In November of 2017, we visited Iceland for a week with some friends. It was an amazing holiday and if you’re wondering if you should go to Iceland in the winter months, read on.
Jon and I arrived into Reykavik via Icelandair from NYC. We met our friends in Reykavik who had come in from Boston. Our flight took 5.5(ish) hours.
As Iceland is a bucket list type of destination, I made an “Iceland Bucket list”. I wanted to try and tick off as many items on my list.
The below was my Iceland bucket list:
- Visit the Blue Lagoon
- Eat a hot dog
- Pet an Icelandic horse
- See the Northern Lights
And here is how our trip unraveled… (oooo the suspense)..
Day 1: Our Arrival
We picked up our hire car upon arrival at the airport. I can’t remember all the details, but I do remember that it was expensive.
Unless you are traveling on tour buses, getting around Iceland is best via car. You can cover some parts of Iceland on a tour, but you are restricted to the tour companies’ itineraries, days and times.
Top tip: Shop around and book in advance.
The Blue Lagoon
We headed straight to the Blue Lagoon from the airport because we arrived extremely early in the morning. The venue was very well organized, and staff were prepared for non- Icelandic speaking and reading tourists.
After we cleared ticketing, we were directed to the changing rooms and then to the showers. We were instructed to shower without swimmers for hygiene reasons (we were about to share a pool of water with hundreds of people). We were told to shampoo our hair and leave the conditioner in because the salt in the lagoon would strip our hair. Since I had long hair, I was told to tie it up and avoid it touching the water.
Once we were all showered, we stepped out into the freezing cold before dipping into the water. I had planned it so that we would see the sunrise while in the lagoon. It was worth it. The view was breathtaking – with the steam off the water and the clouds in the sky.. it was magical. We then spent the rest of the time walking around the different pools of water and applying the different face masks (an algae/aloe Vera mask, and a mud mask).
The standard admission included one facial mask. We opted for the package which included a drink at the swim up bar and two types of facial masks. The masks were provided from a type of kiosk which you could walk up to in the lagoon. We scooped the mask out of a large communal bucket, slopped it onto our faces and washed it off in the lagoon after about 10 minutes.
Top tips for the Blue Lagoon:
- Book your visit well in advance, especially during peak periods
- Time it for the sunrise, it really is worth it
- Bring a waterproof case for your phone/camera, plus a selfie stick – I am kicking myself for forgetting.
Lava Restaurant @ Blue Lagoon
After visiting all the areas in the lagoon, we had lunch at the Lava restaurant onsite – a booking is required to guarantee you a spot. We were offered a set or a la carte menu and chose the set menu.
The food was delicious. It was pricey but the quality was excellent, and the restaurant was beautiful and offered gorgeous views.
Overall, the Blue Lagoon was a fabulous experience.
We left the Blue Lagoon and immediately made our way to our accommodation which we had booked for the first night, at Ambassade Apartments. Once checked in, Jon and I headed out for a quick wander around town. I found the “The Hot Dog Stand” where I wanted to get my hot dog from. It was OK. I wasn’t sure what the hype was all about but hey, another bucket list item ticked!
After we bought some groceries from Bonus grocery store, we headed out for dinner at Icelandic Street Food.
I had a traditional Icelandic Christmas dinner which consisted of slices of Hangikjöt (smoked lamb), with potatoes in Béchamel sauce, peas, something similar to shredded cabbage and some bread or crackers of some sort. Jon had a lamb soup served in a bread roll. At this point, I wasn’t sure Icelandic cuisine was going to satisfy my appetite!
Day 2: Geysir & Thanksgiving
We left the apartment mid-morning to start our Golden Circle adventure. We stopped off along the water in Reykjavik to take a few photos of the Sun Voyager sculpture – described as a dreamboat, or an ode to the sun. The artist intended it to convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom. From a far, I thought it was a skeleton of a whale.
We were met with heavy rain not long into our drive. The rain was so heavy that we were unable to see a few meters in front of our vehicle. We crept along the road at a snail’s pace, window wipers on full blast (front and rear) with headlights and emergency blinkers on.
Eventually the rain ceased, or we had driven out of the storm area. We arrived at the Great Geysir. We all popped out of the car and headed over to the Geysir. I am extremely unco and do not have a great sense of balance. I took baby steps over the icy grounds towards the Geysir and freaked out when the winds picked up and found myself ‘skating’ as there were no railings, branches, cars – nothing – around for me to hold onto to prevent me from moving.. or falling. I still have no idea how I didn’t fall over.
I wasn’t sure what I was looking for so I took out my mobile to take a few picks and that was when it erupted. Jackpot!
That night, we checked into our accommodation in Gullfoss. It was (American) Thanksgiving so I cooked dinner for everyone.
We were originally booked in for the next two nights in Höfn at the Hali Country Hotel. We were also booked on a cave tour for the November 25.
Unfortunately, Iceland was getting hit with several snow storms and the roads to Höfn were closed so we spent that night re-planning the next couple of days to areas we were able to access instead.
Day 3: Waterfall, Yule Lads & Horses
We headed out mid-morning and stopped at an iconic waterfall, Gullfoss waterfall. This waterfall was ginormous and was very tourist friendly. There was a café close by which we stopped in for a bit of lunch.
I purchased a tree ornament from the gift store attached to the café. The tree ornament is of an Icelandic Yule Lad.
Yule Lads (also known as Yuletide-lads, Yulemen) are supposedly descendants of trolls that live in the mountains (Icelandic folklore). According to the folklore, there are currently 13 of them and they are said to come down from the mountains 13 nights before Christmas to create mischief.
I bought Gluggagægir, the “Window Peeper”, the 10th Yule Lad because he comes down on the 21st of December, Jon’s birthday.
As described in the Yule Lads book:
The Peeper, as tradition has it, is a very shifty character. He loiters around windows, peeping in when nobody is about. He is always on the lookout for knick-knacks that he can pilfer later on when everybody is tucked up in bed, fast asleep. If a child catches him looking in, Gluggagægir has a reputation for pulling funny faces to make himself look scary. This Yule Lad believes that fair exchange is no robbery and, as he always leaves presents in shoes, he considers a little pilfering perfectly acceptable. You can be sure he often gets the blame for ANY small objects that go missing at this time of year.
On our day out we managed to stop at a farm that had a bunch of Icelandic horses hungry for treats which tourists could buy from a ‘honesty box’.
These horses were the highlight of my trip. Icelandic horses are a unique breed of smallish horses that came to Iceland with the first settlers from Norway 1100 years ago. These horses are known for being sure-footed and able to cross rough terrain. What I love about them is their funky manes and pudgy bellies. Like a pot-belly horse.
Our accommodation for the night was at Klara’s Cottage, set on a working farm that had Icelandic horses, chickens, sheep – and my favourties, a cat and a dog.
Day 4: Cat & Dog… oh and the Northern Lights!
I woke up early and headed down to the stables to find the cat and the dog to say goodbye. As I walked down and waited in the shed, calling out to them, I gave up and decided to turned around to leave. But when I took a step, a “meow” screamed up at me – the dog and cat had appeared out of nowhere and had been waiting for me!
What happened afterwards was so awesome. The three of us walked, in a line, in the snow, up to the cottage. It was as if we were in a movie or something.
I made myself a tea and sat outside the cottage to watch the sunrise. The cat jumped up and made itself comfortable on my lap and the dog sat at my feet. The three of us just hung out together, in the freezing cold, and watched (more so, I watched) the sun creep up over the farm and I thought “what an amazing life”.
We hit the road a shortly after and stopped at a few more waterfalls (I was waterfall-ed out by this time) and Kerid Crater Lake – a large crater lake frozen over.
We also stopped at another place that had a lake which I have no idea where it is since this was when we had to detour from the original plans.
We stayed at The White House that night. We had a room with a small balcony and as we hadn’t yet seen the Northern Lights, we knew we had little time left to catch a glimpse of them.
Fortunately, we were able to see them that night. Well, I was only able to see them after Jon took photos on his fancy camera – otherwise it would have just looked like wispy clouds in the sky to me.
Day 5: Falling out with waterfalls
Another day, another waterfall. We were to an area which had three waterfalls! I was pretty over the waterfall excitement by this stage.
That night, we stayed at the Icelandair Vik hotel and had dinner at a close by restaurant.
Day 6: Black sand beach & home bound
We drove from Vik to the airport and stopped in at Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. The nearby cliffs were set in jagged columns. At first look, it reminded me of something from Game of Thrones.
We watched the sun rise slowly over the water before popping back into our vehicle to the airport.
Overall, Iceland was wonderful. It was just as beautiful as you see in the photos (not mine in particular but if you do a google search, those ones) and I want to go back in the summertime to experience it in that season where the hiking paths would be open and the mountains would be lush and green.
If you are planning on going to Iceland, just note a few things:
- Food is expensive but there are options around that if you are open to renting accommodation that has a kitchen or cooking facilities
- Not everyone speaks English but the majority do
- November, which is not considered the height of winter was bloody freezing. I was fortunate I went to UNIQLO the day before we flew out to grab a few of their cheap thermals
- Learn what the Northern Lights look like and how to take photos of them. They were spectacular and if it were not for Jon’s photography skills I would have no evidence of having seen them!
And as you would have read, I managed to complete my Iceland bucket-list!
- Visit the Blue Lagoon – tick
- Eat a hot dog – tick
- Pet an Icelandic horse – tick
- See the Northern Lights – tick