Thinking of visiting Iceland? These are my top tips if you are visiting the east coast of Iceland anytime soon
This is my second post detailing our stay in Iceland. Part one is here: West coast of Iceland, in and around Husafell and covers days one to three. Day four and we left Husafell with heavy hearts and headed to our next hotel, on the east coast of Iceland for the next three nights.
We arrived at the Frost and Fire hotel late afternoon, in time to make the most of the hot tub behind our room (despite it being -18 in the wind). The trip to the hotel had taken us all the way around the bottom of Iceland, including 6km through the Hvalfjörður tunnel (which shortens the journey by 45km so it’s some tunnel!).
Another hotel we had booked into with half board so dinner was a choice of anything off the menu, many of the items being cooked in the hot spring oven in the car park. Everything from lamb, to carrot cake to beef (and boiled eggs but more of that later).
This hotel doesn’t have a northern lights alarm, though they are happy to call you if they see the lights before they leave work around 11pm. But you need to bear that in mind if the northern lights are really important to you and this is your only hotel.
This was as good as I got on the only night we saw them, sadly but at least we could say that we had seen them on four consecutive nights, more than we could have ever have imagined.
Our first day doing the things that people really come to Iceland to see (apart from the Northern Lights of course). First stop was Thingvellir, the huge national park that dominates the centre of Iceland. Words can’t do justice to how beautiful this part of the country is, especially when covered in snow. I had no real idea of what the landscape would look like in Iceland and had assumed it would be mostly mountainous. Wrong.
Thingvellir translates to “Assembly Plains”, the place where the National Assembly gathered as far back as 980, until the late 1700s. It’s a must on any trip to Iceland (and is on the famous Golden Circle tour that takes in the most famous of landmarks). If you are staying in a hotel in Reykjavik I would strongly suggest hiring your own car for the day so you can go off and explore on your own and not on a coach. The roads are all regularly ploughed and despite it being January and off road being covered in snow, it was an easy drive and a great place to explore under our own steam.
TOP TIP: You do need to pay to park here but its about £5 for a whole day, and you do it on line (instructions on the payment machines).
From there it was on to Geysir to the famous hot springs that shoot into the air. As with most places in Iceland there is no charge to visit, and you can do so at 2am during the summer when it doesn’t get dark! There’s a huge car park across the road with great toilet facilities, a large cafe and a huge gift shop.
If you want to learn more about hot springs in Iceland, where they are and how to access them I strongly recommend visiting Hekla.com
ANOTHER TOP TIP. If you do go to the loo, do make sure you dry your hands fully and don’t put them in your gloves thinking that will dry them off. It won’t. And then when you go outside to take photos and remove your glove for any period of time your hand will freeze and you will seriously wonder if you have frost bite. You won’t have but it will be painful for hours.
The biggest geysir “blows” every ten minutes or so so you don’t need to wait for too long to see it go!
Then we hot footed it to Gullfoss, where we have never been so cold! Another free attraction, with a large car park that has a cafe. There is a long walk down steps to reach the waterfall, and trust me, you won’t want to be there for too long in winter despite its majesty. A stunning sight though as the water thunders over the edge.
This was the day that we really got to see a chunk of Iceland, to drive the open roads, and to get caught in a brief snow storm on the way home. A stark reminder that you do need to make sure you think about the fact you could get caught in a snow storm, to have some warm clothes in the back of the car, a charged mobile, and a flask of hot tea. Help wont be far away (this country is used to this kind of weather) but I am sure it is slightly terrifying for us tourists the first time it happens.
Did you also know that if a volcano erupts EVERY mobile phone in the country receives a text warning? Yes, even mobiles registered overseas. No idea how they do that but isn’t technology clever?
We started the day by stopping at Seljlandsfoss, a waterfall we hadn’t even heard of but felt we should stop at, before going on to the famous Skógafoss. Turns out it is a famous waterfall and one that photographers love. Oops.
Skógafoss was something else though. As was the walk to it. Sheet ice and how we didn’t fall over I will never know. So if you are going here in winter please make sure you are wearing walking boots with a decent grip and that you really do pay attention. Hoardes of tourists wearing trainers and messing about with selfie sticks were making me very nervous!
Both waterfalls are a short walk from a large car park, free parking again and have cafes for hot drinks before and after.
From here we headed to the very south of the island and to the black basalt beaches. We didn’t make it to the crashed DC-10 because it is a mile from the car park and by the time we got there at 3pm we were worried that we might not make it there and back before sunset, so it is definitely on the list for our next visit.
You can see why Game of Thrones is filmed here though can’t you. And yes the beach really is that colour! Breath taking is a word that gets bandied about a lot but this really was.
A quick stop in Vik to photograph another church and we headed back to our hotel.
Our last morning at Frost and Fire so I celebrated by cooking my own boiled eggs in the thermal spring oven in the car park. Two eggs in a net attached to a stick which are lowered through the steam onto a wooden board, the stick laid down on the ground beside it. Lid replaced and left for five minutes. After which you have perfectly “boiled” eggs. Reason enough to book this hotel!
The plan for today was to head to our hotel in Reykjavik for our last night and explore a bit of the city before dinner but in the end we explored more of Iceland and left the sights of the city for our next visit.
Every told us that the Blue Lagoon was a must but actually we preferred the sound of the Secret Lagoon. Think public swimming pool without the chlorine, and with the water heated geo thermally. It was a gorgeous way to spend a few hours (even if it is the law that you shower butt naked before hand). A bar provides hot and cold drinks, and you can also get cakes and sandwiches. Entry fee includes borrowing a towel too so all you need to arrive with is your swimming costume.
We skipped the sandwiches here and decided instead to head to the Frioheimar tomato farm made famous by the fact the Kardashians visited. Whatevs. It produces a tonne of tomatoes a day, all grown in enormous green houses heated by more of that geothermal stuff. Mind blowing when you think about it. Lunch is either soup and a stunning array of different breads, or pasta. And the bar serves arguably the best bloody Mary in the world.
With heavy hearts we then drove into Reykjavik for our final night. Sadly our day of exploring was curtailed by a storm that threatened to strand us at the airport so we made the decision to get straight there rather than leave it until after lunch.
However it just means we have to go back and do that bit next time.
Thanks for having us Iceland you were stunning.