There are a million and one things to do in Iceland. My mum and I visited over my birthday weekend last month and, had it not been for the fact that we had jobs to come back to (and I probably would’ve died from hypothermia because lol, who knew I might need more than a skimpy Zara coat to keep warm in sub zero temps?), we could’ve stayed for twice as long and still not had enough time to do it all. So anyway, my lovely mumma and I spent a glorious weekend in the most stunning place I have ever seen but, much to the dismay of the rest of the travel world, went nowhere near the capital, Reykjavik.
Let me explain; I’m not usually one to stray from the main attractions (not when it’s my first time in a new country, at least), but what no-one will tell you about Iceland is that it is SO expensive. As in, £40 for an 8-minute cab journey expensive. We were hosted by the Northern Lights Inn hotel based in Grindavik- south of Iceland- and a 40-minute drive away from Reykjavik, so unless we were willing to spend our life savings on cabs, that part of the country was off the cards. Totally out of the question, in fact. I imagine I’m not the only one who might find Iceland prices a little steep, nor the only one who has stayed/will stay/wants to stay outside of Reykjavik, am I? To help you all out then, this article is all about the best things to do in Iceland outside of Reykjavik.
Visit the Blue Lagoon
One of the best things about where we stayed in Grindavik (I’ll be sharing a full review next week) is that it’s only a 5-minute walk from the Blue Lagoon. The natural hot springs maintain a temperature between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius all year long, and it’s honestly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. Even my mum’s hysterical fear at not being able to see through the steam because apparently it was hiding a demagorgon (yep, I did just reference Stranger Things) waiting to take its revenge on all the terrifying tourists, couldn’t distract from the beauty.
- Book as far ahead as possible. It gets booked up way in advance as it’s one of the most popular things to do in Iceland, so make sure you look at least two weeks ahead.
- Take your own towels if you’d rather not pay. You’ll need to choose your package beforehand, but you’ll get charged if you forget to bring one and are on the basic package.
- Do NOT get your hair wet. I made the mistake of putting my head under (all in the name of an Insta photo, obvs), and my tresses have been the definition of rats tails ever since.
- Take advantage of the mud masks. You can go back and help yourself as many times as you want.
- Arrive early. We went on a Monday and still queued for around 20 minutes- you’re allowed to stay as long as you like, but if you want to get in for a specific time i.e. sunset/sunrise, make sure you set aside queue time.
- Try a smoothie. They cost around £6 each, and are SO delicious.
Go horseback riding
I’m a huge animal lover. I honestly believe that animals make the world a happier place- Ollie, if you’re reading this, I’m still waiting on that puppy bbs. There are a few companies across the country, but we went with Arctic Horses– the place we took an 8-minute cab ride from our hotel to and were robbed of 40 bloody pounds. JK. It was well worth it. We chose the hour-long tour around Grindavik, which took us through lava fields, to the Grindavik lighthouse and back. Cost: £58 each.
- Wrap up. Wear every single piece of clothing you own and steal your fellow travellers. ‘Kay, maybe ignore the theft part- but seriously, you’ll be stationary on top of a horse for an hour in freezing temperatures, so you really do need to wrap up.
- Book over the phone to avoid delays with emailing. If you’re worried about a language barrier, ask your hotel to do it for you- you won’t need to give Arctic Horses much notice, but I’d recommend booking the day you arrive in Iceland.
- Arrange return transfers before you go. You don’t want to be waiting outside in the cold. No matter how cute the horses are.
- Be kind to the horses. That’s more of a personal one from me- they’re not toys, let them do their own thing, and if that means you don’t get a great photo then so be it. See Exhibit A; not my best work.
Have a spa day at the Northern Lights Inn
I ALWAYS make time for relaxing on trips. I suffer from jet lag BAD, and while Iceland isn’t so far enough from the UK for it to have had an effect in that way, I still couldn’t go without a little pampering. Thankfully, the spa at the Northern Lights Inn is TO DIE FOR- I’ll talk more about it in my full review next week, but it’s got everything from a steam room to a dry sauna and a normal sauna (yes, apparently a dry and wet sauna are two very different things). The spa is free for guests staying in Deluxe Rooms, but the public can also pay to access it. It doesn’t offer treatments as such, but when things to do in Iceland involve walking around dressed as the Michelin Man with ten tonnes of clothes on your back and heavy-duty boots that might as well be bricks attached to the bottom of your feet, any kind of muscle relaxant is one worth having.
- Book with the Northern Lights Inn before you go. You can contact them here, and ask for them to arrange a pick-up and drop-off back to your hotel for once you’re done. They’ll give you a quote before confirmation.
- Go in the evenings when most hotel guests will be eating dinner. We ended up with the whole spa to ourselves.
- Finish off with a session in the Aurora floating salt pool. It’s made to relax muscles and rid your body of toxins. The soothing lights (no, you aren’t hallucinating, nor are you witnessing the northern lights- soz) will send you to sleep.
Go for a walk
Iceland is a real life winter wonderland. Coming from somewhere as busy and polluted as London, it was so amazing to see somewhere so untouched, so a walk was top of my list of things to do in Iceland. A 3-hour walk that was- soz mum. We went for miles and not once did we come across any man-made areas.
- Take a map and don’t go too far. When I say it’s a real life winter wonderland, I mean all you’ll see is miles and miles of frozen fields.
- Be aware of sunset. You do NOT want to be left out there in the dark. It’s hard enough trying to find your way back in daylight.
See the Northern Lights
Our hotel- the Northern Lights Inn- prides itself on its location for seeing the Northern Lights. You can opt in to receive a call from reception if they appear after midnight, and there’s a top floor atrium where guests can stand inside and see the display without freezing their a** off. Which is a godsend because seriously, I could barely cope with the daytime cold, let alone what the temperatures would’ve been like at FOUR AM. (Caps intended because, be proud, that’s the time- and probably the ONLY time I ever will- spring out of bed). And it wasn’t hard to see why the Northern Lights are one of the most popular things to do in Iceland.
- The northern lights are measured on a scale. Anything above 2 should be visible, but the nearer to 10, the better. You can check a forecast online to see whether they’re likely to show up or not. My mum and I spent literally all day everyday refreshing this page.
- Be patient. Most people will go on Northern Lights tours which require you to wait (outdoors), but I mean it when I say it is SO worth it. When else can you see the sky light up with dancing colours? Exactly.
So there we have the best things to do in Iceland outside of Reykjavik. I’m now sitting here in London wearing three sets of thermals in bed wondering why I am so cold and how I ever survived a weekend in such a cold country. Explanation: it’s so beautiful and amazing and stunning and every other superlative under the sun, that I, Queen Cold, barely even noticed the weather.
As always, comment below or email me if there’s anything else you’d like to know!