What to do in Iceland | Visiting Iceland for Christmas

Out of all the countries we’ve visited, living in Florida for a season, and making it a real life challenge to see and learn about as much as the world possible, there’s a place that comes back to my mind time and time again. Iceland!! To be completely honest, I think Iceland has my heart, is my second home, and I will continue to go back as much as possible. My recent visit to Iceland was my third time – I’ve been with friends, family and my partner and have visited so so many stunning things here; and I still have so much left to see! All the waterfalls, chance of seeing the Northern lights, hot springs, mountains, volcanoes, natural beauty and wildlife makes this country my absolute favourite, and it’s somewhere I think everyone should have the chance to see! Have a look at the Iceland tab on the blog to see all the places we would recommend seeing, country guides and more. Without further ado, let’s get in to what we did on this trip to Iceland!!

We usually get the cheapest flights we can to Iceland – it’s a relatively short flight from London (about 3 hours) and the planes are usually basic and small. Because of this we just stock up on some snacks, pack the usual headphones and entertainment, and put up with any flight to score the best deals. Saving money here is a good way to have a little extra for activities, a hotel upgrade, or a nicer hire car – if you choose to get one. (Have a look at our Iceland tips post to see why we recommend hiring a car – for some of the year – in Iceland, and other tips and tricks!) Due to saving money on our flight we had a very early start and so decided to have a wander around Reykjavik before being allowed to check in. Most hotels here allow you to leave your bags so just drop them off and get some exploring in to make the most of your time. You can walk along the river, visit the viking boat, the church Hallgrímur – and go up to the top if you choose to, and see the beautiful colourful buildings in the city. We decided to get a spot to eat as soon as our favourite restaurant here opened – Hornið. You can Google “Hornid Iceland” to get directions. We especially love these pizzas because they are so fresh and cooked in a wood fired oven, but you can also have blue cheese sprinkled into them. Usually I am not a blue cheese kind of girl – count me out! But on these pizzas, something magical happens and you live your very best life! They are great for vegetarians and meaty folk alike.

After our first day of exploring the city, we decided to head out the next morning to see one of the beautiful black sand beaches. We started the day with breakfast at the hotel – a massive array of choices including waffles, smoothies, breads, cheese, fruit, yoghurts, and cooked breakfasts. We were at the Radisson Blu this time, but a lot of the Icelandic hotels offer some brilliant breakfasts! If this is important do have a look at what hotels in your price range offer a free breakfast. Otherwise there are some wonderful coffee shops, cheaper chains, and supermarkets around Reykjavik. We had hired a car for this holiday and so set off on the long drive to the black sand beach in Vik. You can get tours here if you’re not driving but of course you’ll have a lot more people with you. It was magical having our own private black sand beach to explore, but the tours can be brilliant too. You have to be extremely careful when driving in Iceland in the middle of winter too.

We had a bite to eat in a little restaurant on the sea front, had a wander in one of the many department-style stores here. (They have home sections, clothes sections and everything, but it’s all beautiful Icelandic styles. These places are always a great way to stock up on holiday gifts for people, as they’re usually a little cheaper than those in the centre of Reykjavik. On the way back we passed a few waterfalls – the beauty of Iceland is you just bump into these beauties and don’t even need to plan it. We often jump out and half a walk around and take some pictures. You can sometimes walk behind the smaller waterfalls and watch the water flow off the cliff from behind which is breathtaking. After arriving back we went for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe in the city. If you’re looking for a little normality amongst the hustle and bustle of new places, anywhere with a Hard Rock is a good way to have something familiar and relax in. I don’t think you really need to in Iceland but nevertheless, we love this place! They have some great vegan and vegetarian options and an array of cocktails. Anywhere you eat out in Iceland will set you back more money than the UK’s equivalent would, so you may have to factor in some cheaper meals and supermarket snacks to avoid this. Take a look at our Iceland money saving tips post if you’d like to hear more!

We spent some of the night time waiting in the lighthouse peninsula for the Northern Lights, but unfortunately didn’t see anything on this night. Whilst there are so many places you can drive out to in Iceland to chase this beautiful night time show, if you don’t hire a car the peninsula is a great way for anyone staying in central Reykjavik to see them. They’re still never promised and can be totally random, but it’s walkable distance from the city to get in a chance (half an hour to an hour depending on where you’re staying, and you don’t have to go all the way to the end, but following in the direction will give you the chance. It’s Grotta lighthouse/Grotta Island for your Google maps.)

The next day we drove ourselves round the Golden Circle tour – we have done this tour multiple times between us now and will continue to go back time and time again. Every stop is incredible to see – national parks, water-spewing Geysers, Gulfoss waterfall and often smaller waterfalls and beauty spots to add. We have always taken this tour through a tour company in Iceland (check out our tips post but Grayline is a great one to look at,) but wanted to see it driving ourselves this time. We thought this would give us more time at each spot and feel less rushed – although the guides are very good at making you never feel rushed, you are still very much time bound with tours. The Gulfoss waterfall is always something I could just stare at for hours, and I love the anticipation of waiting for the Geysers to burst. Geysers are essentially deep pools of extremely hot (boiling water), that shoot out impressive large fountains of water intermittently as they get too hot to handle. As these are tourist hot spots they’re completely safe to visit in Iceland and roped off where you should not go past – just follow the rules and they’re one of the coolest things to see!

After spending the day exploring the Golden Circle, we stopped the car in a national park in hopes of some proper Northern lights – there are plenty of websites telling you how strong the aurora activity is every night, but you can often see some spectacular Aurora when the forecast is extremely low, and likewise, when it says there is a huge amount of activity you’re still not guaranteed to see anything at all. We did see a few flickers of the lights here but at this point it was nothing to shout about. (I wouldn’t have told anyone I had seen them after this small show.) We headed back to get more pizza (of course!) and debated whether or not to go back out to try and spot the lights elsewhere. As it had been a lot day we were split, so my sister, family friend and I headed to the room to eat pizza, and the other went out in hopes of seeing them. After about 15 minutes we got a phone call saying “we’re coming to get you NOW” from our family and thought oh shit, it’s real!

My mum whizzed back in the hire car to collect us all, and luckily we arrived at the absolute perfect time, the night sky was painted green, with the strokes of colour glowing and waving rapidly. All of a sudden the entire sky was alight with these stunning Northern lights – green waves dancing around the sky and massive formations (one looked exactly like a jellyfish!) floating above us. They flickered and danced so mesmerisingly and even tinged pink – which is very rare and only happens when they’re reeeaally bright. Absolute magic and one of the best things I have ever ever experienced. I will most definitely remember it forever more! After a short while they morphed back to their normal green waves, floating around again beautifully, but we had definitely witnessed the main event. We were so caught up in the moment that we didn’t get the best pictures – paired with the fact phones do struggle to pick them up properly and you really want a DSLR in tow for times like that!

For our last day we had planned to go to the Blue Lagoon, but hadn’t actually booked it in advance and so didn’t get in. (CRY I KNOW.) Seeing as I’d been twice before it really wasn’t the end of the world but would have been nice to get back into the most relaxing thing. (Picture from the last time I went – if you’re ever in Iceland this a 100% must do.) This a naturally heated hot spring, with water full of minerals and silica. This makes it so perfect for skin and lots of locals say it has cured many skin and healthy problems. (Which the minerals are scientifically proven to do!) It has a spa built around it – and now the company have branched out to a hotel there too. There are different levels of tickets that can get pricey, but as a base you can just pay for entry and bring your own towel.

We spent the rest of our day at a Viking museum instead, a short drive from the airport. This museum was called Viking World Museum. Whilst this absolutely could not even compare to the blue lagoon, it was actually still worth seeing. The building had stunning large windows out to the water and beautiful scenery, and it featured so much information all about how the country was founded and how the vikings lived. There are a few more of these museums in central Reykjavik too. Whilst I wouldn’t say you necessarily need to see them all, if you have a short time to fill it can be interesting learning about how it all came to be. I will definitely be returning to Iceland again and I really am in awe of those lights – I just want to chase them all around the world. Thank you Iceland, my second home. Take a look at our other posts to make the most out of your Iceland trip and get some inspiration!!

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