During the winter months in Iceland, there is less sunlight. We had about 4-5 hours each day. If you go during the summer you can have about 22 hours of sunlight.
We stayed at the Downtown Hostel and got a private room/bathroom for 4 people for about$164 each, and planned to have our excursions pick us up from there. Lots of people rent a car and drive ring road, which goes the entire way around the country. The choice is up to you! To know what I packed, check out my post!
Day 1- Reykjavik & Northern Lights
We arrived in Iceland at 6:30am. If you plan to drink alcohol, I suggest buying it at the airport. It will be a lot cheaper. We pre-booked our tickets online for Flybus which is how we got from the airport to our hostel. There are always buses waiting outside the airport to the right, so not matter what time you land there should be one for you! We dropped our bags off and set off to find some breakfast and start exploring. The only place that was open at this hour was the Laundromat Café. It’s a quaint café with delicious food.
The Laundromat Café
We spent the rest of the day wandering and exploring the city of Reykjavik (said Ray-kee-a-vik). We checked out the Harpa Concert Hall, it’s right along the water and it’s architectural design is pretty amazing! While you’re down in that area, I HIGHLY recommend getting a hot dog. Yes, you read that correctly, a hot dog. Hands down the best hot dog I have ever had. It is called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. If you’re not a picky eater, get it with the everything! It’s not anything weird – ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, crisp fried onions, mustard and raw onion. This chain has been around since 1937.
Sadly the day we were free, the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral Church was not allowing anyone inside due to a ceremony. If you get the chance, I recommend going inside. Nearby there is a cute café call Café Babalu. Perfect little spot to warm up after walking around downtown.
Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) –
We used the Gateway to Iceland Tours . They pick you up at 8pm at your hotel/hostel. The tour may get cancelled due to conditions not being good to see the lights. The lights are very unpredictable- you need a dark, clear night. If this happens, they give you a voucher to go another night. Because of this, you do not have to pay up front. I suggest scheduling this your first night, so you have other nights to see them.
The prime season to see them is from late September to March. To learn more about the Aurora Borealis and for tips on how to capture the northern lights check out my post about Useful tips to Photograph the Northern Lights.
Day 2 – Glacier hiking & New Years Eve
Glacier hiking –
One of my favorite things we did was the go glacier hiking via Viator. It is fairly inexpensive for an 11 hour excursion, which includes pick up and drop off at your hotel/hostel and driving time. All of the equipment is provided (ice pick, crampons, harness, helmets, and a guide). If you want to rent waterproof pants or jacket, you can do so ahead of time. Our guide was Thelma, one of the most badass people I have ever met.
This tour was on the Solheimajokull Glacier, which is the southwestern outlet of the Myrdalsjokull icecap. This glacier, like most others, are rapidly shrinking, over half a mile in the last decade to be more specific. Like anywhere in Iceland, the weather changes very rapidly; as evidence from the photos below.
On the way back to Reykjavik we saw some ponies and foals in a pasture along the road, and got out to feed them some bread and play with them. The Icelandic pony is a shorter horse, but with just as much power as a quarter horse. They are a pure breed because no other breeds are not allowed into the country.
We also stopped at two of the most gorgeous waterfalls. Skogafoss, one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls. To get an amazing view of the Icelandic landscape, make sure to climb up all the stairs!
We also stopped at Seljalandsfoss. There is a path that leads behind the waterfall, which I recommend doing as well! Be careful, it can be very icey in the winter months.
New Years Eve -
This evening happened to be New Years Eve. Most restaurants will be packed - I suggest making reservations as soon as possible, or getting some food at the store. In part of the city there are massive bonfires that people gather around. You are allowed to drink alcohol around these bonfires.
Fireworks are legally sold and can be set off only during a 2-3 days span of New Years. All of the proceeds go to the local fire department. Ironic, I know. You will randomly hear people setting them off around the city during these days, and yes they will always take you by surprise. There is also a massive fireworks display that is put on over the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral Church. If you plan to go out and party, you’re in the right city. The Icelandic people will party all night and most of the next day. There are plenty of bars to go to, but expect lines.
Day 3- Golden Circle Tour
There are not a lot of excursions on New Years Day as it is a holiday. We did an 8 hour Golden Circle tour through Guide to Iceland. I highly recommend using this company. It is a family business of two brothers. They play Icelandic music, and teach you everything they can about Iceland and the traditions. Which included a small sample of local traditional Icelandic holiday food and drink.
There are multiple stops on this tour. First we stopped at the Faxi waterfall (aka Vatnsleysufoss).
Our second stop was at Gullfoss waterfall, aka Golden Waterfall, one of Iceland’s more famous waterfalls. It’s a multi-layered waterfall located in the canyon of the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland. There is a path you can walk along closer to the falls, but it is usually closed off in the winter months due to safety reasons with ice.
Next we stopped at Geysir, aka the Great Geysir. There is a restaurant and shops here as well. I highly recommend the stew! The Geysir is surrounded by hot springs in the Geothermal Field. The water in all of these reaches up to 260 degrees Fahrenheit (125 Celcius).
Our last stop was at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. The Icelandic parliament was founded there in 930 and remained there for centuries. Here you can see the Thingvallavatn lake, the largest in Iceland, and the Silfra fissure which is actually a crack between the North American and Eurasian continents (if you get a chance, sign up for a snorkeling or scuba diving excursion to explore it).
For all you Game of Thrones fans - there are scenes in season 3 that were filmed in Þingvellir, and near both Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir hot spring. So keep an eye out for White Walkers!
For dinner we went to Bullan – the best burger joint in Reykjavik according to a few locals we spoke to. They weren’t wrong! If you’re craving ice cream there an amazing place call Valdis not too far away from Bullan. After dinner we explored more of Iceland and found a bunch of cool murals and a frozen over lake that you can walk on. Part of it is thawed out for the ducks and geese to hang out.
Day 4 – ATVing & Volcano Tube Caving
We signed up for this combo excursion with Arctic Adventures. It was split into two parts. You can rent hiking shoes, and waterproof pants and jacket in advance. So if this is your only excursion- might save some room in your suitcase.
The first part was riding ATVs up Hafrafjall Mountain that overlooked the whole city of Reykjavik. They provide you with a jumpsuit, helmet, and a quick lesson of how to drive them and then you’re off. As we were riding, the sun was coming up which made for some epic photos.
After we were done we were dropped off downtown to get some lunch. We had some protein bars to save money. Then we were off again to go caving in the Leiðarendi Lava Cave Tube (tunnel). You are provided with a helmet and flashlight. It is located under a lava field in the Blue Mountains. You guide will explain about how the lava tubes were formed when lava solidified above ground while magma flowed and moved beneath it, which formed the twisted corridors and chambers. Be prepared to crawl. The silent darkness is an eerie beauty as you get to see the raw side of nature.
After we were dropped back off. We decided it was time for some authentic Icelandic food. Café Loki is the best place to do just that. They have traditional plates (Icelandic plate I and/or II) as well as other food if you’re not an adventurous eater. You can try fermented shark here if you want to cross that off the bucket list. Their dessert menu is delicious- we tried the carrot cake, the rye bread ice cream, and the bowtie (donut-type dessert).
Going clock-wise: Smoked trout on bread. Bottom is Plokkfish (mashed fish and potatoes). Dried fish, and in the middle is fermented shark!
Day 5 – Blue Lagoon & Departure
We checked out of the hostel early and took another Flybus to the Blue Lagoon. The lagoon is a must-do, even if you’re not a big spa person. It is roughly halfway between downtown Reykjavik and the airport...it's asking to be visited! Pre-booking tickets is required, but upon arrival you can upgrade to, or rent add-on items a la carte- like a robe or towel. It is a man-made lagoon/geothermal spa located in a lava field. The warm waters are rich with minerals such as silica and sulfur. The water temperature is around 100°F (38°C), and is renewed every two days by a nearby geothermal power plant. A lot of people don't know that the Blue Lagoon also operates a research and development facility to help find cures for skin ailing diseases.
The earlier you get there, the better. You are required to shower before getting into the lagoon. In the lagoon make sure you use some of the mud mask to get some very soft skin! They are in wooden boxes around the Lagoon.
One of the biggest questions is whether to get your hair wet or not. Completely getting your hair wet will dry your hair out and make you look like Rod Stewart for a few days. I have rather thin curly hair so I did not want to take that risk. If you do decide to get your hair wet, make sure you get an amazing leave-in conditioner to help get all the nutrients and proteins back into your hair. There are places to buy drinks (rather pricey though), a restaurant and a café.
Another question is how to get photos whilst in the Lagoon. I took my LifeProof case, but I saw people with nice cameras and phones with no protection. Better safe than sorry!
We grabbed another Flybus from the Lagoon to the Airport, and sadly left one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to.