Find Out About Adventure Tours In Iceland – With Maureen
I wondered about typical Iceland tours and if all the hype around it was worth it. Here is my journey in a nutshell during my 1 week trip.
After a fun night with delicious food prepared and served by dear friends in Hampton Court, London, I arose at 06.00 to be driven by same friends to Heathrow airport to fly to Reykjavik, where my Iceland adventure began.
Upon arrival, I had an hour to kill until my fellow traveler arrived from Dublin. We departed Reykjavik (which runs on geo-thermal power) and we headed straight off to the famous Blue Lagoon in Grindavik, which is about a 50min drive.
I was prepared to be disappointed after hearing about the typical tours in Iceland, I thought it would surely be an overcrowded, overpriced, and overrated destination.
None of these negative ideas turned out to be based on anything connected with reality! It was great. Sure, there were a fair few folk sharing in the weird and wonderful 38 C warmth of the pale turquoise thermal pool, where spouts of volcanic steam puffed into the air around us as we sipped a cocktail of sparkling wine and fresh strawberry juice, with a white silica mud mask. This gave us a ghostly appearance, more than suited to the eerie atmosphere of the whole, surreal, but still delightful experience.
Some travelers had stopped off in Keflavik just to visit the lagoon, and I can understand why: it would be almost impossible not to relax here. It opens daily from 08:00 – 22:00 for your enjoyment.
Upon arrival at our small but pleasant Air BNB room, we quickly unpacked basics and headed straight off to have dinner at Shalimar Pakistani restaurant, where we met up with friends to share a tasty, spicy, vegetarian meal costing around €23, the taxi cost €28 each way, which turned out to be one of our cheapest nights out. Iceland isn’t the cheapest country in the world.
I woke in my warm and cosy bed to discover that the Höfoi house, where Gorbachev and Reagan signed the historic agreement to end the Cold War in 1986, was just at the end of our road, so we went to have a look. We walked to Kronan (which is a supermarket) just 5 minutes away and stocked up on breakfast foods, which were enough to last the week and cost around €38 between us both. We did, however, have to top up on fresh fruit a couple of days later.
By now we knew that the hot water here smells sulphurous (quite stinky), but the cold tastes delicious!
We walked down Laugavegur street to the City Hall, where we collected information and Reykjavik Transport passes – a good deal at €5.50 each. You can find out more about Transport here.
Our goal was to participate in the ‘March for our Lives’ anti-gun lobby march and demonstration, and I duly got up onto the podium to say my piece, which I felt was my duty as the oldest person there and an ex-1960’s hippy who longed for a united and peaceful world after growing up under the threat of nuclear war. I urged the young people to never give up like our generation did, but to keep their heads held high and be proud of themselves, as I am proud of them. Sadly, the event was interrupted by a drunken man lurching around waving a knife at the crowd, but he was promptly wrestled to the ground by a brave New Yorker, who overpowered and detained him until the police arrived.
Did I get to see the Aurora Lights on our Iceland Tour?
From speeches to bodily needs, we headed to Rio restaurant for Icelandic cod and sweet potato fries – yummy – followed by an abortive attempt at seeing the elusive Northern Lights from a boat. No Aurora, but a lovely peaceful cruise watching the lights of Reykjavik twinkling, below a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, and the beam from Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace ‘Tower’ stretching far up into the night sky. We were given a pass for a free return trip later in the week to have another ‘go’, and to my delight I found out that Rodrigo, our Spanish-speaking guide, knows my home town of La Mata really well!
After all the excitement of the previous day, we enjoyed a lazy next morning, relaxing and exploring the area, researching our tour pick up points, which proved to be very close to our accommodation – a real bonus. We made our way into town by bus (again, only 5 minutes walk from our temporary home), to sample Icelandic scones, which are a delicious crumpet-flavored treat containing big fat prawns.
It was today that we finally figured out that all the places we’d seen called Islands were not in fact invisible islands, but were of course named after the country itself. Doh! How dumb did we feel?! We failed spectacularly at visiting some of our planned sights: First, the National Museum was closed, the Maritime museum was also closed for refurbishment, and finally also the iconic Hallgrimmskirkja Church (pronounced hatl-krims-kirk-ya), the 2nd tallest building (74.5m) in Reykjavik and a beautiful example of expressionist architecture, and this church is supposed to resemble the trap rocks, Glaciers and mountains of Icelands landscape but unfortunately we arrived 10 minutes after it closed for the day! On a Sunday? Does God need a day off on Sunday? FYI – The opening hours in Winter (Oct-Apr) 09:00-17:00, in Summer (09:00-21:00).
We enjoyed the fascinating Saga Museum, which depicts the history of the Vikings. This is where I met my new heroine: Freydis Eiriksdottir, born about 970 and daughter of Erik the Red. While pregnant, she threatened to cut off her breasts with a sword, and faced up to the marauding hordes of Skraelings who were chasing her male Viking companions to their supposed deaths. Good old Freydis: she scared them away! I like the sound of her: “an armed, angry, topless pregnant woman fighting for survival – a truly terrifying opponent!
Open daily from 10:00-18:00.
At Höfnin restaurant afterwards, I enjoyed a bowl of fish soup for lunch – the only item on the menu I could afford, at €30 a bowl. After having to hold on to a lamp post to avoid being blown over, we were extremely happy to retreat into our warm room for a do-it-yourself supper of wine (brought by my companion from Ireland before she set off, thank goodness), cheese and crackers.
By now it was day 4 of our tour and we’d run out of picnic/snack supplies, so our day started with yet another trip to Kronan. We needed food for our excursion next day, which we recommend if travelling on a small budget. We revisited the City Hall to book the Airbus for our return to Keflavik, which was already beginning to loom close. We cheered ourselves up with a delicious coffee at Kaffitar café. I then tried an Icelandic hot dog, before visiting the Settlement exhibition near the small square we’d spent a fair amount of time locating again in order to orientate ourselves, and for my companion to find a wool shop (she’s the knitter, I’m the nutter). There was lots of interesting information there, displayed around the remains of an original long house.
It was now time for sustenance, and we chose Glo vegan restaurant, where we had a scrumptious salad for €16. We had to wait 20 minutes or so to order, as they had just reopened.
By now we had made a few executive decisions about Iceland Tours, but Reykjavik, namely;
- Most of the ‘information’ offices know next to nothing about what facilities are available, i.e. opening hours and location (City Hall being the only and very efficient, friendly exception; one center even had to look up the museum next door to them to find out where it was!).
- The city bus drivers appear at first to be positively hostile: I’ve never seen so many scowling faces. They did soften up a bit, though, after they recognized us a few days later.
- We wasted a lot of time locating attractions that turned out to be closed on varying days (so one being open was not an indication that they all were). Perhaps we should have read the information leaflets more closely?
- The locals have the most brilliant sense of humour, often self-deprecating, which Brits find so appealing.
- The surrounding views of the land are breathtakingly beautiful and the air clean.
Next day was Golden Circle tour day. The Golden Circle is by far our most popular Iceland tours, with good reason.
We were picked up at 08.00 from the Grand Hotel nearby, and discovered that there is another pick-up point 2 minutes away at the end of our road (we could have avoided a cold, 10 minute walk if we’d known). Our driver guide ‘Simon’ was great fun and very knowledgeable, an excellent model for Tour Guides.
On one of the stops being Þingvellir, which is the oldest parliament in the world and the mainland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Revered as the birthplace of the Althing, the world’s longest-running democratic parliament since 930 AD. We lunched among hot springs and it was off to trudge up a gentle slope to the viewing site. It was indeed impressive, especially if you imagine all those ancient folk assembling there from Viking nations near and far.
After a welcome coffee stop at Hveragerði (fondly known as Hurdi Gurdi, so named by American servicemen during WWII). Poets moved to Hveragerði in 1940, the year Iceland was occupied by the British army. In the following years, more kept on coming in hopes to find better conditions than they lived in during the depression before WWII. They flocked when they heard that heating was cheap and that cooking even took place in the hot springs themselves. This appealed to the artistic crowd, and there was a great shortage of housing in Reykjavík during this time and families were forced to live very close together.
In this area tectonic plates are pulling apart creating a rift valley, you can visit like we did, a small exhibition which shows a dramatic example of the movement of tectonic plates, where you can look through extra thick glass down at the gap, while straddling North America and Europe. This town offers visitors to indulge in hot baths, whirlpools, a natural sauna and a fitness center. The swimming pool is open all year round.
The NLFÍ (Health and Rehabilitation Clinic) it offers the opportunity for senior citizens to ‘seek health and happiness’ and provides home and comfort for those entering their twilight years. A saying by the Icelandic proudly proclaim the poets said “Hveragerði is the best place in the world.”
There are interesting hiking trails within the town, like The Poets´Trail which winds its way through historical parts of the town’s 3 streets that made up the “artists´ quarters” between the years 1940-1965. These are Bláskógar (Blue woods), the street of painters; Frumskógar (Jungles), the street of poets, formerly known as Skáldagata, and Laufskógar (Leaf Woods), the street of the musicians. The Geothermal Trail visits the principal geothermal areas in and around town.
We were then driven on to Faxi Waterfall, (which they call a fish ladder) which allows Salmon to “climb” upstream. That’s why I must have loved eating the Salmon! It is a popular spot for fishing, and very close to the waterfall is a restaurant called Vid Faxa.
We the moved on to the Geysir, which is the namesake of all others, the first known to modern Europeans. We went on to watch Strukkur blow its top every few seconds to a height of 20m (more, apparently, at certain times).
Then on to Gullfoss Waterfall, the biggest one we saw on our trip. Gullfoss Waterfall cascades into narrow Hvítárgljúfur Canyon and due to the geology of the impressive falls, means it is nearly impossible to photograph completely—you simply have to see it with your own eyes.
Back in Reykjavik, Simon dropped us at the end of our road and as a tour guide trainer I am delighted to recommend him to any future travelers to his homeland. Before snuggling in to sleep, we got to know some new fellow AirBNB residents from Chicago, who had managed to have a kitchen cupboard door fall off its hinges and were trying to re-position it, without long term success (it later fell off again and whacked my travelling companion on the head).
We finally made it into the National Museum next day, where I was most impressed by an exhibit about the Ketilsstadir woman, buried in 920AD. There are still fragments of her facial skin on her skull! You can learn more about her and the National Museum Here.
After our visit, we were then tickled to use stepping stones across a very shallow stream surrounding the building into a Kaffitar for coffee. We strolled down into town (the museum is only situated on a hill a few minutes’ walk from the center), past curious wooden homes with shutters, painted in pastel shades of yellow, pink and blue, and had lunch in Hressingarskalinn, whose exterior walls are decorated with highly amusing signs.
Our mission now was to get to the Perlan centre, situated high above the city. There is a shuttle-bus from Harpa – an ultra-modern-looking structure which includes a concert hall as well as a shopping center. Perlan now offers a free shuttle bus to Perlan from Harpa Concert Hall, every 30 minutes.
At Perlan we heard you can enter an Ice cave! So off we went and once again we had a very funny shuttle bus driver (private bus drivers are obviously happier than state employed ones), who regaled us with hilarious remarks about Icelanders’ love of money and fleecing tourists.
The views from up the observation deck are outstanding! Ice-capped mountains, blue sea, and pretty buildings dotted along the sea front.
The exhibition is built inside one of Perlan’s 6 hot water tanks. It illustrates the glaciers, their history and bleak future, and gives visitors the amazing opportunity to experience travelling through a real man-made Ice Cave. The 360°Reykjavík Museum & Observation deck is included in the admission fee.
So we donned the extra-warm coats provided, and trotted down into the cave, accompanied by another wonderful guide whose knowledge of glacial formation and structure, and the creatures that live in the ice, was seemingly endless.
I learned about water bears, microscopic creatures that are even more enduring than cockroaches. Apparently, NASA even tried to kill them off by releasing them into space, but they returned to the mother ship intact, and even reproduced! You could imagine them smiling triumphantly at the folly of mere humans. It was minus 15 in there, but well worth enduring the cold for the fascinating facts and figures as well as the (for me) unusual experience. An interactive wall display entertained us for a while. A recommended visit.
What you need to know:
- The temperature inside the ice cave is -10C (14F).
- It can take 10-15 minutes to walk through the ice cave.
- Take as many photos as you like.
- You do not need special shoes for the ice cave.
- We can lend you a vest to keep you warm.
- Do not bring food or drinks inside the ice cave.
- You can learn more here.
We re-joined the crazy shuttle bus driver for more laughs as we headed downhill to Rio restaurant for supper, walking past haunting cargo ships and daunting Coast Guard vessels. We treated ourselves to a glass of house red as it was Happy Hour, while I savoured fresh salmon with asparagus and potatoes, in a zingy orange sauce.
My companion had a very tasty hazelnut and almond burger with a seeds coating, and I was quite jealous, despite the wonderful flavor of my non-factory-raised salmon fillet. We found room to try Icelandic ice cream in a nearby establishment and took the bus home for an early night.
We learned that the world-famous volcano Eyjafjallajökull is known as €15, for obvious reasons!
How do you pronounce Eyjafjallajökull ? Dont ask!
Our last day dawned, and we made our final excursion, this time with another excellent guide, also called Simon. We naturally inquired if all Iceland tour guides were called the same, but he assured us this was a coincidence. The morning coffee stop was again at ‘Hurdi Gurdi’ and this time we indulged in a doughnut. I was delighted to have a ‘off the beaten track Iceland Tour’ experience, namely walking behind Seljalandsfoss -at 65 metres, It’s a very big waterfall! The climb was short but steep and very slippery, and it was well worth it. Standing right behind the cascading water, hearing the roar of it as it crashed down onto the rocks below, was awesome. You can watch my Waterfall video here.
We then drove on to Solheimajökull Glacier and hiked up to the face of it. Sadly, it is retreating at the rate of 100m a year, which I find distressing. The ice is not pristine white, of course, as it is laced with volcanic ash, and as we learned in the ice cave, there are regularly spaced, thin layers of grey or even black, which make it look a bit like some kind of meringue cake.
We lunched (soup for me, again!) at Reynisfjara black beach where we strolled over to look at pillars of basalt similar to the Giant’s Causeway but in a miniature version, as my Northern Irish friend had no hesitation in sharing with us. We walked up to a lighthouse at the end of the causeway opposite, visited some Icelandic horses for a petting session, and another beautiful waterfall called Skogafoss, behind which – the legend goes- lies a treasure chest as yet unopened. Waterfalls must surely be Iceland’s symbol. Then off we drove, back ‘home’ into Reykjavik.
After another failed attempt to see the Aurora, we settled in for minimal sleep (in my friend’s case none at all, but I managed three hours) before our respective flights back to Europe in the morning.
In conclusion, my Iceland Tours were a success. My body felt stronger (probably from pushing open the very heavy Icelandic doors!), slimmer (without much of the expensive food), cleaner (after inhaling the pure air) and healthier (having drunk almost no alcohol in a week).
But aside from those benefits, my soul was refreshed, my knowledge of Viking history replenished, and my humor tickled on a daily basis. All in all, Iceland is a very worthwhile destination.
Thank you for reading.
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