Let me preface this by saying that it’s damn hard to sum up the most insane place you’ve ever visited in one blog. Iceland surpassed my expectations exponentially, so if you’re reading this to see if it’s worth going, you should probably just book your ticket.
Iceland’s been on my mind since a good friend visited in 2013, just before it hit the headlines and Insta feeds. In the past five years I’ve seen hundreds of photos and videos showing off the magical landscapes, and they secured the country a spot at the very top of my wanderlist for when I moved to this side of the world. I was desperate to walk amongst massive gems at Diamond Beach, race around a glacier on a snowmobile, take on the roads in a bad ass Landrover Defender (spoiler alert: we did) and watch the Northern Lights dance in the sky (spoiler alert: we didn’t). We found flights for only 70GBP return, so we booked for a five-day icy adventure at the end of January 2018. Here’s what we got up to.
We arrived at Keflavik Airport (the main one in Reykjavik) at around 5.30pm and it was already dark. We’d booked the Blue Lagoon for that evening because it’s close to the airport and best to do either on your way in or way out of the city. The transfer with Reykjavik Excursions is the easiest way to get there, and then you can book another ticket from the lagoon to the city. Too easy!
To be completely honest, the Blue Lagoon wasn’t that impressive – it was night so no photo op, it was effing freezing for any part of your body out of the water, and the silicon masks they give you make your hair snap off! It’s one of those ‘must-do’ things but if you’re hoping for the picture-perfect quintessential Icelandic experience, maybe just adjust your expectations. My favourite part of the Blue Lagoon was probably the raspberry slushy that I got in the pool as part of my premium package, but I’m obsessed with slushies so take that with a grain of
We spent about two hours wading through the shallows, freezing our butts off running to the sauna, thawing out, and refreezing on the way back into the lagoon, and then it was time to head to our first accommodation right in the middle of the city, Loft Hostel.
Our 8.30am pick up felt far earlier than it actually was, given that the sky was still pitch black. By the time our body clocks woke up properly we were well on our way into our day tour with Mountaineers Iceland! We opted for the Pearl tour, that checked off the key Golden Circle hot spots with a casual addition of snowmobiling across Langjokull Glacier. No biggie.
First up was Geysir and a stunning 11am sunrise, then a visit to thundering Gullfoss, before hooning through mounds of snow in our super-truck to reach the glacier. With seventeen layers of clothing and our GoPros at the ready, we raced off into the vast whiteness to enjoy a perfectly sunny -6 degree day.
I cannot explain how FUN this was. It’s a crazy feeling to be hitting top speed on a snowmobile when all you can see is powder and ice, it felt intergalactic. It’s a workout though, my thumb hasn’t done that much exercise since I clocked Spyro Year of the Dragon in two days in 2004. Worth it! The rest of the tour took us to a local eatery for soup and pizza #dreamteam, then to Thingvellir National Park for a purple sky sunset, before saying bless (goodbye) to our fantastic tour guide and heading to the funky (if not decorated in a slightly creepy style…) Kex Hostel for our second night in Reykjavik.
All of the above photos were taken by my ridiculously talented friend @levickphotography.
Time to pick up our baby from Enterprise! Driving around Iceland in a Landrover Defender is basically a photographer’s dream so this was kind of a big deal. After being hit on at the rental pick up (“Oh my gosh, two girls driving a Defender?!” Yes! Without a man supervising even! Shock horror!) we hit the road to start chasing waterfalls.
Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss and Selfoss are the main three that you’ll hear about, and we made it to the first two. Skogafoss was my favourite for sure, the view from the walkway up to the top is perhaps the best photo op I’ve ever seen – and that’s no small feat. Hold onto your beanies and GoPros though, the wind at the top of the foss (waterfall) is fierce.
My top tip for this drive is to not stick to your itinerary – you’ll drive past crystal-clear reflections and volcanic mounds and you’ll definitely want to stop. Oh, and passengers, keep your excited screams to yourself so you don’t distract the driver – a simple “please pull over” will do.
On day three we stayed at a quaint little wooden cabin at Mid Hvoll Cottages, just ten minutes south of Vik and perfect for a mid-road trip night stop.
Probably my favourite day of the whole trip, we hit the highway and drove a couple of hours up to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. Once again, the drive did not disappoint — we passed insane black-sand rivers, snow-capped jagged cliffs and bright white glaciers all while singing along to a 90s singalong playlist. Perfection. The beach and the lagoon are right next to each other, we parked near the beach which is the right turn straight after the bridge (there seemed to be fewer cars there).
Diamond Beach was honestly mind-blowing, it totally took my breath away. Chunks of ice ranging from human-size to, well, ice cube-size were littered across the black sand for hundreds of metres, creating a stunningly contrasting landscape that photographers could usually only dream of. I’ve said it before but this particular spot really feels out-of-this-world, like you’re on some Marvel-esque planet where Bobby Drake has been running amok.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is just under the bridge and is equally magical. Bright blue icebergs and completely still water make for the dreamiest reflections you’ve ever seen, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of the local seals looking for their chance to be Insta-famous.
After a fair few hours taking photos of basically the same thing, we jumped in the car to thaw out our hands and head back down to Vik. I actually messed up the hotel booking for this night (facepalm) — we were meant to be staying at the gorgeous Black Beach Suites but I had accidentally booked the night before (non-refundable) and they had no availability. Luckily the incredible team at Puffin Hotel came to our rescue and gave us a very generous last minute discount a couple of hours before we were going to be homeless in Iceland. Basic accommodation but right in Vik, next to a restaurant, comfortable and good variety for breakfast the next day.
You know that meme that says girls need three dinners, seven outfits, two parties and nine cakes for their birthday? That’s me, except I also need to be in another country. The idea to hit Iceland at the end of Jan actually stemmed from me wanting to be somewhere epic to kick off my 27th year on this earth, and that birthday wish came true.
First stop on our final full day was Reynisfjara Beach for sunrise. We were treated to candyfloss skies, snow-covered black sand, super strange rock formations and about fifty thousand birds flying overhead. A couple of hundred metres before the beach there’s also a stunning little church that sits right in front of the white-capped mountains, which was the ideal spot for some drone shots.
The last shot to tick off our Iceland Instagram bucket list was the famous Sólheimasandur plane crash, but not before walking 3km from the carpark to get there. It was as insane as I expected – it’s so strange seeing a half-destroyed airplane in the middle of a desolate, grey, rocky landscape with no signs of life except for about ten other tourists. It felt like we were—I’ll say it again—on another planet. Pro-tip: The plane’s wings and roof get covered in thin ice that’s veeeery slippery so don’t jump on top or on the wings without a valid escape plan that doesn’t involve falling off.
After an hour of complaining about walking back to the car (I was tired, freezing, my bag was broken from snowmobiling and it was my birthday okay) we made our way back to Reykjavik. Tonight’s apartment was a birthday treat: we stayed at the stunning G Unit Penthouse Apartment. After a celebratory dinner of roast chicken instant noodles and kumara fries (high rollers…) we watched a spot of Netflix before hitting the hay and flying home the next morning.
Iceland has stolen my heart, I honestly can’t recommend it enough. I’ve heard that summer gives it a totally different vibe so I’d like to head back in the warmer months, and probably check it out again next winter and try head up north to Akureyri. I know lots of people look for a five-day itinerary to tick off all the hot spots (or cold spots!) so I hope this helps! If you have any Iceland tips to share with other readers then comment them below.
We flew to Iceland with EasyJet
Iceland rental car
We drove a Land Rover Defender from Enterprise Rental Cars
Iceland travel insurance
I have an annual policy with NZ Travel Insurance which gives me medical, cancellation and baggage protection for the whole year.
This post was in collaboration with Enterprise Rental Cars, but as always all opinions are my own and are based on my personal experience. Please note that this blog contains affiliate links that give me a small commission from anything you buy, at no extra cost to you. I would never advertise a product I don’t know or use myself, and this commission helps Finding Alexx reach more travellers just like yourself. Thanks for supporting me!