Iceland – Where the floor is really lava
What is the best way to spend New Year’s Eve? Right, you fly directly to Iceland on 01 January and start the new year not with a hangover, but with a fascinating trip to the northernmost capital of the world, Reykjavik. Read now why we absolutely wanted to go to Iceland in winter and what possibilities are available to the traveler to explore this wonderful island. At the same time, we rang in the year 2022, which should be in the sign of the wind on our further travels.
Every adventure begins before hopping into a cab, bus, rental car or plane. So it was with us, as we nervously followed the weather reports and registered the cancellation of flights to Iceland. Besides, we had to go through the annoying (but necessary) Corona-related preparation process with testing and uploading of certificates and proofs. Eventually, though, the time finally comes and you are taking off.
Our flight was not postponed or cancelled, so we were able to land on Iceland on schedule. Nevertheless, a hurricane was raging on Iceland, which not only made the landing extremely difficult, but also delayed the exit by almost half an hour. Disembarking was simply not possible due to the wind, as the jetways are only designed for wind speeds of up to 80 km/h.
We felt the mighty force of the wind on the way to our shuttle (Grey Line). Not only did our luggage almost get torn out of our hands, we also had to fight with all our might against the forces of nature until we were safely seated in the bus. We pre-booked the bus transfer from the airport to the hotel conveniently via GetYourGuide. Please note at this point that hotels in the city center are almost never approached directly, only the nearest bus stop. This applies not only to the airport shuttle, but also to all other tours that are undertaken by bus. Even if you click on the option “hotel pickup” (and pay an additional fee) no bus is coming, instead only a phone call at most, where you are staying.
The downside of an island is that it is an island. At least from the point of view of the market economy. Thus, Iceland is no different from Helgoland, where demand massively exceeds the scarce supply. Especially with the accommodations, one has to pay prices on Iceland that no longer have anything to do with a balanced price/performance ratio. In addition, we were very spoiled by Copenhagen before. Our accommodation in Reykjavik was Thingholt by Center Hotels. In the end, a Bed & Breakfast at prices of a 5-Star hotel.
However, we mention here explicitly that we were very satisfied with the accommodation at the end of the trip. Not only the perfect location in the center of Reykjavik is to be emphasized. Also, the always friendly staff and the breakfast left nothing to be desired. Whereby the topic friendliness on Iceland is also a special feature. The people in Iceland do not necessarily have friendliness written all over their faces. Nevertheless, I would not describe anyone from Iceland as unfriendly. It is rather a mixture of people from the Ruhr area and the hanseatic region. So peculiar, but in the end always very cordial.
Another small tip is shopping at the airport duty free store. Especially the subject of alcohol prices can be kept here for the rest of the stay something in limits, if you stock up enough. The good thing about alcohol is that it keeps you warm in winter.
Iceland is not only in terms of nature, but also culinary, a must for every traveler. We were allowed to convince ourselves of the excellent cuisine every day and ate our way through the respective menus. It must be said that the focus is on small dishes – the so-called tapas. These cover a wide range of ingredients and tastes. Below we have listed for you the restaurants that we visited and that we can absolutely recommend:
– Reykjavík Fish Restaurant: The most affordable and down-to-earth place.
– Messinn: Rustic and very tasty restaurant with Christmas music included – on 03. January.
– Punk: The longest tapas menu in a spring-like ambience. Simply picturesque.
– ROK: The living room of the locals with perhaps the best tomato soup in the world.
– Monkeys: Only the best to finish. With an Asian touch and Icelandic refinement.
If you’re flying to Iceland, you’re certainly not saving money. If you want to keep your budget in check, you have other options besides supermarkets to eat out without having to declare bankruptcy. There is the 101 Reykjavik Street Food for the small purse or also Subway. If you want to keep it stylish, you can go to the Lebowski Bar and enjoy a White Russian (in all possible versions) and a burger menu.
While preparing for our trip to Iceland, we asked ourselves what we actually wanted to see and whether we should do this trip in winter or summer. We quickly came across the Ring Road, which leads more or less once around the island. This tour is done with a rental car and requires at least two weeks, depending on the individual condition in our estimation.
Since we did not want to spend so much time on Iceland and this also not in the mild summer, we came just as fast to the finally practiced alternative. Three quarters of all sights are located in the southwest of the island and are easily accessible from Reykjavik. Furthermore, the exploration is possible within a week. So we stayed in the capital and booked single day tours to the sights.
The crisp cold (especially with this icy wind) and the short days with only 6 hours of sunlight per day are really no obstacles. Rather, it only adds to the magic of Iceland. At least, if you have the right clothes. Otherwise it will be pure horror. So hat, gloves, long underwear, sturdy shoes as well as wind- and rainproof clothes are an absolute must. The short days are equally fascinating because the sun never exceeds a certain height and after sunrise, sunset practically sets in. This is simply magical and surreal and makes for insane photos and images that get stuck in your head.
Of course, you also have to be lucky with the weather. Our trips (more on that in a moment) always took place in top conditions. With clear skies and sun, the country shone in glorious colors with distant views of the volcanoes and glaciers that simply took your breath away. Only when we were no longer dependent on the weather, the rain came and made us realize once again that a visit to Iceland in the summer cannot be wrong.
But Iceland is Iceland and not Summerland and so we were allowed to experience the sunrise as well as sunset every day. A unique experience. In addition, the Christmas lights in Iceland stay up until February. Only when the days become longer again, the lighting comes off. With the impressions and experiences in this first week of the year 2022, we were able to enjoy the longest and at the same time the shortest days of our lives.
An absolute highlight for us was to get to see the northern lights. For this purpose, we booked a trip to this natural spectacle via GetYourGuide right on the day of our arrival. As mentioned, the weather was not particularly friendly to us at the beginning and the tour unfortunately had to be postponed in advance. But since we were prepared for this, we had already booked a second tour for the second evening in advance. This tour took place as scheduled.
We all have our fantasy boats, vessels that we dream of sailing away in, into the dream. In my ships I unite my own fantasy, precision and the knowledge that boat builders have developed throughout the ages. The sun ship gives us a promise of a primeval land. Jon Gunnar Arnason (1986)
But before that we explored Reykjavik on foot and really arrived after the first night. Well wrapped up, we first headed towards the water and the northern promenade to the stainless steel boat sculpture by artist Arnason and perhaps the most famous photo motif of the city. The Sun Voyager depicts a Viking ship pointing north and makes a fantastic picture, especially at sunrise (or sunset) with the stunning landscape in the background.
Continuing along the promenade, we arrived at the Höfdi house. This is known not only by its former owners, but rather by the summit meeting between Ronald Reagen and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. Perhaps Biden and Putin should exchange views here. At least more than 35 years ago, this meeting had contributed to the end of the Cold War. Speaking of cold: Here at the Höfdi House, at the latest, all your fingers will freeze off, unless you are wearing gloves that are also windproof.
Another highlight of the city is the Church of Hallgrímur. From the outside, it’s already a head-turner with its basalt column-like structure and the analogy to the lava landscape of the country. From the inside, the church is then simply imposing and majestic. The more than 70 meter high tower invites you to enjoy a panoramic view over Reykjavik. A must visit for every Iceland tourist. Tickets to the tower are available in the church store on site.
Via Rainbow Street we reached the mailbox of Santa Claus, who is receiving your letters the year around. You can find it in front of or in the small Christmas store Litla Jolabudin in Laugavegur Street. At the end of our city walk we visited the concert house Harpa with its glass facade inspired by the northern lights. We also took the opportunity inside to get more impressions and to warm up. The day was already drawing to a close and our tour to the Northern Lights was about to begin.
The Northern Lights
So we stood at bus stop no. 6 and were tense up to the bobble hat. The first tour attempt was already postponed to the third day due to the storm and now it was our second attempt on the second day with the second tour booking. Through our Aurora- and other weather apps we had a slightly optimistic feeling to be able to see the northern lights this evening. Nevertheless, the tension reached a peak this close to the truth.
The tension had already started weeks before when we had booked our tour to the Northern Lights via GetYourGuide and dealt with the topic in more detail. This included not only hoping and worrying that nature would play along (we can only influence that to a very limited extent), but rather researching the right equipment and gear.
After various blog articles and YouTube videos, we felt well equipped. In addition, the right lens and tripod procured as well as tips and tricks to camera settings and ready was the preparation. Here you can read in detail what is important when photographing northern lights and how the topics RAW format, tripod, aperture, focus, exposure time, manual mode (should) work together.
Our tour („3-5-hour Northern Lights Mystery Tour“) started at 8:00 p.m. and ended at 11:00 p.m. back at bus stop #6. In between, there was a lot of driving and a lot more auroras to see than we ever dreamed of. We snapped away for a whole hour after getting off the bus and time flew by like the northern lights above us in the sky. Simply an insane experience, which we were allowed to experience that evening.
By the way, we were in the area of Thingvellir on the road 36 Thingvallavegur. If you like to see the northern lights on your own. Minor spoiler: To the naked eye, the Northern Lights do not appear green, but white. Only through the sensor of the camera the northern lights (or aurora borealis) are captured correctly, because it is an electric light. We saved our postponed second tour (Iceland’s Northern Lights bus tour) from the first day on the third day. We had everything we were looking for.
The Golden Circle Tour
For the third day, the famous Golden Circle was on the tour map. The tour was again booked through GetYourGuide (“Golden Circle Full Day Tour“). This includes the three stations National Park Thingvellir, Gullfoss Waterfall and the Great Geyser Strokkur. All three stations are impressive and imposing. First, we drove about 1.5 hours until we arrived at the national park. Here we had about 40 minutes to explore. A view over the country as well as a walk through the gorge is completely sufficient here. The rest are then sights that you cannot see at first glance.
The national park is special because of its tectonic plates (here North America meets Europe) as well as the first meetings after the settlement from 930 which were held here. We continued, after a short drive, to the waterfall. Here we spent about 1.5 hours and also these were necessary. Though it was not long enough to see enough or get fed up of this natural spectacle. The Gullfoss can be seen from three different platforms.
The last stop was the Great Geyser Strokkur. We were lucky that it erupted four times during our stay of about 45 minutes. So we didn’t have to stress or worry about catching the eruption of the over 100°C hot water inside. The eruption extends over 10 meters until the steam dissipates. Once again, nature showed us its most beautiful side.
The South Coast Tour
The next day, the next exploration of Iceland was on the agenda. This time a little further and more south. The GetYourGuide tour “South Coast Classic: Full-Day Tour from Reykjavik” provided us with an almost 11-hour excursion that was perfectly timed to the minute (also in combination with the daylight). At 09:00 am, in the pitch dark, we set off in the completely booked tourbus.
We first drove two hours (including a break) to the first station. This was the waterfall Skogafoss. This waterfall is about 60 meters high and lies in the shadow of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which erupted the last time in 2010. We continued to Reynisfjara and the black sand beach. Impressive and not real seems this spot of Iceland. Here at the latest, the feeling of no longer being on planet earth intensifies. The fact that we had started watching the series “Game of Thrones” before our Iceland trip was certainly not a disadvantage.
Not far from the beach is the southernmost village of Iceland Vik with about 300 inhabitants and a beautiful access to the beach. Here we used the stay for another break. Then we continued to the glacier Solheimajökull, which we reached after a short walk. From a viewing platform, the relic, which originated in the ice age and may be called white gold in the future, revealed itself to us.
The end of the tour was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. The sunlight had now almost disappeared and we still got the last impressions of this waterfall, which is also effectively illuminated in the dark. Seljalandsfoss is known for the fact that one can marvel at the falling water also from another perspective – namely from behind. A narrow path leads here behind the waterfall. Unfortunately, this path was closed due to ice on the day of our visit.
The Blue Lagoon
Iceland is often seen as a wellness oasis. At least that has always been my impression. But it is fair to say that there is only one place on the island that deserves this title and that is the Blue Lagoon between the airport and Reykjavik. This bathing lake with spa facilities offers an average water temperature of almost 40°C thanks to the natural hot springs and the famous light blue color. Numerous minerals provide a real feeling of well-being for the skin.
It is recommended to book the entrance as well as the transfer in advance. We had a brilliant four hours stay with lots of relaxation in the water, at the bar, in saunas or in the steam bath, in the relaxation area as well as lots of fun with the face masks. A waterproof cell phone case is recommended for numerous keepsake photos. Those who do not have one can get a suitable one on-site.
We used the last day for the last stops in Reykjavik. This included the museum Whales of Iceland with whales of all kinds and in original size. A very entertaining visit without much frills in the trendy harbor area. Not far from the museum is a grassy hill called Púfa by the artist Nordal. Walk along the narrow path and enjoy the view from the top of the city and the harbor.
A real surprise is next to Hallgrims Church and is the Einar Jónsson Museum with the impressive Sculpture Garden outside. This can be visited for free at any time and leaves the visitor amazed. Finally, we visited – how could it be otherwise – the ice bar Magic Ice Reykjavík. If not in Iceland where else?!
An eventful week came to an end in these first days of the year 2022. As I am writing these words now, outside it is just muggy 22°C and still I have goose bumps because of the memories of this incredible trip. Iceland in winter is a risk. But a risk that is worth it.
Do you have any questions or suggestions? Then just write us.