A Guide on What To See & Do in Iceland
February 12, 2018
As some of you will already know from the recent content on my blog, I’ve just been to Iceland. Iceland had been a destination on the ‘must visit’ list for some time, and thanks to a surprise present of tickets and an apartment for a few days, we went! It has become increasingly popular to visit for people all over the world, and it’s definitely evident when you go there.
So this post is a bit of a review on our time there, what we saw and if it’s worth checking out, and generally, the good, bad, and ugly, of visiting Iceland. If you already know about Iceland, then I’ve written another post on ‘5 Important Things To Know Before You Go To Iceland‘, which you can check out. I’ve also included the four videos I made within this post, so you can get a different perspective on our time there from the usual photos (video feedback would also be great as it’s something I’m trying to do more of!).
What there is to do?
Things we did
This first section is based on what we did and our experience. We essentially tried to do and see the main things in the limited time we had in Iceland, so these will probably cover what most of you will want to do also.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is a large pool heated by geothermal energy that has become pretty popular and increasingly well known in recent times. When we went, there was actually significant building work going on (this wasn’t too visible and didn’t detract from the experience), which I’m mentioning as it’s a sign of its increasing popularity. They’re extending the lagoon and adding a hotel also.
Although expensive, The Blue Lagoon is definitely worth a visit. It’s an awesome experience, very relaxing, and a lot of fun! Luckily too they limit numbers, which means it won’t feel completely packed and crowded even with the other people there. An important note, this also means BOOK IN ADVANCE. Especially in busy seasons, you won’t guarantee getting in if you just turn up, which is more of a pain as it’s not near Reykjavík and is closer to the airport sort of in the middle of nowhere.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle tours are the most popular with tourists in Iceland, as they are easily done from Reykjavík and you can see some of the famous natural wonders of Iceland. You’ll see the Gulfoss Waterfalls, overlook the National Park where the plates meet, and also see the erupting geyser which is an impressive sight.
An important point here is that, these are VERY popular to visit, so you’ll turn up at each location with bucket loads of other tourists, and have overpriced restaurants and bathrooms you have to pay for… if you don’t like being surrounded by a lot of people and tourists then this might not be for you, even though the natural sights are still spectacular.
The Iceland South Coast and Waterfalls
This was probably one of my favourite days, we visited places that aren’t as popular as the Golden Circle and got to see a lot more of the country. We also spent this day with a tour company who took us from place to place, but even the more popular stops weren’t anywhere near as busy as the Golden Circle.
You’ll see two waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, the black sand beach Reynisfjara, the village of Vik, and stop by the Myrdalsjokull glacier, which we saw luckily at its most beautiful. This will likely be a long day, so prepare for 11 hours or so out and about seeing things and a lot of driving time.
I really liked Reykjavík. Apart from the fact that everything is very expensive (as with all of Iceland), there is a cool downtown area with lots of shops, restaurants and coffee shops. We spent a day wandering around and exploring some of the quirkier parts too, as well as going to a local food place and bar owned by the same guy. I would massively recommend it, it’s called ‘Icelandic street food’ and it should be your place to go for a bit of local food and drink.
There is also the cathedral which you can get an elevator all the way up to the top and look out to the city, again pretty impressive to visit. In the downtown area it’s generally a very pretty city and worth spending a day exploring if you get the chance.
The Northern Lights are a big reason a lot of people go to Iceland. Especially if you live in Europe as I do, it’s actually pretty hard to get somewhere where they are seen a lot without spending a bucket of money on flights. This is because they’re seen around the Arctic Circle, so Iceland is one of the easiest places to go to see them. We again booked a trip with a tour company to go and see the northern lights one evening. It was probably my LEAST favourite experience out of them all, and not just because we didn’t see them…
You’ll get picked up in a bus, (we were driven around in a mini bus then taken to another bus where we had to sit in the last available seats next to a very loud birthday group, all in all extremely disorganised and a pain). Then you’ll go out in a coach convoy, we had three coaches for our tour company alone in the quieter season. You might get a little information on little iPad things they hand out (of which there weren’t enough), and then you just walk outside in the dark to wait around for the Northern lights with a bunch of other people.
The key thing here is that, you’re NOT guaranteed to see them. We were there in winter and had clear skies and didn’t see them. Also for me, seeing the Northern Lights should be a magical experience, and to me getting crammed in a bus in an extremely disorganised fashion, after a long day, to then be dropped off in a car park with a bunch of other people, is not exactly magical.
So my advice would be, yes do try to go and see them, as I’m sure if we did, the negatives would be slightly negated. But if you can do it in more of a private way, as in driving your own rental car out to the national park (all the ‘tour company’ will do is drive you to a car park in the National Park anyway), it will probably be a lot more rewarding, relaxing and enjoyable. Some people get lucky and see them outside the airport or above Reykjavík, so it completely depends.
Other things you can do
Although we didn’t do any of these, there is plenty else you can do in Iceland such as the below (I’m sure there’s things I’ll miss but this is just a taste)
- Glacier Hiking
- Other geothermal pools and lagoons
- Icelandic Horse Riding
- Whale Watching
- Boat Trips
- Rent a car and explore more rural areas and villages
Will it be expensive?
YES. It was the most expensive travel destination I’ve ever been to, without a doubt… I’ve written more extensively on the cost in my post about things you should know linked here.
How long do we need to spend there?
It obviously depends on what you want to see and do. If you just want a taste and the highlights, then a few nights are definitely enough. We didn’t feel we missed out on anything at all
Where should we stay?
The Hilton and Grand Hotel seemed to be the flashy ones in Reykjavík, but they weren’t in the downtown area and seemed like a pain to get to. So if you want to be in amongst it then try and stay somewhere around the downtown region, we stayed in a studio apartment, through a company called ‘Apartment K’ who have various options and I’d massively recommend them as it was great and location couldn’t have been better.
What will the weather be like?
Unpredictable. Obviously in winter it will be colder and in summer warmer, however the weather in Iceland can change multiple times a day so you’ll need to be prepared for all sorts of weather and bring all sorts of different clothes with you. The temperature doesn’t actually get as cold as you’d think but you’ll need to bring clothes for all weathers.
Should I book tours or go solo?
We booked tours because we were there for such a short time, and also I didn’t trust my driving in icy conditions in winter. So for a short break it might be less hassle. However if you rent a car, likely you can visit places at different times to the majority of people and your companies so it might be a more enjoyable way to do it. I can’t vouch for the price of this however as we didn’t do it. Overall the tours were very professional if not a bit disorganised at pick up occasionally.
Is it worth going?
Yes. Even though it’s expensive, full of tourists, and the Northern Lights aren’t guaranteed, you should definitely go. We saw and experienced some incredible things, had an amazing time and are really glad we went.
Would you go back?
Yes! After all the moaning about price etc, I actually would. BUT, what I would do is rent a car and drive around the whole of Iceland, stopping at different places along the way, so avoiding the most popular tourist areas. It would be great to actually see the ‘real’ Iceland away from where 99% of people visit, it’s such an incredible country and has so much else to offer.
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