I usually take great pleasure in researching and planning a trip. I love getting excited about all the possibilities in a new (or familiar) destination. Everyone around me must know this, as I’m prone to annoyingly bouncing up (I’m not even kidding; I bounce) to people with “Did you know you can do X and Y in Z? How cool does that sound?!”
So a place like Iceland is a dream come true. I was very much a kid in a sweet/candy shop. I was like a little kitten who’s just discovered catnip (seriously, if you’ve ever seen this situation, it’s disturbingly mesmerising).
There’s so much to do in Iceland I couldn’t even cope. We already had the Northern Lights and Golden Circle trips planned – for the record, we saw no Northern Lights despite clear skies. I’m starting to think they don’t really exist. At least, that’s what getting me through it…
So what to do with the rest of our short time there? We had 3 full days there and stayed 4 nights, with one night and one day taken up with the tours mentioned above.
Here are some of the things you can do in Iceland (as I type these I’m honestly going to be fangirl-ing all over the place):
- Northern Lights
- Golden Circle Tour
- Glacier Hiking/Ice Climbing
- Black Sand Beaches
- Explore ice caves
- Dog sledding (though not loads of it around)
- Game of Thrones Tour
- Whale watching
- Blue Lagoon
- Hike Volcanoes
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lake
- Snorkelling the Silfra Fissure (between the tectonic plates of Europe and North America)
Turns out that if you’re planning on going to Iceland, there are a few things to consider…
Ok, this is actually the big one. We were going in winter (late December), when the sun rises at 11:30am and the sun sets at 3:30pm. That’s 4 hours of daylight. While it was very beautiful and definitely an experience to visit Iceland at this time of year, we were sort of restricted with tours.
Because Iceland is so spread out (I know it looks tiny compared to the great mass of land that is Greenland next to it, and not much bigger than the UK, but there’s a lot to it), it takes a while to get to some places. If you’re planning on taking day trips from Reykjavik, then the daylight hours may limit you. I decided it was best to do the shorter tours where possible, as it kind of sucks to see amazing sights in the dark…
This is why we didn’t do a glacier hike, something quite high on my list. All the tours were quite lengthy, and I wanted all the light possible. It’s also partly why we decided against snorkelling the Silfra Fissure which was actually Number One on my list – that and because I was still fighting off an illness when we got to Iceland and we thought plunging my face and body into ice cold water might not be the best recovery method.
Some tours are seasonal
Iceland’s one of those places where it’s essential to work out what time of year you want to go. Just like with daylight hours, you’ll also have to consider which experiences in Iceland you most want. Tours are seasonal: if you want to see the Northern Lights, you’ll have to go November-March. If you want to do some of the hiking trails, like those in Þórsmörk Nature Reserve, you’ll have to pick May-October. Or Fimmvörðuháls Volcano Hike, which is only available June-August.
Tour operators may vary in dates slightly, but it’s good to keep this kind of thing in mind as it may help you figure out when it is you want to go to Iceland. I definitely know I have to be back in the summer!
How active do you want to be?
A lot of Iceland’s activities are, well, active. From snorkelling to glacier hiking to ice climbing to the surprisingly exhausting act of sitting on a bus most of the day, this is a country which could wear you out a bit. So, plan accordingly. When I went, me and my boyfriend split up the big tours a bit. A long day of exploring the south shores and another long day of the Golden Circle were split up with a relaxing day at the Blue Lagoon and walking around Reykjavik.
As I go along with my travels and learn more about my travelling style – and factoring in that I have a full time job – I find that I shouldn’t exhaust myself too much by wanting to do absolutely everything in one go. Planning Iceland out was a challenge for me in that sense: I knew I didn’t have much time to play with, and some things had to be sacrificed. ‘Til next time, Iceland.
Leave time to explore where you’re staying
If you’re staying in Reykjavik, I honestly really recommend spending at least a few hours walking around the city itself. I’m a city girl and feel like I’ve been spoilt with the places I’ve lived (London and Melbourne), so when I really like a city, I trust my judgement that it must be good… and Reykjavik is good. I wish I could have explored more, from the quirky restaurants to the bars and atmosphere of the streets and by the harbour.
There are fantastic tours and the nature in Iceland is second to none, but Reykjavik is well worth exploring. I’m sure its other cities are lovely too, if you’re staying somewhere else.
As a side-note, give the restaurant Fiskmarkaðurinn (or Fish Market) in Reykjavik a go. Make sure you book in advance, or there is the option of eating in the lounge area. It’s delicious.
How reliant on tours do you want to be? Maybe hire a car?
Tours are great and make things very simple (they always pick you up from your hotel and drop you back), but if you like your freedom and want to venture further out, I’d look into renting a car. I haven’t done this myself but it’s something I’d really, really like to do one day and I’ve heard positive things from people who have roadtripped Iceland.
The reason I didn’t this time is because it was December and not all the roads are safe to drive on. If it was spring or summer, renting a car would be high on my list. If you are doing this, I would sneakily just have a look at the brochures of the day tours to work out what are the sights you can’t miss and map it all out. One of my fears is accidentally missing out or overlooking an awesome thing, which can be easily done in the research process!
Of course, there are some things like glacier hiking when you’ll need to book a tour/excursion whether you like it or not…
So those are my grand tips for deciding what to do in Iceland, where the options seem – and pretty much are – endless.