Day 1: Blue Lagoon and Reykjavík
Our first stop was the famous Blue Lagoon. I recommend spending the money here and going with a premium package. It gets you a drink, robe, shoes, two face masks and entry. Make sure you pre-book this because it is a very busy place and many people weren’t allowed in while I was waiting in line because they only allow a certain amount of people in at a time. Once you make your way in you will head to the locker rooms where you change and rinse off before heading to the lagoon. Ladies... PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT... put tons of conditioner in your hair and leave it in there while you are soaking. The minerals in the lagoon WILL dry your hair out. Throw your robe on and head to the lagoon. You will make the run through the cold into the warm water and it will feel awesome! Once in the water you can just relax, go to one of the water bars or put on your face masks. I ended up drinking an Icelandic smoothie made with Skyr. It was delicious and I highly recommend it. It was sort of cool to be drinking a smoothie in the freezing cold while soaking in a natural hot tub. I recommend bringing a plastic bag to put a camera in or a waterproof case so you can take some fun photos while you are soaking. I spent about two hours in the water before heading back to the locker room. There were blow dryers in the rooms for the ladies who would like to do there hair before leaving.
From the lagoon we continued on to Reykjavík where we stayed at the Hotel Borg for the night. We got in late at night so we headed right to dinner and did not see much of the city. Since it was Christmas Day not much was open but we were lucky enough to get reservations at Sjávarbarinn. The chef prepared a special menu, which consisted mostly of their local top selling items. This is where I tried fermented shark (Kæstur hákarl) and a shot of Black Death (Brennivín), which is considered an traditional Icelandic dish. If you want to call yourself a "Viking" and prove your strength then try this out. It was not as bad as I thought it would be, but I did get some good advice from the waiter who told me not to smell it before I ate it. Note to self... I highly recommend this as well if you ever find yourself trying this item.
Day 2: Snæfellsjökull National Park
A good portion of this day will be spent driving but it was absolutely breath taking. I highly recommend making sure you are at the park for sunrise, which is around 1030 or 1100. We stopped at Djupalon & Dritvik Coves where we hiked down to the beach. There are some pretty amazing rock formations and of course just listening to the roaring waves was extremely peaceful. We were a little surprised that everything in the park was closed, including the bathrooms, so be sure to plan accordingly. After exploring the park we headed to Hotel Egilsen in Stykkishólmur. This was my favorite hotel of the entire trip. It had a very cozy B&B feel to it and I slept in this tiny room up on the top floor. Breakfast was family style down in the main seating area. This is where I saw the northern lights for the very first time and our hotel manager was waiting patiently for us to arrive back so he could provide us with homemade hot beverages after being in the cold for so long. See below for tips and tricks when it comes to catching the northern lights.
Day 3: Vidgelmir Cave
This cave is super cold so make sure you dress warm. The walk and entrance were around -4°C (25°F) and the back of the cave was around 0°C (32°F). It’s roughly a 1800 meters (roughly 1.1 mile) walk from start to finish. You will be supplied with a helmet and head lamp to be worn at all times in the cave. There are some pretty interesting geological formations inside this cave. If you get there early make sure to play some soccer with the cute puppy who guards the place.
After the cave excursion we started the trek to the Hotel Grímsborgir and on the way we stopped off at Hraunfossar and Barnafoss to see two amazing waterfalls. There is a local story about two kids who were playing on an arch above the smaller of the waterfalls, when they were supposed to be home. They accidentally fell off and were swept away by the strong currents. The mother was so upset that she had the arch destroyed so no one else would get hurt.. Be careful around these beautiful structures as they can be dangerous. As far as getting here it is just a quick walk down to the viewing platform. It is of course windy so be prepared, but the views are totally worth the stop!
Day 4: Mýrdalsjökull Glacier Snowmobiling
Snowmobiling was a blast! A little scary at some points when the wind was really blowing but our guides did a really good job of keeping us all together like a herd of sheep. We went with Arcanum Glacier Tours who provided us with super warm one-piece suits, helmets and baclavas. They will also give you gloves and boots if you need them. After getting all geared up we loaded into a large bus and took a short drive up to the starting point. At the top they gave us a quick briefing on running the machines and then we were off. The tour was about 2.5 hours long and we stopped one time to take some cool landscape shots. After this excursion we headed to Icelandair Hotel Vik about 15 km away.
Day 5: Vatnajökull National Park Glacial Hiking
By far my favorite thing I did in Iceland!! For this tour you meet up by the visitor center in the National Park. The outfitter will give you crampons, ice axe and a harness. After everyone is suited up we hopped on a van and went for a 15 minute drive, which put us at the trail head for the glacier. At the trailhead we learned how to use the crampons and then we started the trek onto the ice. We spent about 2 hours in total hiking around and had some opportunities to get into some pretty amazing crevasses. I want to give a shout out to my guide Micheal from Mountain Guides. He was fantastic and I would highly recommend requesting him if possible. After finishing up this tour we headed to the Fosshótel Glacier Lagoon.
Day 6: Langjökull Glacier Ice Cave and Reykjavík
I was told by a few people that while I was traveling I really needed to make my way into an ice cave so I put this at the top of my list. I thought the experience was fun but I found the glacier hike to be much more exciting. I was pretty surprised that when we showed up to the cave it was jam packed with probably 50 other people. This was a bit of a shock because the excursions up till that point had been pretty small. Regardless, it was pretty awesome to stand under a glacier and gaze at this majestic blue ice. For this tour I recommend going with Guide to Iceland. Our guide did a great job explaining things and educated us about glacier bay on the way to the cave. They will give you crampons and a helmet, which you will be required to wear while in the cave.
After the tour we headed back to Reykjavik and stayed at the Hotel Borg. It was about a 5ish hour drive to get from this excursion back to the city. In all honesty, if I did it again, I would do everything the same except for flying out the next morning. I would have liked to have a full day in the city to explore some of the really cool shops and local places.
Driving and Safety
The roads in Iceland ARE dangerous. Interestingly, the locals I talked with told me most of the accidents occur because tourists will suddenly stop on the highway to look at something, which causes the car behind them to have to veer off the road. While I was there a terrible accident happened that ended up killing one person and critically injuring a dozen others. The roads in certain areas can be completely iced over, sometimes snow will completely block your view and at any time you can have sustained heavy winds or big gusts. So my advice is to be cautious of the cars around you, where you actually stop (i.e. use actual pullouts), know the weather conditions before driving and try to be familiar with some of the road signs. The signs can be very confusing and much of the break slamming I saw was people trying to figure out where to go. Check out the website below to look at some of the common signs you might see while driving there.
One of the important things to know here is that there are so many roundabouts which really keep traffic moving. One of the locals told me to make sure I understood that in the roundabout the inside car actually has the right to exit so they can just cut over at anytime and if you hit them you would be liable for the accident. I am passing this along to you so you do not find yourself in some terrible predicament.
Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)
Pretty much every hotel I stayed in would have a sheet at the front desk that told you what the nights kp forecast was going to be. This number tells you the geomagnetic strength of the aurora. So a 0 pretty much means non-existent and a 9 means get outside because you can't not see the lights. Honestly the kp numbers change so frequently you are better off monitoring it yourself like we were doing. For example the night that the picture below was taken was predicted to be a kp 2. My dad knocked on my door at about 10:30 at night saying he could see the lights and asked if I wanted to drive out of town. I was honestly so exhausted from the previous few days of no sleep that I almost didn't go. However, I quickly pulled up the forecast and saw that in the next 20minutes it would be going to a kp 5. As you can imagine the adrenaline quickly kicked in. I was running down the stairs and putting my winter clothes on at the same time. I actually ran to the car just in my socks. We just started heading out of town looking for a place to hopefully catch a glimpse of the lights. It was what I imagine being on storm watchers would feel like. We ended up getting an amazing light show; they were dancing and fluctuating in size and color. It was absolutely breathtaking!
Some tips for seeing the Northern Lights