When planning our trip to Iceland we decided on a few days to see what the country was like. Well, what a surprise to find we loved the whole experience, the people were so open and friendly, the city was full of street art and sculpture and the landscapes outside the city jaw-dropping lay beautiful. The only downsides were how short it was and how expensive everything is.
We flew with Icelandair, a very comfortable flying experience, and stayed in the Icelandair Hotel Natura, a package deal from the airline. While it might look ordinary on the outside this very modern hotel was fun and full of quirky modern art. Our room was fairly plain but had everything you needed including tea and coffee making facilities.
If you stay in a hotel outside the city, and they don’t provide a free bus pass then you need to purchase a 1 or 3-day bus pass as each trip is 400 ISK (around £3 in March 2017). We had a Hop On Hop Off ticket as part of our package, which we used on our second day there. The bus starts from the Harpa centre, the concert/theatre complex that looks as amazing inside as it does outside, at the top of town near the sea. The tour is only 60 minutes as the centre is not a huge area, easily covered by foot (if the weather and your stamina permits). We did the full circuit before deciding on just a couple of stops.
First stop was at the Old Harbour for lunch, the area abounds with Seafood places, and some even cater for vegetarians! We decided on good old fish and chips at Sjavarbarinn opposite the Maritime Museum, and what a good choice. Fish at its freshest and curly fries was a winner, but prices are not cheap, £15, but this did include unlimited access to the salad bar and fish soup. The museum was excellent and gave a good overview of the importance of fishing to Icelanders, and a different perspective around the Cod Wars from the UK view.
Then it was back on the bus and over to the National Museum of Iceland, definitely, a place to visit and too much for us to see as we only managed the first floor (up to C1700) so a return trip is needed.
In the evening we went on the Northern Lights Hunt, part of the Icelandair package. Earlier in the day we weren’t hopeful as the conditions have to be just right and clear skies are a necessity, and though it has been sunny in the afternoon it did start to cloud over as evening fell. We didn’t need to worry as the skies cleared as we got off our coach on the Reykjanes Peninsula, not that far from Keflavik Airport. We were presented with a wonderful show of lights for nearly an hour as they danced and faded and returned several times.
The next day we went on the Golden Circle Afternoon Tour with BusTravel Iceland (8990 ISK – around £89 each) which picks up at a number of hotels. Once you leave the city the scenery is magnificent, we were fortunate to have a number of snow showers so it felt very Icelandic. First stop was Kerid, a dormant volcanic crater that at this time of year has a frozen lake at the bottom. Photo opportunities galore and you can even climb down stairs in the crater side to the frozen lake. In summer they have concerts, with the performers on a moored platform on the water and concert goers sat around the crater. The acoustics must be amazing.
Second stop was to the Geysir (pronounced gay-sir) geothermal area. Unfortunately, the Geysir that all others are named after rarely erupts now, but its smaller brother, Stokkur doesn’t disappoint. The eruptions are every 8/10 minutes and vary in height. It was really sweet watching their tension build as onlookers waited for Stokkur to perform followed by the “ooohh” when it erupted, yes everyone became a child again. There are lots of bubbling sites and you walk through vaguely sulphur-smelling steam on the paths around the area. There is a complex here with cafes and shops and free toilets. One of the cafes served 4 types of vegetarian soup which all looked delightful – hearty and warm and relatively cheap.
Third stop was to Gullfoss, the waterfall that gives the tour its name – Golden waterfall. Definitely a beautiful stop. The waterfall isn’t high but it is both musical and amazing. The water is that glacial blue that you expect to find in these climes and the rushing water speaks to your soul. A place for contemplation and consideration after you have taken lots of photos of course. There is an observation level at the side of the top of the fall and one at the bottom, both of which provide excellent viewpoints. The weather was lovely so it was nice to just stand and be at one with the area. There is also a shop and café here but the toilets are 200 ISK, and yes they take card payments!
Last on the tour, and by no means least was the Pingvellir (Thingvetleer) National Park. The journey to the park was amazing past mountains and volcanoes, not all dormant, our guide informed us as we passed Mount Hekla that its eruption was overdue and only gives around 20-minute warning- a sobering thought. The park itself is large and stands in the valley between 2 tectonic plates – the American and Eurasian plates are moving slowly apart creating a valley that grows around 3mm per year. We stopped at the Hamid Centre which had information and displays about the area, a small shop, and toilets that had to be paid for again. From the centre’s observation point you can see across the valley and Lake Pingvellir, which has to be one of the most remarkable panoramas I have viewed in a very long time. I could have spent days here alone, hiking the many trails and walking around the lake. You can camp up here in the summer which sounds idyllic.
Back in Reykjavik we had time to assimilate all we had seen and consider our next visit and where we would go, which included some of the sites we had already visited, to contrast in summer with our winter visit. We would have to take the time to visit a natural lagoon, there are plenty around apart from the famous Blue Lagoon, which seems to be mostly tourist driven.