Iceland is one of the most incredible places I have ever had the privilege to visit. Both Ben and I were actually considering going to Svalbard for my birthday but felt we weren’t quite prepared for the weather and dangerous animals just yet. Instead, we visited the Atlantic island during the winter and it was just as magical and other-wordly as I had been expecting. We opted to drive the South Coast and undertake our very own Iceland Road Trip.
- LHR – KEF
- Hilton Reykjavik Nordica
- Icelandic Fish & Chips
I got my first taste of the British Airways First Class lounge before we headed off to the secluded icy world out in the middle of the Atlantic. This was another birthday trip (but much more of an adventure than those before it) and so I enjoyed a few glasses of whisky before we boarded our BA flight to Reykjavik – one of the airlines’ newest routes.
The plane was decked out with leather seats throughout and was impeccably clean and fresh. We took our exit aisle seats and I got myself comfortable for the flight ahead – I had picked a seat on the right-hand side of the plane so that I would definitely get a good view of Iceland as we approached.
As I had hoped, Iceland appeared out of the mist and already looked otherworldly. From my plane seat, I couldn’t fathom how this island was inhabitable – it looked barren and desolate and was completed covered in a think blanket of white. The mountains were impressive and I could hardly wait for touchdown so that I could get out and explore this lost world.
We knew we had an early start the next day so we planned to take a quick hop into town and grab some dinner. We missed our stop on the bus however and we ended up in the middle of nowhere and the bus driver dismissing our attempts at getting back to where we wanted to be. It turned out that he was just taking his short break and eventually we got on our way.
We had chosen to eat at Icelandic Fish & Chips in Reykjavik city centre (I tried the Wolf Fish whilst Ben gobbled the Ling) before heading back to the hotel for the evening.
Day Two - the start of our Iceland Road Trip
- Þingvellir National Park
- Northern Lights – the first sight
We were on the road early and were bound for Þingvellir National Park. We couldn’t help but stop at numerous points along the way to marvel at the landscapes and mountains. The distances appeared so vast and were genuinely astonishing!
We didn’t intend to stay for too long as we had a lot to cover on this day but our intention was to ensure that we caught the geological rift whereby the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. Never before have I seen such an obvious display of geological power and activity – I had learnt about these things at school but it all seems so hidden and mysterious until you see such a feature ripping through the land.
Geysir was the next stop on the route. I was pretty excited about getting here; I’d seen Youtube videos of the exploding Great Geysir and couldn’t wait to see it for myself. The area could not have looked any better than it did upon our arrival. There was a slight snow falling, the skies were clear and the steam rising from the numerous outlets of geothermal water clouded the view of the sun leaving an eerie, enchanting haze.
Back on the road again, we were hoping to make it to Gullfoss whilst the sun was still up. The temperature was plummeting as we arrived and we struggled to stay out for too long. The sheer quantity of water freefalling over the cliff faces was immense and a really fantastic way to complete our first full day in Iceland. We stayed in Hella that night which is a pretty small town near the South coast of the island at the Stracta Hotel – we spent the evening sat outside in their hot tubs whilst the snow fell all around us.
- The Storm!
Day two was always going to be interesting as we had read about an impending storm before we left the hotel. Across the road from where we were staying was a small supermarket – we stopped here to collect some food and water in case we got stuck somewhere and then we headed out into the snow and wind.
As we neared Seljalandsfoss the rain and wind were combining to form a very malicious double-act – low visibility and sudden bursts knocking the car sideways. We perservered anyway, wrapped ourselves up in our waterproofs and trudged through the conditions to get up close and personal with the impressive waterfall.
We had to admit defeat a few minutes down the road however as the wind was really threatening to throw us off the road and we pulled over into a school (closed for the day) to take some shelter from the relentless pummeling. I checked the Icelandic met. office website and found that we were smack bang in the middle of the most intense section of the storm – a great place to park.
It was difficult to see much else whilst the storm raged on so we made our way to our hotel for the evening, ready for our early morning start for ice caving in Skaftafell.
- Skaftafell Ice Caving
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Today was all about the ice caving tour booked with LocalGuides. Instead of going into too much detail about the tour, I’ve attached some photos of the cave trip in the album below.
What I would say is that because of another storm, we couldn’t go to the larger caves further East and so we had to settle for a smaller one to the West of Jokulsarlon. Our guide, Snorri, was very funny though and they took great care in all safety related aspects – there was a partially frozen lake out the front of the cave and it was made very clear to us where we could and could not walk.
All in all, it was good fun, I felt maybe it was a little overpriced for the smaller cave but both Ben and I had an enjoyable time.
Days Five and Six
- Return to Reykjavik
- Ostabudin Restaurant
- Hilton Spa
- Flight back to London
The last couple of days were reserved for a long drive back to Reykjavik and a rare bit of relaxation in the spa at our hotel in the city. Our drive took around four hours due to patches of icy road and brief blizzards which reduced visibility a great deal. We occupied ourselves by singing along to the cheesy music pumping out of the radio and before we knew it we had arrived at our destination.
We utilised the spa for the afternoon, enjoyed a massage and at one point were sat in the outdoor hot tub whilst heavy snow fell all around us. It was a rest that had been well deserved especially considering all the weather had thrown at us!
For dinner that evening, Ben suggested a small place in the city called Ostabudin. The food was impeccable and is rightly regarded as one of the most well-reviewed eateries in the whole of Reykjavik. (If you’re interested, I had the Mink Whale)
If you have made it this far without getting annoyed that you haven’t yet seen the Northern Lights, I applaud you. We actually got extremely lucky and managed to see them two nights out of five but I felt that they deserved their own special page.
As I said before, Iceland is like nowhere else I have ever visited. It is mysterious, captivating and endlessly beautiful. Photos will never do the country justice and I would urge everyone to visit this magnificent island at least once in their lifetime.
Thank you for taking the time to read this – please make sure you check out our vlog post and the Northern Lights gallery too!
Tips for your own Iceland Road Trip
Our Iceland road trip was undertaken during the onset of winter. As such road conditions were not great and they swung dramatically from clear to thick black ice in a few miles or minutes. It really pays to check roads.is for an up-to-the-minute status of the roads on which you intend to drive. It will tell you if the road is impassable too.
We got stuck in the middle of a big Atlantic storm (although we did know it was coming). However, we constantly checked vedur.is for real-time weather reports including wind speeds, intensity, locations and rainfall. The weather can be very localised around the island, please don’t get caught out.
This should be obvious really but you are going to see some amazing things on your Iceland road trip – make sure you know how to use your camera! I managed to get some good photos of the Northern Lights but there were many people trying but failing miserably. How disappointed would you be to travel all that way, see the lights but then not be able to capture that perfect photo to show off to all your friends?
In the winter, Iceland doesn’t stay bright for very long. In December, we managed a maximum of 5 hours of daylight. Make sure you are awake and at your first point of interest as the sun is coming up and at your last as the sun goes down – that way, you can maximise the amount you can see in one day.
You will have a plan, of course. What I would say is don’t let it dictate your every movement. When you are on the road, you’ll stumble across a lot of amazing landscapes and interesting view points. Pull over, take a look, take a walk. Enjoy the country, otherwise you’ll constantly feel the need to move on quickly and damage your experience.