Lizzie Churchill | Fashion Photographer

Travel Diary: Iceland


The land of fire and ice.

Having been on ‘the list’ for some years now we finally managed, as a family, to get ourselves out there for just under a week and it definitely did not disappoint. In fact, I think it was more amazing than I could have imagined. Most visit with the intention to see Aurora Borealis (aka the Northern Lights) but having seen a fair few images, friends trips and read about particular places, I soon had an itinerary in mind of all the places I wanted to visit and it was more than enough to cover the 5 days we had out there with other parts I knew I’d need to return for. So how do you plan a trip to Iceland? Well, we planned, researched and booked the entire trip ourselves without a single package or excursion apart from the Blue Lagoon - which we booked ahead, as advised.

Our flights cost around £60 each from Bristol so those and our parking where the first to be sorted; we then looked at accommodation for 8 having searched pages and pages of AirBnB and etc for a suitable place that was centred around all the towns and roads we would be travelling along. Knowing we’d be covering a good 2-3 hours of driving some days, we looked at booking at least two different places to save the amount of time spent in the car going back and forth and I’d highly recommend anyone else to do the same. Having a two year old to pack up twice however we decided against this; although typically, due to the weather, we were forced to stay in the city for two nights when we landed because one-by-one each road towards the golden circle (where we based ourselves) and the roads out of the city closed as the blizzard blew snow drifts of up to 5ft across parts of our route.

So with our city stay arranged by our host in his spare apartments we were collected from the airport and taken to the car rental centre where our little Dacia Dusters where sat waiting for us. With 4 in each car there was more than enough room for us and our suitcases to travel comfortably.

Expenses and temperature were my two major concerns before heading out with Iceland tipped to be the most expensive country in the world but I was surprised to see that prices didn’t compare too badly at our first supermarket stock-up in Kroner as we arrived. We ate out for lunch three times across the whole trip with the most expensive sandwich being awarded to the Blue Lagoon café for a £13 panini; but aside from that and a £13 pint in the city, we kept costs down with home cooked meals each evening.

Definitely was not checking to see how frozen the lake really was.

One of the best tips I was given before going to Iceland - and one I’ll also be sharing to everyone - is to check EVERY day before travel. This gave us not only details on which roads are open or not but the conditions of the roads we needed to travel along with colour codes for ice, snow, slippery or just plain prohibited! Having had our plans slightly disrupted by the snow we were able to call ahead to Blue Lagoon and move our appointment from sunset to sunrise; and so packed up our apartment and headed off knowing the roads were clear and after two nights, FINALLY the road to our lodge. 

As well as road watch, you’ll also find yourselves spending a lot of time on Aurora watch and so we were delighted to see that post-blizzard we had clear days AND nights for not only the rest of our trip but for our evening Northern Lights watch too.  Layered up and stood with the cars at the end of the drive while the tractor came to clear the 5ft snow drift from the front of the house we gazed up at the clear expansive night sky, not really knowing what to expect or what to look for but we didn’t have to wait long before we spotted the first strip of lights stretching across the sky - I screamed in excitement. It’s honestly one of the most amazing sites to witness and I can’t wait to chase bigger light trails as the KP increases across the year when I no doubt return. Measured in a scale from 1-9 the light we saw was already impressive at only level 2 so I can only imagine how impressive it is as the figures increase!

Day 3. Golden Circle Day 

Our first day entering the mountain roads and only the second day they’d been back open to public so I was slightly nervous of all the snow and ice but was really impressed with the Duster and how comfortable it made the trip with its winter tyres and snow spikes. I was even more impressed to be told three days in that we had heated seats in the front too which was hugely appreciated on the two coldest days of my life in this beautiful Arctic country.

Because of the time of year, our day’s were ridiculously limited on daylight and so despite having the intention to loop the whole Golden Circle in a day, we in-fact, only managed half with us JUST capturing Gullfoss before darkness really set in and  covering only Pingvellir National Park and the Geysir beforehand. There is so much to explore outside of this route but as a starting point you can travel clockwise from anywhere on the route and cover what we did as well as Laugarvatn Fontana Spa, Fridheimar Greenhouse, the Secret Lagoon (that really isn’t a secret), Skálholt Cathedral and Keri∂ crater. 

As far as fuel consumption with all this driving, we only had to top up on our way to the lodge (we picked up the car with half a tank and when returning the cars which was amazing; the fuel stations are available even when unmanned as the screens at the pumps allow you to select how much you want to spend or if you want to fill your tank then cut out depending on your selection.

As our last full day, we decided to ditch some of the further parts of the the Golden circle to save time and travel and visited just the Kerid crater before heading to the coast and into Selfoss for some lunch. Having passed SO many ponies the day before and not quite being the right place or time to stop, I had warned everyone in the car that there was chance I’d pull over at any given moment to take photos; so with a ‘hazards’ system in place and the most perfect opportunity to jump out at sunrise with no one else around but our two little cars we all hopped out to finally say hi to these beautiful little four legged friends. They really are friendly too and ran over when they saw us get out of the car which was even more heartwarming - I just wish I had some carrots for them!

Tip: Pack cuppa soups from home in your case for trail snacks and hand warmers.

Some other places I didn’t get a chance to visit but are on my list for my return are,

On the golden Circle;

Silfra Diving (I think I’ll go when it’s warmer with more daylight!)

Secret Lagoon

Near Vík;

Skogafoss Waterfall

Secret Lagoon

Jökulsárlón (Diamond Beach)

Going back to my concerns of what to pack for the plummeting temperatures in winter too, some absolute must-haves are;

Thermal trousers

Thermal tops

Gloves, hats, scarf

Insulated Coat (I had a Finisterre Nebulas)

Wind-proof coat

Thick socks

Hiking Boots will probably be enough but with snowdrifts surrounding our house I’m glad I had snow boots, if not just for extra warmth!

Thin jumpers to layer over thermals.

Day/hiking fleece lined salpettes are also pretty practical.

I know these may seem obvious but for the first two days I was okay without thermal trousers on and just had thick leggings with two layers on under my coat but you’ll definitely want the options to add more layers if you’re going to be in-18º days. My sister on the other hand is a much colder person than I am, and had up to three-to-four layers on top and bottom most days so you just need to be sensible and take extra of everything. We also had two pairs of crampons for where it was really icy around the Geysir but I managed without just fine.

If you’re looking for somewhere to escape for a week and feel completely detached from life for a bit then Iceland might be worth some thought. I felt so completely relaxed, calm and happy out there with times where it really felt like we were the only people for miles (which we probably were!). I’m usually the type to change up were I visit and holiday but I’d be quite happy as a regular here I think.

Until next time…

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