It’s almost impossible to talk about emerging travel destinations without somebody bringing up Iceland. Just a few years ago, we barely heard a peep out of the country, and now everybody and their mother seems to be visiting it – including me!
Earlier this year, I enjoyed a four-day getaway to Iceland. Of course, I’d done plenty of research ahead of my trip, looking at photographs, learning about the history of the country, and reading other people’s experiences and reviews. But none of it was enough to prepare me for how much Iceland eventually ended up changing my life.
Perhaps somebody can tell me whether or not this is always the case, but the airport was strangely quiet when I arrived. In fact, I think the only other arrivals in the airport with me were the ones I had just shared a flight with! And, don’t even get me started on the toilets – anybody?! Needless to say getting off the plane, going through security and leaving the airport was a breeze.
There are plenty of tour companies in Iceland that provide a shuttle bus service to and from Reykjavik and the airport – you just need to book your ticket ahead of time. I used one of the country’s longest standing tour companies, Gray Line Iceland.
Its return ticket was relatively cheap and the drive was only about 30 minutes either way. Gray Line was also happy to drop me off and pick me up from my hotel, which earned the company two big thumbs up from me.
The drive from the airport to the hotel provided me with my first real glimpse at the country. The landscape was rich with volcanoes, monolithic glaciers, icy mountains and deep fjords – and, at times, looked like it came straight out of a storybook.
After a 30-minute bus ride of oohing and aahing at the sights outside, the bus had arrived at my hotel, Stay Apartments Bolholt. It wasn’t much to look at from the outside and I braced myself for a room that was far less impressive than its pictures promised, but I was pleasantly surprised.
It was clean, modern and had all of the amenities you’d need to not just visit Iceland, but actually live there. As well as a double bed, I had a small kitchen, dining room and private bathroom as well as a laundry room down the hall.
Prior to flying to Iceland, I booked my time up with a bunch of different tours operated by Gray Line, and so, the next day, I was picked up bright and early by one of Gray Line’s drivers and taken to the company’s main bus station to board a bigger bus for its Golden Circle Classic Tour.
The first stop on the tour was Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, home to Iceland’s largest natural lake, and the place where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia split and continue to drift apart. Crazy, right? Everybody, including myself, was completely awe-struck by the scenery there.
From Þingvellir, the bus took us to Gullfoss waterfall. It was my first time visiting a waterfall and it’s difficult to put into words what it was like for me to be standing that close to something so powerful. The way it sounded, how the air felt on my face, the buzz it created among all of the spectators – it sounds corny, but it made me feel weirdly alive.
I took a whole bunch of photos and then headed to the nearby café, Gullfoss Café, for what was arguably the best slice of cake and hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Once I finished my lunch, I hopped back onto the bus, which then took us to Geysir hot spring area.
Simply put, this area was an impressive collage of bubbling mud pools, hissing steam vents and colourful algae deposits. The world’s most reliable fountain geyser, Strokkur hot spring, blasted out 20-metre high columns of heated water around every 10 minutes, which was magical to watch.
Afterwards, the bus returned us all to our respective hotels, but not without stopping at Skalholt Church and the Icelandic Horse Park.
My next adventure in Iceland was a lot more hands on: lava tube caving. Again, I was picked up by one of Gray Line’s drivers and taken to the main station where I boarded a bigger bus. Everybody on the bus was given overalls and a helmet with a torch on, which we changed into en route to the caves.
The afternoon involved a whole lot of crawling, squeezing and crouching as my group navigated its way through the tunnels. Our tour guide, meanwhile, pointed out incredible colours and rock formations, and entertained us all with stories about mythical creatures that used to inhabit the caves.
I was completely shattered by the time I got back to my hotel, but I felt thankful to have had such a fun and peculiar experience exploring Iceland from below!
Next on the agenda, was a relaxing afternoon in the milky blue waters of the infamous Blue Lagoon. Fed by geothermal seawater from deep under the lava, the Blue Lagoon holds a staggering six million litres of seawater – the equivalent of three Olympic-size swimming pools!
There was an outdoor bar as well as a shop selling face masks to apply and wash off in the water. Other facilities included a spa, restaurant and gift shop.
It actually snowed while I was in the water, which made the experience all the more surreal; I was being snowed on while wearing a swimsuit in the middle of Iceland, yet couldn’t have felt more warm and at peace.
I stayed at the Blue Lagoon for about three hours and then got another bus back to my hotel. It was only about three o’clock by the time I got back, and so I had time to take another shower and grab some food before another Gray Line driver picked me for the company’s Northern Lights Mystery Tour.
I asked the driver whether or not he thought I’d be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights that night and he predicted that I would. And, luckily for me, that prediction came true. I was totally captivated as the Northern Lights flashed across the sky in bright colours and brilliant patterns around midnight!
On my fourth and final day in Iceland, I had a much later start as I didn’t get back from the Northern Lights Mystery Tour until about two o’clock in the morning. I also didn’t have as much planned apart from a trip to Hallgrimskirkja Church and a bit of last-minute shopping.
I went to Hallgrimskirkja Church first. Like the city centre, it was only a ten-minute walk away from my hotel. At 73 metres tall, it’s the largest church in Iceland and I couldn’t help but gape at its sheer size and architectural design when I reached its doors.
Inside was just as spectacular, with a huge organ, beautiful stained glass windows and brilliant sculptures scattered throughout.
Shopping was fun too. There was a such an eclectic mix of shops selling everything from souvenirs and artwork to unique homeware and clothes. Not forgetting a Christmas shop that stayed open all year round!
If you’re considering a trip to Iceland, know that it truly is a fantastic place to go, especially if you’re an outdoorsy type.
I arrived in Iceland feeling overwhelmed, uninspired and battling another bout of depression. I left feeling the total opposite.
It had a small town vibe even though there was so much to explore; the locals were fun and friendly, and I didn’t witness or fall foul of any crime or harassment; and while it can be an expensive place to go, it’s also very easy to manage your budget there.
Check out my vlogs from Iceland below:
Have you been to Iceland? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!