How to have the ultimate Iceland holidays – in the land of fire and ice
Let me show you how you can have one of the ultimate Iceland holidays in the land of fire and ice. Iceland gets the name of the land of fire and ice for very good reason. No matter where you look or visit in Iceland, there are volcanoes, glaciers and ice caves. The country has outstanding natural beauty just about everywhere. It is full of the world’s natural wonders. From the largest Ice Sheet in Europe, to stunning waterfalls of every kind. Volcanoes popping up just about anywhere and natural hot springs. Iceland is one of the geothermal capitals of the world and is split between two tectonic plates.
Iceland is not just for the outdoor adventures either. The country is full of history and culture, much of which I did not expect. From the lands that were fought by the Vikings, to the early settlements. To the creation of the Icelandic Government there is so much to see and learn. For such a small country with a population of only 366,425 people (approx. population of Coventry, UK). There really is something for everyone.
Reykjavik would be my base for this unbelievable adventure. Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland and the most northern capital city in the world. The city is only 168 miles from the Arctic Circle. Iceland is also one of the best places in the world to witness one of the most spectacular natural events, the Aroura or Northern Lights.
*this page contains affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you click on the link and make a qualifying purchase
THINGS TO DO
Thingvellir National Park
To kick off your ultimate Iceland holidays in the land of fire and ice. A visit to Thingvellir National Park must be on the itinerary. It was the first official national park of Iceland. In 1930 the government declared an order that would protect this area of outstanding natural beauty. It is recognised as the first national park of Iceland. It is a site of historical, cultural and geological significance and today is one of the country’s top tourist’s destinations.
The park was also home to the annual parliament from 930 until 1798. It was at this spot the country declared its independence and become a standalone state of the world. This spot is also important in that the government declared Christianity the main religion of Iceland.
Its hard to express how beautiful this park is. The park is also home to the largest lake in Iceland. For me the best part of this park was down to its geology. Known as the “rift valley”, Thingvellir lies between two tectonic plates (North America and Europe). The plates are moving apart, going in opposite directions. This means in certain parts of the park you are NOT actually on either continent. Madness! You are able to walk between the two tectonic plates. The lake, called Pingvallavatn is huge, in summer you can get kayaks, snorkel and even scuba dive in the lake. The area was official declared a World UNESCO Heritage site in 2004, which brings Iceland’s total to three sites. You can see why this place is such a special place. A trip to Iceland would not be complete without a stop here.
- Make sure you spend some time walking around this amazing place. Walk between the plates and make sure you take some time to walk out along the boardwalks and over the many streams and rivers that end up at the lake.
- This is a huge tourist attraction. A large car park is pay and display, cards are accepted. There is a visitor centre, toilets and café on site.
- If you do not mind not having too much time at the park, then I would always recommend a golden circle tour. The park is part of the famous golden circle and many tour operators will pick up and drop off from Reykjavik. However, if you wanted to spend a few hours here then make your own plans. It will be worth it.
- Just wanted to make a shout out to the toilets. I know, it is a little strange but believe me. I have never had a view while having a wee like that in my life!
The Viking Saga Museum
We have all heard the stories and legends of the Vikings and a visit to this place during your ultimate Iceland holidays in the land of fire and ice is a must. They are extremely important to Iceland and Icelandic history. After all it was the Vikings that discovered Iceland and then finally settled making the country their home. The Vikings gave Iceland its name and started the population of Iceland. The Vikings are extremely important to Icelandic history.
The Viking Saga Museum tells the story of the Vikings, from the first man to travel to Iceland from Norway to the first Vikings to settle and make the country their home. It is done in a cool lifelike way, with the exhibits coming to life to tell the story. It charts the rise from the early days, to the not so pleasant days of Viking history. The cool part at the end of the museum is you can actually try on Viking clothes and look how they did all those years ago. Such good fun.
I really enjoyed my time at the museum and if Vikings were your thing, I would not miss this place of your list. It is easy to get too. Just head for the harbour area and you cannot miss it. Well worth a few hours.
- Lockers are free in the museum and if you travelled like me, it was nice to have them. I was able to take off all my wet weather clothes. Place them in the lockers and you are free to walk about.
- This museum is not very big, you will only need maybe one or two hours here, so make sure you plan something else that day.
At 60m high, it is one of the tallest in Iceland. Formed from the Glacier high on the volcano. You can view the waterfall from the bottom, which is always the best place to see this amazing waterfall, but you can, if you are up to it. Walk to the top.
Like I said, it’s 60m high and there are 400 steps to climb and it’s pretty steep but the views (if it’s sunny) is really worth it. If the weather is bad and visibility not great I would not walk to the summit as you might not see very much at all.
This is another huge tourist spot in Iceland. Without a stop here on your ultimate Iceland holidays in the land of fire and ice would be criminal.
The best thing about my visit today, the sun was out all day so we managed to get a huge rainbow right across the falls. I was told is does not happen often so we were lucky to see that.
There are toilets and a huge car park here at the falls. The fresh water in Iceland is some of the purest in the world. It is all down to where it comes from, the volcano and Glacier melt. Most Icelanders drink straight from the rivers and waterfalls. Therefore, that is what we did!
- There is a car park, toilets and little café onsite.
- If the weather is good and you are lucky enough to have a clear day I totally recommend a walk to the top of the falls. The views across the land and stunning and it gives you a totally new look on this amazing waterfall.
Perlan (Wonders of Iceland Museum)
The Perlan is a museum sitting on top of a hill overlooking the city of Reykjavik. It used to be used as a hydropower station but was converted into a museum when the new bigger station was built just outside the city. One of the most striking things about this building is the huge glass dome that sits on the top. (More on that a little later).
The museum is in the heart of the city and can be reached from anywhere. Public buses and a huge taxi rank are all directly outside the museum entrance. I always like to walk where possible of course, so I walked from my hotel to the Perlan it was only 20mins walk from my hotel and I like to walk as you see much more. and it was pretty easy and simple.
Inside there is a ton of exhibits all detailing the rise of Iceland. From its humble beginnings from a volcanic eruption to its present day. I enjoyed learning about the country and what makes it so special. Did you know the only native mammal in Iceland is the Artic Fox?
I enjoyed learning about the volcanoes and earthquakes that surround this country that have turned it into the tourist hot spot. Iceland is one of the most volcanic active places on earth.
What to Expect?
I got to the Perlan and checked in, the first order of the day is a trip into the Planetarium. You watch a short 10min movie on the Northern Lights, but the screen is all around you and it was a fantastic immersive experience. The movie explains in detail the Northern Lights, how they occur and even the god of the Northern Lights – Aurora. We also learned that the northern lights do not just happen on earth. They happen on Saturn and Jupiter. All caused by the same effects. After the show, it was then into the main museum and it was a real immersive experience from the get go.
They had a complete timeline on a huge wall of the history of Iceland. From its beginnings to its present day. All of the important events that has made Iceland the incredible country it has become today. There was also an Ice Cave, a real-life replica. It was -15 in the cave. It was like walking into a freezer. There is an armchair inside made from Ice that you could sit in. Very good fun. We learned about the wildlife, the nature and all the other aspects of Iceland like the glaciers, waterfalls and river systems. Lakes, clouds and snow. It was all on hand in this great place. In addition, you were able to get up into the dome and walk right the way around giving you a 360-degree view of Reykjavik.
- Make sure you check out the Northern Lights movie. It is well worth it and included with your entry ticket. It is a truly immersive experience.
- The large glass dome that is in the centre of the building is actually a café and restaurant. Now, like all big tourist attractions it is not cheap but worth a stop just for the views even if you do not buy anything. I had a little slice of cake and a coffee.
- Level 3 is the outside viewing platform. You can walk out and get a great 360-degree view right around the glass dome overlooking the city.
South Beach (Black Sand Beach – Reynisfjara)
This is one of those places that when you google Iceland, a picture of this beach will be displayed.
It is one of the most photographed beaches in the entire country and one of the top photographed beaches in the world.
The beach is famous for the jet-black sand and basalt columns. This was also a favourite filming location for the Game of Thrones TV show. I have never seen sand as black or as fine as this before. It is also said that in wintertime you can get amazing photos with the ice formations washing up on the shore against the jet-black sand.
There were two caves on the beachfront and the basalt columns provide a brilliant place for a great photo. However, this beach is not all it seems. Many people (tourists) have been killed on this beach due to “sneaker waves” that come crashing onto the shoreline and wash people into the ocean. It has also killed people by the rocks in the caves falling on people so please, if you visit this beach. Treat it like any beach, treat the ocean and nature with respect and enjoy.
It really is a lovely place to be. Book your tickets now.
- There is a car park, restaurant and toilets onsite at the welcome centre.
- This beach is a major tourist attraction and can get extremely busy.
- As I mentioned above, be careful. NEVER turn your back to the ocean and do not get to close to the sea.
The most famous landmark in the city of Reykjavik.
Hallgrimskirka is a famous church that sits in the city centre. The church tower stands at 74.5m (244ft) and is the largest church in Iceland. It is also the second tallest structure in Iceland. As the church sits on a hilltop, it is visible from all over the city centre and even beyond. The church has an observation tower. Guests can travel via a lift to the top of the tower and get some amazing views of the city and the surrounding mountains.
- The church is still in use today and hosts services and weddings so if you wanted to visit I would check first that it is open to the public.
- There is a small fee of ISK1000 (£7) to head up to the observation tower. You can pay for your ticket in the little gift shop and then get the lift up.
One of the MOST famous waterfalls in Iceland. Gullfoss Waterfall is a stop on the famous golden circle route in Iceland which is a huge tourist attraction (more on that later). Gullfoss means “golden falls” in Icelandic.
The waterfall itself is a stunning three-tier waterfall of Glacier water running off the nearby volcano. The last drop of the waterfall is an impressive 105ft (32 meters) drop into the crevice, which then flows southward. The waterfall is an extremely impressive sight. You are able to walk right up to the falls in the summer months but not in the winter. In the winter the path is to dangerous and covered in ice for people so it is closed.
You are also able to walk right up along the edge of the falls to get a beautiful bird’s eye view of the falls and river, which make for a great photo opportunity. I was in total amazement at this waterfall, the beauty, the sound of the thundering water and entire landscape surrounding it. Of all the waterfalls I have seen in Iceland, this certainly is one of my favourites.
Whatever you do in Iceland a visit to Gullfoss is an absolute must.
- A visitor’s car park is located at the waterfall, which is free parking.
- There are NO toilets, eating or drinking places at this attraction.
- If you wanted a closer look at the waterfall and wanted to walk the footpath nearest the falls, wet weather gear is essential.
This would be another first for me, I had never visited a glacier before. I had no idea what to expect.
This glacier is down on the south of the island and is part of one of the largest glaciers in Europe. It flows all the way from the ice cap of the volcano down into the glacier lake, which is where my visit to the glacier starts.
I was amazed at the size of this glacier and the sheer amount of ice facing me. I could not believe how massive it was and how thick the ice sheet was. It was a great experience. I had some time to take some photos of the glacier, I had some time to touch the ice and feel the power of the glacier as it moves down the mountain slopes into the lake. It truly was a great experience and an afternoon I will not forget in a hurry.
The Blue Lagoon
Without question, the most visited attraction in Iceland. The blue lagoon sees over 1 million tourists each year and continues to become even more popular.
The blue lagoon is a geothermal spa in a lava field approx. 30 minutes from the countries capital Reykjavik. It makes it extremely accessible and all Icelandic tour operators offer day trips with pick up and day tours to the blue lagoon. It is what I did!
The water in this geothermal spa is supplied by the nearby geothermal power station, which is supplied by the super-heated water coming from underground. The water is heated by the volcano and extracted, complete with its rich mineral content. It is heated to an extremely pleasant 39 degrees meaning it is perfect for relaxing in the cold Icelandic weather. On the day I visited the lagoon it was snowing and it was so nice and relaxing to be in the pool after a long day sightseeing.
What to Expect?
Because the water is so rich in minerals, it is ideal for using on human skin. It is extremely common and a must do for visitors to use the mud from the lagoon and put over your face as a face mask. I am not sure it did much for me, but it has definitely helped many people over the years. There are changing rooms with plenty of room and locker space for all your gear. There is a bar and depending on what package you purchase on entry, you can buy a drinks package. The bar area is just outside and you are able to swim right up to it and order a drink.
The blue lagoon has a shop, selling its famous minerals and products, which have been scientifically proven to help with various skin conditions. It is a beautiful spa, an extremely relaxing atmosphere and a must visit if you are spending any time in Iceland.
The blue lagoon has its own hotel (the northern lights Inn) right nearby and you can check out availability right now by clicking the link. However, staying in Reykjavik is just as easy.
- It is essential that you pre book you visit to the Blue Lagoon. It gets extremely busy, to ensure you can visit make sure you pre book in advance.
- I recommend NOT buying the standard package, for a little extra you get use of a towel, a face scrub and a drink. It is certainly worth it.
- The weather is un-predicable in Iceland so it is hard to plan. If you wanted to make sure you were seeing the lagoon in daylight I would certainly try to get a lunchtime slot, however the lagoon is at its busiest late afternoon or early evening.
The Northern Lights Tour
Maybe one of Mother Nature’s most impressive shows. The Aurora Borealis or as they are better known, The Northern Lights.
As many people will know, trying to predict and forecast the lights are somewhat of a masterclass in their own right but when it finally all comes together and you actually see this amazing natural light show everything seems worth it.
Iceland is famous for giving some of the most dramatic Northern Lights shows and my experience would be one of the best I have ever seen. For many people getting a glimpse of the Northern Lights is bucket list item and many people travel from all over the world to try to catch them.
Best time of year to see the Northern Lights?
The best chance of seeing the Northern Lights are clear skies, it cannot be cloudy at all. It also needs to be dark with NO light pollution. In Iceland the best time of year to try to catch the lights are the months of October and November. I travelled at the end of October and was so lucky to have the lights on for 4 nights of my 8-night stay in Iceland. HOWEVER, that does not mean it will be the same for everyone every year.
I booked a tour because I thought that if I wanted the best chances of seeing the lights I would need help of an expert. Someone that knows what they are looking for and the best places to try to see them and I am so glad I did because the light show on that night was the most beautiful, epic of all shows I have ever seen. For the tour operator I booked with Iceland everywhere.
The tour started with a pick up from my hotel. Our guide then explained how the tour would work and how he would do his very best for us. Our guide then explained the Northern Lights to us, how they got their name. How over thousands of years, people believed in different things from different cultures. The Vikings who inhabited Iceland first used to believe it was the god Odin, travelling from his world (Asgard) to our world (Earth) on his horse. It was the bridge and the footsteps of the horse that made the colours in the night sky.
What to expect?
Our guide drove us to our first location, which was a beach about 40mins from Reykjavik. I will never forget getting out the van for the first time and looking up at the night sky. I had never seen so many stars in my life in the night sky before. It was beautiful. It was also pitch black and I tripped over a rock on the beach and nearly fall over, luckily it was so dark no-one saw me.
From standing on that beach, looking up at the stars I could see the milky way with my naked eye. I could see planets in the solar system. It really was something special and a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life. However, the best was yet to come.
I was standing on that beach for 1hr 40mins, it was -8 degrees and finally we started to see a green glow in the distance. The Northern Lights were happening. The glowed green at first, forming a perfect arch across the sky, then they started to break up and “dance” and for the first time I would see the lights behave this way. However, as quick as they appeared they soon faded away again and left us with the dark night sky. If the tour had ended their I would have been happy, but our night was far from over and the encore was still to come.
The Perfect light show
Our guide drove us to another area where he believed the lights would be stronger than ever. How he knew this I can’t say but he has been doing this for 15 years. He was dead right, after we parked up for a little bit the light show was back on and this time, brighter, stronger and in more colours then I had ever seen. They started dancing and flicking across the night sky looking as beautiful as ever. Out guide was even excited at the show Mother Nature put on for us and after about 20 minutes of the most amazing light show ended. The lights faded and they were gone. That would also mark the end of Northern Lights Tour.
Our guide dropped us off back at our hotels about 2am and I was so happy and emotional at what I had seen tonight. I will never forget this experience and I would like to thank Siggi and Iceland everywhere for the once in the lifetime tour.
You will increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights if you book a tour. The tour guides have the experience, knowledge and passion to bring YOU the Northern Lights. That is why I urge you to book with them to ensure you have the experience of a lifetime. Book your tour NOW.
FOOD & DRINK
I did not really know what to expect on this visit to Iceland. It would be my first time in the country. I also did not do any real research into Icelandic cuisine so I have to admit; when I first arrived, I was a little nervous. However, I should not have been nervous at all.
Icelandic food is NO different from the food I eat at home. OK, on the menu it looks daunting as it is all in Icelandic. However, for the most part the food is the same.
One of the main staples to all food in Iceland is seafood. Let us not forget, Iceland is an island and the second biggest industry behind tourism is fishing. Seafood is the main dish in any restaurant or any home and a traditional Icelandic fish stew is something you have to try. In Iceland it is called, “Plokkfiskur”. Most restaurants sell the fish stew so the choice is yours. I had it twice in Iceland (two different restaurants) and it was similar and always served with Rye Bread.
In Iceland, it would seem that lamb is a popular meat choice, but you can get beef, chicken and pork. However lamb was certainly popular. One of the traditional Icelandic lamb dishes is “Kjotsupa”. It is a cross between a stew and a soup with Lamb, potatoes, carrots and turnips. The rich sauce and this dish became my go to dish, I ended up having it a few times during my time in Iceland. It is a warming, hearty meal and it really does hit the spot. Nothing better then being out all day in the cold, coming in and having a bowl of Kjotsupa to fill you up and warm you right through.
Another staple in Iceland cuisine is “Pylsur” which is essentially a hot dog. I like nothing more than a nice hot dog and was looking forward to this Icelandic delight. However, for me I was a little disappointed, as it just tasted like a hot dog. There was nothing different about it. OK, maybe the crispy onions on the bottom was a surprise but it really did not taste or look any different to any other hot dog I have eaten before. It did not taste horrible, in fact it was a lovely tasting hot dog. It just did not taste any different to any other. Sorry Iceland
I have been known to try some crazy food in my time. Scorpions in Thailand and termites in South Africa come to mind as just some of them. I did know that Whale would be on the menu in Iceland from the limited research I had done.
Whale hunting in Iceland is legal under controlled conditions by the Icelandic government. Therefore eating Whale in Iceland is on the menu. I do want to stress that many Icelandic people DO NOT eat Whale it is more tourists, however I was not one of them. I could not bring myself to eat Whale therefore I choose not to. Whale was on the menu in a few restaurants around the city centre so if you wanted too, the choice is there.
As for drinking, well that is just like anywhere in the world. From tea and coffee, to soft drinks and alcohol it is all available in most places wherever I went.
I would like to highly recommend two restaurants I visited in the city centre of Reykjavik. The first is Café Loki right next to the Hallgrimskirka church and 101 street food, which is located on the main high street. I have copied the link to my TripAdvisor page so you can find out more information including locations. Opening times and full menus.
Reykjavik has NO transport problems at all.
I visited for 7 nights and did not hire a car. I had no issues with getting around town. Transport to and from the airport. Or transport to the many tourist attractions around Iceland.
For transport to and from the airport, I can highly recommend Grayline. I arranged pick up and drop off before I got to Iceland over the internet and the process was extremely easy and quick. They are a bus/coach service and tour operator running in Iceland. They offer a good amount of facilities for reasonable prices. When I arrived at the airport I was meet by the driver, he loaded my cases into the bus and he dropped me right off in front of my hotel. It was the same for pick up to the airport. It was simple, fast and low cost. A taxi from the airport would of cost double or triple that.
I used the local city buses. To get around Reykjavik I did use the bus a few times, because the weather had taken a turn. Instead of my normal walking which I love to do. I just feel like walking allows you to see so much more of the city. It is also healthier for you and the planet. However, it was snowing heavy and cold so I opted for the bus. The buses are easy and simple, low cost, clean and friendly drivers. I was able to pick a bus up right outside the hotel and get the bus into town.
As I mentioned, all the excursions that were booked included transport. I was picked up and dropped off outside my hotel, which was super easy. I was able to relax, the buses all had USB charging points and Wi-Fi on board which really helped make the journey even better.
It really is personal choice if you wanted to hire a car. Of course, if you can afford it and need for going further afield I agree. However, you do not have to hire a car to still have a brilliant week in Iceland. In total for the week, my transport costs were only £279 and that includes taxis and coaches in England to and from coach station and airport. It is a good way of keeping some costs down.
You may have been reading all the above and somehow start to get pound signs appearing. You would be correct to start thinking about money because one thing I can surely say, Iceland is expensive.
There is NO way of avoiding it I am afraid and in some cases you just have to accept, this trip will cost a little more than most. However, I do have some tips that may help save a little extra cash for you if you plan to visit Iceland.
Here is a complete summary of my costs for this trip:
The total costs of this trip was £1,850.
I know that is a lot of money for just 7 nights. HOWEVER, if you compare to how much I did and some of the amazing activities and places I visited I do not think it was that bad. The other costs include costs like added PCR COVID testing, travel insurance and things like travel plugs.
One of the most expensive things in Iceland is food and drink. Especially alcohol, but many places including my hotel offer happy hours where drinks are a little cheaper than normal for a selected time. I would certainly make use of these times if you wanted to have a drink. I would also make sure when booking your hotel or B&B that breakfast is included, this will save you a little cash. You can stock up in the morning on food in the hope that maybe you will not need such a big lunch.
Money saving tips
My hotel also offered free tea and coffee. That was a great-added bonus, after a long day out sightseeing; it was nice to be able to come back to have a cup of tea. It also helped save a few pennies.
Most of my day’s trips were booked before I left the UK. I would recommend taking a lot at that. I know it’s not an ideal way of doing things as it means you are stuck and tied down to days but it work out a little cheaper for me doing that, for example: The Northern Lights Tour cost me £45 (ISK7800) per adult which I brought in the UK online. Once I arrived in Iceland, the cheapest tour I could find was ISK9000 (£51).
There you have it. The ultimate Iceland holidays in the land of fire and ice. As my time in Iceland ends, I am really finding it hard to find the words to summarise this trip. You always travel to a place with expectations, hopes, dreams and excitement. After all, you have picked the destination of choice for a reason, right.
Iceland has blown all my expectations out the window and down the road. I have been able to have some of the most memorable moments of my life on this trip, I have been able to do things I had never done before but on top of all of that, I was able to find myself. I was able to sit down and say, I love doing this and this why. For places like Iceland.
I stayed at the Eyja Guldsmeden hotel for the week and the hotel was fantastic. They offered all what you would expect from a hotel, clean rooms, buffet breakfast, free tea, coffee, and 24hr front desk. The evening menu was not too bad either and they have happy hour every night in the bar from 4pm until 7pm. You can check them out now using the link.
I also have a link to check flights availability so you can start planning your ultimate Iceland holidays in the land of fire and ice.
Like I mentioned above, I stayed for the entire week in Reykjavik and that was my base for the 7 nights. Although staying in Reykjavik was brilliant, most tours will pick up and drop off from the city centre as I did. All of the things above were done without hiring a car and all tours I booked online before I travelled. I will urge you however to think about going a little further afield, I am certainly looking at doing that next time. There is so much in Iceland, it do feel like I did not do it as much justice by staying in one place the entire week. However, I did get to see most of the highlights from Iceland. Next time I come here, I will certainly be travelling a little further around the country.
This relativity small country offers so much too so many. It offers winter breaks, including glacier hikes, relaxing in hot springs and of course the magical northern lights. But maybe freezing weather isn’t your idea of fun, well Iceland can still be the place for you in the summer, enjoy the midnight sun, whale watching and the magnificent puffins. Enjoy all the volcanic activity and summer horse rides in the Icelandic countryside, what is there not to like?
Iceland has been one hell of trip and I cannot say enough, if you have not been to this amazing place then please start making plans and if you were thinking about booking a trip here, think about it no longer and book it, you will not regret it I promise.
They say, do not be sad that it is over, be happy that it happened.
Unit Next Time…