We visited Iceland at the end of February. I expected it to be cold, although not nearly as cold as it was! To be fair, we were a little unlucky with the weather – it was freezing cold, there was lots of snow and very very strong winds. Like Melbourne, however, Iceland also has the ‘4 seasons in a day’ phenomenon so we did still get some sunny periods. I love seeing snowy landscapes with a bright blue sky 🙂
We spent some time in Reykjavík (see here) and also did some exploring outside the capital with the help of two tour companies. You could definitely do a self-drive tour, however, because of the weather and our lack of experience driving through snow (we saw a lot of stranded tourists stuck in the snow!), we thought we better leave the driving to the experts.
THE GOLDEN CIRCLE & THE SECRET LAGOON
Run by Arctic Adventures
This company is great – they offer lots of fantastic tours. Our guide was lovely and gave us the right amount of time at each stop. The highlights were:
- Þingvellir National Park
- Geysir hot spring area
- Gulfoss Waterfall
- The Secret Lagoon
The Secret Lagoon was absolutely my favourite stop. A giant warm bath in the snow – YAS! Unlike the Blue Lagoon it is not man-made (little known secret!). It was created in 1891 and is located in a small village called Fluðir. I literally could have stayed in there all day. The Blue Lagoon is of course also magical and worth a visit (easy to do on the way to or from the airport), but quite touristy as you would expect. That’s not to say you are the only person floating around in the Secret Lagoon either of course – safe to say ‘the secret’ is absolutely out.
I found the concept of the geothermal pools and all this naturally occurring hot water / energy so fascinating. The towns with easy access to geothermal water are taking full advantage of it which is amazing. For example in Hveragerði they make rye bread in covered holes in the ground using the heat from the hot springs. They’ve also created natural greenhouses to grow vegetables and fruit, apparently they even grow bananas! Though they are quite tricky to get your hands on… Geothermal heating meets the heating and hot water requirements of approximately 87% of all buildings in Iceland. It’s likely that Iceland will be a 100% fossil-fuel-free nation in the near future.
SOUTH COAST, JÖKULSÁRLÓN & THE ICE CAVES
Run by: Nice Travels
This tour takes you far away from Reykjavik and again, as I said above, you could definitely self-drive this, as there are local guides available to take you into the ice cave when you get to the furthest destination, Jökulsárlón. However, it is of course lovely to not worry about a map, getting lost etc. and of course to have all that extra knowledge available via your guide. The highlights of this tour were:
- Lava fields
- Multiple waterfalls including Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Gljufrabui, Kvernufoss and Irafoss
- The black sand beach of Reynisfjara
- Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
- A natural ice cave in Vatnajökull
- Diamond Beach
I loved it all, the landscape is so diverse and so barren in some parts. The highlight was probably the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, from which you can take a short drive (in this insane vehicle!) to the glacier and venture into a natural ice cave. Diamond beach is also right there which is amazing to see. The overnight accomodation is owned by Nice Travel and wasn’t super memorable in terms of location / food etc. but the room was very comfortable and clean. As an alternative, I know you can get some amazing remote cabins on Airbnb.
Check where you are being picked up from, this may influence your hotel choice
- Check if you need hiking boots, don’t panic if you don’t own them, most tour operators will rent them out to you (just let them know in advance)
- Book in advance for tours and especially for the Blue Lagoon
- Don’t go just to see the Northern Lights, have other things your equally excited for or you might come back disappointed
- Timing – if you’re a big hiking fan, go in the summer