Iceland has it all - dramatic rainbow arched waterfalls, mountains with snowcapped peaks, all juxtaposed with lush valleys and countryside around the corner. Whether you're searching for the elusive Northern Lights, or fancy getting into a bit of hot water at the Blue Lagoon, check out our guest post courtesy of our very own Partnership Account Manager, Hollie.
Hello, tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Hollie and I am 21 years old. I have grown up in a family that has a huge passion for travel and therefore have been lucky enough to have experienced a vast number of amazing places round the world! However one of the most incredible places I have visited is just a few hundred miles north of our little island ... Iceland!
What inspired you to visit Iceland?
I have a very small family of just my mum, dad and I and therefore we quite often jet off somewhere hot for the Christmas holidays! Last year we went cruising around the Caribbean and the year before Dubai, therefore we decided on a complete change to venture somewhere cold and snowy instead! We had heard some incredible stories from friends regarding Iceland and so as soon as the idea arose, we were all unanimous!
How long did you stay for? Where did you stay?
I stayed for four nights, which meant we had a lot to squeeze into each day as we had so much we wanted to see and do! I stayed at the 'Grand Hé³tel' which was just outside the centre of Reykjavik (Iceland's Capital). It was a great position because the parking was free and easy to drive out into the wilderness each day, but still close enough to walk into the city centre for dinner and drinks. The hotel was definitely a popular one and we got to meet people visiting from all over the world; China, Thailand, America, Europe etc.
How did you go about planning your experience? Did you face any problems organising it?
I had heard a lot from friends about the top 'must see' places, and researched lots of blogs on more things to do. So before going I had a long list, but we didn't book anything until we got out there and assessed the weather.
Our biggest problem was trying to fit everything into just the five days we were there, and more importantly into the short daylight hours we had! Also, it was over the Christmas period and we didn't realise that almost everything shuts down over Christmas Eve to Boxing Day. Consequently, it was extremely hard to find anywhere to eat or drink outside of the hotel! Therefore I would suggest to anyone going during this season to stay in a hotel rather than a self-catering apartment as you could get a bit isolated and struggle for things to do especially on Christmas Day!
Did you do any exciting/adventurous activities?
So many! If you are sporty like me, you will love all the activities available to do!
My favourite and most exciting adventure was when we went quad biking into the mountains of Christmas Day! It was incredibly thrilling and the bikes were so powerful through the extremely deep snow! It was a bit scary at times on the edges of mountains and when powering up/down the steep slopes but the views at the top were incredible! Definitely take a camera!
On Boxing Day we went to the Blue Lagoon which is a famous natural spa which is geo-thermally heated from the rocks below. It was extremely picturesque and such a surreal feeling being in your swim costume in the middle of the mountains and snow. It was great at the end of a busy few days to chill with a mud mask at the bar and relax. But a tip for anyone planning to visit the spas; you have to book a few days in advance as they are very strict on the amount of people they let in! Also condition your hair heavily before getting in or the silica in the white waters will stick for days!
We also did the Golden Circle where we visited the geysers, national parks and the Gullfoss Waterfall! The waterfall was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen, and the sound and power from it was incredible! One of our funniest mistakes was when visiting the geysers; there were a huddle of tourists slipping and sliding across some very skiddy ice, which seemed very silly to us when there was visibly an easy alternate route across some bare red rock instead. But just as we were half way across our 'better' route, the geyser exploded into the sky and all the steam and gasses blew straight over us! We smelt a bit like rotten eggs for the rest of the day!
We also ventured into the wilderness one night about 3am in hope to see the Northern Lights, but had no luck! Lots of people from our hotel went out nightly in pursuit of them, but we hadn't heard anyone actually see them, we were starting to wonder if they were a myth!
We also wanted to go skiing but there were too many snow storms to allow us to the top of the mountains. We further thought of taking a ferry ride to Puffin Island and whale watching, however we were quickly informed that Puffins are a rarity this time of year and most people get either extremely cold or sea sick.
Was there anything about the culture that surprised you? If so, what?
I quickly fell in love with the Icelandic people, not only because they were all incredibly good looking, but also extremely lovely people! We got to meet a lot of awesome locals and found it very funny that most seemed to have learnt their English in an American accent. They claimed it was due to all the American TV they enjoy! But they could all speak about 4 or 5 different languages which I thought was amazing and really inspired me to want to learn a new one when I got home! Maybe not Icelandic though as all their words seemed to be incredibly long and complicated, it took me the whole trip to be able to remember the one road our hotel was on (Kringlumyrarbraut)!
Did you face any problems whilst in Iceland? How did you overcome them?
We had our own car and so the luxury to do everything that we wanted and wasn't reliant on tours and timetables. But the winds and snow made driving a bit scary at times and we had to keep checking the weather to ensure we didn't get stuck in a storm! One night at 3 am, when searching for the Northern Lights, we were following a pitch black road into the mountains to get away from the light pollution from the city, when we sudden hit into a huge pile of snow that had swept across the road. We were very lucky to have gotten back out of it and wereable to turn around. I would definitely upgrade to a 4x4 for a bit more safety next time!
What was the highlight of your trip and why?
I have two. The first highlight was the day we went mountain biking and we were at the peak of the last mountain. From the top we could see a huge gorgeous frozen lake below. Our guides told us that we were going to race across it, and I naturally thought they were definitely joking. But he wasn't- we did it! Speeding across the slippery ice, hearing crunching and cracking behind your wheels, was the scariest but best part of the holiday!
My second highlight was hilarious. The first day we arrived at the hotel, everywhere smelt of a very strong fish as apparently they were serving an Icelandic tradition which everyone cooks before Christmas. Well, at breakfast the next day, they were serving this fish as a soup, and so my father and I decided we had to give it a try! Wow, it was definitely... an acquired taste! It took about half an hour for us to get over the initial experience and proceeded to haunt our taste buds for the rest of the day! We have a video of our expressions as we spooned it into our mouths and it is still hilarious to watch! They also gave us cod liver oil shots which just added to the whole fishy experience. It was not your average breakfast.
If you could describe your entire experience in one word what would it be?
Astounding! It exceeded all expectations and more!
And finally, what pieces of advice would you give anyone planning to travel?
I have hopefully provided a few tips if you want to visit any of the spectacular sites I have mentioned, but I will mention a couple more:
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