was massive although some parts of it were frozen. It was incredibly cold there due to icy winds but you needed sun glasses as the sun was bright and reflected on the snow.
After spending some time at Gullfoss we headed to Thingvellir National Park, UNESCO heritage site. It is both historic site and national park. The park was home to Iceland's parliament between 10th and 18th century. You could still see the Thingvellir church there. Some episodes of Game of Thrones were filmed here too (sorry, I'm a fan of GOT). We wished we had more time there but it was getting dark (daylight in in winter in Iceland is quite short).Entrance is free and car parking is available.
After the long day we finished our trip at the Laugarvatn Fontana Spa. Of course, we wanted to go to the Blue Lagoon but it was closed for reconstruction in January. My friend found the Laugarvatn Fontana Spa and it was a great alternative. However, you need to book at least 24hours in advance as it was really busy due to the Blue Lagoon being closed. We spent couple hours there before heading back to Reykjavik. We understand now why Icelanders love their spas!
Day 3 Seljalandsfoss and Jökulsárlón
This day was all about Jökulsárlón, an amazing glazier lake and one of the Iceland's nature wonders!
We started the day early and left Reykjavik before the sunrise. It is 4.5h drive from Reykjavik on Route 1 and the daylight in winter lasts only 6-7hours. So you want to leave as early as possible to have more daylight when you get there. Our first stop after 1.5h drive was Seljalandsfoss. It is a powerful and breathtaking waterfall! You can even go behind it into a small cave. We didn't try because it was too cold, icy and probably dangerous but it would be something great to do in the summer. The waterfall is just off the Route 1 and has free parking area.
We continued our trip and stopped several times just to absorb the beauty of Iceland's nature in the winter. The Jökulsárlón lagoon was WOW! I have never seen something like this before. It was magical. I thought that it something that you would see in the North Pole. Massive icebergs were floating in the lagoon. We even saw seals. It was too cold for boat trips in the lagoon but we would have definitely done it if they were operating. Too see those icebergs from very close would be incredible. I am not surprised that this place has been used in many movies and TV series. It just proves that Iceland's nature is breathtaking!
The sad thing is that the lagoon has formed and is expanding with each year as a result of warming climate...
If you go to the other sider of the Route 1, you will feel the strength of the Norwegian sea. The waves were big and strong and the wind wasn't kind. You could see ice blocks in the sea too.
Icelandic horses are so adorable! They are the purest and oldest horse breeds. Non-Icelandic horses are not allowed to be imported and exported horses to return to Iceland so the local breed stays pure. On our way to the Skógafoss waterfall we stopped couple times to say Hi to them.
Skógafoss is another powerful waterfall in Iceland. I can imagine how massive the water drop is in the summer!
The last stop was the Reynisfjara Beach (Vik). Very unusual beach because the sand was black! it is the most impressive black-sand beach I have ever seen with amazing cliff of regular basalt columns resembling a rocky step pyramid (Hálsanef). The waves at Reynisfjara are especially strong and unpredictable, so be careful coming too close to the water.
Northern Lights or Aurora
We were wishing we would see the dancing lights in the sky while in Reykjavik. The chances of seeing them while in Reykjavik were not great but we hoped. Every late evening/night we went to the Grotto Island Lighthouse and waited…. The lighthouse has car park and there were always people like us walking around and hoping to have a glimpse of these mystical green lights.
We would spend couple hours there and go home thinking maybe next day. A friend found this website to check the likelihood of Aurora Borealis appearing in your area http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/
On the last evening the Aurora forecast was 3, which is moderate (maximum is 9). It was the highest level during our stay. We were very excited but tired after the long day. The car park was busier that in previous days and people were taking photos of empty skies. We could not understand why, the northern lights have not yet appeared. Then I heard someone saying “It’s here!” but we could not see anything…bizarre, were we blind??? We took the photo of the ‘empty’ sky with prolonged function and you won’t believe it we saw Northern lights in the photograph. Later we could see them in the sky! It was such an exciting moment! They came slowly as if being bashful but they got bigger and stronger. It was amazing, incredible, WOW! They were truly dancing and having fun in the sky, quickly changing and running like a river.