Our first stop is done and we wanted to give a run down of all the fun we had, things we learned and tips we would give doing it all over again…
We landed a little later than expected (a 3 hour delay is quite a way to start the trip!) but were pleasantly surprised how easy the Reykjavik airport was to navigate and how quickly we were able to get through passport control. We knew we wanted a bottle of champagne for an upcoming excursion and we heard that alcohol is expensive in Iceland so we bought in the duty free shop before heading to grab our rental car.
Our first stop of the trip was the Blue Lagoon. We had consistently heard from others that it is touristy but worth it…and everyone was right! It is truly a magical place and such a unique experience.
Even the “basic” ticket in included a towel, a free drink (alcoholic or not) at the pool bar, a silica mud mask and access to their beautiful indoor facilities. We spent a few hours here and could have stayed much longer had we not had other adventures to start.
As mentioned, the Blue Lagoon is divided into indoor and outdoor sections that are included with your “basic” ticket. The outdoor section is all about the “lagoon” – everything outside is accessible while you are actually in warm, baby blue water. There is a bar serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic bars that you can wade up to off towards the far right of the lagoon. Equidistant on the far left is the in-pool-spa where you can get your free silica mask, as well as the upgraded mud masks that you can purchase. We opted just for the silica masks that made Nick feel like he was wearing the orc war paint from Lord of the Rings.
There is also a waterfall of warm water (photo op!), a steam cave and sauna. Nick loves saunas but the steam cave sounded different enough that he opted for that, while Elizabeth checked it out and preferred to just enjoy the warm water and sun. The steam cave was literally a small room carved into the rock with a small wooden door and teak benches inside.
It is dark and misty when you first enter, but your eyes quickly adjust and you realize it is just a *little* bigger than you first thought. A constant mist of hot water made for a sauna like experience and the only light comes from the small port-hole window in the door.
BLUE LAGOON PRO TIPS:
don’t “splurge” for the bathrobe just to keep warm…you can run almost directly into the water from a warm, steamy room and you otherwise won’t really wear it much!
Bring sunglasses! The bright Icelandic sun reflects SO MUCH off the water of the lagoon that it can be REALLY difficult to do much besides squint in photos.
Bring a hat! It’s Iceland, people! Maybe in the summer it is warm enough, but when we visited in the shoulder season (the month just before or just after the primary time to visit a place) we would have opted to having our cold weather cap. We later learned that it is VERY common to wear your beanie or wool knit cap into springs and pools.
Get ready to get naked. At least at first, in the changing room. You are *required* to shower in gender-separate changing room *without* your bathing suit before entering the lagoon. You can either strip naked in the changing area and then walk to the showers or you can opt to wear your bathing suit the few steps to the shower and take it off there. Nick did the European walk (read: naked) to the showers, while Elizabeth opted for the latter.
There are two paths into the main Lagoon building – make sure you take both! The main path is carved between towering lava rocks and makes for a memorable introduction. The second path meanders a little and gives you great views of the distant mountains and of boiling blue springs. To get on the second path just veer to the right when you exit the building.
Use the “sun room”! To the right of the main entrance and exit into the water there is a cafe with a set of stairs. Follow those stairs to a sunning room filled with reclining teak chairs and two story tall windows overlooking the Blue Lagoon and distant mountains.
After rinsing off, we hopped in our car for our first real drive in Iceland – from the Blue Lagoon to the hostel we stayed in in Selfoss, about an hour away. We decided to just have one base of operation in Iceland and do day trips from there, rather than move around every few days, and it worked out well for what we wanted to do! Even the drives – every single one of them – provided breathtaking views and scenery…so much so that I don’t think we did one drive without pulling off the road a few times to take pictures.
Our first night in Iceland, we decided to go hunting…for the Northern Lights! We drove around for a while, knowing it was a pretty clear night and that we were pretty far from a major city…we drove and drove until it felt “dark enough” and then just camped out in the car watching and waiting. Nick got out a few times to take pictures with two cameras to see if maybe something would show up that we couldn’t see. We were feeling pretty let down about not seeing them until the drive back when Elizabeth kept saying “that wispy cloud over there looks kind of different…maybe that’s it?” So Nick stopped, we got out and looked, took a few pictures and bam – the northern lights! On night one! We were surprised that with the naked eye, it doesn’t look like the beautiful green, dancing lights portrayed in all the pictures and movies. It really looked like a wispy cloud in the sky that once captured by camera, turned into beautiful shades of green. Either way, it was a pretty good first night 🙂
TIP: If you are in Iceland during the shoulder season and you are Northern Light Hunting keep your eyes peeled in the evenings for clouds that just look…..different. Helpful, right? But really, that was the key to us seeing them on the first night and then again a few nights later. After that — take pictures! Even without any post-processing or editing you are likely to see the color in your photo even if you didn’t with the naked eye.
Elizabeth used Aurora, a free app that helps you plan to see the Northern Lights. It shows you a map of where the northern and southern lights are at any given time. The app also gives you real time info and predictions on your best odds of seeing the lights in your particular location. It’ll give you a good sense, almost 10 days out, of the days with the best odds of seeing the lights!
Our next few days were spent driving around to see the sights – waterfalls (there are a LOT in Iceland), black sand beaches, various hotsprings, and the stunning snow covered, mountainous landscapes. It would involve pages and pages of descriptions to tell you about everything we did – check out the pics on our Instagram to get a good feel of the beauty and variety of things we saw!
One of the main things we wanted to do while in Iceland was visit as many unique hot springs as we could. We used an amazing website we found called HotpotIceland.com to start investigating hot spring locations – you can filter by “swimming pools” or “hot pots” and read a description of each with pictures to make an educated decision about where to head. Nick’s goal was to find a secluded hot spring that we could sit in in the dark with a bottle of champagne and stargaze, with the hope of seeing the Northern Lights.
Because this was on Nick’s “MUST DO” list he did a separate post about it – check it out HERE – but suffice it to say, it was the most magical night of our time in Iceland…and wait til you see the pics we captured 🙂
Our favorite hot spring – that we went back to – was Hrunalaug. While we never had it all to ourselves, it never really got busy until just when we were leaving the second time. The first day we got there around 10:30am and the second day we got there about 2:30pm. Morning is better in our humble opinion! It was so peaceful, quiet (even with others around) and relaxing – we just sat chatting in the hotspring for hours and hours.
The time we spent in this hot spring was one of the most memorable we had in Iceland. The spring drains into a rolling, twisting, snow flecked valley. From where we soaked, we never saw cars, houses, planes, or power lines. We played with the moss, built little pebble damns, and stared across the fields and valleys. Best of all, we just spent time around each other and let conversation flow. There is no agenda or plan in a place like that except to “be”.
Hrunalaug was originally a farmer’s shed and still exists on private farmers land. We read varying reports of what it was originally – a sheep dip, a farmer’s shed to stay warm in a storm, or just a bathing pool over a natural spring.
Either way, for a long time Hrunalaug was waaaay off the beaten path and visited mostly by hikers. It has slowly gained more popularity and all the negatives that come along with it.
Namely, it was slowly being vandalized by those who did not respect others’ property and by visitors who only cared about their own enjoyment of the space and not giving a hoot about anyone else being able to enjoy it later. It got so bad that the landowners considered closing access to the spring completely. More recently, the owners have taken a different tact, which we are so grateful for.
Namely, it was slowly being vandalized by those who did not respect others’ property and by visitors who only cared about their own enjoyment of the space and not giving a hoot about anyone else being able to enjoy it later.
It got so bad that the landowners considered closing access to the spring completely. More recently, the owners have taken a different tact, which we are so grateful for.
The landowners have improved the spring by creating a rock lined pool that is able to fit perhaps 10 or 15 people at a time and was the hottest part of the spring. There is a small shed with hot water running through it for warmth, made of field rock and tin that is covered with soil and grass to create a naturally insulated changing room.
One end has a door that blows open when the wind blows just right and the other end empties into what can only be described as a large, submerged trough. The trough was big enough for Nick and Elizabeth, but would be tight for more than 3 people. As we were leaving on our second visit, four younger scrawny high schoolers ambled in, so you can fit apparently 4 people if you are tiny high school kids!
When we arrived on the first day, a lady was parked at the entrance to the path waiting for payment for each spring visitor. The amount was $10 USD or its equivalent in ISK or EUR.
Nick felt *very* strongly about this topic. If you have enough money to fly to Iceland, or if you are going to pay 1,100 ISK (roughly $10 USD) for a beer or if you are paying $90 to go to the Blue Lagoon — do the right thing and pay the entrance to this magical hot spring. The lady who took our payment on the first day was relaxed, warm, and welcoming. Her family is *allowing* you use *THEIR* private property – so do the right thing and pay the fee.
What about if you arrive and there is no one there to take your entrance fee? There is a donation box at the spring asking for the same entrance fee, but on the honor system. On our second trip to the spring, out of the 10 or so people we saw come and go to the spring while we were there, not one person put money into the box (except us). So please! If you visit (and you REALLY should! By far this was our favorite hotspring!) — pay the entrance fee and support the spring!
Food & Drink
Overall we were pretty underwhelmed by the food in Iceland; while it was never *bad* it really only *wowed* on rare occasions. Everything is expensive here compared to the U.S. so eating out a lot adds up. So between those two aspects – expensive and not impressive – we made most breakfasts and some lunches in our kitchen. We chose the lodging we did specifically because it had a kitchen available for use. Going into Iceland knowing how expensive eating at restaurants was, we planned intentionally to cook or do bagged meals when we could. We DID have one splurge meal at an incredible place in Selfoss called SS Pylsur
The thing that surprised us most about the food in Iceland was that one of the biggest food items there … is HOTDOGS. Who’d have thunk! We definitely bought into it and had hotdogs quite a few times – they were everywhere! Two cute walk-up hotdog stands even in our small town of Selfoss. We did a whole post on the Pyyslur – check it out!
- Seeing the northern lights – download the Aurora app, go out hunting for them every clear night you have, take pictures to confirm you’re not missing it and most of all, be patient! It’ll happen 🙂
- Booze is pretty expensive in Iceland so if you want to drink, buy at a Vinbudin (local liquor stores) or in the duty free store in the airport.
- Vinbudins have *very* limited hours – roughly til 6:30pm during the week, earlier on Saturday, and closed on Sunday.
- Go to hot springs for a dip! You won’t regret it.