My recent trip to Iceland was completely magical and totally overwhelming in so many ways. Iceland has been on my bucket list for a while now and it most definitely lived up to my expectations! I've broken down my trip into an itinerary of each place we visited/trip we went on. Hopefully this might provide some inspiration for anyone hoping to visit this beautiful country at any point in the future - and for anybody who wasn't planning on making the trip, hopefully some of the breathtaking scenery and moments I managed to capture will convince you otherwise!
On our first day we went out to explore Reykjavik, Iceland's capital which is where majority of Icelanders reside. Our hotel, Hlemmur Square was about a 15 minute walk from downtown Reykjavik, however the walk was literally along one straight road and there were so many amazing shops and restaurants along the way. When we left the hotel on the first morning however, we headed straight for the shore walk to the Sun Voyager viewpoint. The Sun Voyager is a stainless steel sculpture, created by Jon Gunnar Anason in 1990 which is a dreamboat, supposedly an ode to the sun. After seeing quite a few photographs of the Sun Voyager I wasn't entirely sure what to expect in terms of its size and presence on the shoreline. However I found it quite breathtakingly beautiful - quite a contrast to the natural beauty it is surrounded by.
Next we made a quick stop at the concert hall before walking down past the marina and heading into downtown Reykjavik. We stopped to grab some lunch at the Solon Bistro (£18 for a club sandwich - Iceland prices are NOT cheap!!!) before heading to Reykjavik Museum of Photography. There was an exhibition on of the work of Jóhanna Ólafsdóttir, one of only a few Icelandic women photographers of her generation who worked as a photographer throughout her career.
We then headed to Hallgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland.The interior of the church was as impressive as the exterior - in particular the high ceilings, long thin windows and the incredible electric organ. We also paid to take a trip up in the lift to the top of the church, where there were incredible views of Reykjavik. Despite it being quite a dull and misty day, I was blown away by the vibrancy of the colours of the houses.
We headed back to our hotel, anticipating our Northern Lights Mystery tour however unfortunately it was cancelled due to cloudy weather :( So we went back out and got crepes instead at a wonderful place called Eldur & Is which I would 100% recommend!
The next morning we headed out on our Golden Circle tour. The first stop on our tour was at Þingvellir National Park, which is a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the boundary between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian, and it is also associated with the Althing, the national parliament of Iceland. The park was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2004. According to Liam (my geology obsessed boyfriend) "the rocks are sick"... and I have to say even as someone who doesn't necessarily usually appreciate geology and rock formations, they were pretty impressive!
The next stop on our tour was at Gullfoss, a waterfall located in the canyon of the Hvítá river. It's English translation is 'Golden Falls', as it shimmers gold when the sun shines down on it in the summer months. It was much larger than I could have imagined, and apparently the average amount of water running down the waterfall is 80 cubic metres per second in the winter - that is A LOT of water!!!
The final stop on our Golden Circle tour was my favourite one - the geothermal area in Haukadalur which contains the geysers Geysir (which has been dormant for many years) and Strokkur which continues to erupt every 5-10 minutes! I managed to get a pretty cool photograph of Strokkur erupting as you can see below, however despite Liam's many attempts at explaining the process behind the hot water exploding from the ground - I'm still not entirely sure it's something I will ever fully comprehend!
The Golden Circle trip took 8 hours in total, and with our Northern Lights tour being cancelled again that evening due to MORE cloudy weather we went out for dinner at Barber Bistro, which I would again definitely recommend!
The next day was arguably my personal favourite and one of the biggest ticks off my bucket list - the Blue Lagoon! I don't think this one requires much explaining but here's a few top tips for any of you planning on going:
1. Take a pair of flip flops and a robe if possible - believe me you will appreciate it when you're hurrying to get into the lagoon!
2. Make sure you condition your hair before you go into the Blue Lagoon - especially if you think you might get it wet!
3. Upgrade to the Comfort package which includes a towel, a drink and the extra Algae face mask - it's good value for money!
4. Make sure you take either a waterproof phone case, or a GoPro if you have one - you can't go to the Blue Lagoon without snapping a few photos (although none of them will do it justice)!
5. It's magical both in the dark and the light - if you can, do both. We arrived at 9am and stayed until 1pm so we saw it before sunrise, and when it was much brighter!
We got back to the hotel at around 3:30pm where I had to wash my hair again (so much conditioner!!!) We went out for dinner at The Food Cellar (Matarkjallarinn) which was crazily expensive (£40 for lamb shank!) but totally worth it for a special occasion... and it was Valentines Day so we thought we would treat ourselves. And surprise surprise, our Northern Lights tour was cancelled again. At this point we gave up any hopes of seeing the Northern Lights at all, which I was absolutely gutted about.
On our final day, we went out on a South Coast and Waterfalls tour which we hadn't planned on doing before we arrived, but sounded like the perfect way to finish of our Icelandic adventure! The tour took us to south Iceland which features many of Iceland‘s most awe-inspiring destinations. We travelled across the lush farmlands that cut between the coast and the mountain ranges and glaciers of the interior highlands. The first stop on the tour was the Skógafoss waterfall, where I had a play around with some long exposure photographs of the waterfall. This was the first time I had tried a long exposure of a waterfall but I am really pleased with how they turned out and think I managed to capture some of the movement of the water (see the slideshow below for the long exposure results).
Next we made a short stop at a city called Vik, the most southern part of Iceland, before heading on to Reynisfjara volcanic beach. It was another very misty day which made the black sand beach look like a creepy scene from Harry Potter! Despite the weather, we decided to eat our packed lunch out on the rocks, because when in Iceland...
The penultimate stop on the tour was the Sólheimajökull glacier. I was not at all prepared for the enormity of the glacier, and no photograph will do the size of it any justice. Our tour guide told us that he had been the year before and the glacier was approximately 100m closer than it is now, which shows just how rapidly it is melting.
Our final stop on the tour was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall - one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland. The waterfall drops 60m and is part of the Seljalands River that has its origin in the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. You can walk behind this waterfall into a small cave, which you can see we did from the photograph below! What you'll also see is just how soaked I managed to get whilst doing it!
We arrived back at our hotel at 7:30pm to the incredible news that our Northern Lights tour was going out that evening at 8:30pm, which seemed just too good to be true! The tour took us out to an old army observation point from WW2, where we waited to see if Aurora would grace us with her presence! And she did. I took the photos below with my camera set up on a tripod, with my settings as detailed below.
I was SO pleased that I not only got to see the Northern Lights, but that I also managed to get a few photographs of them! The most perfect end to our Icelandic adventure.
We took all of our excursions with Gray Line tours and could not recommend them more. They were efficient, friendly and the tour guides' knowledge was next to none. I hope you enjoyed getting to know all about our Icelandic adventure, and I might have inspired some of you to take a trip to this magical country!