Iceland absolutely blew my mind! I had been longing to visit for years and after finally taking the trip it proved to be the destination that kept on giving. The country itself is captivatingly beautiful, and the people are super friendly, welcoming and chilled. There was a cool, calm feeling vibrating through the land that I can’t quite put into words, the best way to describe it was the feeling, I felt at ease.
After visiting Iceland you completely understand why this Nordic island is known as the land of fire and ice. The landscape is dramatically scattered with black volcanic rock and ice capped mountains and volcanoes. Despite the temperature reaching far below zero degrees there are dozens of natural scorching thermal pools all over the island, and more volcanos than any other country in Europe.
Need to Know
Local currency – Icelandic Krona – come prepared because this country is expensive! Rated second most expensive country in Europe £££££
Language – Icelandic – English is widely spoken
Transport – Bus, taxi or rent a car. The roads are wide and easy to navigate
Where to stay
There are plenty of unique places to stay in Iceland. I chose to stay in Reykjavik, the capital city, to get a feel of the city life and for ease of options. Reykjavik is a relatively small city and the center is very walkable. Downtown Reykjavik (Midborg) is the best neighbourhood to stay in, it has most of the restaurants, bars and attractions, a buzzing nightlife and it really is the heart of the city.
Other recommended – areas
Vesturbaer – up and coming neighbourhood with a cool, relaxed and sophisticated vibe – 30 mins walk from the city centre
Laugardalur – this quiet, residential and well-connected area makes it best for families.
Hildar – best on a budget, popular for students and young people
I stayed at The Reykjavik Edition which has been named as one of the best in Iceland (and I agree).
The Lobby at The Reykjavik Edition Hotel
What to do
Blue Lagoon is simply bucket list worthy and deserves it’s spot as one of the 25 wonders of the world. Seeing pictures of the lagoon in my teens is what actually put Iceland on my wishlist.
The pale blue, almost milky, water is so inviting and the steam that rises gives a romantic and almost mystical feel. The water is very warm (38°C) and luxurious with a silky sensation. It’s so warm that it doesn’t matter how cold the weather is, you can stay in the water for hours and stay toasty.
The water is said to cure ailments and have regenerative qualities due to the silica and sulfur, which also creates the rich blue colour.
Before visiting I saw complaints that the Blue Lagoon now feels like a public swimming pool and is no longer a coveted attraction in Iceland. Whilst I agree that the Lagoon feels a little busy and definitely feels like a tourist attraction, comparing it to a swimming pool is a reach. It is still a breathtaking experience and worth the visit, and one you must have on your Iceland to do list.
Tips for visiting the Blue Lagoon:
- Try and visit on your way to or from the airport as the Lagoon is far from everywhere except the airport.
- Pick a morning slot or evening slot to avoid the crowd. I went in the evening which was a perfect way to see the sunset; you might even get lucky and see the northern lights.
- Girls – condition your hair or just wear a headscarf please. The silica in the water makes your hair super brittle and there is no avoiding it. If your natural hair is tucked away then even better.
- There’s no need to opt for the premium package to get a robe as you take if off straightaway and it gets too wet to use afterwards.
The Sky Lagoon is another geothermal spa but feels much more luxury, natural and secluded that than the Blue Lagoon. Again, I understand why people are ditching the Blue Lagoon for the Sky Lagoon but I still say you need to visit both.
I went for the Sky Date Night package and it was well worth it. The package came with access to the private and luxury changing rooms, a beverage (champagne of course), and a food platter in the café after your visit.
Walking into the Lagoon was a breathtaking experience. I had watched videos and seen pictures prior to visiting, but it is ten times better in person. A rocky natural landscape with an infinity pool that overlooks a never ending sea.
The water was crystal clear and, like the blue lagoon, very warm at (38°C). Even though the weather was cold, the sun was shining and I caught a tan.
Because of how relaxing and beautiful the experience was, we struggled to get out of the thermal pool and stayed in for about 5 hours without even realising.
Sky Lagoon Infinity Pool
The sky-lagoon boasts a 7-step ritual which is based on Icelandic traditions to rejuvenate you:
- Lagoon – relaxing in the warm geo-thermal infinity pool
- Cold Plunge – dipping in a freezing cold pool for 10-30 seconds to stimulate your immune system
- Sauna – breathtaking ocean views
- Cold Fog-Mist – rejuvenates the skin and refreshes your senses
- Body Scrub – apply the signature sky sea salt body scrub to exfoliate your skin
- Steam Room – enter the steam room with your scrub on to open the skin and absorb the benefits
- Shower and Lagoon – rinse off the scrub in the shower and back into the warm geothermal lagoon
Cold plunge pool
Natural body scrub
Snowmobiling is a must do! Especially if you’re a thrill seeker like me. The experience is so exhilarating; it’s like jet skiing on snow.
There are a few places to snowmobile in Iceland. I chose the Langjokull glacier (Iceland’s second biggest glacier) and the views were absolutely breathtaking, at one point it felt like I was riding on clouds to heaven as there was never-ending pure white scenery. Such a cool experience.
You need a driving license (though they didn’t ask to see ours) or you can get on the back of someone that holds one. And wear something warm – even though they provide gloves, a helmet and overalls.
The golden circle is a circular driving route that takes you from Reykjavik round in a circle back to Reykjavik in 3 hours with different sightseeing highlights dotted on the way. There are loads of public golden circle tours you can take, but as we had rented a car (and prefer private tours), we did it by ourselves. It was very easy to navigate – just put golden circle in google maps and it will take you to every stop.
The sights are:
· Thingvellir National Park
Iceland’s national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Game of Thrones shot some scenes here which you can hike and see. There are lakes, and waterfalls and a snorkeling site.
· Strokkur Geysir
Geothermal area where you can watch a hot geyser erupt from the group every 6-10 minutes. The water shoots up to 131 ft in the air.
· Gulfoss Waterfall
Iceland’s most famous waterfall – and what a vision it was – a huge waterfall with rainbows shooting from the spray.
We stopped here to have a break and eat a delicious lunch. We were picked up here to visit the glacier for our snowmobile tour and dropped back afterwards.
· Langjokull Glacier
Where you can snowmobile or explore the ice caves.
· Fontana Geothermal Baths
I passed on this thermal bath as I had already planned to visit the blue lagoon and sky lagoon but this is a natural hot spring that you can relax in. There are also steam rooms made from the natural water of the hot spring and a sauna.
Geyser about to erupt
South of Iceland Tour (Selfoss to Vik)
The south of Iceland has all of the famous highlights of Iceland however it is a further distance than the golden circle. We didn’t have time for both, so opted for the latter which is a good thing because I’ll have to come back and do it another time ?! Highlights of the south include:
· Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls
This is Iceland’s most pictured waterfall as there is a picturesquely positioned with a walking path behind the cascading water which means you can take stunning pics from the bottom of the waterfall.
Skogafoss, Gljufrabui and Svartifoss are all other beautiful waterfalls on the south Iceland coast.
· Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
This stunning contrasting beach of white foamy water crashing against a jet black sand beach is another of Iceland’s unforgettable destinations.
· Skaftafell National Park
This national park is the gateway to the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajokull. You can snowmobile here or explore the ice caves and scenic trails.
· Diamond Beach
Diamond beach is a natural phenomenon on the south coastline. Small icebergs from the nearby glacier wash up on the black sand beach creating a landscape that resembles diamonds sparkling ashore.
You can complete the tour in a day with enough time, but some split it into days and stay at hotels or cabins along the way.
Black Sand Beach
Iceland is full of natural phenomenon’s and the Northen Lights is another very popular one. People travel all the way to Iceland just to see them.
The lights are an aurora; a natural light display which ‘dance’ in the sky and light the whole sky with different colours. The lights can be seen from Reykjavik however there are guided tours outside of the city for a better (and brighter) chance of seeing them.
Best time of year to catch the aurora are the winter solstice in September through March.
Northern Lights – Photo by Lightscape Unsplash
Where to Eat
I prepped for Iceland with a long list of eateries to try but found myself with hardly any time to! We ended up eating at the hotel a lot and on the go because we were so active, but everything we did eat did not disappoint.
ROK was cute, cosy and the food was delish! We were told that dishes were small-ish and tapas style and so we ordered a lot! … Let’s just say Icelandic small is not the same as English small.
We had the Thai shrimp, fried cod, confit duck, beef tenderloin, African lamb chops and garlic roasted potatoes with chorizo & parmesan. For dessert we tried the brownie with hazelnuts. Everything was cooked to perfection!
Braud & Co
The freshest and most delicious Icelandic baked goods.
A relaxed grill & wine bar featuring small plates, burgers and traditional mains.
I didn’t make it to Kol but heard great things – including their weekend bottomless brunch.
The restaurant offers a twist on classic cuisine – fish, steaks and desserts.
Icelandic fish & chips
Restaurant recommendations & must try dishes:
- Water – yes, water needs its own mention. Icelandic water flows down from a glacier and is the cleanest, freshest, crispest water you will ever drink.
- Fish and chips – Iceland fish and chips beats any other hands down.
- Icelandic hotdog – worth the hype (try Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hotdog stand)
- Sandholt – amazing brunch
- Café Loki – relaxed lunch vibe with great local dishes
- Dill – evening restaurant
- Duck & Rose
- Workshop @ Exeter Hotel – delicious doughnuts
- The Grill Market
Iceland is so highly recommend by me and is firmly in my top 5 destinations ever visited, and it’s a place I can see myself visiting time and time again. Whether it’s for a baecation, a friends, family or solo trip, Iceland holds a taste of magic for everyone.
As always, let me know if you have any questions or your experience if you’ve been to Iceland!