When you’re gripped with the insatiable urge to see the whole world, it’s incredibly rare to want to be revisiting a place you’ve already been to. Don’t get me wrong, everywhere I’ve been I’ve been utterly enthralled by; just simply being somewhere new and different causes the heart to do somersaults. But some places just unexpectedly capture you far deeper than you imagined it should; you’ll find yourself falling head over heels, the post-holiday blues fail to subside and you weirdly start feeling a little homesick; a tiny piece of you got stuck in that city.
For me, that place was Iceland.
Back in early 2014, although much more popular than it once was, Iceland’s tourism hadn’t yet exploded as substantially as it would in the years to come. It was definitely starting to be deemed a more mainstream destination but was still seen as a rather ‘quirky’ choice. I can’t even remember why I wanted to go there, or why I started thinking of Iceland as a viable option. As far as my memory goes, I didn’t really know much about the country apart from that it was probably a bit cold, and perhaps I should invest in some thermals. Uh, yeah, I wasn’t the most clued up tripper back in the day.
In truth, Jamie came back after a few drinks and seemed in a jolly mood, so I sat him down and seized the chance of booking a spontaneous Valentines trip to Reykjavik. Although he was little confused in the morning, and we had to look it up properly on Google Maps, we were both pretty excited to take five days out to discover this northerly capital!
After landing in KEF, just 12 hours later I’d been driving through some of the most bizarre landscapes, bathing in the milky waters of the Blue Lagoon, wandering in and out of coffee shops on Laugavegur, and finally basking under the emerald glow of the Aurora Borealis, I was SOLD. I fell for Iceland, hook line and sinker. I crushed so hard I was making the glaciers blush.
Having since returned for a second time the following year and now a few months off my third trip (why do I have to keep coming home?! *wails*), here’s my round up of what keeps me keen for the land of fire and ice.
I’ve been to the moon and back… at least I’ve got as close to it as any regular non-NASA trained human has. You may have already heard Iceland’s landscapes being described as ‘other-worldly’, but it’s only when you see it for real, you can understand there’s literally no other word for it.
It’s no surprise that Iceland has been a regular on the Hollywood scene for years, appearing in a good handful of big name blockbusters, whose directors are keen to take advantage of that bizarre show-stopping topography. But, where do I have to drive to find these lava fields, fantastical waterfalls, and crazy gorgeous mountain ranges? I bet they are right off the beaten path, and I’ll never find them, and they won’t look as good as they do in the photos… right? Couldn’t be more wrong! Yes, there are a few more unusual ‘hidden’ sights that are a bit more difficult to get to or may take you slightly off the main roads, but I was surprised to see just how accessible everything was to experience. The Golden Circle Tour for one is a drive that most tourists will take but it is no less amazing and so easy to complete. Even the landscapes in between ‘attractions’ are breath-taking so driving from A-B will take twice as long due to all the photo stops you’ll want to make!
I don’t think I’ll ever get over these stunning views!
Bathing in Geothermal pools
That water! The scenery! There’s no denying that a dip in the famous Blue Lagoon is every bit as magical as you imagined it could be. Yes, there are a few nit-pickers that will have a gripe about it being ‘touristy’ and a little bit steep on the wallet, but ultimately, bathing in this tiny bit of paradise nestled in an Icelandic lava field is an experience you’d be mad to miss out on. What makes it even better is that a trip to the Blue Lagoon can be your first or last thing to do on your Icelandic adventure, due to its close proximity to the airport. Come to the Blue Lagoon all stiff and bleary eyed from your flight and soak it all away in the milky blue waters, or round-up a perfect trip with an out-of-this-world spa experience before catching your plane home to reality.
The great thing is, is that it doesn’t stop there. The Blue Lagoon might be the most famous pool in Iceland but there are so many more Geothermal Pools to explore. My ultimate favourites that are within easy reach of Reykjavik center are Laugardalslaug and Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach.
From the outside, Laugardalslaug doesn’t look like much. In fact the first time I visited i was more than dubious. Why did I come all this way to Reykjavik to go to yet another leisure center? But a few hours later I emerged as the most relaxed and invigorated version of myself. It was pure heaven. Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach is quite possibly my most favourite place on earth. Go in the evening, soak in the outdoor hot tub and gaze out towards the ocean as the sun sets.
Does life get much better?
Grabbing a bit of Solitude
When you spend 5 out of 7 days a week deep in the rat race of London town, to find somewhere that allows you just to ‘be’ is pretty special. Now, I love London too, it’s fun to feel in the middle of it all, but sometimes you just need to breathe, you know?
From the moment I landed in Iceland for the first time, it was like the first time I’d properly taken in the air – it’s so clean, weirdly clean, like drinking fresh water into your lungs. Then I had to get used to the space of where I’d come to; the vast openness, a bizarre treeless, rocky landscape, dotted with tiny houses and roads without traffic.
It was awesome.
Even Reykjavik as a capital isn’t your regular busy city, their main street Laugavegur is packed with cute cafes, quirky bars and fashion boutiques along with your usual helping of tourist shops with stuffed puffins other Icelandic knick-knacks, and although it’s got a lively vibe, it manages to keep its buzzing atmosphere without an injection of chaos that many other capital cities breed. Venturing out on a day trip in your hire car, and you may well coast for miles without seeing another soul.
This strange new feeling of being totally alone on the planet grants you the rare and much-needed breathing space for your mind to utterly relax, but can also make you feel tiny, oddly vulnerable and so very human as you discover mountains, waterfalls, volcanoes, and glaciers…
Out of everywhere I’ve been in Europe, and I’ve been to a fair few places, Icelanders struck me to be one of the friendliest bunch. Whilst visiting Iceland I’ve had a couple of issues with finding parking spaces and rental car problems, on both occasions I’ve encountered people who are more than happy to go the extra mile to help.
Even the customer experience in shops and restaurants had been so welcoming and warm, not to mention that the English language is widely spoken (and spoken incredibly well!) across the country so English speakers would have no issues in getting by.
And Iceland is home to the cutest horses in the world – FACT!
To be honest, there’s probably more than a bit to keep you occupied in Reykjavik, but if you’re wanting to tend to your adventurous side, there’s a good handful of easy day trips to make from the capital city. Like most, the Golden Circle was my introduction into what Iceland had to offer. Enchanted by Gullfoss and Geysir, on our second trip to Iceland we embarked on an epic self-tour of the South Coast. An easy day trip would be to stop at the coastal town of Vik and make a U-Turn, but we continued onto Jokulsarlon, the glacier lagoon, and (knackered) just about made it back to Reykjavik within the day!
I know I’ve got loads more to discover and there’s so much more to see, I haven’t even started on the Westfjords or Northern Iceland…!
Romance in Reykjavik
Personally, I believe that there isn’t anywhere quite like Iceland that exudes ‘romance’ as much as this place does.
I’ll hold my hands up though, i’m totally biased; on my second trip, I was proposed to by my now fiance (update: Husband!) at Jokulsarlon, the Glacier Lagoon which was all too perfect! Picture this; scrambling up the banks of the lagoon for that incredible panorama across the glacier, piercing silence apart from the occasional crack and groan from the ice, and then a glittering rock emerges from a tiny box… I’ll stop, it’s getting terribly soppy now! But you catch my drift?
Iceland is crammed full of potential moments like this. Although the country’s popularity as a tourist destination is exploding, you can still find yourselves wonderfully alone in front of one of Iceland’s stunning waterfalls, on a secluded bench for a picnic or clutching underneath the northern lights!
Trust me when I say that each panorama is take-your-breath away kind of postcard perfect and will be sure to impress way beyond any candlelit meal or cookie-cutter spa weekend!
In Awe of the Aurora
Ultimate Bucket List experience alert! I’m not sure what I was expecting from the elusive northern lights, only that people kept warning me that I’d be ‘lucky’ to catch them. On our first night in Reykjavik, we headed to the Seltjarnarnes peninsula just outside the town center as the green bands of light were just beginning to become visible to the naked eye and within minutes they had transformed into twisting, shimmering, leaps arches of emerald and it was literally the best thing I’d ever witnessed.
I’ll forever crave that feeling of standing under night sky with the Aurora Borealis dancing above me!
Feasting on everything!
Icelandic food; I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors! And whilst most of them are true (you might find that you’ve accidentally ordered yourself an entire sheep head or a fermented shark), there are also other culinary delights to be found around Reykjavik.
Despite being one of only a handful of countries on the planet without a McDonalds (their last branch folded back in 2009), Iceland seems to be influenced by their American cousins when it comes to food; you’ll find that it’s easy to grab a good hot dog or burger.
Easily the best and most famous hot dog in the city (if not, the world!) is the hot dog stand by the harbour, just outside the Radisson Blue 1919 hotel. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, translated into English as ‘the best hot dogs in town‘, is just that. It’s a bold statement but these hot dogs live up to their name.
A favourite of mine is the Sea Baron (Saegreifinn), again on the harbour front, offers up excellent and exceedingly fresh sea food. You can pick from a fridge full of their haul for the day, (which generally will include Minke Whale if you’re keen to try this), but don’t forget to order yourself a bowl of their lobster soup. Absolutely the best soup I’ve ever had without a doubt, and served with a generous side plate of bread and butter so surprisingly filling!
I’d go back just for this. everytime!
Have you ever felt this way about a place you’d visited? And if you’re a lover of Iceland like me, what is it that you adore about the country?