Snow! The first time some of us had seen it in years! I mean the proper, good, solid kind of snow that makes that amazing crunching sound when you walk on it. It was awesome, I had way too much fun finding all the fresh patches that hadn’t yet been trodden – perfect for crunching. We fumbled our way into town following the tourist maps to the best of our ability and so the adventure began. (I apologise here for the length of this one, I had a whole four days to squeeze in!)
First stop, food. Obviously. It’s important to note, however, that when eating out in Iceland, shopping around for the best deal is vital unless you’re an absolute baller. In fact, finding the best deals for anything in Iceland is highly recommended because whilst it’s undoubtedly a stunning and amazing place, it’s definitely not cheap in the slightest – just accept this before you go. You will spend a lot of money. No way around it. (Especially with the currently decreasing value of the GBP…)
I’d heard from others who’ve visited Iceland before that eating out for a big lunch was cheaper than dinners if at all possible, so on this first day of finding our way around Reykjavik and getting our bearings we found a nice warming curry for late lunch courtesy of a cute place called Hradlestin. What really drew me in was the Thali on offer that I’ve seen tweets about from the new Chai Street in Cardiff (yet to visit but it’s on my list). It’s a type of Indian street food made from a selection of small dishes which looked absolutely delish (see opposite photo, courtesy of their Instagram).
Upon entering the restaurant, however, it turned out there was a special offer on tikka masala that day and as previously mentioned, tourists have to take up all the offers they get! These came with an individual rice and a couple of small naans each; mine was chickpea and the others were chicken. Personally, I very much enjoyed my curry although some of the others made the good point that there wasn’t enough veg to pad out the sauce. The way the food came in small metal pots all stacked together was cool though, overall it a good 7/10 on the food for me. Despite the inevitable expense, I also obviously couldn’t have gone on holiday and not tried the local beers… this time, the classic Icelandic Boli. As usual, absolutely no complaints from me; it was smooth, bubbly, no jazzy after-taste just proper good, honest beer – loved it!
After a wander round the harbour and some more of the town, we then did what many tourists do as the next best way to keep things as cheap as you can: find the nearest budget supermarket and stock up on supplies. This is especially useful if you’ve lots of day trips planned like we did which involve hopping on and off buses; taking your own packed lunch and snacks can really help to keep your overall spending down by trying to only buy 1 meal of the day. Plus, it can help keep you energised for all the walking (which I loved as sad as that sounds!) and keep you awake – four hours of daylight per day in November-time really makes you sleepy when you’re not used to it we discovered! Although I’m a very keen sleeper anyway so I, of course, took full advantage of every possible napping opportunity. (Who doesn’t?! Y’know, when in Rome…)
Day 2 and it was adventure time: the Golden Circle tour.
GoPro and headstrap on, lunch supplies in our rucksacks, we were good to go. Whilst the first stop of Thingvellir National Park was some lovely scenery, the incredibly cloudy weather and low pressure that lingered during our stay unfortunately obscured what I’m sure was a lot of the natural beauty in the distance. But I did get a cheeky selfie with some Icelandic sheep (see left) so y’know, swings & roundabouts.
The next stop was Gullfoss Waterfall which was absolutely stunning! Even in the foggy weather. It’s glacier fed and you can see it rolling down from the outlets into a smaller waterfall which in turn feeds the larger one – it was incredible! See selfie below, I was absolutely loving life. But, let’s be honest, the big guns here were the geysers…
The main attraction is Strokkur, the most regular geothermal hot spring in the world, erupting on average every 5-8mins. Everyone crowded around nervously waiting for the big event… after a while you begin to wonder if the expression ‘a watched kettle never boils’ applies here… but then POW up it goes! Outstanding natural beauty at its finest – I was in geography nerd heaven (and managed to get some good footage too! Follow this link for a cheeky slow-mo). More than this, the snow on the ground everywhere fills you with the instinctive giddy excitement that kids get on their first white Christmas – you can’t help but beam with delight and giggle with excitement that you’re in such a (naturally) magical, beautiful place.
To round off the tour we went to see some Icelandic horses which are apparently a big thing. They were very pretty to be fair but personally I was much more interested in the farm cat that was hanging around as horses really aren’t for me, but I did face my fears and stroke one or two. Anyway, it was then time for dinner again.
Barber Bistro Bar was our host tonight and had a nice, slightly more elegant feel to it (a lot more elegant that we were dressed in our walking boots and thermals!). A good menu left most of us all spoilt for choice: I went for a vegetarian club sandwich consisting of Goats cheese & caramelised onion (one of my favourite food combinations ever), a grilled pepper and salad, with a side of sweet potato fries. Despite the bread bun itself being a little too floury for my liking this meal did hit the spot, but I found myself wishing I’d gone for the teriyaki salmon my friend had which looked and apparently tasted incredible. Also around the table was Icelandic fish & chips and a chicken risotto which also received good feedback. All round a good, hearty meal, a good bottle of prosecco between us and great customer service – 8/10.
Day 3: The Blue Lagoon.
This was the day we’d been waiting for. Rest, relaxation, natural face masks – what a girls holiday is usually all about! Plus it’s the thing you always see looking amazing on Instagram… only problem was the thick fog and mist still hadn’t shifted so unfortunately our views didn’t look quite as good as this one!
Nevertheless, the comfort of such naturally hot and healthy bathing waters was pure luxury after being wrapped in so many layers for the past few days! We also quickly realised that the blue lagoon could act as a natural floatation pool; great entertainment as we star-fished to our hearts content, feeling our troubles drift away for a moment. Bliss. The face-masks were also great fun mostly because people-watching was hilarious – some made as much of the free one as physically possible, with one lady who must’ve gone back at least 7 times, whilst some seemed to think that if they covered as much skin as possible that it would benefit them more than just applying to the face… we weren’t convinced but a glass of bubbly, some blurry photos and several hours later we were thoroughly pampered and getting peckish. But with the whole rest of the afternoon to ourselves what were we to do?
The Phallological Museum. Obviously…
In other words: it was literally a museum of penises. As huge and as hideous as you can imagine. Personally, I found it hilarious entertainment – and it wouldn’t be a true girls holiday without something rude, right? I won’t go into too much detail but here’s some photos of me having fun!
Still full from our burgers and seafood pasta prior to the phallic entertainment (which was a lovely and very filling meal by the way, no complaints) we decided to grab a few drinks at a cool-looking local whiskey bar before heading off on the half-hour walk home. Dillons had a rustic, cute and cosy feel to it, dimly lit with fairy lights draped across great wooden beams and bar that was lit up spectacularly with funky coloured back-lighting. By this point we were looking to spend a bit of money as it was nearing the end of the holiday, so I didn’t mind forking out for a couple of whiskey sours and a single on the rocks. Most of the others opted for glasses of wine, cider, or G&Ts, most of it all reasonably priced as well – by Icelandic standards!
To finish we played card games and ‘Heads Up’ – which, although I know sounds wild for a group of girls in our early twenties, was and always will be a great way to spend an evening with old friends. There’s a great kind of nostalgia about playing games on holidays that will never get old.
Day 4: The Big Adventure. South Island Tour.
This was the day we got to walk behind a waterfall and see the black sand beach – we could not wait! It got off to a great start with our insanely cool tour guide Iris (who we all had a bit of a woman-crush on by the end of the day); she was just so cool and chill and told us stories of her growing up in the area with her family and how she likes to go hiking and camping with her friends around here… all we could think was “please take us with you!”. Driving through the land of Thor really brought home how incredible Icelandic scenery really is, the whole landscape is fascinating varying from great open green plains to mighty mountains and glaciers… and waterfalls.
Skogafoss and Seljandsfoss to be specific; the first of which has a very impressive 60m drop and the latter of which you can walk all the way behind, pretty awesome! Both get you slightly soaked but that’s all part of the fun! Next was Reynisfjara, the black sand beach. Watching the North Atlantic come crashing down onto the shore with such immense natural power and beauty was very humbling – but also slightly terrifying. Not just because I’m still working through my fear of deep and open water, but because the rip tides at Reynisfjara are well known for being deadly powerful and must be treated with the utmost respect. The sculpted basalt coastline was equally as awe-inspiring, featuring impressive columns similar to those seen at Fingal’s Cave in Scotland which were also great fun to jump off! Coming up next, however, was the true star of the show for me…
Solheimajokull, a sublet of Myrdalsjokull glacier. I freaking love glaciers. This stop was essentially just getting off the bus, walking up the valley and looking at/taking photos of the glacier but it’s impossible not to take another few minutes to once again stare around in awe of such insane natural beauty and phenomena. I had such envy for the lucky buggers who can afford to go hiking on this glacier, I would’ve absolutely loved to as I couldn’t when in New Zealand due to instability; but alas, that’ll have to remain an adventure for the future.
That evening our last supper was not what you’d expect, but we came across an Icelandic tapas place and couldn’t resist. SmakkBarinn was joined onto BarAnanas and just up the road from Reykjavik chips, all of which we visited and enjoyed. There were two options: 4 pots of tapas or 6 pots of tapas. Both came in individual little jam jars and all slotted into the appropriately sized board, it was super cool! (And very convenient for someone like me who isn’t really down with the whole sharing food thing). I dived in head-first and went straight for the 6 option; 4 mains and 2 desserts. I regret nothing.
My choices were along the lines of: some breaded cod goujon-type things, petite langoustines fried in a vodka batter (both very good); a mini lobster soup which wasn’t very nice, the balance of flavours had gone wrong somewhere; some deep-fried cheddar with red onion jam (amazing); and for dessert I chose a chocolate caramel pudding with coconut and blueberry ice cream with praline. The pudding had a very mousse-like texture and was nice but the ice cream was the real star of the show, smooth and creamy and the blueberry flavour was just right, not too tart. All in all everyone was very well satisfied and it was such a lovely final supper in Reykjavik; a perfect end to a brilliant holiday with my best friends!
Here’s to many more! I hope this helps any of you who may have Iceland on your bucket list, I can’t recommend it enough as an amazing place to go! Plus, there’s different things to do in each season so you can kind of go whenever depending on what you’re after. Yes, it’s very expensive, but worth the experience in my opinion. Go on, treat yourself…
Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,