Upon finishing my Canadian cowgirl adventures, I looked at a map and thought “Hm, Iceland is kind of on the way from Canada to Europe… It makes sense for me to go there.” and so I did.
I picked arguably the worst time of year to visit this beautiful, very Northern country. In December there is only an average of 5 hours of daylight each day, and even this daylight would be considered a very dark day by any other country’s standards!
A LOT of flights to Reykjavik Keflavik airport arrive in the wee ours of the morning. My flight on IcelandAir from Edmonton was no different and I arrived in Iceland at 6am, bleary eyed and already very confused about the time zone and 6 hour time difference.
Most hotels and hostels also only offer afternoon check in so many people struggle finding something to do between their plane landing and check in. I opted for falling asleep on the sofa in my hostel bar.
My biggest tip for Iceland: if you are able, Hire a car! I don’t have a driving license so this wasn’t an option for me and I felt like I missed out on a lot. It’s like this: either you need your own car or an awful lot of $$ to pay for pre-organised group tours to everything you want to see. I was very lucky to make some great friends in my hostel and they drove me out to look for the Northern Lights every night and also spent a whole day driving me around to frozen lakes and hidden hot springs. God bless hostel friends!
Other than hiring your own car, Reykjavik Excursions are the main tour company in Iceland and offer tours to almost everything you could want to see on the island. I used their FlyBus as airport transport (they take you straight to your hostel, a blessing when it’s 6am and your backpack weighs +20kg) and also to visit the Blue Lagoon.
Affordable accommodation in Reykjavik is hard to come by and it is more often than not accompanied by a less than desirable location. I stayed at Bus Hostel on Skogarhlid. My logic was that it was close to the main bus station and therefore to the centre of town. Bus hostel is a doable (although not enjoyable in December!) walk from the city centre. It is clean and affordable with plenty of parking for that car you hired and the bar is great too. So generally all around recommendable!
I have never been more prepared food-wise than I was in Iceland. I brought bread, cereal bars, instant pasta meals and crisps with me from Canada and saved a small fortune on food. If you want to buy food from the supermarket (far cheaper than eating out) Bonus supermarket is your cheapest option. But Iceland has several famous cuisines that travellers should try. I escaped this right of passage by being vegetarian but will someone please try boiled Sheep head and let me know how it is?!
Reykjavik City Centre
I spent my first afternoon wandering up and down Reykjavik’s main streets. There are lots of touristy shops as well as traditional Icelandic wool shops, craft shops, art galleries and a branch of my favourite Scandinavian store “Tiger”.
The Viking Ship Sculpture
A throwback to the Icelanders’ Viking beginnings, this sculpture sits on the edge of a bay at the end of Reykjavik’s main shopping street. It makes a classic Iceland Photo op and looks especially good in the dark.
There are other hot springs in Iceland which are cheaper to access and filled with fewer tourists but I don’t care. DO NOT skip the Blue Lagoon! It’s so easy to see why this is one of the hottest (no pun intended) tourist attractions this year. Its waters are completely magical, you can walk into them INSIDE so you don’t get cold and there’s a bar IN the lagoon that you can swim up to (Yes, one beer costs £8 but hey, treat yourself).
Biggest tip for the Blue Lagoon: Book online, as far in advance as possible! When you book you choose a time at which you can enter the Lagoon and once in, you can stay as long as you want. Because of this I recommend booking for 11am and to eat before you go so that you don’t feel compelled to pay for lunch at the Lagoon restaurant (unless you want to, I wasn’t even brave enough to look at the prices). Also, the lowest level of entry fee is definitely enough. You don’t need the robe, slippers etc that are offered with the next level up.
This imposing Icelandic icon can be seen from both Bus Hostel and the city centre making it a useful navigation point! The Church itself is free to enter but there is a small fee for taking the elevator up the tower to enjoy the cathedrals views over the city (well worth it in my opinion!)
There are tons of incredible hot springs in Iceland and some kind soul went to the trouble of writing about them all on a website (all credit to my aforementioned hostel friends for discovering this!). And so my new friends and I took ourselves on a mini-hot-spring-tour of the Reykjavik area.
The first spring we went to translates from Icelandic to English as “foot spa” and is thus amazing little spring right on the beach by Grotta Lighthouse. The rock around the spring has been carved into a round “foot pool” by a local artist. I was too cold to take off my socks but my hands very much enjoyed the heat of the water amidst the -2oC gale that was blowing!
Next we drove further out of the city to visit three of the closest springs to Reykjavik: Skátalaug, Krysuvík and Austurengjahver. Krysuvík was the hottest and my favourite. Walking through it was like walking on the surface of another planet. The water at these springs is literally boiling and smells strongly of sulphur so not suitable for swimming but very suitable for photos!
The benefit of having a car is being able to just drive around and find beautiful things unexpectedly. This is how we found this lake and resulted in some of my favourite Iceland photos.
Trust me, if I had seen them, there would be photos spamming every media platform this blog has. But alas, four days, SO many hours of darkness and yet no sign of the lights. I was there during a full moon and low solar activity. Maybe next time!
- Go on a golden circle tour (the geysers etc)
- Ride Icelandic Horses
- Drive the ringroad
- Dive between the plates of America and Europe
- Go Whale watching