Iceland has a lot to offer all types of travelers – from winter excursions to luxury spas – and we took in a bit of everything during our three short days. Here are the tours we took and our thoughts on each.
Northern Lights Tour – Our first night we headed out on a huge bus full of excited tourists to try to catch a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights. After driving far out of the city along the coast, we trouped out of the bus into the cold wind, craned our necks heavenward and waited…. And waited…. And waited. After about an hour of standing in the snow, it became clear that we weren’t going to see those Northern Beauties. The guides apologised, reminded us how unpredictable the lights are and said that we could return for ‘free’ on subsequent tours to try our luck again. Unfortunately David and I never did see the Northern Lights as it snowed our second night and rained the third. The two of us are split about whether or not we would pay for a tour again, I think it is worth the cost since the weather station gives the guides information about the most likely places to see the lights. At any rate, visitors to Iceland should have low expectations for Northern Lights sightings since it’s as fickle as the weather. Fortunately the beauty of Iceland is not confined to its skies.
Golden Circle Tour – This is the classic Iceland tour which shows off some of the country’s national treasures. We saw icy waterfalls, erupting geysers, Icelandic horses, and the valley where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet.
The scenery was breath-taking and our guide was very informative. Of course my favourite story was of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, Iceland’s president from 1980 to 1996 who was the first democratically elected female head of state in the modern world and was known to pick up hitch hikers along the highway. Yes, in this tiny, egalitarian nation of 320,000 people, even the prime minister’s phone number is publicly listed. It’s no wonder that Iceland is ranked the number one place to be a woman and the second best place to be a mother, behind Norway. Now if only there were a bit more sunshine, I think some of us might be willing to make a move, am I right ladies? But I digress…
Glacier Hike – Our crowning achievement of the trip was a glacier hike on Sólheimajökull. Despite our winter-hardy Midwestern upbringings, David and I came to Iceland with London-style ‘winter’ wear. Wool dress coats, light gloves, leather dress shoes, and running shoes – we were no match for the Glacier. Evalyn (the proproetor of our guesthouse) and her husband took one look at us (particularly David) and launched into a long conversation between themselves with many disapproving looks toward us. Though we couldn’t understand their words, at the end of the conversation they produced a thick waterproof coat for David and winter boots for both of us.
We boarded the bus and drove about two hours to the base of the glacier where we were further outfitted with waterproof pants, ice picks, and crampons for our shoes. Up the glacier we went, marvelling at the amazing ice formations and pockets of lava rock. Perfect shades of blue peeked out from underneath the snow. David and I are huge fans of winter sports, and the glacier hike did not disappoint. The day was definitely worth the price, and I’m already wondering how we can get to another glacier.
The only downside to the whole experience was the weather. It was windy for the entire day (one of our guides said that Iceland would be more appropriately called Windland), and the beautiful snow slowly turned to sleet and then to rain by the end of our walk. Despite all of our borrowed waterproof gear, I still managed to get soaked through four layers of clothing. Not the most fun since we had a four hour trip back, including stops at two additional waterfalls. Nevertheless, my new-found love for the glaciers has left me determined to live in an even more environmentally-friendly fashion. The particular glacier that we visited is shrinking by 150 meters per year!
Blue Lagoon – Perhaps Iceland’s most iconic attraction is its geothermal springs and spas. Before heading to the airport on our final day, David and I visited the most famous, the Blue Lagoon. The lagoon is a gigantic naturally-formed swimming/lounging pool which gives off an other-worldly blue white glow amidst the dark volcanic rock and distant mountains. The bottom of the lagoon is mostly smooth from the sulphuric buildup. We swam and floated enjoying the scenery and smearing silica mud over our faces to exfoliate. What a wonderful way to end our time in Europe and kick off my 30s!