Iceland is one of those places that you dream of visiting; it’s a bucket-list country.
In 2017, we decided that we were going to tick it off our bucket-list, and we set off on our 5-day Icelandic adventure in late December, for New Years.
People always say ‘I’d love to go to Iceland, but it’s too expensive.’ Believe me, it’s doable on a budget! It really is a case of shopping around to find the best deals. For example, rather than flying from Dublin airport, we chose to fly from Belfast – for nearly half the price.
We booked a self-drive package with Iceland Travel – we selected our preferences for the trip and an agent arranged our hotels for the duration of our stay, along with car hire and itinerary.
If you’re considering visiting Iceland, we definitely recommend doing a self-drive package – we attempted to book everything ourselves, and we struggled to find decent accommodation for a reasonable price – whereas when booking with Iceland Travel, we stayed in some fantastic 3-4 star hotels – in great locations, with car hire – for a good price. They also included a GPS and a tablet with an itinerary – both of which came in handy.
Obviously, every trip is different, so we’d recommend submitting a quote request, which you can do on their website.
We arrived at Keflavik airport as the sun was setting, picked up our bags, rental car and headed for our first hotel, in the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura. Keflavik airport is about a 45-minute drive from the centre of Reykjavik.
One of the cool things about the package we did, is that it included a Northern Lights Boat Tour, with Special Tours, for our first night in Iceland. So, once we had checked in and freshened up, we made our way into the city centre for a wander and to find something to eat. We found a really cute café near the iconic Hallgrímskirkja that served traditional lamb soup. We then made our way towards the port for the boat tour.
Before boarding, they gave us complimentary sickness tablets (I’m usually not great with boats as it is, so this made me nervous!) and on board, there were overalls to put on over your clothes to keep warm and dry.
As it’s a Northern Lights boat tour, we didn’t actually set sail until 9:00pm – they say that between 9:00pm-1:00am is the best time to try and see the Northern Lights.
Within a few minutes of setting sail, one of the crew members (speaking over the intercom), said that he could see a glimmer of the lights – so we ran up to the top deck and planted ourselves right at the front, so I could set up my camera and tripod. Now, this is what I didn’t enjoy about the tour; the boat didn’t stop. At all. The boat sailed in a slow circle of the port, but not slow enough to take photos. Unless the Aurora Borealis is shining brightly as daylight – you need to be in a stationary position to take long exposure shots and unfortunately, on this occasion, they weren’t bright enough. As much as it was amazing to see the Lights on our first night, it was frustrating that I couldn’t get a good photo of them.
It was also deathly cold where we were standing; we were getting the brunt of the ice-cold Atlantic wind. So, if you’re considering doing a night-time boat tour; wrap-up and be wary of the possibility of not being able to capture photographs of the Northern Lights.
Day two saw us hitting the Icelandic roads in darkness (even though it was about 10am), I had our itinerary planned so that we would arrive at our first destination, Þingvellir National Park, for sunrise. The only thing that I didn’t plan for, was how bitterly cold it would be!
That morning, when we arrived at Þingvellir, it must have been about -12 degrees celsius. We lasted about 10 minutes at the site – I snapped some photos of the sunrise and we took a couple of photos together before we could no longer bare the cold.
This probably worked out in our favour though, as it gave us more time to explore other locations on our route – including stopping to pet some fluffy Icelandic horses! You’ll find fields of horses everywhere, so don’t worry if you pass some of them without stopping – you’ll be sure to see plenty more.
We then made our way to Gullfoss Waterfall, one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls – most of the waterfall was frozen, which made for some mesmerising photos.
The infamous Geysir is not too far from Gullfoss, and is definitely worth stopping off to catch the hot springs bubble up and erupt!
That night we stayed in the Icelandair Hotel Fludir, which was conveniently near The Secret Lagoon. We’d definitely recommend going for a dip here, it’s a natural hot spring and one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland, so it’s well worth a visit.
Read part two: BLACK SAND BEACH, THE BLUE LAGOON & THE NORTHERN LIGHTS. If you’ve any questions regarding The Golden Circle in Iceland, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!