After our rather intense (but amazing) fourth day of travelling around the spectacular sights of Southern Iceland, we decided our fifth and final day in the country should be a rather more subdued affair, particularly as we had covered a lot of ground the previous three days.
It is common knowledge that you can’t visit Iceland without going to the Blue Lagoon – its often ranked the number one single greatest thing to do in Iceland, especially if you are short on time – so who were we to turn it down. Off to the Blue Lagoon we went.
THE BLUE LAGOON, ICELAND
The night before, we had gone out in Reykjavik to discover the infamous Icelandic night-life (at least at the weekends), that we had heard so much about. We had heard stories of restaurants turning into bars then into nightclubs, people getting quite literally blind drunk and groups of friendly Icelanders initiating visitors into their unique night-life culture in big friendly packs.
What happened on our night out in Reykjavik is not quite for this blog (also I can’t remember everything still today), but I woke up on day 5 not even hungover, but still extremely drunk with only vague recollections of ending up in “Kiki’s Gay Bar” having a wonderful time and managing to lose my new baseball cap in the process. How fantastic the Blue Lagoon was the main itinerary for the day. I highly doubt I would have been able to cope with any kind of hike state I was in, never mind walking behind a waterfall.
The Blue Lagoon is not in Reykjavik itself, but about 45 minutes drive South East of the capital, quite near the airport. Being such a huge tourist attraction, I was sort of expecting to hate the Blue Lagoon. I expected it to be a packed, money grabbing tourist trap….luckily for me I was proved wrong!
Upon driving up to the Blue Lagoon you start to see large pools of LUMINOUS (the pictures don’t do the colours justice at all) pools of water, and this bizarre shock of colour starts to form a twinge of excitement in your stomach –
When I visited, the basic Blue Lagoon entry package was around £35, with the next price level up not really offering enough to justify the spend (as long as you bring a towel with you). Unless you are flush with cash, or really want the entire Blue Lagoon experience, I don’t think most people would need more than the basic entry level price.
The Blue Lagoon is Scandinavian magnificence. For such a huge tourist attraction it is clean, slick and organised enough to never feel too full of people, despite the opposite probably being true. I was personally really impressed. I never felt rushed, or overwhelmed by other people, and the whole experience was quite wonderful – probably much better than I ever expected.
Upon entry you are handed a magic wristband, which is your locker key and your payment in the Blue Lagoon itself – you can buy beer, wine, smoothies and treatments with it – you pay upon exit so no money needed in the pool. Its a simple but very clever system, and makes the process of being in the Blue Lagoon much simpler, and queues much shorter.
The actual Blue Lagoon itself is brilliant. It was quite a cold day when we went, but the Lagoon is more than warm enough that you don’t notice the weather at all (the entire complex is located outside). The juxtaposition of the freezing cold air and warm water is pretty awesome, and there is a free steam room, face masks and thermal waterfall (which feels like “a troll pummelling on your back”) even with basic entry.
I had a great time, and it really helped sort out my stinking hangover. We spend out 3 hours in the lagoon itself, and loved every minute. Eventually we left, and carried on South East to the amazing Krysuvik region…
If you only have a short amount of time in Iceland, I would certainly recommend the South East corner of the country as a really great place to go, much more so than putting yourself through a Golden Circle tour. It offers some very unique landscape (particularly in comparison to the relatively bland landscape surrounding the nearby Reykjavik), it is near to the capital, Blue Lagoon and the airport and most importantly – there is loads to see!
We were too tired/hungover and relaxed following the Blue Lagoon to really make large headways into this part of the country. But we did pack in a few sights before leaving Iceland for good.
SELTUN, KRYSUVIK, ICELAND
The Krysuvik region is an area of South East Iceland that features particularly large amounts of geothermal activity. You see a lot of lava fields, smell a lot of sulphur in the air and see a lot of milky bright blue water.
One of the most impressive areas is named Seltun. Amazingly this area is free to visit, and very easy to walk around. It feels like you are visiting Mars.
You will know you have arrived at Seltun, as you will see this ominous abandoned farm standing tall by the roadside, looking like a David Lynch film location –
Right next to this building is the lake Grænavatn, a former crater that is now filled with the bright blue water we saw at the Blue Lagoon –
Almost across the road from here is the otherworldly Seltun itself.
Seltun is pretty much the closest you are going to get to Mars on earth without actually going there. The area isn’t enormous, but well worth a visit. The landscape is steaming, scorching, bubbling and really quite amazing. Here are a few pictures –
Just around the corner from Seltun is the extremely beautiful lake Kleifarvatn. I was VERY tired at this point, and didn’t have the energy to get out and explore (something I obviously regret now), so all I got was this lonely photo, again the colours in the picture do not do real life justice –
It was then back home, ready for a final meal and our flight back to the UK the next day. We had an amazing time in Iceland, as a country it really is completely unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been on earth.
If you want to read about the rest of our trip, here are the blogs of the other days –
So following on from my rather subdued first-day in Reykjavik, things really started getting serious on our second day.
Initially we were at a bit of a blank with what we were to do with our second day. We had already pre-planned to explore the entire South coast of Iceland on days 3 and 4, and had booked accommodation accordingly, meaning we had a whole day at our disposal on day 2. A little bit of digging and research pointed us in the way of Western Iceland – the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Located about 2.5 hours drive out of Reykjavik, the peninsula is actually a national park and has a lot to see – more than enough to fill a day. So off we set.
This is a much less visited corner of Iceland compared to the typical tourist trails of the South Coast and “Golden Circle”, and we weren’t too sure what to expect. To be honest I don’t think our expectations were set enormously high, as we were expecting the main bulk of our breathtaking sights to occur on the South coast on days 3 and 4, so we went into Western Iceland with quite an open mind. It turned out to be an ideal starting point to see some of the insane scenery Iceland has to offer!
The drive itself out of Iceland is incredibly beautiful, passing through mountain after mountain before Reykjavik is even out of your sight-line, eventually crossing a low road straight through an estuary that leads to the sea. You will probably find yourself getting over-excited and wanting to photograph EVERYTHING from your car window (I know I was) – don’t bother, save your phone memory/film – these mountains are nothing compared to what is to come.
Eventually we came to what became our first stop of the day (snack stops not counting) at what we later learnt was Budavik. This wasn’t a planned stop, it just looked pretty interesting so we decided to have a look. On of the first sights you will probably see when passing here is the dramatic jet-black Stave Church standing lonely next to a huge lava-field :
The Church is what initially caught our attention, and we got out to investigate. As I mentioned, right next to the church is a huge and mightily impressive lava field. This was the first lava field we had properly seen in Iceland (little did we realise how many there were to come), and we were properly amazed. It really was our first real look at the otherworldly Icelandic landscape we had heard so much about –
The lava field is really fun to run around and play in – whilst we were there we saw somebody else meditating on top of a flat lava spike. Its actually quite a small field in comparison to others we saw later on, but as our first it was extremely impressive.
We wandered around a bit further near the church, and quickly realised we were walking in what affectionately became known as “The Valley of the Hair”.
This place really is like something from a Disney film. Mountains of strands of long, sandy grass spilling over an entire valley – if this hasn’t influenced at least one animated film already, I’d put it as a certainty to do so in the future. The entire landscape is quite surreal and made a great backdrop for a lot of photo ops –
“The Valley of the Hair” leads down to the sea, and a picturesque if relatively unspectacular beach (in comparison to other beaches we were yet to see). But as our first real glimpse at Iceland’s coastline, we were pretty happy –
I mentioned above “The Valley of the Hair” being a Disney-esque landscape, it probably won’t be a surprise that this area of Iceland has been the setting for several films in the past, most famously “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth” by Jules Verne. Having reached Budavik, we were actually now inside Western Iceland’s national park “Snaefellsjokull”, and the landscape was only going to get more dramatic the further we went in…
Raudfeldsgja is something we very nearly missed. Having left Budavik and our beloved Valley of the Hair, we were back on the road and in the car, when from the road we saw a very dramatic looking cliff with a huge crack in it. It looked very intriguing, however we didn’t realise we could actually go up close until we saw the “Area Of Interest” sign that will quickly become familiar to any tourist making their way around Iceland. Seeing the sign we quickly spun the car round and pulled up to get a closer look…
My photographs of Raudfeldsgja unfortunately do not really do it justice. For some reason the scale of it doesn’t translate on the iPhone camera at all, making it look a lot smaller and less dramatic than it actually is! Raudfeldsgja is pictured behind me in the photo above, and is essentially a narrow cleft that mysteriously disappears into the huge cliff wall. Its a 10-15 minute hike up to the cleft, which is steeper and trickier than it looks, with the last part being in deep (and sinking snow), with a long drop into a stream on your left hand side.
Out of our party of four, I was the only one that managed to make it to the crack in the cliff face (the other three didn’t die, they simply gave up). This picture taken from the cleft makes the scale a little clearer, with my two friends looking like little ants in the snow climbing their way towards me –
However it still doesn’t really translate the scale properly at all.
Inside the cleft you can go right inside the cliff face, and discover a stream that runs right up the mountain. You can hop along rocks a decent way along the stream, and the views upwards from inside are pretty stunning (there were also lots of dead birds lying around in very states of decay). Sadly my pictures from inside didn’t come out too good, but here is a close up of the rift in the cliff itself –
and here is inside the cliff looking upwards, this was really beautiful looking at it in real life –
Having gotten out of the cliff and back in the car, the next thing to grab our attention was Arnarstapi which has a gigantic troll monument clearly visible from the road –
Giant stone troll aside however, there ain’t much to see here. Our next stop was something we had read about in a guidebook, but look very underwhelming on entry…ladies and gentlemen, how wrong we were….
For Western Iceland Hellnar is a relatively big place, with a hotel and several houses in the surrounding area. We had been told it was a good place to stop, and it was signed as a place of interest, but driving towards it we had very little idea WHY.
We soon came to learn in Iceland that many places only really display their charms to you when you get right up close to them – be it a crater, a waterfall or a cliff edge, you often don’t get to see what it is you actually came to see until the very last second, and Hellnar is no exception.
You drive up to Hellnar and start walking towards the coast not really knowing what to expect, then as you approach the cliff edge everything starts to spill out underneath in wonderfully dramatic fashion. I really loved Hellnar, its one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited –
From a long shot, it’s probably not entirely clear what everything is. Essentially Hellnar is home to some insane rock formations. I had so many pictures of crazy rock patterns on my phone after visiting this place, its pretty amazing that some of these patterns are formed naturally –
These formations are all over, everywhere you look – its a pretty inspiring place visually.
Hellnar’s trump card however is its huge rock-arch to the side of the coast line, Badstofa. This big arch houses its own small (and very angry) lagoon inside, of which waves are constantly crashing against the rocks in an extremely dramatic fashion. I could watch this all day, the scenery is mesmerising. I tried really hard to get a really strong wave-crashing photo, but my timing was all wrong – this was the best I managed –
Hellnar is definitely a hidden delight of Iceland, and somewhere I definitely recommend. I would have liked to have spent longer there – the entire bay is pretty hypnotising.
Back in the car, and we saw our next destination from several kilometres away. Several huge jutting rocks hurl themselves out the sea in imposing style at Londrangar –
You can walk right up to them, but sadly we didn’t have time. We did however have lunch by the insane rocket-shaped lighthouse at nearby Malariff (which I forgot to take a picture of). Malariff has a very angry sea right under its coastline, and its well worth taking a few minutes to watch the waves crash against the rocks.
Next up was another place that wasn’t instantly visible from the road, but was so worth the short walk to see it…
By this point you are well into the huge national park, and the massive mountain Songhellir is pretty much what you are driving around – views of it from the road are pretty breathtaking.
Dritvik is a beach area, right next to another beach area called Djupalonssandur. I’m not entirely sure which beach is which as they are pretty much next to each other, so I’m going to call the area Dritvik, purely because it is easier to write.
This is a seriously stunning area, well worth an entire afternoon of your time (if you have it) as opposed to the hour or so we could spend here. Walking towards the beach you will pass a small rocky arch Gatklettur, with some accessible (and very beautiful) mineral pools behind it –
Heading down to the beach, you will walk through the remains of the shipwrecked British ship Eding which was wrecked here in the 1940s – eerie right.
The beach itself is amazing. Really stunning. Middle earth, black sands, rock formations everywhere you look. Take a while and have a walk, the landscape is so incredible, and all set among the backdrop of a completely clear, angry sea empty of ships and boats –
Have a play on the rocks, take some pictures, soak in the environment, this was a really stunning area to visit.
Back to the car, and the day was getting on, we didn’t have too much time before darkness would become us (not forgetting we had still to drive back to Reykjavik), but we still had time for a couple more stops…
Saxholl is an accessible crater a short drive off the main road. The climb to the top is about 300m, but isn’t too tough going. The views from the top are magnificent, enable you to see over a huge section of completely uninhabited land. The vast distances of huge plains of emptiness are quite unique for a Londoner, and really quite beautiful (this is looking down from the top of the crater, the height doesn’t seem to have come through too well, those small blobs of white were massive snow patches!) –
The crater itself is dry inside, and again extremely scenic to look down into (and another thing on this road trip that didn’t translate particularly well on an iPhone camera!) –
Our final stop was a bit of a curveball, another beach we had read about Skarosvik.
Skarosvik is completely unexpected. Having spent the day on dramatic black sand beaches, surrounded by lava fields, craters and rocks, suddenly you have a perfect golden sand Caribbean-style beach right in front of you! This beach is flawless, and again a really beautiful spot particularly (I imagine) in the warmer Summer months –
The road past Skarosvik apparently leads to some amazing bird cliffs which we tried to access, but I really wouldn’t recommend in a two-wheel drive. Its a very tough and rocky road, and a very remote place to find yourself in trouble with your car…
It was now starting to get late, and as such it was time for us to turn back to Reykjavik. The road home was as unexpectedly scenic as our day had been, taking us to a dramatically different landscape – all of a sudden we were going over snowy mountains, very different to the lava fields below –
We also saw mirror-clear lakes of which the mountains reflected into – landscape lovers, stuff like this will make you cream your pants –
By the end of the day Western Iceland had absolutely out-done our expectations. The landscape was awe-inspiring, vast and varied, and a fantastic introduction to the wonders of the country. What had initially started as a “might as well give this area a go” definitely turned into some of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Top tip though (and this basically applies to EVERYWHERE in Iceland) – take food, water and make sure your car is good for petrol. Places to pit-stop are few and very far between…
Our next day saw us take on our first leg of the might and the wonder of the Southern Icelandic coast….
Being a life-long Bjork fan, Iceland as a country has always intrigued me – more than intrigued me, it has always been top of my list of countries to visit – a pilgrimage if you will to the land of the spiritual leader of my 13 year old self. However, until recently actually getting to Iceland hasn’t been the easiest if you are intending to do so on the cheap. It has only been the last year or so that Easyjet have started flying regularly to Reykjavik from London, and these budget flights were the breakthrough I needed to finally fulfil my destiny of finally visiting one of the craziest places on our planet – Iceland, homeland of Bjork.
As I mentioned, I was intending to visit Iceland on a budget, and contrary to what other people may tell you it is actually perfectly possible to do so providing you are sensible and use a bit of initiative (quick budget guide to Iceland list forthcoming alert) :
BUDGET GUIDE TO ICELAND CHECKLIST :
– First of all, do not fall for groupon, or Iceland-tourism-board-advertised Reykjavik breaks for £300+. Whilst not a rip-off, these are usually 3 nights tours including accommodation of their choice, not yours. These trips usually involve a lot of coach tours as you get ferried around on the familiar tourist trail. Great if you are past the age of really wanting mass exploration, but you are really missing the best of what Iceland has to offer if you aren’t.
– Instead use a website such as Skyscanner to book your flights in advance cheaply (ours were £95.00 return with luggage), any time from mid-March to late-September are good! Just remember in the Winter months the country has a lot less daylight (and warmth) which could impact your trip considerably so probably aren’t the best times to be booking a holiday.
– Use a website such as AirBnB to book your accommodation! Not only is this so much cheaper than staying in a hotel, its much likely to be a lot bigger, nicer, convenient and cheaper. With AirBnB you can rent out a whole house or apartment opposed to a room which is much better value for money (and usually nicer), and also means you get your own kitchen so you can prepare your own food, instead of having to eat out 3 times a day – instant massive saving on your trip.
– Finally, go with somebody that can drive so you can hire a car. Not only does this give you absolute freedom to explore, its much cheaper than seeing the country via a coach tour. With a car you will see a lot more, and you can do it on your own time. You won’t have to deal with a bunch of other people you have no interest in, and you will probably have a much better trip as a result.
Following the above, for the amount of money a 3-night £300 Reykjavik package tour would have cost us, we managed to book a 5 night/6 day trip, stay in a beautiful huge house next to the sea in Reykjavik (with a kitchen!) and rented a car (2X drive) to get us around the country – really not bad going I do not think (sounding smug right).
One of the first things I would suggest you do once you have landed, is do a supermarket run. Not perhaps what you are desperate to do the minute you land in this land of insanity, but you will probably be glad you have done once you discover Reykjavik restaurant prices. My favourite was the supermarket called BONUS – recognisable by its huge yellow sign with what seems to be a drunk piggy-bank on it. These are all over populated area’s of Iceland (including one in Reykjavik city centre) and seemed to match UK supermarket prices pretty closely to me. My best tip is their amazing packs of dense rye and spelt breads – great with some cheese and tomato for a picnic lunch, and cousin-of-yoghurt SKYR which is massive in Iceland. Essentially really thick yoghurt, it is really delicious and packs a whopping amount of protein per pot/drink. I was absolutely addicted during my time there! Buy and cook your own food, save a fortune.
Budget guide out the way, details of our actual road trip to follow in my next post…