Iceland was one of those countries that had always been sitting quietly on my bucket list – I knew I would have to visit one day, and not just for the northern lights that everyone chases; but I had so many mainland European countries and cities that kept pipping it to the post every time I booked a trip away.
Finally, in 2014, I decided that the time was right. I needed some waterfalls in my life.
We chose a few days in March; not a deep winter with next to no sunlight and freezing temperatures, but still with a chance of seeing the northern lights.
I braced myself for the cold – it was Iceland, after all. But as we stepped off the plane, I was confused to not even need to shiver. In fact, I think at that moment it was warmer than it had been when we left the UK.
This wasn’t to last – at the end of our first full day, a snow storm hit during the first time I’d driven outside of the UK, and I was a little concerned about making it back to Reykjavik.
Let’s start from the beginning though, which started with a bus with a moustache.
No trip to Iceland should be complete without a visit to the Phallological Museum. In case you’re wondering, it IS what it sounds like. A regular feature in “weird museums” and “strange tourist attractions” lists, the Icelandic Phallological Museum is genuinely an exhibition of penises.
As we had an itinerary fuller than a centipede’s sock drawer, our only chance to visit this museum would be STRAIGHT AWAY. So with a sense of urgency, we left our hotel within ten minutes of arriving, to go and look at some dicks.
The museum is even more crazy than it sounds (as you can see just from the picture above). It’s full of cabinets of fluffy reindeer wangs, foreskins, and the centre piece is a sperm whale’s you-know-what.
It’s bigger than me!
My favourite parts, though, were the section with mythical phalluses, including merman (pictured above), elf and troll; a shelf with casts of the entire Icelandic football team; and of course the gift shop. The best thing is, it’s right on the main street of Reykjavik, so it’s not even hard to find! (ha, “hard”…)
After this wondrous cultural experience, we were off to meet a friend of ours for a meal at the Tapas Barinn. I chose this place specifically for the gourmet taster menu – seven dishes of Icelandic specialities, with some controversial bites to eat.
Pictured above: rubbery and chewy puffin. Other courses included pan-fried monkfish, lobster tail, lamb skewers, and the most controversial of all: minke whale. Though it is supposedly sustainably caught in Iceland, this was a dish that I definitely wouldn’t have chosen to eat. (is it bad, therefore, that I enjoyed it?!)
It turned out to be a really cool bar too with nice decor, which seems to be how most places in Reykjavik are. I can’t tell you how many places we passed that I wanted to go into – bars, coffee shops, cafés.
The following day, the real fun began. Ash had treated me to a quad biking experience for my birthday – rather than the ones just outside Reykjavik that most people do, I had opted for one near the Blue Lagoon where you get to ride past shipwrecks and through mountains.
I don’t know what the Reykjavik ones are like, but THIS ONE WAS 100% WORTH IT!
After a breezy ride around the shipwrecks along a gravel track, we got to the rough terrain up a mountain where we stopped to see a sinkhole. The view over the valley and sea sadly wasn’t brilliant with the clouds rolling in, but it was still pretty damn cool.
And then we were off again roaring between two mountains and racing down the other side. It was exhilarating and I loved it! Their quads are BEASTS too – I’m tiny but look how BIG it is!
We did our tour with 4×4 Adventures Iceland and I highly recommend using them!
And because they are based close to the Blue Lagoon and pick up and drop off are there, you have the chance to rejuvenate after your experience in one of the most famous natural pools in the world.
This might sound stupid to you, but we never went into the Blue Lagoon. Some argue that you can’t visit Iceland without going here, but I honestly found it to be overpriced. However we did take a walk around the outside and it was still pretty stunning.
And anyway, I had another plan in mind. Because we only had two full days to do too many things, I was desperate to get down to some of the waterfalls along the south coast, and the only chance I’d get was to hire a car.
So when we returned to Reykjavik, after a little wander along the seafront, I enquired at a desk about hiring, and ten minutes later I had the keys in my hand. It was the first time I’d rented a car, and my first time driving out of the UK – but Iceland is one of the BEST places to do it! Apart from the fact there is so much to see, the roads are quiet and open.
Thankfully, the two main waterfalls I wanted to drive to weren’t a million miles away. Our first port of call would be my most anticipated one: Sjelandsfoss, an awesome waterfall with a path that takes you right behind it!
Then it started to rain, which probably contributed to my opinion of Skogafoss. Despite it probably being the more famous of the two waterfalls, I MUCH preferred Sjelandsfoss. In fact, my favourite thing about Skogafoss was stopping to say hello to the Icelandic horses nearby. (fun fact: horses in Iceland are a completely unique and pure breed because they don’t allow any to leave or enter the country) But judging from all the photos I’ve seen, I’m very sure it’s prettier in summer.
I wanted to drive on towards Vik and see some of the sea stacks or stop at the volcanic Black Sand Beach. Most of all, I wanted to stop somewhere to catch a glimpse of the northern lights later on. But the rain was getting harder, fog was closing in… and then the snow started.
There was no way we’d get to see the northern lights in this, but that’s okay. We headed back towards the city (I use the term city loosely) and the snow got heavier, and heavier, and heavier. At one point, the road is on the edge of a mountain, and we couldn’t see more than a few metres around us. In fact, we’ve even got a video.
Unfortunately later that evening, northern lights tour parties returned to our hotel singing their praises for how good the views had been! You just never know with Iceland’s ever-changing weather. I try to justify it by wondering how safely we would have got back at night. But it was a bit of a kick in the teeth!
Our final full day would consist of the Golden Circle tour, a popular circuit of the most famous waterfall of all, Gullfoss, the powerful geysirs, and Thingvellir national park. Snow had settled along the whole journey, making Iceland unbelievably pretty. Not that it wasn’t before – but now it was stunning! I mean, this picture looks like a PAINTING!
The first stop on the tour, bizarrely, was a tomato farm. I suppose the fact that tomatoes shouldn’t be able to grow on Iceland yet they do here is mildly interesting, but it really just felt like a promotion for overpriced tomato soup.
Shortly after, we had arrived at Gullfoss. The downfall of seeing it in the snow, particularly fresh snow, was the fact that the closest viewpoint to the waterfall was shut off. But let’s face it – that hardly takes away from the other views, does it?!
Gullfoss was amazing; far superior to any pictures I’d seen of it online. In fact, I hadn’t even been that hyped up about it. I was more excited for the fascinating geysirs.
By contrast, I found the geysirs to be surprisingly disappointing. I watched the biggest one for a while, its splashes of boiling water rupturing the air every few minutes, and that was it. I didn’t even manage to get any good pictures because the sky was grey and the eruptions blended in to it. I could have happily spent more time by Gullfoss – after twenty minutes here, I was more than ready to leave.
Finally, we were off to our last stop of the tour: Thingvellir National Park, to walk between the tectonic plates of Europe and North America; the divide of two entire continents. You can even dive and snorkel between these plates, which sounds incredible (and extremely cold). But for today, we were sticking above ground, in a blizzard.
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a real blizzard. The funniest thing was, I was as ill-prepared as always and wasn’t even wearing a coat. I was FREEZING.
It looked like we were taking part in a pilgrimage, except the end point was a museum and exhibition. It was really interesting and a cool thing to do (literally!).
That evening we were meeting another friend (I know, I have two friends in Iceland! Pretty cool, right?) and he took us to a delicious Italian restaurant before going for a wander around the city. After all, we hadn’t had that much time to really explore it.
I wanted to see Harpa, Iceland’s concert hall, lit up at night, so he took us on a little tour of the inside too. It’s really impressive, and I liked the colour-changing light patterns on the outside.
We also saw tons of these around:
He looks so happy! :)
The main thing that I stupidly didn’t do was go to the top of Hallgrimskirkja for a view over the city’s coloured roofs. I think it was just that we hadn’t had much day time in the city (obviously that was the ONLY reason we headed straight for the penis museum, right?!), but I definitely regret not doing that!
A walk along the seafront is a must – although the sun sculpture isn’t all that interesting, it makes for some great pictures with the mountain in the background, don’t you think?
And as strange as it sounds, you HAVE to try the hot dog stand down near Harpa. What?! I know, I read about it online and thought, ‘well that’s a bizarre recommendation’. But I read about it over and over again, so we had to try it just to see what it was all about. And OH MY GOD. I don’t know what they do to it. I think it’s the fried onions and the mix of sauce. But is it tasty or what?!?
It was so good that we had to go back for another one the next day. No pictures because WE ATE THEM TOO DAMN QUICKLY. The stall is called Bæjarins beztu pylsur and it’s down by the waterfront so look out for it!
Another slight regret, though we really did run out of time, was not taking a dip in one of Reykjavik’s local hot spring pools. I thought it would be a great alternative to the Blue Lagoon; even though you don’t quite have the scenery, you’re not forking out £30 for an experience you could have in the city.
Had we had three full days and not two, we could have easily fit all of this in. I’m not a fan of package holidays, and this is the first one I’d ever done. But for once I found it was cheaper than booking the flights, hotel and Golden Circle tour separately; the only downside was the early return flight on the Friday. Plus Icelandair is a great airline. Each plane is named after a volcano, all the seats have facts on them, and check out their menu…
I ended up reading the whole bloody menu just because it was entertaining!
And outside of these activities and attractions, the country has so much more to offer. Iceland is in my top 3 countries, without a doubt, and I can’t wait for an opportunity to go back.