I have returned from the land of fire and ice, and wow was it cold…
I so didn’t want to leave Iceland, from the moment I stepped foot onto Icelandic soil I absolutely fell in love. The landscape is a little similar to remote areas of Norway, but it really is so unique. Everything seems like it’s fallen out of a fairy tale.
I really am trying hard to hold back on all of the amazing (well, I thought it was all interesting) snippets of info that our tour guides blessed us with, simply because to others they are probably the dullest details ever haha. But I was honestly so amazed to learn how much of a geological playground Iceland is. Iceland’s mysterious landscapes are made up of tectonic plates and volcanic eruptions. There are active volcanoes, and no we didn’t get to see anything erupt, but the sights of them in a row are just magnificent. I also got to learn all about glaciers. Nerdy nerdy moment.
Anyway, to the good stuff. If you read my Iceland blogs leading up to my travels you will know that I went on another Topdeck adventure – Iceland Explorer. After a completely exhausting over-night bus ride from Cornwall to London, a lengthy early-morning laze around at Gatwick airport, a quick flight to Iceland, and yet another coach ride to Reykjavik… I finally met up with my group at around 3pm. Sort of. Lots of people had already arrived a day or two before and were out and about exploring, so I decided to do the same. A very quick stroll from the hotel to the town centre and back again, picking up supplies (snacks) on the way. The whole group did get together in the evening for a pre-booked fancy three course dinner, and in true Icelandic style we tucked in to plenty of fish. Yum yum! Fits in perfectly with my attempt to eat zero meat.
Christmas Eve was unarguably my most favourite day of the trip. We got up bright and early for our very first excursion… the Blue Lagoon. The sun rises at 11.30am in Iceland during winter (well, in southern places), and we arrived at the lagoon for 9.30am. I cannot express to you how incredible it is to see the sun rising over the steam of the glowing blue lagoon, especially while you’re cosily bobbing away in its heated waters. It really is something magical.
The whole lagoon experience really is something else. The changing rooms are fairly fancy, and you’re given a wrist band as your locker’s digital locking mechanism. Very high-tech! But if you’re shy to change in front of others, now’s the time to overcome it. Eep. The short walk from changing rooms to the warmth of the lagoon is one you’ll want to walk very briskly, especially in the heart of winter. You can rent dressing gowns but in all honesty they aren’t much help. It is cold. As soon as you’re in you’ll be good to go, and you’ll never want to leave. It is so relaxing. Just mind out for the sharp rocks around the edges of the lagoon; I’m still sporting a lovely scratch or two or three.
There are two bars in the lagoon. One bar dishes out free face masks, and the other sells drinks. Your wrist-band/locker key combo also doubles up as a bar tab for your drinks – exciting! It also saves you dropping pennies all over the place.
After a very length dip we headed back to our hotel for a bit of a rest, because relaxing in a geothermic natural hot-tub isn’t relaxing enough (so many nerdy facts I’m dying to unleash about the lagoon). A few moments of restlessly lazing around on our beds we thought we’d take a peek at the view, and what were we blessed with?! Snow! On Christmas Eve! My roomie was luckily a fellow photo-op hunter and so we threw on our coats, grabbed our cameras, and ran outside to frolic for as long as possible. The snow is so light and fluffy in Iceland, it was absolutely magical… especially with dusk on the horizon. We even made a few, very thin, snow angels as the snow was setting.
Snow-frolic achieved, it was time for a quick group dinner and then off out to hunt for Northern Lights. I was so ready for standing in the snowy Icelandic landscape for lengthy periods of time waiting and wishing for northern lights that I was well and truly prepared… three pairs of socks, two pairs of trousers, one top, three jumpers, one chunky knitted scarf, one kitted hat, my pink booties, and one parka later I was good to go. We didn’t need to hunt for long either as our guide was so amazing at spotting the lights – pro tip; they look just like long, thin grey clouds that seem to glow in the sky… or you’ll get extra lucky and see the shines of green as they dance above your head.
I’ve never seen a group of people run into the dark wilderness so quickly. We were bounding over the snow-ridden volcanic landscape, falling into holes and legs disappearing beneath feet of snow as we went. Finally we set ourselves up in a great spot and the night-sky admiring began… oh, and of course a billion and one photo moments.
What more could you want on Christmas Eve. A day at the Blue Lagoon, the beginnings of a white Christmas, all followed by an evening of successful northern light spotting. I can’t express how lucky I feel to have seen the lights on our very first attempt. So many people travel north expecting to see them but don’t get a glimpse. I wasn’t prepared to leave that incredible island without at least a moment of seeing them.
Christmas Day was filled with the Golden Circle. So many people say ‘oh you must go’, but if I’m being entirely honest I could’ve found something else to do with my short time exploring Iceland. Gulfoss waterfall was our first stop on the tour… and it really was grand, but the wind was so strong and bitter that makeup was running down my cheeks and I couldn’t even feel it – attractive panda look haha. Thank goodness for crampons too or we’d have been sliding all over the place. A quick hop back onto the coach and we were at our next viewing – the geysers. These too are pretty grand to see… well, when it explodes with steam anyway, otherwise you’re just staring at a very mystical landscape with many many other bodies. My favourite part of our Golden Circle tour was definitely walking around the incredible Thingvellir National Park. You walk between two tectonic plates that have pulled away from each other, and you really can appreciate how majestic such a geological happening is. The crack in the earth runs deep and you can take a peek over the edge to see how far it goes. We arrived here just in time for a perfectly pastel-pink sunset too. What a dreamy moment that was!
Unfortunately a secret lagoon wasn’t an addition to our Golden Circle trip, but that really would’ve been fabulous. There are pockets of heated lagoons around Iceland that aren’t often surrounded by tourists, and spending an hour or two relaxing right in the middle of the chilly open terrain would’ve been perfect.
Back to our hotel and Christmas dinner was definitely on people’s minds. Unfortunately the restaurants were all so busy that we couldn’t all squeeze into one (note for Topdeck there, maybe pre-book if you can). Myself, my roomie, and two other fabulous gals decided we really needed a festive Chinese, and so off we went in search of an all you can eat with a side of Icelandic beer. What a Christmas dinner!
Boxing Day brought the start of my solo travels, and my first full day’s expedition with Extreme Iceland (also Arctic Adventures). You can book their trips online, and each group consists of a mini-bus full of travellers, be it solo, couples, or families. They pick you up from your hotel (or nearest bus stop… which are never far from your hotel) and drop you back to the same location. The mini-busses aren’t big so your groups are always fairly small, and I do think this is a really good thing – you don’t want to be on an enormous tour and miss out on first-hand info, and your little group does bond along the way. I must admit, Arctic Adventures really did do such an amazing job, and our tour guide was just fabulous. They do try and aim for which stops will be the least busy at certain times so that you avoid too many tourists… but if you’re always after those epic shots (like I am) then you’ll know that tourists are just everywhere. Everywhere.
We were due to go on a three-hour glacier expedition, but unfortunately the unforgiving winds of Iceland had picked up and it would’ve been way too dangerous for us to be hiking around miles and miles and miles above sea level, crampons or no crampons… so this part of the trip was cancelled (and refunded!) You could see the snow blowing across the road as we drove through the flat plains of Iceland, so none of us were going to quibble this at all.
Because of this unfortunate and unforeseeable happening our tour guide took the time to stop at some unexpected places. Firstly we got to stop on the side of the road for a perfect view of an enormous glacier, and wow was it something. When glaciers are topped with snow they do just look like snowy mountain peaks, but they are so incredible to see.
Our first official stop of the day was Skogafoss waterfall. This has to be my favourite waterfall in Iceland… and it was even more magical because all of the black pebbled ground that led up to the waterfall was frozen together under a layer of cloudy-white ice. Luckily no slips here! What made it even more magical was that all of the tourists spotted my tripod and completely cleared, making a fabulous path to shoot. Hurrah! When does that ever happen?! I did have to play photographer for a couple of very patient people, but that’s all part of the fun.
Our next stop definitely wasn’t a disappointment, and was something that I really was dying to explore. We headed straight to Vik’s black sand beaches. I was waiting for them to be an incredible sight, but it was like walking into a wonderland. The beach was literally split into three… the ocean, the black sand, and a layer of white snow. I’ve never seen snow on sand, but then I’ve also never seen black sands either. The views were amazing, and the sun was bright. I couldn’t believe my luck either as I wandered around the basalt columns tourist-free. As it was lunch time everyone had vanished into the on-site restaurant, so I had plenty of time to bag those uninterrupted shots.
On the beaches are also two caves, and they were filled with sparkling icicles. You definitely couldn’t walk too far into the cave as the beautiful icicles were dropping by the second. But the sand is what I was there to see, and the sand is definitely what I saw. We even headed up to a lighthouse that overlooked the black sands on both the left and the right – what a magical moment. Imagine being stood on top of the highest point, overlooking a completely untouched terrain. Lighthouse in front of you, black sands to either side, and enormous snow-topped mountains and glaciers behind you. What a dream.
On our way to our final stop for the day I did very very politely (with a big smile and a huge pleeease) ask our tour guide if we could stop off and see some of the Icelandic horses that we had earlier seen roaming the lands. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again for accommodating my one and only wish! We spent a few moments cosying up to some beautiful and perfectly white, chunky, Icelandic horses. They were so friendly! Though all they wanted to do was eat my hair and scarf… maybe they were just hungry… The most beautiful little chunky horses. I did get to see some beautiful sandy-brown Icelandic horses on my Topdeck adventures too! What a lucky lady I am… a few days in Iceland and I’m cuddling the friendliest animals.
Our final stop of the day was another majestic waterfall, but by now the winds had really picked up and it was a little treacherous to walk to and from the waterfall, so I made sure to get shots from a distance. A very long day of beautiful sights done and dusted.
My final day in Iceland was another Arctic Adventure expedition, and funnily enough I ended up with the same tour guide – much to both our amusement! Luckily no cancellations on today’s trip, of which the first stop was another waterfall. Unfortunately I took a few paces away from the minibus, go-pro and camera in hand, and went straight down onto the ice with a thud. I definitely heard a crack. Pride (arm, shoulder, and bum) totally bruised, I sulked my way back to the minibus and stayed there. I didn’t want to risk an icy road down the very windy path to the waterfall.
We then stopped for a quick buffet lunch before our day’s main event, and one of the main reasons I booked a few extra days in Iceland… an hour of walking around inside a glacier, with Into TheGlacier. It was so much more of an expedition than I had anticipated. It all started at a base, conveniently right next to our lunch stop, where we, and an incredible amount of other groups, climbed onto an enormous ex-pat monster truck. Sadly we didn’t luck out with this truck as the heating wasn’t working, and we had to brave the long one hour slog to the glacier (and back!) in -12 degree weather. Eep. Toes were kept wiggling the whole time!
As we started our monster truck expedition toward the glacier things got whiter, and whiter, and the landscape became completely barren. No trees, no animals, just us, rocks, and the white snow of the mountains. We had a quick stop at the base camp, pitched right at the bottom of the glacier, for a few magical photo ops. The sun was just setting and the dusky pink hues of Iceland’s mesmerising sunsets were beginning to fade behind the vast white landscape. What a sight to see. Something I’ll more than likely never get to witness again, and definitely a life-long memory.
Back onto our cold tin-can of a monster truck just as the winds began to pick up, and off we headed to ascend the glacier. As we reached the top we were all sat in awe as we finally noticed the tiny, tiny, entrance to the glacier. It’s like something out of a sci-fi movie, honestly! I expected a big show-boaty entrance hall with a gift shop, but nope. It was literally a tarp that disappeared into the ground, with strong gales picking up around us and snow being blown in all directions. Well, we braved it. Into the glacier we vanished… a very slippery slope into the glacier that is, bums were shuffling. After a moment of bracing ourselves and finally being on even ground, we looked around at how incredible our surroundings were. It’s always a constant 0 degrees inside the glacier, no matter the temperature outside, and thankfully on this occasion it was a lot warmer than the blizzard conditions outside.
I can’t describe how crazy it was just trying to fathom that we were walking around under miles of tightly-packed ice. The walls were beautiful, everything shone in the light, and even the floors were lit from underneath (man-made lighting here). I know there are far more magical ice caves to wander around in, but this was good enough for me. I would love to get back to Iceland one summer, and I’ll definitely venture further out to see other ice caves, but this one was pretty magnificent. We even got a talk on how quickly the glaciers are shrinking, and also got to see the rate of it first hand as we were shown how far back the walls of this particular glacier had shrunk in just a few years. It’s incredibly disheartening to think that these amazing natural wonders will be gone and melted by 2020.
A very cold decent back to our mini-bus and we were off again into the cold for more northern lights chasing. You should know that I have absolutely zero luck in life, really. I don’t win anything, I lose more things than I find… but on this second northern lights adventure I got to see the lights fill the sky not once, but twice, in two separate areas, and on the second occasion you could visibly see the greens dancing away above your head. What a thing to tick off the bucket list. For the first time ever I’m pretty sure I was the luckiest girl. Though it was so bitterly cold that I couldn’t stand still without shivering and so couldn’t go and jump in front of the long exposure to be in the snaps haha.
Well, one trip to Iceland, 4.5 days, a dip in the blue lagoon, magnificent views of beautiful waterfalls, walks across deep black sand, cuddles with chunky horses, and three northern lights sightings. I am absolutely in love with Iceland, and I’m already dying to go back in warmer weather. For anyone who’s thinking about making the trip but isn’t quite sure (because let’s face it, it is super pricey), just go. Do it. Do it and don’t look back.
I'm also working on a little travel video from Iceland too, so keep an eye on my Twitter and Instagram accounts for that (in fact, there's a little sneak peek on both right now). If you're keen to see more photos from Iceland my Instagram feed is brimming with snaps, you can find that here. Where’s next on your adventure list? Leave me some travel inspiration down below!
Original source: ICELANDIC TALES by Perfectly Claudia
Hey there, it's Claudia, now 28. She's an Italian girl from Bristol, living in the scenic county of Cornwall. She's a travel, lifestyle & fashion blogger, a cat lover, a tea drinker, a book reader, and a cupcake baker extraordinaire.