I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland and see the Northern Lights. It’s been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and this year – finally – I got to go.
Whenever I visit a new city, I always get the Lonely Planet pocket guides, as they are crammed with loads of helpful information including what to see, where to eat, drink and shop, how to get around and lots more.
My boyfriend and I were only staying for 4 nights – so we knew we had to make the most of it. I ended up booking a range of activities to fill our days and make sure we experienced as much as possible. Below I’ll outline our day-to-day adventures, as well as some other tips for those of you who are also planning on visiting Reykjavik.
On the first day, we arrived at around 1:00pm and checked into the Loft Hostel. Located right in the centre of Reykjavik, this was an affordable place with a really cool vibe (they have local bands play, poetry readings and free weekly yoga!). They also have a roof bar with a balcony overlooking the city, which is nice in the mornings/evenings.
We booked a private room with an ensuite which was basic, but had everything we needed. The only warning I would give to prospective bookers is that Loft tends to have events running the rooftop bar most nights – it wasn’t a problem for us because most of the events stopped after 11pm and we are late sleepers, but it’s something to consider if you prefer an early night!
Once we’d checked in, we went out for some lunch and ended up at The Laundromat Cafe, a charming little place filled with books 🙂
We had booked our Northern Lights tour for the evening, but unfortunately, it was cancelled due to bad weather. Luckily, they offered a free tour on the next night in the event of a cancellation – so we weren’t too upset.
Instead, we went to the ‘secret pizzeria with no name’ – Hverfisgata 12 – which I had read about in this blog post. In actual fact, it wasn’t so secret or hard to find, but it did have a decent atmosphere and some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. My boyfriend, Scott, opted for the pork, pear and horseradish combination, and said it was really good!
After this, we headed back to the hostel and got ourselves a bit of an early night, as we were quite tired from travelling.
We had booked a whale watching tour for the second morning, but this was also cancelled due to the storm that had rolled in from the previous night.
This was, again, unfortunate – but we didn’t let it stop us. Instead, we went for a walk to the Old Harbour (battling against the wind and rain!) to check out the boats all docked up and explore some of the town.
Along the way we saw loads of street art, and not the crappy kind we’re used to in the UK – but incredible, large-scale pieces that really make the city come to life.
There’s definitely an edgy, cultured vibe to Reykjavik, that reminded me of Camden and Shoreditch in London.
We stopped for a coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, a sweet little coffee house right in the centre of the city, before heading the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Yes, it’s the world’s largest collection of pickled penises and we thought, when in Iceland…
Actually, we were a bit disappointed. The ‘museum’ turned out to be a single room with lots of jars. It was certainly ~interesting~ to see the collection, but it didn’t seem quite worth the 1500 ISK admission fee we each paid. However, it’s definitely worth going just to say that you have, and to take an obligatory photo next to an elephant penis…
We then headed to the Cathedral (Hallgrimskirkja Church), which we had spotted from the hostel’s rooftop bar, and climbed to the top (there’s a lift that does most of the work for you). From here, we could see the colourful collection of buildings that make up Reykjavik, and the majestic scenery that surrounds it.
On the way back, we ended up eating in Dunkin’ Donuts. I know, I know but we were very cold, wet and tired, and there isn’t one anywhere near where we live in the UK – so it was still a bit of a treat for us.
Oh – and our Northern Lights tour? Cancelled again. We were just unlucky with the weather, which was to be expected when you only go for 4 nights at the end of November. Truth be told I was a little disappointed, but I had prepared myself for it and wasn’t going to let it put a downer on our trip!
That evening, we went on a bit of bar crawl to experience some of Reykjavik’s nightlife. As we were on a bit of a budget, and already been stung by the expensive price of alcohol in the city shops, we used the Reykjavik Happy Hour App to find the best (read: cheapest) times to visit each bar.
On the third day, we hired a car and drove around the famous Golden Circle – one of Iceland’s top things to do. We hired our car from SIXT and, despite some initial concerns after reading some pretty negative reviews, didn’t have any problems while we were out there (phew!).
Neither of us had either driven a car on the right-hand side before, and it took a bit of getting used to! Luckily there isn’t a lot of traffic in Iceland, and once you get out of the city there’s not a lot of roads either – so the way is pretty easy going.
We stopped at various tourist spots along the way, one of the most notable being the famous Geyser. The black, volcanic rock that makes up the majority of the landscape constantly reminds you you’re on an active volcanic island, but seeing the steam rise out from the ground with the strong smell of sulphur really puts it in perspective!
Another favourite stop was Gulfoss Waterfall, which we were both excited about because it’s featured at the start of Prometheus (2012). Honestly, the size of that waterfall is just breathtaking, and it was a beautiful (if not bitterly cold) sight to behold.
We also stopped on a whim at this old, volcanic crater – which you could climb and walk around with stunning views.
That evening, we ate at a place called 3 Frakkar, which serves traditional Icelandic food. Wanting to experience something authentic, we both sampled the delicacy that is fermented shark – which actually isn’t as bad as it sounds. Served ice-cold, it’s quite a fatty meat with a strong fishy taste. Scott didn’t like it, but I didn’t mind it.
After that, I opted for the peppered whale steak, which wasn’t at all what I was expecting. If I hadn’t known any different, I would have assumed I was being served steak, as it was red, bloody meat served medium-rare. It was absolutely delicious – and definitely worth the splurge!
We spent that evening chilling at the hostel’s bar. They held a poetry night, and although it was all in Icelandic and we didn’t understand one word of it, it was a really nice atmosphere – Icelandic people are really friendly!
On our fourth and final day we left the city and headed towards the famous Blue Lagoon. Before resting in the warm waters, however, we first embarked on a one hour ATV ride across the black volcanic mountains.
I was excited but a bit unsure about driving an ATV, as I have never done it before. It was a wet and windy day, but our guide dressed us up in some hefty waterproof gear!
We had a brief introduction, in which our guide showed us how to accelerate and how to break – and that was it! The next thing I knew, I was driving my ATV across rocks, through puddles and on perilous mountain edges, all the while trying to keep up with my boyfriend who was racing ahead (I actually saw him go on two wheels around one corner!).
We stopped at the top, and I was really annoyed because I hadn’t even thought to take my camera. Despite the wind and the rain, the views were spectacular. After we’d paused to catch our breath we went straight back to it, making our way back to the ATV HQ.
Caked in mud and aching all over, we then headed to the Blue Lagoon for some rest and relaxation. We’d purposely planned the Blue Lagoon to be the last thing we did in Iceland before we had to head home, and I’m really glad we did.
We’d booked our tickets in advance (you have to do this because it’s pretty much always fully booked). We went for the standard ticket, which just includes entry. You can get options which include towels and stuff, but we saved some pennies by bringing our own.
Once inside, men and women must go in separate entries, which include lockers, changing rooms and showers, before meeting in the Lagoon’s waters. You choose to go straight outside, but we opted to start in the inside pool, which slowly leads outside (a much nicer option to avoid standing in freezing conditions in just a bikini!).
The waters were warm and silky, and despite the bitter chill of the wind on our faces – we remained warm and comfortable. There are outdoor bars that enable you to order drinks whilst in the Lagoon – a feature we certainly took advantage of!
We stayed in the pool for around an hour before deciding our faces were too numb – and I can honestly say that my skin had never felt better. I was VERY tempted to buy some of their spa products to take home, but one look at the price tag was enough to quickly change my mind.
We headed back to the hostel for our final night, and went across the road to a little pub for a burger and a drink. I can’t remember the name of the place now, but it was warm and charming and a nice way to end our short trip.
Would We Go Back?
Absolutely! Not only for a second chance to enjoy the lights, but also to see more of the Island and enjoy more of Reykjavik’s nightlife.
However, if I were to go back I would take a lot more money – we just about managed it, but Reykjavik isn’t really the sort of place you can do on a budget. And even though we went in November, there wasn’t any snow! So I think if we went back we might go in December/January to try and catch the snowy scenes.
Have you been or are planning to a trip to Reykjavik? Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments and I will try to answer them!