What happens when two lawyers and an accountant plan a holiday in one of the priciest countries in Europe? Iceland on a Budget!! (Nana, I hope you are proud!). We started with £50 return airfares (booked in June) with 10kg of carry on bags only: these were filled with homemade dinners for 2 nights, and lunches for 3 days plus a load of snacks and wintry outfits. Rental car and a 3 for 2 bus deal! We did well!
We hired a car and checked into our Airbnb cabin. Note to self, don’t rent a cabin in the Icelandic countryside in winter. Let’s just say, I was thanking my parents for years of work on the orchard using a shovel – it came in handy when we got caught in a blizzard!
Friday we drove about 45mins from Reykjavik for Tom to go dogsledding. Emma and I got to play with the dogs and they were just so cute! Some were rescue dogs because people didn’t comprehend how much work huskies are…. They were all very well taken care of and Tom came back beaming so a successful visit! I’d keep an eye on the snow though – as when there’s no enough you’re on a buggy with wheels, when there is snow, a sled. We then drove to the Secret Lagoon and had a relaxing soak in the pools (budget tip: go to the local pools for about £4 as opposed to £30-40 because there are hot pools everywhere). And then it was dark…in January the daylight hours are 1045am-430pm. Our guide said the locals survive on holidays to Spain or Miami, prozac and coffee.
Saturday we did the Grand Circle tour with Bus Travel (we got 3 for 2 deals which included the Northern Lights but alas too cloudy!). First stop was Kerið – a crater lake which (when not frozen) has red lava rock that surrounds the deep blue water below. It was blowing a gale and very icy so we all took our time (pic below. This was about 11am).
Next up was the waterfall Faxi – a pretty waterfall coming out of a frozen landscape. Gullfoss was next and is the most visited waterfall in Iceland. It was pretty impressive with a height of 32m! When it’s not winter, there’s a golden shimmer in the water from the minerals, hence the name translating to the Golden Waterfall. By this time it had started snowing. Heavily. And we were very pleased to be in a bus with a very skilled driver!
We stopped for lunch at the Geothermal area of Geysir which is a real good tourist spot: food, shopping and geysirs (and also geezers no doubt). You can walk around the geothermal park and see a few eruptions – it was impressive but having grown up near Rotorua you’ve seen a lot of this before! It was pretty awesome being there with heavy snow falling though! Power and water is super cheap because of all the geothermal power – and they have glasshouses everywhere being fueled geothermally with fresh fruit and vege.
Last stop (and the highlight) was the Thingvellir national park – the venue of the first parliament in Iceland. No Beehive unfortunately. Þingvellir is also the location of the Silfra fissure, where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates began to separate. You can even dive here if you fancy (no thanks!). The countryside of Iceland is absolutely stunning and there are heaps of Icelandic horses and the cows are kept in sheds – understandably! It certainly lived up to its name when we were there.
Sunday we went on the 10 hour South Iceland Coast bus tour (same company). First up was the Skógafoss waterfall – a casual 200 feet tall. It started snowing pretty heavily when we arrived then 5 minutes later, blue sky! Next we went to Sólheimajökull which is a glacier tongue of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier which caps the Katla volcano which is apparently overdue for an eruption. Nearby is the volcano that caused all the travel chaos in 2010: Eyjafjallajökull which incidentally lead to a massive increase in tourism for Iceland. When life gives you lemons…
We enjoyed our lunch on the black sand beach in Vík í Mýrdal – the southernmost town in Iceland and an old fishing town. Pretty awesome having sand, snow and waves all in the one place! Bought some Icelandic wool and a jumper to enjoy the full experience!
Next up was the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara. Our guide warned us of the sneaker waves that literally just sneak up behind you and get swamped. A few tourists have been killed because the undertow is so strong and the North Atlantic water absolutely freezing. Having mocked a few tourists for getting too close to the waves, I was about 12m from the break point and I got swamped! I can confirm that the North Atlantic water in Iceland is absolutely FREEZING. Not recommended to get your feet wet. I got soaked up to my knees and froze for the next 5 hours…
Last stop was waterfall Seljalandsfoss at a height of 197 feet. I’ll be honest, we were all a bit over the cold especially with me starting to lose feelings in my toes so we took some pics then had a hot choccy! Took about 2 hours to drive back to Reykjavik but the adventures were not over…we got stuck in a blizzard and I volunteered to shovel the snow off the road. The Airbnb host thought we were being “OTT tourists” until he came to rescue the other guest’s car from the snow-filled-driveway. He also did this all without gloves and a hat…they’re a tough breed those Icelandics and not too shabby on the eye!
I will definitely be coming back to Iceland to see the Northern Lights and to hopefully also visit in summer when there’s 24 hours of daylight. In terms of winter, we were lucky as it wasn’t that cold (coldest it got to was -9 but most days 2’C) and I only had to wear my longjohns once! Provided you’re well prepared, (Icebreaker baselayers, softshell trousers, merino hoody, ski gloves, beanie and puffer jacket with waterproof snow boots) you’ll be sweet!