A complete review of our Iceland whirlwind tour while staying in Reykjavik
My girlfriend and I recently had a fantastic time touring Iceland. So much so that we wanted to write a review of our time in Rejkavik and travelling around the island to help anyone planning a visit.
We headed out mid-March to catch the end of the winter season. The best time to visit Iceland for a chance to see the northern lights is from November to April and it was the Northern lights which were one of the big attractions for us (like most people).
We flew from Gatwick Airport with Wow Airlines (Iceland’s own passenger airline). The flight was nearly three hours! My geography isn’t great but I honestly thought Iceland was closer than that. Who knew?
Wow airlines were pretty good for a budget airline. It wasn’t luxury but we took off and landed in the correct place so I can’t fault them for that. Well done.
We were really lucky during our flight as the Northern lights appeared in the night sky and danced beautifully on the horizon.
Unfortunately we were sat on the wrong side of the plane and our English manners meant we simply couldn’t disrupt the other passengers to take a closer look. When it comes to English courtesy even the wonders of the world can’t shake our decorum. But it was proof to us that the Northern Lights are there to be seen!
“The first thing that must be done when landing in a new country is finding the local tipple!”
We landed safely and the first thing that must be done when landing in a new country is finding the local tipple! We whisked through the lounge shop and picked up up a local beer called Viking! Good name! After departing with a few thousand krona and with six pack in hand, we headed to arrivals and found our Sixt representative waiting to take us to our car rental.
We picked up our car from the depot and off we sped… Kind of.
It took a good five minutes to remember how to drive on the right side of the road. There were a few heart-in-mouth moments when I tried to change gears with the door handle but my left hand brain eventually kicked in and I was driving like an Icelander in no time, beard and all.
The roads were long, empty and pretty eerie but even in the dark the countryside looked cool. We passed a couple of brilliant roadsigns, one saying “watch out for elves”.
There are a few of these little Easter egg road-signs dotted about the island so keep your eyes peeled if you’re planning on driving!
It took about 45 minutes to drive from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik which is great timing if you don’t got slightly lost finding your apartment… Word of advice, grab a map in case you can’t get mobile data.
After an hour of slip-road trial-and-error (and a few choice words shared between my girlfriend and I) we arrived at Apartment K to find that Reykjavik is party central on a Friday night! The streets were alive with waddly women and boozy beardymen!
We had to wait a little while as receptionist ran another hotel across town. But when he did arrive he kindly gave us a lift to our apartment just up the road.
Our little apartment was perfect. A little kitchenette, double bed, sofa, table and TV. Perfect for us as we wanted to see the sights rather than shacking up inside for the whole weekend.
Before we hit the sack we had a couple of Viking lagers while unpacking our stuff. Great lager by the way: dark, rich and full of flavour!
We woke up 7am sharp the next morning to be on the road by 8am. In hindsight hiring a car was definitely the way to go. Touring the island yourself means that you’re free to see the sights at your own leisure without being restricted to a timescale. Providing you are out early, the tourist spots are free from tour groups and crowds of people too. Winner!
As we all know, the priority of every morning is to find the coffee. And my word we found the coffee! If you visit Reykjavik you need to find Sandholt, a little sandwich shop on a street called Laugavegur, that does one of the best flat-whites I have ever tasted. Hot, strong and well roasted. Nom!
After the adenosine receptors in our brains had sufficiently been supplied with enough caffeine to start a small fire, we swiftly jumped into our speedy little Corsa (we christened Maggie-May) and hit the road.
We chose our destinations after researching into tours and reviews online. We essentially followed the golden circle route with a couple of add-ons. We wanted to cram in as much as possible so we created our own little timetable to hit all of our spots (You know you’re getting old when you give yourself a holiday schedule).
Here’s a Google map of the route we followed:
Þingvellir Tectonic Plates
Our first stop was Þingvellir Tectonic Plates. The drive from Rejkavik to Þingvellir was easy. Pretty much one road to follow once you’re out of Rejkavik. The Þingvellir Tectonic plates were awesome (I mean 19th century awesome)! Back in the day in 930, the Icelandic Parliament was established at Þingvellir and remained there until 1798. To cut a long story short some crazy Norwegian Viking entrepreneur was kicked out of Norway for murder. His solution to this problem was to sail to Iceland and start a new life. He formed a settlement and started a family which quickly became one of the most family in the country. Vikings are Mental! The view is unbelievable and and the landscape It is utterly stunning.
After wandering the planes and reading up on Þingvellir history and geography we set off for our next destination (strict timetable to follow remember). We made great time and managed to get to Geyser within half an hour.
We were really lucky with the weather all day. The sun was beaming with clear blue skies and the island looked like a brilliant, alien filmset. Nature is awesome!
Geysir is incredible. Apparently it’s the second highest geyser in the world. Geysir lies in the Haukadalur valley on the slopes of Laugarfjall hill, which is also the home to Strokkur geyser about 50 metres south. Iceland is brimming with loads of natural phenomenon.
We stopped for a quick snack before shooting off to our next location. FYI this place does a good pepperoni sandwich!
Man, This place was unreal! This is possibly my favourite spot of our tour. The waterfalls are unbelievable. It’s the kind of waterfall you imagine in your head. Massive, roaring spectacles with water gushing over the rocky edge at a hundred miles an hour. Like how Disney would draw a ‘classic waterfall’. Well done Iceland!
It was magnificent, majestic and actually pretty scary. You could go right to the edge and look down into the giant chasm. Which we did. I used my logic and scientific reasoning to deduce that if you jump in you would definitely die. Avoid jumping if possible, you’d be spoiling it for everyone.
I recommend hitting this spot. It’s almost overwhelming the size of the place and the geology of it all is really interesting.
Side-mission: I also found some Icelandic themed condoms in the gift shop which made me laugh out loud, go find them for a bonus chuckle. They have very funny pictures on the front…
For lunch we were hoping to grab a meal at a little tomato greenhouse come restaurant called Fridheimar. Having read some great reviews online we knew this was a place we had to visit. However when we arrived we found that the whole place was fully booked. Mega disappointing! We’d checked online to see if reservations were necessary and it was advertised as drop-by-and-eat unless you’re in a large group. It is not. If you’re planning to go here book in advance just in case.
Nevertheless, we managed to buy some of the magical tomato-soup to-go and found a little perch outside to take five and re-energise. The tomato soup is glorious! I mean souper tasty (sorry). It’s made directly from the tomato’s grown on-sight in the greenhouses and is unlike any tomato soup I’ve ever had. It was fruity and tangy and hearty and wholesome. Go try it, you will not be disappointed. Good tomatoes. Good soup. Good Iceland.
Next up: Kerið Crater. About half an hour drive away.
Wow! This is one a little off the beaten track but well worth checking out. Kerið is a giant crater reaching over 50 meters high with an ice lake at the bottom. The volcanic landscape reminds me a little of the canary islands only much, much colder. The lake itself is fairly shallow (7–14 metres, depending on rainfall), but due to minerals from the soil, is an opaque and strikingly vivid aquamarine.
We wandered around the perimeter before plunging into the depths of the crater to take a closer look inside. I was a little disappointed to find that there was little information surrounding the origins of the crater. But this did leave an open door for me to create my own theory. Rather than the obvious choice of a meteor strike thousands and thousands of years ago, I like to think two Viking blokes were settling a bet over whether it’s possible to strike water from the middle of the island and it got out of hand. (This theory remains unproven.)
The Blue Lagoon
The final destination of our day-time tour was the Blue Lagoon. We had pre-booked for this after reading about the Blue Lagoon online. There are a lot of tours that include this in their itinerary so book early if you can. We were booked in for 4pm and made it bang on time (great timing all day really. Probably because of the traffic-free roads).
If you are planning to book ahead we would recommend just buying the basic offer. The only difference between basic and premium is the added bonus of having flip-flops, a dressing gown, a glass of Prosseco and a face-mask. In reality you don’t need flip-flops and a dressing gown (the dressing rooms are right next to the lagoon), the glasses of Prosecco are pretty small (there are bars in the pool which serve alcohol) and there are people wandering around handing out ‘lagoon-goo’ to give yourself a face-mask. So you’re not really missing out if you choose the basic offer.
I loved the Blue Lagoon. Sitting in the warm water while you’re head was in the cool Icelandic air is a very odd but very relaxing experience. This is how I imagine eggs feel when they’re being cooked. Go to the blue lagoon and become soft-boiled human…. That should be on their website.
I wasn’t completely sold on the ‘lagoon-goo’. Apparently it’s healthy to put it on your face, so of course I gave it a go. After about a minute it goes very hard and starts cracking if you move change your face at all. I felt like I’d undertaken intense botox. I think this must be how Madonna feels all the time. I don’t think botox is for me. Not because of Madonna, but just generally. My face is full of expression and I don’t want my face to crumble away. Very bizarre.
I’m also not sure of the cultural relevance of all this. Did the Vikings do this? I find it hard to believe a giant Viking would be walking around shouting “Eriksson, is my face completely covered? I wan’t to make sure my face is completely exfoliated”.
After a few hours of marinating in human lagoon stew we headed back to Rejkavik for the evening just as the weather was setting in and the sky was clouding over.
Our original plan was to join the 8o clock Magical Northern Light Tour tour with Nordic Visitor but they emailed us in advance to let us know the tour had been cancelled due to the weather conditions. This was a real shame but I was actually really impressed by the level of service we received. The Nordic Visitor guys are extremely helpful when trying to find tours and we were refunded without hesitation (Shout out to Kristîn for all of her help).
On the bright side, this meant we had the evening in Rejkavik to do our own thing. We headed back to our apartment to make a new plan and enjoy a few bottles of Viking.
We read a few reviews online and decided that Kex hostel was the place for us. to head to.
Before heading out for dinner we popped to the shop to see if we could top up on our Viking supplies but completely overlooked the fact that only low-alcohol beer is served in grocery stores. Alcohol is only sold in state-controlled stores called Vinbuð, with limited opening hours.
This is the only real drawback I found in the whole of Iceland and I’m still amazed. After all, Vikings built their reputation on drinking, raping and pillaging… Hang on a sec. I think I may have just stumbled upon their reasoning… There have been zero viking led massacres in Iceland the whole time this law has been enforced. Removing alcohol from vikings is probably a good rule…
So off we popped to Kex. Now, if you’re looking for somewhere to grab some night time grub in Reykjavik, this is where you want to go! Kex is part hostel/part restaurant/part bar and essentially full of locals with a great atmosphere.
We ordered a couple of drinks (Viking pale ale this time. Yes. Very good) and settled on the Kex freedom burger. Holy cow this beef is blessed! I can’t believe how much flavour this burger carries! I recently turned 72% vegetarian but happily cashed in my remaining 28% on this. It was glorious! Good work Kex (also, they should totally make a Mexican burger and call it Kex Mex. You’re welcome).
We had a little wander around night-time Rekjavik before the rain set-in and we made our way back to our apartment to settle in for the night.
Great day all around!
the next morning we were up early for our flight home. We grabbed another coffee at Sandholt before driving Maggie-May back to the depot and saying goodbye to Iceland (for now).
Our flight home was with EasyJet. It was delayed and the customer service is none existent. What a way to put a damper on the end of our trip. Every time I fly with EasyJet I come away thinking ‘never again’. Those guys couldn’t run a bath! I”ll be booking with Wow airlines both ways next time.
Overall our Icelandic experience was incredible. Definitely one to revisit to explore the rest of the island. I think I’d suit being a Viking.