Updated: Dec 14, 2018
Photograph by pennymead.com
Iceland has become a popular destination on the map over the last couple of years, its beautifully crafted landscapes and natural wonders are certainly not to be ignored. Visiting Iceland in January certainly cuts the costs down but at a price, the winter is harsh and the daylight is crammed into only a few hours each day. Leaving from London Heathrow airport Iceland was offered as a stopover for free when travelling with Iceland Air to Toronto, Canada.
Taking off at Heathrow at mid-morning on a dull winter day, the flight took just over 3 hours to complete. Iceland Air equip each of their entertainment systems with various travel guides for Iceland, Bjork albums are essential and a complementary sick bag is easily located in front of you. As the captain announces to prepare for arrival a shift in colour hits the window view, starting with a grey fog into a heavy dark sky with battering rain and turbulence, the plane lands. Upon entering the airport, it is announced that there will be no more flights leaving or arriving at the airport due to the storm. We meet with our car hire pickup who kindly welcomes us to Iceland and informs us to prepare for the worst storm Iceland has seen in a while.
When renting a car, it is recommended to take out insurance, having experience of driving to Reykjavik in this storm, the road conditions in the south and the road safety of other drivers it is an investment that could save you a lot of money, however as witnessed not everyone agrees. Its dark now as filling out the paper work has taken its time; the wild wind and thunderous rain test our driving skills as we decide to make the 50-minute drive into the city with extra caution. Being use to driving on the left-hand side, the right-hand side just doesn’t come naturally and limits your ability for comfort. Slowly we arrive into the city and find a new home for a week booked through Air B&B, the weather literally has increased to its fully capacity as it follows us from the airport.
After a polite knock on the door, we are greeted and shown to our room for the next week. The room has a bed, kitchen and shower fitted into one room, the host is extremely polite and attentive to our needs before his departure he hands us a set of keys and leaves. Exhausted and soaked a trip to the supermarket is needed, Bonus supermarket is the cheapest supermarket within Iceland and will save you a lot of money if visiting on a budget. There are a few Bonus located within the city, buy in bulk especially when paying by card to save on extra charges, most assistants will speak English when serving.
We start the next day with a trip to the Geysir located a few hours out of Reykjavik, driving out of the city itself is a nightmare with the snow and low light. Driving through the mountains covered in snow really does look like north beyond the wall, the landscape is electric with white. There are plenty of stops along the way and should be considered if you have zero experience driving in the snow.
The Geysir is a tourist destination and for good reason, dotted across the land are several potholes which burst boiling water every 8-10 minutes. Follow the crowd and you will not miss them; photo opportunities are far and few in between with everyone trying to capture that perfect shot. It’s a beautiful sight and a wonder to how alive Iceland really is beneath the surface.
A 10-minute drive from the Geysir will place you at the Gullfoss waterfall, the two locations go hand in hand when exploring this part of Iceland. The waterfall really captures you as the expectations are exceeded by the reality, the dramatic rush of tonnes upon tonnes of water forces it way through the highlands. Again, photo opportunities are far and few in between so take advantage of every second both with and without the lens. The daylight is starting to fade at this point and we have a few hours driving to get back to our room, mid trip, Iceland shows its true colours as the sun takes a turn. The sky is velvet with light pinks and reds reflecting off the mountains for our entertainment, I’ve seen many sunsets in many different locations around the world but Iceland wins.
The snow and ice chilled out enough for a drive down the south coast to visit the Black Beach, the drive introduced sunrise to us and flooded with spectacular views. Black Beach sits close to some of the most furious seas ever witnessed, the sheer power of the sea alone lets you know mother nature is in control. Black Beach is visually outstanding and messes with the mind when you focus towards the rock formations.
Another 10-minute journey down the road and you find yourself at the waterfall Skogafoss, without a doubt one of Iceland’s most iconic landmarks. The waterfall itself is alive and allows the person to experience a simple glimpse of what the world is capable of. This waterfall can be viewed at the bottom and also at the top via a short climb, the surrounding views of landscape add more depth to the whole experience.
The Blue Lagoon is another iconic landmark with Iceland, the thermal pools attract thousands of visitors each day. If you prefer quiet and less crowded situations its best to book in early, the pools are truly unique and offer comfort and relaxation even when outside temperatures are -5. The pool also has natural saunas which reach high temperatures which allow the user to detoxify their body.
The city of Reykjavik holds its history close to its chest, the city structure is old and full of life to how Iceland has kept its roots. Among the many coffee shops and unique restaurants lies a church at the top of a hill, the atmosphere grips you as you gaze at the structure and its beliefs. There is a lake which during January freezes with the temperatures, walking across it felt unnatural to the senses but worth the experience. The best views in the city are located at the Perlan building, with late sun rises you can capture a wonder at a later time with panoramic views of Iceland.
Leaving Iceland, it was obvious that we had only scratched the surface of what this country has to offer. Upon dropping the hire car back there was discussion about visiting again in the summer to see it in a whole new perspective. Truly beautiful and bucket list moments have been created here, overall the country is friendly and inviting to what it has to offer. Bags packed and ready for our trip to Toronto we enter the airport and wait for the next stage in the journey, we take off to that vivid sunset Iceland has shown us before.