AD | This post includes gifted experiences from Attraction Tix. Please see my disclaimer for more.
Iceland is somewhere that Matt and I have wanted to visit ever since we got together. So when I was thinking about what to get him for his 21st birthday, I decided that a little break in Reykjavik, Iceland should do the trick.
With a population of just over 300,000 and almost 2/3 of those people residing in or around Reykjavik itself, Iceland may be small in terms of population, but it’s certainly mighty when it comes to what it can offer both locals and tourists.
When composing an itinerary for our trip to Iceland, I knew that I wanted to go on the Golden Circle and Northern Lights Tour. When the lovely lady behind the Attraction Tix* PR team got in touch and offered a collaboration for our time in Iceland, I practically jumped at the chance! We were very kindly gifted two tickets for the Golden Circle and Northern Lights tour, as well as transport to and from the airport (another post on all those details coming soon!).
Golden Circle and Northern Lights Tour
Northern Lights Tour
It actually kind of breaks my heart to write this part of our GO SEE DO tour with Attraction Tix as our experience with seeing the Northern Lights was almost non-existent.
The way that the tour works is that the tour guides, drivers and organisers keep a keen eye on the weather forecast all day long so that they can predict the likelihood of you being able to see the Lights.
If it’s considered to be a ‘clear’ day, then they’ll let you know via email whether your tour will still go ahead. Failing that, the Gray Line tourist office is located right in the city centre of Reykjavik, so if you’re staying in the centre, it’s easy to pop in and check.
Our tour was organised for the first night we arrived in Iceland. Attraction Tix and Gray Line do this as if the tour is cancelled on your first night, they’ll easily reschedule it for the second night of your trip so that you don’t miss out.
We were collected at 8pm from bus stop 6 as assigned by Attraction Tix when we received our confirmation details. We were greeted by a coach full of around 65 people who were all embarking on the same adventure. Our tour guide was incredibly lovely and she provided us with ample information about what we could expect from the tour, as well as what the Northern Lights actually were.
The first stop on our tour was to a ski cabin, around 45 minutes from Reykjavik city centre. It was here that we were told that we might catch a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights, but it was more of a stop to grab a hot drink and use the toilet.
The ski cabin was incredibly cute and cosy and certainly didn’t look out of place in the middle of nowhere. When visiting the ski cabin, it’s important to bear in mind that it won’t just be your tour bus there; there was at least a dozen other buses visiting the cabin and wanting to catch a glimpse of the magic.
We stayed at the cabin for just over an hour and half and while you could see the Lights very faintly in the sky above us, they weren’t the brightly coloured green that you expect to see. We did grab a hot chocolate from the ski cabin however and then made our way back to the coach for the next stop on our tour.
As it was so incredibly dark on our Northern Lights Tour, I really struggled to get many pictures of anything so the above pictures are from another day in Reykjavik, oops!
The next stop on our Northern Lights tour was essentially in the middle of nowhere, close to a petrol station. Again, there were many other buses with us at this stop, with hundreds of people desperate to snap a picture of the elusive green lights! Unfortunately, the night sky was so cloudy and so the Lights were pretty much non-existent. It was also freezing cold outside so we could barely stand outside for more than five minutes at a time!
As the clock turned midnight, it became Matt’s 21st birthday and I was so desperate for us to catch a proper glimpse of the Lights but they didn’t play ball and decided to remain hidden behind the clouds.
Despite not being able to get a proper sighting of the Northern Lights, I’d still highly recommend embarking on the GO SEE DO Northern Lights part of the tour as it was a great experience and if you do get the chance to see the Lights, it’ll make for a truly memorable experience!
Golden Circle Tour
The Golden Circle Tour was organised for our first full day in Iceland which was also Matt’s birthday so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to spend a wonderful day exploring and celebrating!
As I’m sure many of you will know, Matt and I have been on many holidays and city breaks together, but we’ve never been on a guided tour before! I was both excited and slightly apprehensive to attend the Golden Circle Tour as I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It’s safe to say that I needn’t have worried; the tour was absolutely wonderful and I couldn’t imagine seeing the places along the Golden Circle any other way!
Þingvellir National Park
Our Golden Circle Tour was originally booked for 7.30am but the lovely people at Gray Line kindly offered pushed our slot back until 10am after they realised we didn’t arrive home from the Northern Lights Tour until after 1am the night before!
We were promptly picked up from our dedicated bus stop which was a 40 second walk from our Reykjavik apartment. After picking a few other people up from various stops around the city, we made the 35 minute journey to Þingvellir National Park.
More commonly known amongst tourists as Thingvellir, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is also the birthplace of the Icelandic Parliament!
The National Park is also fascinating as it resides in a rift valley in the crest of the Mid-Atlantic ridge; the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates! On our way to Þingvellir, our guide told us about what we could expect from the tectonic plates and the park. However, what we saw when we arrived blew all my expectations out of the water!
We spent approximately 45 minutes here, but I honestly felt like I could have stayed all day. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere like it; the fact that you could see the two different tectonic plates that separates two continents is something that I’ll never forget!
There are ample toilets here (make sure you head inside the restaurant to use the free ones – you have to pay for the main ones outside!). You can also grab a hot drink from inside the cafe.
Matt and I didn’t get a drink or a bite to eat here; instead, we decided to spend as much time as possible exploring the park. The canyon separates the two plates and is absolutely huge. It looks like it’s been pulled straight from a Game of Thrones scene!
It’s an absolutely fascinating area to explore and I just wish we had a little longer there to get to experience everything that it has to offer!
The next stop on our Golden Circle Tour was another hour’s drive from the National Park; taking us to Gullfoss Waterfall.
Gullfoss Waterfall may very well be one of the most spectacular, albeit coldest, sights I’ve ever laid eyes on. It truly was such a wonder to behold and it’s something that I’m not likely to forget about anytime soon.
The impressive mass of water stands at an impeccable 32m high and includes two huge drops into the river below.
While pictures and videos of the Gullfoss Waterfall look great, they don’t nearly do it the justice that it deserves; it really is hard to comprehend just how overwhelming and majestic this enormous mass of water is.
Cascading down the ‘staircase’ into the river below, Gullfoss Waterfall was probably our favourite part of our whole visit to Iceland. Despite the freezing temperatures and being splattered with (very, very cold) mist, the waterfall now truly holds a very special place in my heart.
At Gullfoss Waterfall, there’s also numerous toilets, a cafe and a restaurant where you can find some authentic lamb stew soup for around 2000kr (around £12).
Matt and I skipped the lamb stew soup – although it did look truly delicious – and had a hot chocolate instead (it was actually our first and only one during our whole trip, which is definitely not like us!). We had such a blast edging close to the waterfall to see its unbelievable drop below. However, it really was exceptionally cold which meant it was time for our third stop of the day!
Geysir & Strokkur hot springs
The third place on our GO SEE DO Golden Circle and Northern Lights Tour was the hot springs of Geysir and Strokkur.
Though Geysir itself has been inactive for numerous years now, it’s actually the word we use in English to describe geysers (a hot spring that ejects water upwards into the air at regular intervals). While you won’t see Geysir erupt anytime soon, you will see the mighty Strokkur, Smiður and Litli-Strokkur.
Strokkur is the one erupting in the picture above and it erupts approximately every 8 minutes. While it’s not as powerful or impressive as Geysir once was, it’s still a pretty awesome sight, especially if you’ve never seen anything like it before!
One thing that I wasn’t quite aware of before our tour guide informed us, was that the smell of sulphur would be incredibly prominent in the air…
For those of you who don’t know what hot springs smell like, imagine it to be like rotten eggs!
The steam emanating from the multiple hot springs can only be described as a warm egg sandwich hug; something which Matt found hilarious when I first said it! While the steam certainly isn’t pleasant in smell, it more than makes up for it in the heat that it produces. This was especially appreciated considering that it was so cold!
We spent another 50 minutes wandering around the hot springs and watching the larger Strokkur erupt, as well as the smaller ones attempt to!
The smell probably isn’t something you’ll get used to but it’s still well worth wandering around anyway. The pretty springs and mighty juts of hot water from Strokkur will more than make up for the smell.
While these pictures look like we were very close to the hot springs, we were still well within the little ‘fence’ perimeter around the springs.
As the water can get as hot as 80°C – 100°C, you really need to keep your distance. Our tour guide informed us that many people try and touch the water to see for themselves, but it’s been known that people have been to hospital due to injuries relating to the hot water!
It’s also a good idea to note that the nearest hospital is around 40 minutes away! So you really need to resist dipping your fingers in!
The hot springs were so cool to see and such a beautiful (albeit very smelly) stop off on the Golden Circle Tour.
Our fourth and final stop on the Golden Circle Tour of Iceland was also arguably the least exciting. However, it was still a pretty beautiful place to see nonetheless.
We were actually supposed to head to another waterfall instead (although I can’t remember the name of it!) but we were unable to as the only road to get there was closed. Instead, we made our way to Skálholt Cathedral for our final stop of the day.
Skálholt Cathedral is relatively new and was only built in 1956. While it’s certainly not as grand as the York Minster, it was still nice to get a glimpse into Icelandic Christian history.
The interior of the cathedral contains 25 pieces of stained glass artwork by famous Icelander, Gerður Helgadóttir. It’s also home to an abstract altarpiece of Jesus, with the surrounding area of Iceland in the background.
The surrounding landscape around the cathedral was truly remarkable. There was rolling hills, fields and beautiful mountains everywhere you looked. It was a particularly spectacular place to see on our last stop on the Golden Circle Tour.
It felt incredibly isolated in the middle of nowhere but also remarkably peaceful. While I would have loved to see the other waterfall, I really didn’t mind that this was our alternative stop.
After taking plenty of pictures of our stunning surroundings, we made our way back on to the coach for our journey home.
It took around an hour and half to arrive back in central Reykjavik. As Matt and I had two consecutive busy days, we managed to nap pretty much the whole way home!
Our Gray Line coach promptly dropped us back at bus stop number 6 at around 5.30pm. We then headed home to get ready for the evening of more celebrations for his 21st birthday.
Our time on the Golden Circle and Northern Lights Tour with Attraction Tix and Gray Line was truly enjoyable. Even though we were unable to catch a proper good look at the Northern Lights, I would still highly recommend the GO SEE DO tour as it was the perfect way to see more of Iceland.
The Golden Circle Tour was certainly the best thing we did during our time in Iceland. It’s definitely a must-do in order to see more of the beautiful Icelandic countryside.
Thank you so much to Attraction Tix for our gifted tickets of the GO SEE DO Golden Circle and Northern Lights Tour; it really made Matt’s birthday incredibly special and one to remember!
Have you ever been on the Golden Circle and Northern Lights Tour in Iceland? Is it something that’s on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @imjustagirl_16.