Travel: My Weekend in Iceland (The Land of Fire & Ice)

Lake Myvatn

At the beginning of December 2021, I visited Iceland, and I was happy to report that I had checked it off my bucket list. While the term bucket list has become somewhat cliché in my world, I know that some places are more than a list to be checked off. Iceland is one of the places that might make you return; whether you are planning to visit in the spring, summer, or winter, it’s apparent that visiting once isn’t enough. While driving towards the airport at the end of my short stay, I had to ask myself if I could live there, and the answer was yes. I can actually see myself living in Iceland, and for me, that’s saying a lot.

Standing on both continents at the same time

Come with me as I detail all the unique places I visited, plus the extra frills added into the new world of travel during the hyper-awareness of COVID-19.  During my very short stay in Iceland; I managed to take a soak in a hot spring, saw a geyser,  arctic ponies, gazed upon the aurora borealis, and sauntered through a national park that was once the filming location for Game of Thrones season.

 

Before you arrive do this!

Before going to Iceland, a negative COVID test (rapid antigen/PCR) within a 24 to 72 hours window upon arrival is necessary. Most countries require this, but Iceland also requires that you log on to https://visit.covid.is/ to pre-register your arrival. Pre-registering for visiting Iceland requires visitors to log on to https://visit.covid.is/ register their email or phone, fill out a brief form, and submit a copy of their vaccination record, test results, and copy of passport. After this is done, you will receive a bar code for scanning upon arrival. You will be asked to show this at the check-in counter before boarding and as you exit the airport.

  1. COVID Test with 24 -72 hours of ARRIVAL: PCR or Rapid Antigen Test
  2. Vaccination documentation
  3. Pre-register on https://visit.covid.is/
  4. Keep a paper or digital copy of the bar code to show to the check-in desk and for scanning upon arrival
  5. Check https://covid.is/ for more information and updates
  6. A COVID Test for DEPARTURE is needed. You can register for this test at  https://travel.covid.is/ if you are staying in Reykjavik; there is only one testing area

After you complete the COVID-19 mandatory requirements, another thing to consider is getting from the airport to your lodging. Since the airport is at least 45 minutes from Reykjavik, visitors should consider how to get to their final destination.

Rent-A-Car

If you don’t have someone collecting you, then get on the car rental shuttle that will take you to your car rental company of choice. Visitors can consider renting from Hertz, Avis, or other car rental places within the arrival terminal. Alamo and Enterprise are also at the airport, but their vehicles and office are five minutes away from the main terminal. You can also buy a bus ticket, get a taxis, or hire a private pickup.

Visitors in the spring and summer might find this more convenient as they can hit the open roads and go on their own adventures. The only things to consider are speed cameras, paying for parking, and fuel costs.

Those who visit Iceland in the summer months might also opt for an off-road vehicle to tour the rugged parts of the island. Renting a mobile trailer to go to a campsite is also a popular thing to do.

I rented at Enterprise, and their office was a few minutes away from the terminal. A shuttle bus picks up visitors and takes them to various car rentals companies if the company they rented from isn’t inside the airport. The Enterprise car rental is on stop 4. Remember, there is only one terminal for departure and arrivals, so it’s super easy to find your way around.  

Flybus

Flybus Airport Transfer is the most common transport to and from the airport. These buses take visitors from the airport to various stops. You can purchase a ticket at https://www.re.is/tour/flybus/, and it will take you to several hotels and bus stops. The ride to Reykjavik is about 45 minutes, and all the buses come with Wi-Fi. All buses operate in connection with arriving flights into Keflavik Airport and take visitors directly to Reykjavik City Center. An average price is about $40 USD, 32 Euro, or 26 Pounds Sterling.

Flybus will be waiting for you outside the terminal building. If your flight is delayed, Flybus will wait for you. There is no fixed schedule for Flybus from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik City Center.

This is perhaps the cheapest way to get from the airport to wherever you intend on staying.

Taxi or Private Car 

Visitors can also hire a private car on https://www.re.is/tour/flybus/, it’s a bit more expensive depending on your needs, but it is obligation-free. You don’t have to worry about finding parking or being around strangers while traveling. There is also 24 hours taxi service on the island that charges standard rates for movement within Reykjavik, but airport transportation is a special price.

For more information about taxis, visit: https://visitreykjavik.is/taxi.

Tours & Hotel

Before I slide into describing the places I visited, I just wanted to say that I used a Viator site to book all my tours and attractions while in Iceland. The process was simple, as they provided a wealth of information about things to do, trips, excursions, and sightseeing tours. I must say that for the 2 tours I did, all the guides were well-versed in information about their homeland, they were funny and accommodating. TripAdvisor, Expedia, or even Travelocity also have tours and various sightseeing tickets.

I stayed at Fosshotel Reykjavik for my hotel stay because of its location, breakfast, buffet, parking, and the cost was comparable to what I wanted to spend. I booked my hotel on Expedia; this hotel is very close to bus stop 12, where the airport and tour bus collect passengers. Parking for this hotel is in the basement. You can pay for parking when you check out of the hotel.

 

Aurora comes in view
Image taken at midnight 4 Dec 2021 at
Image taken at midnight on iPhone 4 Dec 2021 at Sveitarfélagið Ölfus

 

There is an 80s English new wave band called A Flock Of Seagulls; one of their most famous songs is called I Ran. Despite not growing up in the 1980s, this song is one of my favorites. There is a part in this song that goes like this…

A cloud appears above your head

A beam of light comes shining down on you

Shinning down on you

The clouds is moving nearer still

Aurora borealis comes in view

Aurora comes in view

I heard this song in primary school for the first time, and it was catchy enough for me to remember it and download it. The idea of the Aurora borealis comes in view has always been something I wanted to witness with my own eyes. I‘ve had dreams of seeing the Aurora borealis as recent as this year, but to see it in person was utterly astonishing.

I wouldn’t go off on a tangent trying to explain the scientific reasoning behind the lights in the sky; I will simply say that these colorful dancing lights are caused by the earth’s magnetic field, nitrogen, and oxygen atoms. In Norway, Northern Canada, Alaska, Finland, Sweden, Greenland, and Russia, you can also see the lights. If you are planning on traveling to northern Scotland, at times, the light can be seen there as well. The best time of year to see them is between September to April.

We like to think that this natural phenomenon will always be there; make sure to check the weather and with your tour company to ensure that the time you are going will be the best time to see the lights. Unfortunately, they don’t always happen at the same time or place, sometimes tours have gone out for hours and never got to see the northern lights.

I booked a northern lights tour that collected us from our hotel at 8pm, but it wasn’t until 10pm when the lights started fading into view.  It began with a faint green trail running across the sky, then by midnight, the lights were more intense.

After the freezing cold taking a good picture of the northern lights was the next challenge because you could not just take out your phone or camera and take pictures. The lights will not show up on a digital camera without changing the aperture or playing with your phone settings. I have a Canon DSLR, so I adjusted the aperture, ISO, and white balance. Some cameras or even phones, have northern lights settings. I would highly suggest that if you are into photography, try to change the setting before going out there because it’s very dark out there. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the advice that was given and ended up struggling to change my settings in the dark. I also learned that a battery life span decreases significantly for DSLR cameras and cell phones in very cold temperatures.

Norther Lights taken with iPhone Dec 2021

For more information on successfully taking pictures of the northern lights, check out Hurtigruten. For iPhone users, you can adjust the lighting to darkest settings.

A unique feature of seeing the northern lights is that the night sky is brilliant, and you can see many stars, and in any given second, many shooting stars are darting across the sky. If you are lucky, meteor showers can be seen, along with an exciting view of the constellation.

 

Golden Circle Tour
Thingvellir National Park in Iceland also used as a filming location of Game of Throne (North Of Westeros)

The golden circle is a route in southern Iceland that covers a 190-mile loop from Reykjavik to the uplands. The term golden circle is the name of this route because the loop leads to Golden Falls Waterfall.

This is a 9-hour tour that starts at 8am and runs year-round. It takes visitors to Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir hot spring, Thingvellir National Park or Þingvellir National Park as it’s called by the locals, and to a secret lagoon.

Þingvellir National Park

The tour beings when the sunrise at the Þingvellir National Park, which was a Game of Thrones filming location. Þingvellir National Park is where season 4 filmed the Bloody Gate episode along with many scenes from season 8. There is a company called Gray Line Iceland that offer Game of Thrones tours.

Þingvellir National Park aka Thingvellir National Park

The Gullfoss waterfall is translated as golden falls, in Iceland, you will often see the word foss, which means waterfall. Gullfoss is a two-stage waterfall which means it’s not just a dead drop off into a moving body of water, but two levels stacked on top of each other. Our tour stopped there to view the falls that were somewhat icy but not completely frozen.

After that, we visited the famous Geysir, where water shoots up to about 230 feet in the air. It was a sight to see in person as it erupted every 10 minutes while we were standing there. A few minutes’ walk away are a number of stream holes with patches of hot spring that are too hot for most humans to enter.

Hot water running pass snow and ice

There are also many steam holes with massive amounts of steam escaping the earth. It is interesting to see a place as cold as Iceland possess such duality. There are hot springs, so hot that it will melt your skin off in seconds, but lakes are capable of freezing over during the winter months.

Geysir – Water erupting every 10 minutes

The Secret Lagoon was a stop that I couldn’t miss. Also known as Gamla Laugin, it is the oldest thermal bath or natural swimming pool. This lagoon is surrounded by several hot springs such as aðmálahver, Básahver, Litli Geysir. However, visitors have to be careful, for some of the smaller springs are filled with boiling water.

Secret Lagoon

The Secret lagoon has walking paths that allow visitors to see the other springs; there is also a small restaurant and sitting area.

As a tip for visitors, please don’t forget the bathing suit, but you can rent one if you do. Before entering the hot spring, they recommend that you take a shower, and after swimming, you must do the same. Since this is fresh warm water, in most cases, there are microscopic bacteria that might not pose a problem to anyone, but you still have to be careful. I would suggest that after taking a dip, rinse off carefully and take a long shower at your hotel, ensuring to wash your hair.

After leaving lagoon I ran into Icelandic horses. Cuties, shorter, fatter, and furrier than regular horses.

The last stop on tour is a view of a volcanic crater lake called Kerið. It was covered in snow when I visited, and the water inside was frozen enough for sightseers to walk on it.

Kerið volcanic crater

When all the ice has melted in the summer and spring, the water’s color inside the crater-lake is a milky blue-green. While the rocks that surround the crater are black with hints of red.

My trip to Iceland ended with a wet and windy stop at Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church, which is the country’s most prominent structure. At 244 feet tall, the building was named after a poet and clergyman, Hallgrímuk, who lived from 1614 – 1674. Hallgrímskirkja church is the best-known landmark and can be seen throughout the city. The church is generally open but closed during the winter months.

Now, here is where I will end my blog by saying that I might go back to Iceland. Below are some extra pictures I took while out and about.