Oh Iceland you incredible gem of a country that absolutely everyone should have the pleasure of experiencing!! This was my second time in Iceland and Jack’s first – we have since been back and will continue to go back again and again. This place has a slice of our hearts and is completely covered in so much natural beauty and so many natural wonders. We have so much to say about Iceland – tips on how to make the most out of your time there, how to save money, the ultimate Iceland bucket list – check out the Iceland tab for all our posts and to get some serious inspiration and plans. There’s a reason this place has made its way onto everyone’s bucket lists – and today we’re going to tell you all the things we did as a couple here, and how we found them!
We left on a Monday at THREE AM for the airport which is just painful isn’t it! My sweet soul of a dad gave us a lift to London Luton and as we arrived it was so bitterly cold, knowing Iceland was supposed to be even colder was both a scary and exciting thought! Luckily at this time the drive to the airport was super quick so we were really early for our flight. Customs was all a breeze this time so we sat down for a quick bite to eat, and played some games on our phones whilst we waited to board the plane. Although so early, this was the best flight we’d had in a long while, as there was a free seat next to me! (We are never this lucky!) Me and Jack slept pretty much the whole three hour flight which made it pass by so quickly.
After a pretty zen start to the whole holiday, we picked up our car from the Iceland airport and headed into central Reykjavik – Jack taking the wheel first. I found it really weird driving on the wrong side of the road and driving an automatic for the first time! (I say driving on the other side of the road but we both forgot to at one point! It’s good having someone else in the car with you when it’s all new to start alert and aware!) Have a read on our Iceland tips post to see if it would be worth you hiring a car and all our tips for driving here.
In Winter Iceland gets about 5 hours of sunlight in a day, and whilst we wanted to properly enjoy all the minimal sunlight every day, we decided to wait around near our hotel to check in all our luggage, and so went for a meal in the city. As is tradition with Jack and I, we headed for a delicious spot of lunch in the newly opened Hard Rock Café – it’s always a welcoming place with a good vibe and a safe bet if you don’t want to take a risk on food and eat something you know you’ll love! Iceland has some incredible local food on offer which we would recommend though – check out our Iceland food posts for tips! – but for what we fancied, this was perfect. The Hard Rock also generally always has some great options for veggies and vegans. After food it was time to check into our hotel, so we drove round and checked everything in.
Our hotel room was huge with a kitchenette, tv and massive bed – which was pretty impossible to get Jack out of in the mornings! I absolutely loved the bathroom which was pebbled the whole way round, floor to ceiling. (Although it did get very wet each time we had a shower and we would have to tiptoe round to the only dry parts haha!) Unfortunately we discovered the kitchenette wasn’t particularly clean so we didn’t end up getting full use out of this – which we had planned to to save money, but it wasn’t too much of an issue for us in the end.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the city of Reykjavik – walking around all the gorgeous streets, to the waterside and in all the nooks and crannies. There are so many beautiful alleys, a lake, and so many colours and artwork on the buildings. It’s really one of the most cohesive wintry cities we’ve been to and we just love the whole aesthetic. Near winter there are also so many twinkly lights and decorations everywhere. Pair this with the icy winter and often snow, and you have the most festive feels! It was getting dark by the time we properly explored so we got to see the city light up for the night. We bumped into a sweet family who we took pictures for outside the church (called the Hallgrímur) – the best timing as there was really no one else around!
After exploring and taking a million pictures, we went out for some drinks; starting at the hard rock so I could get an obligatory cocktail glass. I collect these in every Hard Rock now and I love my little trophies from all our international cities. Although a great place to have a cocktail it’s also crazy expensive. It varies across cities as price goes up where the city is more expensive, and our drinks were ranging from £10-15 a drink easily. After vibing here with some drinks (and noticing this Hard Rock actually has a club underground which is just amazing,) we headed off out to find some cheaper places to drink.
Our next pub – and where we ended up spending hours – was along the main high street in Reykjavik, where the Hallgrímur joins all the way down to the restaurant district. The pub was about half way down and I sadly can’t remember the name for the life of me! But we had a look on Tripadvisor for cheaper places to drink which was really helpful. This bar had three levels and the bottom and middle were slightly more gothic style, but the very top level had it’s own bar, was a little quiter and was surrounded by wooden beams and fairy lights wound round them all. There was also a little balcony out the top here.
Day two was essentially a huge road trip – which was SO bloody tiring but so SO enjoyable! We decided to head to the small village of Vik, (only about 300 people live here!) The village has a gorgeous little church up on a hill, beautiful mountains surrounding the entire area, and is home to the star of the show for us – a black sand beach! On the drive over, which took around three hours, we literally just bumped into a few gorgeous waterfalls! … Well Jack was the one who really saw it, he was pointing it out like “there’s a waterfall look!” and I pretty much said it clearly was a rock hahahaha. Definitely didn’t see the water moving. I’m glad he was right though because this was beautiful! Round the corner there were a few more waterfalls, but this was our favourite as you could walk around the back of it and see the water flowing from behind. This is weather dependent and when I’ve been back since it was roped off as it was too icy, but if you’re lucky it’s such a fun experience!
You can also get loads of different tours in Iceland including ones to Vik and this black sand beach, (called Reynisfjara) so you don’t have to hire a car for this exclusively – although it does let you go a little further up and have the whole beach to yourself, as well as take your time. Check out our Iceland tours post to see what way would suit you better. One tip you absolutely need to take notice of on all the Iceland seafronts is to be safe near the water – I.E, to stay well away from it. Due to being a little island in the middle of the crazy sea, they have waves called “sneaker waves.” They literally come up out of no where and suck in rapidly anything on the sea front, I won’t go into the details but it has been catastrophic and even the calmest of seas can have them, so do stay well away.
We didn’t actually know this on this trip as we had headed a little further up to a more private area of the black sand beach, which didn’t have signs about the waves. Luckily we are all okay but we will take much more care in the future. The waves were actually crashing and roaring around anyway as if there was a huge storm, but the sky was just still and a little cloudy. The tide also had a huge spectrum of in and out with every single wave which wiped the sand to be perfect and untouched every time. This beach is so stunning and undeniably so worth a visit. Just keep your wits about you and it’s such an incredible sight!
After spending some time here and popping into the department store nearby to have a look around, we were debating whether to wait there for the Northern lights. We drove a little further East of the island and ended up in a national park, completely alone and getting dark at this stage, wondering whether to wait it out as it would have been a great spot for those lights – if they decided to come out. In the end, due to the clouds and not wanting to have the long drive too late, (it does get dark early so we still made it in good time,) we decided to come back to Reykjavik and have some pizza. Every single time I come to Iceland I make sure to eat in Hornid, who do the most incredible pizza. You can have blue cheese sprinkled all over the top and whilst I’m not generally a blue cheese person, this tastes absolutely divine!! We headed out for the Northern lights in the Reykjavik peninsula (near the Grótta Island Lighthouse) for hours after this and didn’t see a thing – it was mainly cloudy which would make it hard anyway, but they also just didn’t come out. (Spoiler, they didn’t come out for us the whole time we were away – for the second year in a row! I have since seen them in this very spot in Iceland and it was the most incredible experience of my life, but they can be pesky!) Have a read of our Northern Lights tips and resources page to get some insight for your travel, and have a read of part two on what we got up to here on the blog, including how we found the lovely Blue Lagoon.