Dreaming of Snow;4 days in Iceland.
Updated: Feb 13, 2021
Extreme hiking behind waterfalls, black sand beaches with deadly waves, Ice caving amid glaciers, swimming between two continents, Petting unique, charismatic horses, and relaxing at a geothermal spa. These are just a few of the many things you can do in Iceland.
In between North America and Europe, precisely 5.5 hours via plane from NYC, lies the Raw Beauty of a land made of ice... well, only during winter. Welcome to Iceland! In this post, We'll talk about some of my favorite tours, fun activities to tackle during your stay, and ideas on making the most of a short to long layover.
Did you know that if you traveled through Iceland air, you could ask for a stopover in Iceland (for up to 7 nights) at no extra charge? A freeway to add one more destination to your itinerary.
Having a 6-23 Hour layover in Iceland
There's no reason to be stuck at the airport with a 6+ hour layover in Iceland! If you land between 7 am - 8 pm, then head on over to a geothermal spa. The Blue Lagoon (open from 8 am-10 pm) is one must-do activity in Iceland. Public buses leave from the airport every hour as the Blue Lagoon is only 20 min away from the airport and 50 min away from Reykjavik (main town), making it the perfect spot to relax at on a layover. The Blue Lagoon is located on a lava field and is a human-made healing lagoon filled with silica, sulfur, algae, and mineral-rich waters. This water is excellent for your skin and the treatment of skin disorders. There's a swim-up bar, restaurant, and water massages offered by a specialist, so you can easily spend anywhere between 2 hours to half a day here. The best part about this place is that no matter the weather, you'll still enjoy the comfort of this spa, and some snow might even make it a more magical experience. If you plan on staying longer in Iceland, then you can do what we did and save this spot for last. For us, this was the perfect ending to our stay and made us want to come back, even if it was just for a simple layover. After soaking, if time permits, head on over to the town of Reykjavik. Reykjavik (the Iceland capital) has a fishers town feel with overflowing fresh fish and delicacy restaurants. It's legal to eat whale and puffing birds here as whales are fished daily. Iceland is the world's largest breeding colony for puffins, cute shops (it's the perfect place to shop for extreme weather condition clothing as it gets so cold during winter), local bars, and Nightlife. After strolling around town, shopping, and having a nice meal or lounging at a cafe, end your night at the boardwalk where you can join a boat tour (departures start around 8 pm) and go on a seeking adventure to spot the Northern Lights. We tried and failed (you only see them if weather permits), but you might have better luck-- tip: wear lots of layers as it gets freezing.
Day 2-Tour w/ Extreme Iceland Part I
Ok, so you fell in love with nature and decided to stay in Iceland for a couple of extra days? I can't say I blame you! What's not to love here? Doing an overnight stay tour with Extreme Iceland was the first thing we did after we landed at 6 am but looking back, I recommend you to take it a bit easier on your first day. Follow my day one guide and tackle this one on your second day; that way, you have more time to settle in and get a feel of Iceland before jumping into an adrenaline rush filled day of adventures. So, you're wondering who Extreme Iceland is? Extreme Iceland is a local tour agency that offers different overnight adventure packages outside of Reykjavik. We wanted to go Ice caving, and after doing some research, we found the tours Extreme Iceland Offered were the best fit for us. The tour we choose was the Jokulsarlon and Ice caving two-day package tour, and we loved it! They pick you up from your hotel in Reykjavik at around 8 am, and you spend the rest of your trip with an experienced tour guide. Here are some of the things we did with Extreme Iceland: Hiking Waterfalls-- on this tour, we got to visit two of the many waterfalls in Iceland-- Seljalandfross & Skogafoss, offering views that did not disappoint.
Tip* Wear appropriate clothing. It can be very windy, wet, and slippery.
Next Stop: Visiting The black sand beach of Reynistfjara and Diamond Beach the following day. Whether on tour or not, I think visiting these unique beaches is a must on a trip to Iceland. The sand is literary black due to volcanic activity. Reynistfjara was ranked one of the top ten nontropical beaches in 1991, and it's not hard to see why. Apart from its lava infused black sand, the beach is surrounded by basalt rocks made by nature when lava flowed down, cooled, and contracted. The scenery is so dramatic and perfect; it's hard to believe it was not man made. However, as stunning as this beach is, it can also be hazardous with waves that can drag even the most skilled swimmers miles into the open sea, where bodies are known never to resurface again. The rule of safety is not getting too close to the waves and never giving your back to them, no matter how calm they might seem, as they tend to be deceiving and sneak up on you. Believe it or not, if this happens and you're dragged into in-the beach, the best way to fight these waves is by staying still. * Tips: Layer up; this is not a beach for sun tanning as it's windy and cold. Wear Comfortable shoes as pebbles in the sand can become uncomfortable otherwise.
Try to go early for sunrise or in time for sunset as views are out of this world, and it's a great way to avoid crowds. Also, have fun playing with giant ice chunks! Where else can you do something like this!?!
Next, we're stopping at the glacier lagoon of Jokulsarlon and the Vatnajokull glacier the following day;
Arriving at this glacier was a surreal moment for us; we had never seen anything like it before, surrounded by snow, ice, and life all in one spot and its natural habitat. The glacier lagoon flows through a short Watergate that leads into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving chunks of ice on a black sand beach. In winter, the fish-filled lagoon hosts hundreds of seals. You can view these glaciers on a boat tour or driving over to the lake as we did. Seeing icebergs floating on a glacier lagoon is a must-do activity while in Iceland.
After a full day of marveling at nature, it's time to spend the night at a countryside hotel ( provided by your tour package with Extreme Iceland).
Day 3 - Extreme Iceland Part II
Today we're waking up early and chasing white roads in search of ice caves. These Ice caves are all nature made during winter. When the weather warms up, they melt and turn into waterfalls. When we went in March, the ice caves were starting to melt. It was scary knowing that these caves could crumble upon us at any given time. Still, exciting knowing that every cave is newly formed yearly and they're unique, so you'll never reencounter something similar. Iceland also has human-made Ice caves all year round, but we wanted to experience the real thing, so we opted to search for our cave.
Iceland's blue glacier ice caves are accessible from November through March Only. Never try to access a natural glacier ice cave without a guide as they can be very dangerous. We were lucky to have Extreme Iceland by our side, knowing what caves were safe during that time of year. An interesting fact about these caves is that they're constantly changing, so they might look different daily.
I'm a do it yourself all the way traveler. I like feeling like a local and soaking in the culture of a new location. However, after reading the article "Ice Caves in Iceland | Ultimate Guide," I felt like ice caving in Iceland was utterly different, and you should not try tackling it on your own.
I'm talking about the natural glacier ice caves, and here's why: "The glaciers are full of cracks that may not be detected by the untrained eye, and people can easily fall dozens or even hundreds of meters into a glacier crevasse. The icy ceilings of a glacier cave may break and collapse if the temperature rises above 0°C and trap people underneath a heavy mass of ice—and glacier caves become even more dangerous and unstable during and after rainfall. But it's the road leading to the glacier caves that poses the greatest threat.
For the last 6-700 meters before metering at the caves, it's necessary to drive on black gravel and sand paths, that have the appearance of solid land. However, they are on top of what is known as 'dead-ice.'
Dead-ice occurs when the glacier stops moving and melts on the spot. Underneath this dead-ice, there may be a river flowing, and if travelers don't travel with care, their cars could fall straight through this dead-ice." After reading this article, we decided that booking a tour during winter was the way to go. We wanted to live fearlessly in Iceland for four days but come back alive as well.
After Ice Caving, it was back on the road heading to Reykjavik. Part of the tour is spotting the Northern Lights (if weather permits), but the forecast was not in our favor that day or the following day (we tried twice!), so instead, we opted to stop at some villages, shops, and fields where the Icelandic horses roam free. As much as we wanted to see the Northern Lights, we were not disappointed by the countryside's picturesque landscape.
We got the chance of getting up close and personal with Icelandic horses! These small pony-sized creatures are native only to Iceland. Once they leave Iceland (if they're sold or competing), they can never return to their homeland, as they might contaminate the other horses that never left the land. While competing worldwide, Iceland never sends out their top 3 horses abroad. Why? Because they know they'll never return home, so they send out their top 4th or 5th horse. Don't be fooled by their petite size and charismatic faces as these horses are super strong, willful, and independent. They live long lives and have a double layer coat to protect them during harsh Icelandic winters.
That was the end of day 3 and our tour with Extreme Iceland. You can get dropped off at your hotel or downtown if you choose to search for the Northern Lights at around 8 pm.
Day 4 -- Golden Circle Tour; Reykjavik
For those looking for a day tour that does not involve an 8-hour drive south, I highly recommend the Golden Circle tour. It's only about 6-8 hours long in total. You can also rent a car and do it yourself as the main road is not as dangerous as heading towards the countryside. The Golden Circle consists of visiting Pingvellir National Park that offers stunning landscape views, Gullfoss Waterfall, and some Geothermal / Hot Spring areas such as Geyser & Strokkur.
One of my favorite stops on this tour was visiting Laugarvatn Fontana. If you arrive at 11:30 am or 2:30 pm, you can witness and try rye bread being made using the heat of natural hot springs. The dough is buried overnight, then taken out in 24 hours, and ready to eat. It was fun seeing nature cook for once and oh so yummy!!! After having a few slices of fresh lava baked bread, you can head inside, where they have a small cafe, outdoor hot springs, and a lake sharing waters with the Atlantic Ocean itself. If you dare, you can swim in the lake where temperatures hit below zero. We went for a short swim, and after 20 seconds inside the water, we could no longer feel our feet! But hey - you only live once, right?!?!
This was the end of 4 Amazing days in Iceland. We plan to go back and visit during spring as the season change will offer a completely different look to Iceland. Whether you decide to Visit in Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall, I'm sure this gem of land will enchant you.
For those traveling in winter- especially December, keep in mind that days are shorter with sunrise at around 11:20 am and sunset around 3:30 pm, so plan accordingly.
Thanks for Reading!