Reykjavik is a very small capital city and only needs a few days to be conquered. However I found the city to be an excellent base when it comes to doing day trips. This is my guide on trips which have to be done whilst in Iceland!
The Golden Circle Tour
One of the top tours to do in Iceland is the Golden Circle Tour. There are various tour companies which does this tour (and some of them will add extra stops to various places in the area so do some research first) but the tour I choose was with Reykjavik Excursions. I like to point out that I fully paid for this tour and was not working with the company.
The Golden Circle tour I did lasts around eight hours and the tour bus picks up tourists at various pick up locations (which can be found on the website here). I usually would prefer to rent a car and drive out to these sort of places (or sometimes hike them) but as it was the middle of winter, Olga and I wanted to splash the cash and let someone else do all the hard work.
The first point on the tour was Skálholt. Now this stop is not always included in this tour but we were fortunate to make this stop before all the major stops of the tour. Skálholt is a small historical town on the island as this is where Iceland’s first bishop lived and the first school was operating. By 1200AD, Iceland’s first town had the largest population in the country which was around 120 people. On the tour we saw the remarkable cathedral at sunrise (which was around 10.30 when we traveled in the winter). The second point was just up the road at Fridheimar Greenhouse. This is where the locals grow food like tomatoes in greenhouses with the aid of geothermal heat.
Then the tour really hots up. The Geysir Geothermal Area in the Haukadalur Valley. This is where we got to see many hot pools and clay pots with steam rising out them. I even saw that the soil was coloured and not the usual black or brown because of the minerals of the earth in this area. The main bad-boy to see is the Great Geysir but it doesn’t erupt that often. There is another geyser next to it called Strokkur and that erupts around every ten minutes. Then it does erupt, water gets thrown up to forty meters (132ft) into the air. Just walking around the area, looking at the landscape, seeing all the steam, is something I have never seen before on Earth and will never forget my time in the Haukadalur Valley.
Also on the tour is one of Iceland’s most spectacular waterfalls, Gullfoss. Located in the depths of a valley, the water gushes down from a height of thirty-two meters (105ft). When we were there we were fortunate enough to see the waterfalls producing rainbows that are thrown from its spray (the weather was temperamental the day we came, clear skies followed by clouds moving swiftly in, this was happening quite often but when the sun was seen, rainbows were made, all we needed was a unicorn to fly on by). I think Gullfoss has to be one of my favourite waterfalls in the world for it’s dramatic effect. I seen Niagara in Canada, the Ventas Rumba in Latvia and Krimml in Austria but this waterfall was a totally different ball game. It was a fantastic feeling to stand so close to it, to feel and hear what the Gullfoss has to offer. It was unbelievable.
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park is an amazing place to check out, mostly for it’s natural wonders and is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However it’s not because of it’s natural beauty that the area is on the UNESCO list, it’s because of the history for the first settlers who came to the island and the area around 800AD. The first people to come here were basically people who refused to ‘bend a knee’ to the new King of Norway when they were living in Norway. Around 930AD, the people decided that a government should be formed to sort out disputes on the island. The government would use Þingvellir as the meeting place. The parliament was a success however since 1844, the parliament is now located in the capital. Another fact is that because of all of this, the Icelandic parliament is the oldest running parliament in the world.
Seriously, the day I did the Golden Circle tour was one of the most amazing experiences I have done in Iceland and wished I could stay here longer and checked out some of the smaller places nearby. I would totally recommend anyone to go onto this tour and the only bit of advice I can give, make sure you wear the right footwear and wrap up warm, no matter what time of the year it is!
The Blue Lagoon
Believe it or not, the Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most visited site, for locals and tourists to the country. I would have thought it would have been checking out the cathedral in Reykjavik or taking on the Golden Circle Tour, but nope, it’s the Blue Lagoon.
What and where is the Blue Lagoon? Well, it is a geothermal spa located in the south-western part of Iceland. That’s right, it’s not in the capital city. A lot of people ask me if the Blue Lagoon is in Reykjavik and it isn’t. The spa is located in a lava field near a small town called Grindavik. Because of the location, this is actually a great stop to plan if visitors have a few hours to kill after arriving at the nearby Keflavik airport (which is the international airport) and on their way to Reykjavik or the other way round. My advice would be to book up a seat/tour with Reykjavik Excursions who will pick you up from your hotel or airport, take you to the Blue Lagoon, leave your luggage on the bus (just take the items you need into the Blue Lagoon) and when they collect you, they will drop you off at your destination with your luggage waiting for you. Remember Reykjavik is about forty-five minutes drive away from the Blue Lagoon and up to fifteen-twenty minutes away from the airport. I did this and I had no problems whatsoever. A stress-free pleasant experience.
I always thought the Blue Lagoon was a natural spring however it isn’t. The lagoon is filled up with water which has been used in a nearby geothermal power station. The lava which shapes the lagoon is real and the land is natural but the water isn’t. There are plenty of natural springs all around Iceland but the Blue Lagoon is still worth experiencing. Another thing to point out, the water isn’t dangerous or toxic. It is completely safe to swim into.
On arrival at the Blue Lagoon there are excellent and clean changing facilities as well as a cafe selling hot and cold snacks and drinks (tip for afterwards when recovering from an amazing dip in the hot water whilst waiting to head back into the city or airport). There is the Retreat Spa (booking in advance is required) which includes the treatments and massages, checking out the Blue Lagoon and the ‘retreat lagoon’, and visitors can have their own private changing room amongst other things.
A lot of people tell me the best time to go to the Blue Lagoon is in the winter months or if visiting in the summer, then first thing in the morning. I came during January around mid-morning and I found it to be not that busy (it was midweek and not a weekend visit I must add). I must have spent about four hours in the water alone as well as visits to the Sauna and Steam Room as well as the In-Water bar (swim up bar to claim the drink included in my price). I love the fact the water was really warm but everytime I stood up in it, I felt the cold wintry air on my upper body. There was light snow falling so this for me, was the first time in my life that I had experienced something like this. Swimming in hot water whilst it was snowing. It was a magical feeling, one I can’t describe too well but one thing for sure is, it created a lot of memories when I came away from the Blue Lagoon.
Just a few other things to note, children under the age of two isn’t recommended but children under eight must have arm floaters and an adult with them all the time. When buying tickets, anyone over the age of fourteen is classed as an adult. Wheelchair visitors can use the lagoon as there is a ramp which goes into the water. The temperature of the water is between 37 and 40 Celsius (98 and 104 Fahrenheit) and visitors must take a shower before entering the water.
Olga did tell me that hair took a battering here. But do not worry, there is a lot of conditioner for your hair ladies in the locker room. So give your hair the tender loving care it deserves after experiencing the amazing moments you just had in the water.
If there is time after the Blue Lagoon experience, there are three restaurants to check out if you want a bite to eat. The Moss Restaurant which offers the expensive but very fine dining experience. The Lava Restaurant which overlooks the lagoon and still offers a fine dining service and elegant food options but probably not as fancy as the Moss Restaurant and then there is the Spa Restaurant which is more of a light bite to eat. Another tip for anyone who really wants to make a weekend of it, or just come here for a romantic break, the lagoon does have two hotels on site, the Silica Hotel and the Retreat Hotel. I didn’t spend any time there (as I did my trip before my flight home), but looking at the videos and photos, I wish I could have spent the weekend here.
Overall my experience here was amazing and I highly recommend a visit. Whilst I had so much fun swimming in warm waters with light snow falling on my face, I came away very relaxed. In fact, I was so relaxed that by the time I took my seat on the plane, I was sleeping all the way to London.
A personal note from me – my time at the Blue Lagoon and the tours whilst doing the Golden Circle in Iceland was paid for by myself and was not sponsored in anyway by the company. The opinions in this post are my own and are totally honest. I would like to thank the staff for making myself, my partner and friends short stay here an enjoyable one.