I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland. There’s always seemed to be a certain kind of magic surrounding the natural wonders of the country. From erupting geysers and spectacular waterfalls to vast landscapes and the enchanting Northern Lights. Iceland is a place like no other.
As a solo traveller with poor organisational skills, I decided to book the Fire & Ice tour with Contiki. I’ve previously done their Bangkok to Singapore tour, so I knew I couldn’t go wrong. The trip is six days and covers all of the key sights in Iceland. You travel by coach, which means all your transport is taken care of once in Iceland.
Arriving in Reykjavik
The tour starts in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. Unfortunately I arrived after dark so I couldn’t really explore. Adorned with colourful buildings and plenty of culture, it’s an incredibly pretty city.
Top tip: I’d recommend adding another day onto your trip so you can wander the beautiful streets of Reykjavik at your own pace.
Golden Circle tour
Our Golden Circle tour started with a visit to Þingvellier National Park. With a two hour long sunrise, it was a phenomenal introduction to the beauty of Iceland.
Despite there being a few coaches of tourists, the landscape is so vast that it often feels like you’re the only person there.
We found frozen lakes and stunning water ravines. It felt like a very special place and the warm pink and golden hues of the sunrise made it feel utterly magical.
Visiting the geysers of Iceland
After exploring the National Park, we headed towards Haukadalur to see the geothermal geysers. You’re welcomed with a strong smell of sulphur, but it’s worth it for the sights. The geysers erupt every few minutes, sending hot water many metres into the air. Even though you know it’s coming, it still made me jump every time!
The Geysir Center is situated in the Geysir Hot Spring Area and was a welcome retreat from the cold. Explore their shop or try one of their delicious soups. It’s a must-visit for anyone going to Iceland.
The beautiful waterfalls of Iceland
Waterfalls are everywhere in Iceland. Big ones, small ones, gigantic ones. You cannot visit Iceland without checking out at least a couple of the most popular waterfalls.
There are likely to be a number of tourists with the same idea. But given the height and scale of the waterfalls, it was never an issue.
If you’re visiting in winter, be wary of ice! I never actually made it up close to one of the waterfalls because I literally couldn’t get past the ice. Believe me, I tried. Despite wearing snow boots, every step I took I just slid backwards. Must have been funny for onlookers but the ice most definitely won that battle!
Hiking the Skaftafellsjökull Glacier
This was my chance to get my own back on the ice. Kitted out with crampons, a harness and an axe, this time I was ready. The glacier hike was a trip add-on, meaning it wasn’t included the itinerary but available at an extra cost. It was 100% worth it, as this was my favourite part of the trip.
Walking up a glacier felt very surreal. The ice is a striking blue colour and it is truly stunning. Not only that, but the views were incredible.
The crampons do take a bit of getting used to. It’s a case of convincing your brain that you are now able to walk on ice. Although it feels unnatural at first, it soon becomes second nature.
The black beaches of Iceland
Normally when you think of a beach, you think of golden sand and the heat of the sunshine. Not in Iceland!
There are a number of black sand beaches in Iceland. The sand is black because it is formed from the basalt lava that covers a lot of the area.
Some of the beaches also feature huge lumps of ice. It really is like you’ll ever have seen.
It’s easy to think you’ve suddenly woken up on a different planet.
Visiting the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon was by far the most touristy attraction we visited. Unfortunately it’s difficult to escape the volumes of tourists. But I still highly recommend a visit, as you don’t really find places like this anywhere else.
We donned our swimsuits and submerged ourselves in the warming waters of the Blue Lagoon. There’s a bar situated in the lagoon, where you can swim up and grab a drink. Opt for a healthy smoothie or treat yourself to a beer.
Although you may have seen some Instagram models looking all glam at the Blue Lagoon, the reality is quite different. Before entering the lagoon, you have to smother your hair in conditioner and tie it up,. This is because the minerals in the water, although good for your skin, can make your hair go very stiff and dry. Add to this greasy hair look, the white face masks they give out, and all in all you’ll be looking pretty elegant.
Top tip: Bring a waterproof phone or camera case. I did not but was lucky that my roommate had two. You’ll definitely want to take some pictures, without the anxiety of drowning your phone or camera.
Northern Lights in Iceland
This particular tour doesn’t include an excursion to see the Northern Lights. But, that doesn’t mean you won’t see them. If anything, those excursions can be a bit of a scam, as there’s still no guarantee of seeing the lights. We actually got incredibly lucky and managed to see them. Big bucket list item ticked off!
When we were staying in one of the hotels, a member of staff came excitedly running over to let us know that the Northern Lights were outside. I’m not sure you’ve ever seen me move so fast!
Top tip: If you want to take pictures of the Northern Lights, unfortunately it’s not quite as simple as pointing your phone or camera at them and snapping. You need certain settings to really capture them well. Do the research before you go and maybe add a preset to your camera, so you’re not caught out. Or hope that you have a keen photographer in your group to take them for you!
When is the best time to visit Iceland?
I visited at the end of November and I’m really pleased I decided to go then. I spent ages debating when the right time would be and, to be honest, it’s all a bit of luck with the weather. Personally, I loved seeing Iceland in the winter, as the light snow dusting and ice made it look truly beautiful.
The downside is that there were only 5-6 hours of daylight. But the advantage of this was that it was pretty much a permanent sunrise / sunset all day. Which means stunning photographs! However, if the weather had been rubbish, then it may have looked a bit gloomy.
Just bear in mind that if you go in the winter then it is FREEZING. Like, really really cold. So if you’re more of a fair weather person, then a trip in the summer will probably suit you better.
Why book a Contiki tour?
I find these tours a fantastic way of meeting fellow like-minded travellers. They are particularly good if you’re travelling solo, as you get a natural support network for your travels. I’ve made some incredible friends from all over the world on Contiki trips.
These tours are also great if you can’t be bothered with all the planning and other admin that goes into booking a trip. It’s not that I’m bad at organisation, I just don’t have the time to design the perfect holiday. With a Contiki tour, all the organisation stuff is taken care of for you. Leaving you to just enjoy the fun parts.
I’d also recommend a pre-organised tour if you’re a bit of a nervous traveller. As a solo female traveller, safety is a high priority for me. I always feel incredibly safe and well looked after on these trips. Plus, if things do go wrong – which inevitably happens when travelling – you’ve got your knowledgeable trip manager there to help you solve any issues.
Have you visited Iceland? What were your favourite parts?