Travel: Reykjavik and Beyond

Tjörnin pond, Reykjavik

Taking my own advice for once (see Ten Tips for Beating the January Blues), the BF and I took ourselves off for a few days to Iceland last week. Normally I would be craving sunshine at this time of the year, but knowing that the best time to see the Northern Lights is between September and April, we decided to tick off one of the items on our ‘bucket list’ first. As it happens we were out of luck. Despite chasing the lights for two consecutive nights (when conditions couldn’t have been more favourable), all we managed to see was a faint green arc on the first night and some promising white lights on the second night that then just faded away without putting on a show. But don’t let that put you off, there is much more to Reykjavik than the elusive Northern Lights.

Tjörnin pond, and old town, Reykjavik

Tjörnin pond and old town, Reykjavik

We were really lucky to have two perfect winter days. Snow had fallen before we arrived but then skies had cleared and we were treated to an Icelandic winter sun. In other words a sun that doesn’t rise until 11 am, sets at 4.30 pm, and travels in a low arc across the sky. Perpetual dusk. Breakfast by candlelight was a surprise and unexpectedly romantic. We were also surprised that Christmas decorations don’t normally come down until the end of January – anything to alleviate the gloom. And it was cold. Colder than expected as the wind-chill is biting. If you go, take your thermals.

Hallgrímskirkja church, and old town, Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja church and old town, Reykjavik

So what would we recommend?

CityWalk Reykjavik is a free two hour guided tour of the major landmarks. Reykjavik is small, and you could probably do this yourself with the help of a guidebook, but you would miss out on an insider’s view of the city’s culture. Martin, the guide, is informative, funny, and welcomes banter. It was a well attended tour and he earned his tips at the end. Make sure you book online first. When the tour is over, enjoy a hotdog at Baejarins beztu pylsur.

View from Hallgrimskirkja church, Reykjavik

View from Hallgrimskirkja church

You can’t miss the Hallgrímskirkja church as it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. The view from the top is well worth the few kronas charged. We were also lucky enough to be there when organ practise was taking place. Another place that is worth visiting is the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre which received the prestigious Mies Van der Rohe award for architecture. Not only striking in itself, from inside you can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the North Atlantic Ocean.

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre

Exploring the sights outside of Reykjavik it’s best to book one of the tours. We chose the Golden Circle Classic Tour which takes in Thingvellir National Park, where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year, Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall, which is the largest waterfall in Europe and the Geysir geothermal area where the Strokkur geyser shoots a column of water up to 30 metres into the air every 4-8 minutes in a fantastic display of nature’s forces. This was definitely one of our highlights. You might be lucky enough to stop at other places as the guides seem to add and subtract sights depending on weather conditions.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Thingvellir National Park

So even though we didn’t see the Northern Lights, there was plenty more to see. It is expensive. Though, apparently not as expensive as before the economic crisis. So maybe, it’s best to go now. Whatever you normally expect to pay for drinks and eating out in London, double it. But if you love wide open skies, spectacular sunsets, snuggling up in winter woollies, seafood dinners, candlelight and cosy bars, this might be the trip for you.

Strokkur geyser, Iceland

Strokkur geyser

Who knows, you might get a spectacular light show thrown in.

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26 Comments

  1. Reply

    Arianna

    January 22, 2016

    wow stunning pictures my love! Someone had fun with her new camera me thinks 😉 xxxx

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 22, 2016

      Thanks hun. I did! Might even take it off automatic soon 🙂

  2. Reply

    Jen Stanbrook (@lovechicliving)

    January 20, 2016

    Oh wow Carole. I followed your pics and updates on social media and was hoping you’d blog it too. Stunning photos, sounds like quite an experience. Not sure I’d manage the cold but wow, the scenery might just make up for that.

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 20, 2016

      The cold wasn’t that bad Jen. As you say the scenery made up for it 🙂 x

  3. Reply

    Hannah

    January 19, 2016

    amazing! Looks like an incredible time. I still need to write up my Icelandic post, your photos are lovely 🙂

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 19, 2016

      It was a very brief visit Hannah but still lovely. Looking forward to seeing your post 🙂

  4. Reply

    Stacey Sheppard

    January 18, 2016

    Wow! What a lovely trip you had. Sorry you didn’t see the lights but sounds like you saw plenty of other great things. It’s definitely a place I hope to visit some day. X

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 19, 2016

      I definitely recommend it Stacey. It would be a lovely romantic trip without the bubs maybe? x

  5. Reply

    Ally // Digital Diva

    January 18, 2016

    We went to Iceland last year and loved it! Didn’t see the lights, but still had a great time 🙂

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 19, 2016

      Seems to be what I’m hearing from everyone Ally. But hey, it matters not. 🙂

  6. Reply

    Karen - Making Spaces

    January 18, 2016

    Breakfast by candlelight sounds awesome. Gorgeous photos too Carole. Although as someone who’s constantly cold, indoors, wearing two jumpers with the heating on, i’d have to stock up on ski wear just for bed!x

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 19, 2016

      I think you’d be okay Karen. Our hotel bathroom was like a sauna. Likewise everywhere else, including the coaches. x

  7. Reply

    Geraldine

    January 18, 2016

    What a stunning place Carole and such beautiful photography. It’s on my bucket list too. Can’t wait to go some day soon.

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 19, 2016

      Hope you have better luck with the lights when you go Geraldine 🙂 x

  8. Reply

    Cate

    January 18, 2016

    This is just in time, I’m planning a surprise trip for my boyfriend’s 30th birthday in April, I’ll definitely look up that tour you did. I went for a geography field trip way back in school and the landscape was just stunning, I really enjoyed the blue lagoon pools and geysers, magical! x

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 18, 2016

      Isn’t it just Cate. I really recommend the tour. The only other way to see everything is to hire a car so it probably works out much cheaper. x

  9. Reply

    karen jones

    January 18, 2016

    What a beautiful post and photographs. I would love to visit Iceland it looks like the perfect winter wonderland. Shame you didn’t get to see the northern lights though x

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 18, 2016

      It was a shame Karen but there was still so much to see that it was worth the trip. And I can always go back 🙂

  10. Reply

    Kimberly Duran

    January 18, 2016

    Oh Carole, this just brought back all the memories of our own trip in 2013 – we went at exactly the same time of year, hoping to see the Northern Lights but alas, they were elusive for us as well. The city is beautiful though and the scenic landscapes like nothing I’d ever seen before it. And yes, that strange feeling of dusk that lasts forever – there was something wonderfully relaxing about it. It IS ridiculously expensive (I seem to remember we spent around £1000 in 3 days and we thought we were being pretty frugal!) but it was well worth the experience. Thanks so much for your recap and your pictures are fabulous! xxx

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 18, 2016

      Thanks Kimberly. Really pleased with the photo’s. And I’m glad it brought back memories 🙂

  11. Reply

    Sue

    January 18, 2016

    Oh I’d love to go visit! Been on my list for soo long!! Gorgeous photos x

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 18, 2016

      Thanks Sue. I’ve been practising with the new camera lol x

  12. Reply

    Kate

    January 18, 2016

    Sounds wonderful Carole and that light is simply divine! And not seeing the lights this time around just gives a perfect excuse to plan another trip, eh?

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 18, 2016

      Too true Kate. Didn’t get to experience the Blue Lagoon either as it was shut. I’ll just have to go again xx

  13. Reply

    Carole

    January 18, 2016

    It looks beautiful and I do actually like Winter, so it would be the perfect time to travel for me. As you mentioned, finances might be a bit of an issue (how expensive?!) but it looks like it’s well worth it. Glad you both had a lovely time xo

    • Reply

      deardesigner

      January 18, 2016

      It’s is beautiful Carole and I think worth the expense for just a few days 🙂

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