When I was working in Vancouver, one of the multitudinous ads from the Skytrain would not get out of my head – the ad offering a free stopover in Iceland when you book a flight with Icelandair. After months of it refusing to leave my brain, I finally looked up prices and found that flights were ridiculously cheap. Getting to Europe from NZ is super difficult (it took me 3 flights & 30 hours flying time to get to England for my exchange) so coming from Canada seemed like the perfect opportunity. Lox and I decided that we had to take them up on the offer, booking a trip to Amsterdam with a 3 day stopover in Iceland for February.
We took a red eye from Toronto and arrived in Iceland at 7am Wednesday morning to apparently the “worst weather we’ve ever had”: heavy rain and gales under a pitch black sky. We had an Airbnb booked but check-in wasn’t until 5pm, so we decided to head into town, hole up in a café til the sun rose and it stopped raining, then explore the city. We found a few cute cafés (I recommend the blueberry pancakes at the Laundromat Café) and after a while, the weather cleared so we could explore outside for more than three minutes (that wind was seriously fierce, and I’m from Wellington, so that’s saying something). We were running on about 3 hours of sleep, but my tired eyes could still recognise how beautiful the streets were. Where there could have been blank walls were glorious, vibrant murals. All of them were awesome but this was my favourite:
Eventually we were able to check in to our Airbnb and promptly passed out.
The next day, we went to the Blue Lagoon. I was super excited about this, because I’m addicted to planning trips on Pinterest and the Blue Lagoon heavily features in every single post about Iceland. It was expensive but totally worth it – it was cold outside but not blustery, so being in a huge hot spring was beautifully relaxing.
After the lagoon, we headed back to downtown Reykjavik to properly explore. We were delighted to find that Iceland is home to the world’s only penis museum, so we spent about an hour checking out the Iceland Phallological Museum. It was truly bizarre and a little uncomfortable, but fascinating nonetheless (did you know humans are one of the few mammals without a penis bone? Now you do). We had a tour for the Northern Lights booked that night too, but unfortunately nature wasn’t on our side so we didn’t get a chance. The sunset was incredible though, so I can’t be too upset about it.
Our final day, we went on a day tour of the Golden Circle. This was probably the highlight of Iceland – we saw so many parts of the country we never would have got to otherwise. We saw Geysir, apparently the first geyser in written history, as well as the Strokkur geyser which explodes every few minutes (someone definitely has a video of Strokkur exploding and me squealing in surprise in the background). We also went to the Golden Falls which were huge and so impressive.
Our flight to Amsterdam was at 7am the next morning, so we decided not to go back to our Airbnb that night, and to spend it in town instead. We walked out to the Sun Voyager statue on the waterfront in the hopes of finally catching the Northern Lights. The sky stubbornly remained cloudy, but it was still a beautiful way to end our trip – gazing out to sea and holding hands under the midnight sky.
For anyone wanting to visit Iceland, here are some tips so you can learn from my mistakes and make the most of your time!
- Book with Icelandair. Totally not sponsored, I just can’t get over what a wicked deal it is to get a free stopover when you fly with them. I paid something like $500 for a flight to Iceland, a flight to Amsterdam, plus return. You’d be lucky to get that kind of deal flying to Queenstown from Wellington.
- Check sunrise & sunset times. This didn’t affect our stay at all, it was just surprising to realise that the sun rose at 10am and set at 5pm in February. It’s worth finding out so you don’t make plans that make no sense with the sunshine.
- Be aware of your flight times. We took a red-eye and arrived early in the morning, thinking it’d be no big deal to explore the city til we could check in to our Airbnb. This was a bad idea. I fell asleep in several coffee shops and nearly passed out from exhaustion while walking. If you have to arrive early, book a day tour on a bus so you can see the sights without exhausting yourself, or get to your hotel straightaway to sleep for a bit. Everything is good when you’re rested, and impossible when you’re not.
- Don’t stay in an Airbnb (unless it’s downtown). Our Airbnb was lovely and our host was really friendly, so this is nothing against that. It’s just really difficult to get around if you’re not staying downtown. The reason we didn’t sleep on our final night was because there was no public transport in our area that would’ve got us to the airport in time for our flight. If you’re doing tours too, the tour bus will pick you up from your hotel, so it’s way easier. The money we saved on our accommodation was probably spent on public transport to get downtown, so save yourself the hassle.
- Book tours! Easily the best way to get around and see everything without renting a car. It’s expensive, but worth it, so work it into your budget. Without the tours, it’s very likely Lox and I would have slept most of our trip away due to our extreme exhaustion and jet lag. The tours forced us to get up early and actually see Iceland.
- Bring jandals with you to the Blue Lagoon. After we soaked in the lagoon, we wanted to take pictures of it and GOOD LORD it’s cold out there. You can’t wear your regular shoes past the changing rooms, so you have to brave the cold barefooted. Bring jandals (thongs/flip flops/whatever you call them) so you can stay outside for more than 30 seconds and take some wicked photos.
- If you dye your hair, don’t wear a white shirt to the Blue Lagoon. You need to condition your hair before entering the lagoon because the silica in the water will severely mess with it. This means you need to rinse it out of your hair once you leave the lagoon. I forgot that my hair was freshly recoloured and that it takes approximately 3 days to dry, and cleverly wore a white shirt. No drama if you have short or non-dyed hair, but my hair is Ariel-red and the stains my hair left on my shirt made it look like someone stabbed me.
- Don’t pin your trip satisfaction on the Northern Lights. Apparently it’s quite common to not see them, plus no one can control the weather so it’s a gamble. Don’t be too sad if you don’t. It just means you’ve got an excuse to visit again!
Iceland is an absolutely stunning country and I’m so stoked I got the opportunity to visit. If you’ve been or have any questions about visiting Iceland, let me know!