Are you ready for too many photos of insanely beautiful skies and landscapes? Because that's what Iceland is full of and what I took 500+ photos of. Guys, editing these was hard. Anyway, we're home two weeks now and here's what I have to share with you - some pictures of and words on what we got up to on our trip to Reykjavik.
We decided to base ourselves in Reykjavik as it seemed like a great city to explore and most of the major tours that we wanted to do had buses that went from the city centre at various times during the day. Hotels are always crazy pricey (Iceland is CRAZY PRICEY, more on that later) and Airbnbs are more fun because you feel a tiny bit like a local and sometimes they're decorated like the below. I loved our little flat - that yellow woolen blanket in the basket became my best mate on many an evening. Axel was our host and he was fantastic - upon our arrival we found a welcome pack complete with what restaurants we should try, a list of local grocery shops from cheap to not so cheap and some day trips he recommended doing. I've linked his place here if you're keen to stay in a cute and cosy (we were always welcomed with a blast of heat when we got home from a long day in the snow) flat whilst in Reykjavik!
One thing that I was very conscious about before going on this trip was that I had never been to a country this cold before. It was January in Iceland. Ya gurl was gonna be cold if she wasn't prepared. After some online research, I found a formula that worked very successfully for me on many a day standing around looking at all that Iceland has to offer. So, here it is:
Base Layer or The Artist Formerly Known As Layer 1 - Merino wool base layer (long sleeved top and bottoms)
Layer 2 - Long sleeved high neck top and leggings/yoga pants
Layer 3 - Fleece
Layer 4 - Waterproof jacket and pants
For Your Feet - Wool socks and waterproof hiking boots
For Your Hands - Waterproof gloves (fleece on the inside for extra warmth)
For Your Head - Woolly hat (again, get that fleece in there!)
I am a girl who loves her clothes so I did pack some other more stylish bits (see below). I knew when packing that I probably wasn't going to wear them and wasn't I right - complete waste of space in my suitcase! Since the trip, I have fallen in love with wool as it's just unreal how warm it keeps you. Dat merino wool doe. So, in summary, pack your case full of wool and fleece and not so many Topshop shirts!
We flew from Dublin into Keflavik Airport, which is the international airport in Iceland 45 minutes ish outside of Reykjavik, with WOW air. The flight was supposed to take 2 hrs 30 mins but going from and coming back to Dublin took less time, closer to the 2 hour mark. I enjoyed flying with WOW but the whole experience was a bit reminiscent of Ryanair circa 2011/2012. As you've learned, I over pack. I've always been an over packer. On many occasion during my Erasmus experience, I was caught with charges related to my carry on when flying with Ryanair. I've since invested in a hard shell carry on that is exactly the measurements outlined on the Ryanair website. Can't catch me now, hawhawhaw! Because of the bulkiness of our clothes on this trip, Dec and I decided to check in a bag. It was €30 per flight for a 20kg bag and was totally worth it. I was freaking out upon arriving at the WOW air bag drop off when a girl in front of us was charged 80 freaking € because her carry on wouldn't fit in that bloody measuring cage. God, I hate those so much. In the end we got on grand with our check in bag coming in at a decent 18kg, woop woop! Getting from the airport to the city can be done so by using the Flybus - I've linked their website here.
We didn't rent a car. I know a lot of people recommend renting one in Iceland as there isn't too much public transport going on but we were conscious of a few things. Firstly, we had no idea what the roads were like in January in Iceland and didn't want to deal with the stress of that when trying to enjoy ourselves on our holidays. Secondly, we had planned out all of the places we wanted to see and things we wanted to do and these involved long tiring travel days. So, we went with booking tours that had all of the transport we ever needed! We spent a lot of time on buses during this trip but it was a great way to see Iceland outside of Reykjavik.
Eat & Drink
Lordy, it is expensive. When we arrived in Keflavik International Airport, we hit up the duty free and grabbed ourselves a bottle of Icelandic gin to enjoy in the evenings after our days of touring. It was €20ish for a litre so we thought maybe it won't be soooo bad...ha, how naive we were. We hit up Bonus on our first day in the city to stock up on lunch stuff to bring with us on our days outside of the city. Axel had informed us in our welcome pack that this was the cheapest grocery shop around. Now, myself and Deco are partial to a bacon and cream cheese bagel when we're being good to ourselves. Little did we know this would probably be the most expensive thing we could try to make up in Iceland - a four pack of bacon was €15. €15. I'll let that sink in...
Cheese. Glorious cheese. Cheese in Reykjavik? €8 a block. Mmm hmm. Yep. Philadelphia was a bargain at €4, which isn't too far away from what it is here I suppose. Anyway, you're catching my drift! It's expensive.
That evening after our eye opening trip to Bonus, we decided to give one of Axel's recommended restaurants a go. We choose Hamborgarbullaun, a burger place that seemed to be popular with both locals and tourists alike. It's teeny tiny! We rocked up on a Wednesday night so it wasn't too packed but we were warned that there is sometimes a queue to get in. I'd give it a 2.75/5. The burgers were a little too saucy for my liking and they didn't serve beer. I need a beer with my burger on my holliers!
For the rest of our trip, we utilised the kitchen in our Airbnb to make many a G&T and some din dins. We did eat at the restaurant at Blue Lagoon which was delicious but expensive (have I mentioned it's expensive?). €50 each for a main course but it's a once in a lifetime thing so we just went with it. I had the fish of the day and would highly recommend!
It's Thursday, our first jam packed day in Iceland! Dec was the mastermind behind picking all of the tours we did and he did a bloody good job. Well done Deco :) . Today, himself, myself and a bus of other sleepyheads headed out of the city to go on a Volcanic Veins caving tour. It was the first time we saw the Icelandic countryside and it was insanely beautiful! The tour was great and a nice introduction to the geology of the country. The sun rose at about 10am when we just arrived at the cave so the sky was all of my favourite colours. Those colours look ten times better above a pure white landscape btw. In the afternoon, we headed on over to the Blue Lagoon. We caught our first glimpse of the Northern Lights whilst in the Lagoon with beers in hand. Alas, my short sightedness got the better of me and I had to do a good bit of squinting - but I did see them do their little dance for all of 5 seconds! Would highly recommend the Blue Lagoon but don't go with the Premium ticket option. You pay extra to get a bathrobe and slippers but they're left in a communal area so people will nab them (wouldn't blame them, it's baltic when you're out of the water) when you're in the lagoon.
Our second full day was spent exploring the city. My favourite parts of Reykjavik were the lake above, Reykjavikurtjorn, the main shopping street, Laugavegur, and just all the residential areas! I read The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well in December. Hygge is a Danish word that can't be translated directly into English but basically means enjoying all of life's pleasures simply and cosily with your loved ones. Lighting and candles and the like are really important parts of hygge and something that I noticed the Icelanders, as a fellow Nordic country to Denmark, do very well. A lot of the houses in Reykjavik don't close their blinds/curtains (I'm guessing because there's no real need as it's such a safe city) so it was so lovely to walk down the residential streets (that were covered in snow!) in the early morning or evening and see lovely lights on or candles burning on windowsills. The epitome of cosy! A few places of interest on Laugavegur - grab a hot chocolate from Joe & The Juice, catch the view of the mountains by the water from the street and get yourself into Hrim! Oh my god, I fell in love with this place. They have some of the best homeware design stuff I've ever seen! I may have spent more than €30 on a mug which Dec will never let me forget. But you should see it! I'll show it to you sometime. Iz real cute. After we washed down lunch with some G&Ts at home, we spent happy hour at Saetas Vinid. Interesting fact! They don't sell alcohol at supermarkets in Iceland but at places called a Vinbudin. So, just minutes after 6pm we left the bar and asked some locals where the nearest Vinbudin was. They said they close at 6pm. Neoooo! We double checked Google and indeed the Icelanders were right. Learn from our mistakes, friends. We recaluculated and decided to have a drink at a bar that we passed a few times earlier in the day that had advertised pretty reasonably priced drinks. And that's where we stayed for the rest of the evening, in Oldsmidjan, drinking Icelandic beer. Yum.
Day three was a big one. It was Day Tour to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon day. It was a 14+ hours on a bus day travelling the south coast of Iceland. But MY GOD was it worth it! I've never been happier looking out the window of a bus. We stopped at Skogafoss (which is that massive waterfall you see in that picture up there) we saw lava fields, so many beautiful mountains, a glacier, a GLACIER LAGOON (probably the best thing I've ever seen), a black sand beach which had ICEBERGS ON IT, we saw a SEAL swimming in the GLACIER LAGOON, the sunset was amazing (everything was pink and purple and blue! THE MOUNTAINS WERE PURPLE) and to top it all off we saw THE NORTHERN LIGHTS. YAAAAS. Ugh. Mother Nature is one of my favourite women. It was a breathtaking day that I would highly recommend to anyone.
I was really excited about Day Four! This was the day that we were going to go snorkelling in glacial water between the North American and Eurasian plates. How frickin' cool does that sound? It was. Dec is a fish so he was really keen to find something for us to do which involved getting into the water. An absolute mad man! But, I was all for it. We went with the Snorkeling Silfra & The Golden Circle Combo tour with dive.is. Our lovely tour guide, Fraser, picked us up in the morning and drove us out to Thingvellir National Park. It was the most gorgeous sunrise that morning so we stopped to have a watch. Once the sun had greeted us we headed to the diving site. The first thing we had to do was suit up. Fraser handed us out our dry suits and all the other gear we had to put on. With dry suits, you keep your clothes on underneath and they keep you completely dry - they do exactly what they say on the tin! The only thing that gets wet in the water is your face and your hands. It was -7 degrees celsius when we were suiting up and the suits are pretty restrictive as you can imagine with the fact that no water can get in. So, when Fraser was helping me pull the dry suit over my head I somehow sprained a muscle in my neck. I didn't feel the pain right away but knew something was up as I couldn't turn my head to the left very successfully. We headed down to the water and to be honest, the suits were pretty miserable to be in whilst waiting to get it. I've recorded the whole thing on my GoPro and just before we get in there's some pretty gas footage of Deco proclaiming that this was probably a bad idea. Hahaa! But we got in the water and it was incredible! The clearest water I've ever been in. We were snorkelling between the two tectonic plates and you could see really far down deep below us. I'll upload the GoPro footage sometime soon so you can have a look and see but YOU HAVE TO DO IT! The water itself wasn't too cold. It wasn't warm but it was grand! I've jumped off Renville Pier and felt much colder. The dry suits did their job perfectly. Post snorkelling, Fraser handed out some much needed biscuits and hot chocolate. Once we were back in our normal clothes, we got on with the second part of the tour which was the Golden Circle. This was when I noticed that my neck wasn't so good and I was a bit askew. But it wasn't that bad! We saw the Geysir blow up, were in awe of Gullfoss (foss means waterfall in Icelandic btw!) and arrived at Oxararfoss at sunset, which again WAS INSANELY BEAUTIFUL! We headed back to Reykjavik and got ready to fly back to Dublin early the next morning. Shout out to Dec for being my carer the whole way home. He even bought me a neck pillow, isn't he as good? Post Iceland, my neck is back to full functionality but my bank balance is taking a bit longer to come back to full health.
So that's it! Another thing ticked off the list. Thanks, Iceland! You were exactly what we wanted.
I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine's Day!