It was never on my bucket list; until recently. Some friends went and posted the most magnificent photos I’d ever seen… I know from experience of when I take photos of incredible places, that photos rarely do the beauty of a location any justice… I thought to myself; if these photos look so amazing, imagine what this place would be like in real… And so, decided to book the trip!
The most incredible thing about Iceland is, of course, its natural beauty. Not only in the city centre of Reykjavik, which is so charismatic with its small fishing village feel, but even outside of the capital. A mere 10 minute drive on the outskirts of town and you are faced with scenery like this; boundless fields of fresh snow and breathtaking natural beauty.
Arriving late afternoon, Andy and I decided to take a short walk to do some exploring of the local area and find somewhere to eat dinner. The weather was quite cold, but bearable with all my layers (I added some tights under the thermals under my pants; and an extra Kathmandu jacket). We found a restaurant by chance called Hamborgarafabrik which was absolutely buzzing. Its trademark was square shaped burgers and buns. I had the most amazing baby back ribs followed by a type of Icelandic Cheesecake made with Skyr… I can’t even tell you what that is, because I have no idea; the menu simply said if we could describe it with words, we would. They were right… absolutely amazing.
The next morning we visited a French cafe called Tiu Dropar which we saw in a local magazine that claimed it made not only the best hot chocolate, but the best crepes and waffles also. I was born to visit this place… It was charming and cosy, the hot chocolate lived up to the review, as did the sweets. Bliss.
We worked off breakfast by exploring the many varied shops and streets of Reykjavik city. The town had such charm and character, and the constant stop start of snow made it seem dream-like.
There was so much colour, even the homes were various shades of pastels. The corrugated iron exteriors are the Icelander’s way of protecting the original wood used to build many of these homes.
I simply could not stop taking photos of the houses, they were just so adorably charming.
We also paid a visit to the city’s Church. It was so impressive and different to many of the Churches I’ve seen on my travels so far.
Inside, it was almost eerily beautiful; no decorations or artworks lined the wall – but yet, in its simplicity, it was still strikingly mesmerising. There was a gentleman playing the organ which added to the haunted feel of the Church; one of the most unique yet captivating I have seen so far.
The man playing the organ – even using his feet; I have never seen this before!
The impressive organ’s pipes.
The stunningly simple interior.
A striking presence from everywhere in the city.
That night we headed out on our tour to try our luck catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn’t in the mood (who could blame her, it was absolutely freezing; intermittently horrendously windy, hailing or snowing!) and we saw a whole lot of nothing.
This was as exciting as our Northern Lights expedition got!
Apparently, to see the lights, it must be a clear night, and there has to be some electronic activity that is determined by the sun. This particular night, the clouds did eventually clear, however, there was no activity to be seen. We tried our luck the following night, as if you didn’t see the lights, you could return on the tour as many times as you needed to, for free, until you caught a glimpse of them. However, the second night, the tour was completely cancelled due to bad weather conditions. The third night, we tried our luck again, and although we weren’t lucky enough to see any lights, we were taken to an adorable little cafe which was lit only by candlelight to give customers the best chance of seeing any sky action should it appear out of the blue. It was a shame we didn’t have any luck on our trip with the Northern Lights, however, that’s the gamble with such a natural and fickle attraction!
One evening we went to the Lebowski bar in the city centre for dinner, again on recommendation from the local magazine. It was set up like a diner inspired by the movie and the burger was one of the best I’ve had to date! I finished the whole entire thing!
The shake was pretty good too…
As always, I did a free walking tour – they are so fantastic and always give you more of an insight about a city than if you were just to drift about by yourself. In terms of Iceland, it has only really been settled since around the year 900, so there wasn’t a huge amount of historical buildings or landmarks, or places of historical significance.
Allegedly one of the oldest buildings in the city.
Walking around the city centre, it felt like such a small community; the entire population of Iceland is just over 300,000, so it’s easy to see why it had such a small town vibe.
The oldest square in Reykjavik so simple and quaint; the above photo shows the beautiful snow (!) with the Parliament building in the background, the big grey building.
Incredible mountain views just on the outskirts of town.
The history of Iceland goes back to the Viking period. Unfortunately we didn’t get time to visit the Viking museum and the guide barely touched on this interesting culture in the city walking tour.
Me getting overly excited at real life falling snow.
This vast lake is in the middle of the city, it is so icy, the birds only swim in this small part of it! They must be so chilly!
And of course, every home I passed, I had to take a photo of; they’re just so damn adorable!!
Even the tress are adorable!
The next day we paid a visit to the Blue Lagoon, which is one of the numerous natural hot springs in Iceland. It is basically exactly the same concept as our Peninsula Hot Springs and I should have known it was not the kind of relaxing experience for me as others may find it… Here’s my review…
Of course, the natural backdrop and scenery of this tourist hot spot could not be compared. It was absolutely stunning. The contrast of the hot steam against snow capped mountains, steam and snowflakes and fluffy clouds; the sight alone was breathtaking. I should have stuck to that. But, I was talked into buying an admission ticket to go in the water; I think I lasted about 15 minutes.
Proof that I went into the water.
Those who know me well know that I am not a lover of spas or saunas or anything overly hot. Taking away the breathtaking backdrop and scenery, the whole experience was far from relaxing (for me!!). Starting with the cue of about 200 people that was so long, it left us lined up outside in the freezing wind and snow for about 15 minutes. Next, I was herded into 3 separate female change rooms which were all without a free locker until I finally found one in a 4th change room swarming with naked bodies. Mass confusion was everywhere. The locker system was the same at the Peninsula Springs, locking with a bracelet. People couldn’t get the hang of it, so lockers were bouncing open and closed everywhere, people were crawling over you and spreading their things out and bumping into you, boobs and bum holes everywhere… You of course had to shower before you entered the springs (can you imagine the floaties in the pool…. makes me sick to even imagine it!!!); so of course, when you FINALLY got outside, you were wet, and the weather was freezing enough without the wind blowing against your wet skin… I literally felt chilled to my bones. I couldn’t find a spot for my towel (getting a bit worked up by this point…) and there were bodies and people and towels and selfie sticks everywhere. I know that the people who know me well will understand when I say this was pretty much my version of some kind of hell. I should have sat and had a bag of chips and a hot chocolate in the cafeteria and enjoyed the view; much more my cup of tea. But I persisted into the actual water; which was stinking with minerals, made me prune instantly and left my hair and skin feeling dry and alien. The water was nowhere near hot enough to compensate for the nearly negative temperature of the wind and snow… But I did a lap of the pool anyway…
People – people everywhere.
I don’t want to sound like a negative Nelly; as I said, the concept and the setting was breathtaking. I just shouldn’t have gone in the water. So, I got out. The mad dash from the water, trying to find my towel and scampering inside was the cherry on my “THIS SO ISN’T MY THING” cake.
I did do a full lap before exiting the pool in a mad dash to get back indoors.
After the time it took to re-organise myself and dry off and put on all my pieces of jewellery again (which probably took longer than the time I actually spent in the pool), I sat in the cafe and ate some nuts (bought from the cafe) and enjoyed people watching and nature watching (is there truly anything more intriguing than people watching, I wonder…?!). It was much more fun than the bathing process! But… this is what my journey is about; learning what I like and what I don’t like, learning to trust myself to say yes and having the strength to say no.
On the last full day, we did the highly recommended Golden Circle Tour. This was an incredible full day of sight seeing and natural wonder. We started off at Thingvellir National Park – a beautiful vast spread of white snow and lake.
Loved the little cottages in the midst of this nothingness!
I didn’t take as many photos as I could have, I really didn’t think they would do any justice to the beauty I was seeing with my own eyes. But I do hope they give some idea of the uniqueness and extremity of this beautiful Island.
Even driving from one attraction to the next was breathtaking, with sights like this;
Our next stop on the tour was a local greenhouse. Because of the cool climate, Iceland is not self sufficient in terms of farming. Although they import a large portion of fruit and vegetables, local farmers have been able to harness the natural Geothermal hot water under ground to grow and maintain crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers. We visited one of these such greenhouses.
The owner of the greenhouse gave a short presentation and explained the importance of the Geothermal water, bees and crop control in the success of his business, and had set up an adorable little bar to sell his tomato soup and Bloody Marys made from his fresh produce. I had to give it a try…
Turns out… I still don’t like tomatoes!
On to the next stop of the tour and passing more breathtaking landscapes;
The next stop was the Geysirs. This was so incredible to see; the Geothermal hot water pooling in small wells, heating up before exploding at regular intervals, shooting straight up into the air. Many were no longer active, but one was still very much active, and very impressive.
My favourite photo of this part of the day.
No longer ‘active’ but still hauntingly steaming and bubbling alluding to the hot temperature of the resting water.
The particularly active Geysir in the previous photos erupted every 10 minutes or so, it was fantastic to be able to capture the moment in a photo! We took off for our next and final stop…. but not before a quick selfie and a jump onto the irresistibly fluffy, untouched snow!
The final stop was my favourite of the day; the majestic waterfall.
I literally found myself thinking; my mum would die right about now. It was so loud, and although it was a spectacular sight, a part of my stomach did drop when looking down into the violent, ominous catchment below.
And of course, I needed a once in a lifetime waterfall selfie…
And then I realised actually how much snow there was… so I had to get a photo of that, too…
After this long day we headed home and quickly freshened up before getting a Yo-Yo frozen yogurt for dinner… It was delish!
I think the 4 days spent in Iceland was enough to get a feel for the lifestyle and see the diversity and natural beauty of the island. Of course, if you have more time, you would find ways to fill it. I would certainly try to get to the Viking Museum, and there was a Whale Museum there also. I unfortunately didn’t get to see a Puffin! Which, by the way, I didn’t even know really existed! I found it weird that such an adorable, iconic animal was on the menu of so many local restaurants, until I remembered that we eat rabbit and kangaroo… But all in all, the natural wonder of this country was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was a shame about the Northern Lights, but the other beauties were also once in a lifetime wonders and more than made up for this fact. I am so glad I got to visit this unique country on my travels and definitely put Reykjavik on my ‘Wow’ List!!