Iceland has been on my bucket list for a while and I have finally got a chance to tick it off my list. I just came back from a short trip to Reykjavik and I have to say this was one of the best trips I have ever taken! From record snowfall and geysers to fermented shark and Blue Lagoon – my hubby and I have tried it all. If like me, you only can/want to get away to Iceland for few days, hopefully this 72-hour travel guide and general tips will come in handy.
*Check Part I (Days 1-2) for Reykjavik and Golden Circle adventures.
We had big hopes for our third day in Reykjavik and boy, did it deliver on its promises. After a bit of a lie in, we packed our swimsuits and set off for the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is one of the biggest and most famous geothermal spas in Iceland that attracts millions of visitors. The seawater at 240°C travels up for almost 2,000 meters until it reaches the surface and cools down to balmy 38°C. The lagoon gets its name for its beautiful shade of minty blue thanks to the silica, algae and other minerals found in the water, known for their healing powers (especially for skin conditions, like psoriasis).
The Blue Lagoon is a very well thought through experience and the whole process works like a well-oiled machine. First, we joined the queue to pick up our e-bracelets that held admission information, locked our lockers and acted as e-wallets should we decided to buy things inside. Here we also picked up our towels (standard admission only includes entrance and a mud mask, but you can rent towels, bathrobes and flip flops separately). Next, we headed to the separate changing rooms to change into our swimsuits and take a shower – a prerequisite for entering the lagoon. The changing rooms are very big and have everything one might need – shower cubicles, hair dryers, and Blue Lagoon branded shampoos, conditioners and moisturizing creams.
After changing into our swimming gear my hubby and I met up at the indoor meeting point and headed for the lagoon. The combination of icy cold air and heat escaping the lagoon water was so lovely and invigorating. Those of you who enjoy a jacuzzi in the middle of the winter will understand what I mean!
The lagoon doesn’t get too deep, it was only up to my shoulders at its deepest point and temperatures vary slightly depending on where you are. We found a really warm spot which we didn’t want to leave as it was so relaxing and comforting.
Inside the lagoon there were two bars – one for drinks (that’s when e-bracelets come handy!) and another for the silica mud which we scooped up and slathered on our faces. With drinks in our hands and silica mud masks on our faces we were ready for some serious natural pampering!
We spent a couple of hours in the water and could have stayed even longer if we didn’t have other plans. Why would you leave? It’s super relaxing, there is a steam room, artificial waterfall for back massages, bar for drinks and café for food, an indoor lounge to chill in and even a hotel. My skin felt amazing and invigorated afterwards and had a healthy glow. But our Reykjavik adventures weren’t over yet and we had to head back to check on the status of the Northern Lights tour.
We were lucky that despite the snow, visibility for Aurora Borealis around Reykjavik was great. Not even one cloud! So, at 7:30pm we were back on the road to catch it. As we were approaching the viewing spot at the Thingvellir National Park, we could see bright green ribbons above and on the left side of the bus. ‘Look, Aurora is dancing!’ told us the tour guide pointing at the Aurora activity.
Once we arrived, we joined a group of fellow tourists marvelling at the Aurora lights.
Maybe because of the films or professional photos I have seen, I imagined it would be so big and bright, stretching above our heads. But in our case, it looked like a thin green haze above the mountains that continued to change its shape with time.
Despite my high expectations, it was still beautiful and I wish my camera fully captured its movements. According to local folklore, Aurora Borealis is a form of communication from the spirits of the loved ones we lost. And Icelandic superstition warns pregnant women from looking at the lights. Otherwise, the baby will be born cross-eyed!
Seeing Aurora Borealis was the ice(land)ing on the cake for our trip. We had such an incredible time in Iceland and meeting its very friendly and lovely people. The country is quite small (only 330,000 people!), easy to get around and very safe. The nature is simply stunning and the Icelandic people are very much in tune with it – ‘take nothing, leave nothing’ is their motto. In its Scandinavian way, Iceland is understated and modest but very HYGGE (Scandi for cosy and comforting). Just look at these tree lights in each neighborhood!
I am sure this won’t be our last time in Iceland and I can’t wait to explore other things, like whale watching and snowmobiling, on our next trip!
- Money matters:
- As I mentioned before, Iceland is very expensive. For example, two salmon sandwiches in one of the Golden Circle tour stops cost us £20 and a simple small dinner at Café Loki ended up being £60! To save money on food, I suggest you find a supermarket and buy ingredients for breakfasts and lunches there. Also, bring your own snacks on the tours, so you don’t have to buy them at the gift shops, which are pricey.
- Don’t bother exchanging money beforehand. You can easily withdraw cash in Icelandic kronas from ATMs at the airport, main bus terminal and throughout the city.
- Clothing: if you travel in winter time like we did, bringing various layers of winter clothing is essential. Check the weather forecast ahead of the trip but don’t be fooled by seemingly warm temperatures. The Arctic wind is bitter so make sure to pay attention to the wind chill factor, especially outside Reykjavik. I will do a separate blog post on winter clothing to bring, but the essential items should include: a warm (preferably down) coat or parka, winter boots that are warm and water-proof, woolly jumpers or fleeces, waterproof trousers, long-sleeve t-shirts, thermal underwear and leggings, warm socks and fleecy tights (for girls). Scarves, hats and warm gloves are a must in Iceland.
- After some extensive research and reading reviews on Tripadvisor, we picked Reykjavik Excursions, which I would definitely recommend. They run a regular airport shuttle service and have a large fleet of coaches, and offer an extensive list of tours and activities around Iceland. We booked everything in advance online and it was super easy to collect the tickets and board the appropriate tour buses. If for some reason the tour is postponed (due to weather/road conditions), they will send you an email in advance and refund the tour if it’s cancelled or postponed but you can’t attend on a different day.
- Blue Lagoon: to avoid disappointment on the day of the visit, I suggest buying your ticket in advance. You can do it either on the Reykjavik Excursions or the Blue Lagoon’s website. If you want to save a bit of money, you can bring your own towel and flip flops. The bathrobe can also be rented and comes handy in winter when it’s cold and you want to wrap yourself in something warm when you come out of the water. Information and prices of different admission packages are available here. Lastly, remove all of your expensive jewellery which will get tarnished and try to avoid getting your hair wet (or put lots of conditioner in before you enter the lagoon) as minerals in water will make it dry.
- Photography: if you love photography, bring whatever equipment you have: selfie sticks, tripods, minipods, compact camera, D/SLR camera and your phone. I had my iPhone handy for quick snaps and videos and compact camera for nicer quality photos. I also brought my DSLR camera and tripod for Aurora Borealis photos. Practice in advance for Aurora Borealis shooting as much as possible as you may not have time to be playing with various settings standing in the dark and cold.
- Eating out: these are restaurant suggestions from the owner of our hotel so you know you can trust these choices! All are pricey, some more than others and may need advance booking.
- Drinking water: once you open the hot water tap, you will notice the strong smell of sulphur which can be a bit off-putting. However, cold water is odorless and is very good thanks to the natural springs it comes from. Even a cashier at the local mini market told us not to bother spending our money on bottled water so don’t waste your money!
Happy travels! xx