I visited Iceland over two years ago now, but it’s a place I genuinely think about most days. The eerie beauty of the desolate landscape, the silence created in the falling snow, the darkness – it all manages to force its way into the forefront of my mind on the regular.
I’ve got a ‘thing’ for Nordic countries, having also been to Norway, Denmark and Sweden, read all the books on Hygge and lost count of the number of times I’ve researched moving to Scandinavia. The jumpers, breathtaking views, work/life balance and active lifestyle – it’s all super appealing. Not to mention they make some great TV, (I’ve just finished Case or ‘Réttur’ – both chilling and gripping in equal measures). Spending four days in the Land of Ice and Fire fuelled this obsession all the more.
Waking up at 8am in Reykjavik on a mid-December morning to a sky as dark as when you crawled into bed – and knowing it won’t get light until 11am – challenges the mind. What do you do? Lie there until it gets light, or venture outside to explore? The latter, of course. In a strange way, the darkness is rejuvenating. You have to get out there and embrace it.
Setting out late to try and see the allusive and alluring northern lights in the bitter cold is another example of this. After an exciting chase, there were some green and yellow swatches visible in the sky, but we sadly weren’t treated to the mesmerising light show of swirling patterns you imagine when you think of the ‘Aurora Borealis’. All the more reason to return one day, maybe they did it on purpose…
Experiencing Iceland in the summer would be completely different from going in the winter – something I want to do one day thanks to the lure of the midnight sun and the fact that the Icelandic Premier League season usually runs from May-September. When I went to Norway in the winter, the activities involved cross-country skiing, ice skating and campfires in the forest, while in the summer it was all about swimming in the fjords, BBQs on the beach and cycling in the sun. This juxtaposition is another reason why Iceland and its Nordic neighbours offer up the chance of a fascinating adventure.
With a population of 330,000, Iceland is well-prepared for the some one million tourists who visit each year with various tours and experiences. Below are a few tips for visiting Reykjavik in the winter.
The Golden Circle tour with Reykjavik Excursions
Witness Iceland’s natural beauty in full force with the Strokkur geyser, which spurts water up to 30 metres before leaving behind a cloud of mist. The tour also includes Thingvellir National Park where you can witness the meeting of the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and wish you’d paid more attention in Geography lessons to fully understand their role in depth.
The beautiful Gullfoss waterfall is also en route, but watch out for the steep descent to get a better view of the frozen wonder. I obviously I fell over at the bottom after shuffling down the steps and carefully clinging onto the railings. Luckily some kind souls helped me up – takk!
Blue Lagoon with Reykjavik Excursions
Admittedly, I didn’t have the best experience at the Blue Lagoon. Rocking up there with visions of chilling with clay on my face and a cocktail in hand, we were greeted with the news that the heating was broken and were warned not to go in. After inspecting the water temperature, it was bearable so we ventured in. As the snow fell, we made the most of finding the hot spots in the water before relocating to the wooden sauna.
I did receive a refund and some Blue Lagoon skin products to make up for the temperature issues, but like the Northern Lights, I feel I need to go back and experience it properly – along with paying a visit to one of the country’s natural geothermal pools. The views are stunning though.
Icelandic Fish and Chips
Fish caught that morning with crispy potatoes makes for a delicious alternative to the British classic and the best fish I’ve ever tasted. The restaurant is around by the harbour on Tryggvagata.
Lovely coffee shop along Bankastræti, the main shopping street, with smooth hot chocolate.
Standing tall among the city’s colourful-roofed buildings is Hallgrimskirkja, and it’s well worth a trip up the top for views over Reykjavik. We had planned to do this when it was light, but we couldn’t fit it around our schedule, however it was still great to see the capital lit up from above – in the 11am darkness.
‘The Sun Voyager’ sculpture sits at the edge of the water, and looks onto the mountains in the distance which were topped with snow in December. A solid location for photo opportunities.