Last year I went to Iceland for a week. It’s somewhere that’s always been on my wishlist, and when my friend noticed that Icelandair were holding a sale, she suggested we go. She was in the process of buying a flat which was going to absorb all her extra cash for the foreseeable future, and although I usually enjoy revisiting places I’ve been before, I couldn’t think of any likely reason I’d be back in Iceland a second time, so we decided to approach it with a “once in a lifetime” mindset, and not worry too much about sticking to a budget! Although it did make a decent dent in our bank accounts, I’m glad we did it that way, because it was such a fun, interesting and memorable trip.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of our cash was Reykjavik Excursions, who we used for our airport transfers, a visit to the Blue Lagoon, and two full-day sightseeing tours. At first glance their tours can seem quite expensive, but they are absolutely worth it, especially when you consider that all entry fees are included – e.g. the Blue Lagoon trip costs around £40, including entry which is £30 on its own. The transfers and tours are provided in very high quality coaches, with free wifi (proper free wifi as well, not the usual “15 minutes, if you’re lucky, but only when you tell us everything about yourself and click on the link we sent you in the first of many spam emails”), friendly and helpful drivers, and really informative tour guides. The tours are conducted in English, and a second language (German, French or a Scandinavian language) if there is enough demand for it. I can vouch that both the English and German were spot-on and they didn’t miss anything in one language that they said in the other! I learned a lot about Icelandic history and modern culture, but at the same time they don’t talk your ear off – there’s plenty of time between destinations to relax and take in the spectacular scenery.
Our first outing was the South Shore Adventure, which took us to the village of Vík and its nearby beach with basalt rock formations, the Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, a glacier (Mýrdalsjökull I think) and the Skógar Folk Museum. Unfortunately we had awful weather that day and were soaked to the skin whenever we got off the bus, so we opted out of the 30-minute walk to the glacier, but we still had a great time.
The next day we took the Golden Circle tour. The first stop was at Friðheimar, a geothermal-powered greenhouse tomato farm. It was fascinating to learn all about the farm and how they’ve developed such a precise system to cultivate fresh produce in the Icelandic climate. As well as an amazing computerised system that allows them to remotely monitor and adjust the temperature, light etc, they have bees sent to them from the Netherlands, which stay with them for a week pollinating the tomato plants, then are sent back home to their hives to make honey! They also have fresh and bottled produce to buy – as I eat and drink really slowly I had to opt for either the tomato soup or the Bloody Mary, and that delicious-looking fresh bread swung it for me. Mmmmmmm!
Next stop was the Geysir hot springs… exciting enough the first few times, but swarming with people. I think I mostly lost my enthusiasm because my geyser photography skills are apparently awful, and the one time I actually got a good shot, a bunch of teenagers walked right in front of me. A gorgeous location though, and I had some tasty chicken and chips in the café 😉
Next up was That Waterfall, Gullfoss, which was one of the reasons I’d been enchanted with Iceland in the first place. It was busy too so we had to queue to get down to the walkway alongside the waterfall, but the queue moved quickly and wow it was spectacular. I took about 100 photos and just chose a random few to post here, because they all feel just as special.
The final stop on the Golden Circle tour was another favourite, Þingvellir. It was the site of Iceland’s first parliament after it was settled and is now a beautiful National Park. Iceland is a relatively young piece of land, formed by volcanic activity on the Mid-Atlantic ridge, and this valley is still growing a couple of centimetres wider each year as the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates move apart. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking – definitely an epic setting for your parliament!
Our last adventure with Reykjavik Excusions was to the Blue Lagoon. We had a lovely sunny day for our visit, and although it was still cold out, the geothermal lagoon was so beautifully warm. This was honestly one of the most relaxing experiences of my life. Floating about in the water, scooping up algae face masks (nicer than it sounds!), sitting briefly under the thundering waterfall-style shower for a massage, people-watching a crowd of hysterical Asian tourists… 😀 The facilities are really nice: good clean showers and changing rooms; tasty, healthy food and drink in the cafés; a gift shop full of lovely beauty products. I didn’t try any of the following but you can also get massages, have dinner and cocktails in the restaurant, or even stay over in their accommodation. Excuse my squinting face below, it was bright! Oh, and a major tip for visiting the Blue Lagoon – it may be f-f-freezing air temperature, but remember you’re still spending most of a day outside in a swimsuit – put some sunscreen on! I got one of the worst sunburns I’ve ever had!