So if you know me well you know I don’t do cold. I don’t handle it well, I complain every five minutes about how cold I am and I start to get sleepy because it’s how I deal with being cold! I just don’t do it. But then I started seeing all these photographers going to Iceland and the beautiful photos they came back with and thought WOW I can’t imagine ever taking a trip like that but OMG these images are amazing, really only something I could dream of. But then one day on Instagram I came across a post about taking a weekend trip to Iceland on a budget and I of course read on. From there the idea was in my head. I dropped the idea to my husband once or twice and got crazy eyes from him. Then one day on facebook while chatting with my best bud Maria who now lives far from me (waah!) I showed her the link and well I think that was all the convincing it took her to realize she was gonna go there! So that’s when I was like YAS I shall come with you then, let’s do it! We booked our flights and Air BNB and there was no turning back from there. For months and months I did so much reading about Iceland and what we needed to bring since it would be cold and what tours were a must do. Thank god for blogs because honestly so much of the info I read really prepared me and allowed me to have a awesome trip and NOT BE COLD!!! So to pay it forward I will share some tips and our itinerary on this post if you plan to visit this beautiful country.
To start we flew with WOW air , we took a red eye that left on a Tuesday at 5pm and arrived Wednesday at 4-5am Iceland time. The flight was under 5 hours which is awesome. This airline is bare bones but for such a short flight how much do you really need and it was more affordable than Icelandair . First thing on our list was to hit up the Blue Lagoon (of course). Most blogs recommended going after you land or on the day you leave. I personally think it’s best to go after you land. Why? Because you get all wet and you hair is all nasty from the water and the rush of having to take a shower and get ready to head to the airport you can’t enjoy it peacefully in my opinion. You must buy your tickets ahead of time you cannot just walk in there, that you can do via the website as well as a shuttle to get you there from the airport. We got the comfort ticket because I wasn’t trying to have dinner at their restaurant because well its $$$$$. My friend Maria treated to in water massage, just the basic 30 minutes which was AMAZING. My first massage EVER and my masseuse was a lovely guy names Hons, haha. After the Lagoon we headed to our shuttle and to our Airbnb.
- Bring your own towel. You get one with the comfort pass but trust me you will need another one when you are ready to shower and leave. The one they give you is small and its white and you get it lost in a sea of towels and by the end i’m not sure if i even had my towel which kinda grossed me out. Thankfully I packed towels, I highly recommend buying microfiber towels they sell them on amazon. they are very compact and dry fast.
- Pack flip flops
- Borrow a gopro or put a life proof case on your phone for photos. I borrowed a go pro but i wasn’t very good with it. I did buy a waterproof case not a pouch for my phone which was great for photos.
- Book the earliest slot, we had 9am. you get to see the sunrise on the lagoon and beat the crowds. By about 12pm it was pretty packed and the shower scene was a hot mess.
- So once you are done and get dressed you cannot go back into the lagoon area for photos, which i wasn’t aware of and there were some pretty spots with bridges but there is a small spot outside the cafe area that you can shoot from and then you can walk around the outside and shoot as well.
- Lastly bring a snack or sandwich its expensive, food is expensive all over Iceland.
Day 1 – evening!
So one of our main goals was to see the northern lights. I booked a last minute tour with Artic Adventures for a Super Jeep tour that started that evening at 8:30pm. I only did this because i was nervous we wouldn’t see them on the 2 day tour I booked, so this was a precaution and if you don’t see them that night they take you out another night which we had free to JUST in case, because that’s the kind of planner I am. So let me start by saying I anticipated a long haul night. From all the reading I did I imagined sitting out in the cold trying to wait for these lights and looking for them. So I was dressed with layers galore and ready for this long evening. I also was exhausted because I barely slept on the plane no thanks to the lovely lady behind me who wouldn’t allow my chair to go back but whatever. So we go out we get picked up and as they are driving us to the first spot away from the city the lights make an appearance! They pull over at a gas station and everyone comes out of the jeep and we are all like kids on christmas, OOOooooo and Ahhhhhh, so beautiful. It was amazing really. Our tour guide rushed us back into the jeep and we headed out to a darker area to see them better. We got there and the lights were awesome and the colors were so nice some purple and greens they danced in the sky it was really beautiful. I tried taking photos that night but honestly they sucked because I was excited and didn’t use my tripod for some reason and they came out blurry my settings were all over the place but I kinda got them nice! Our guide had a nice setup and he took photos of all of us with the lights which was really nice of them. They then gave us some shots, hot chocolate and cookies for the win!
- Plan the tour early on in case you don’t see them they usually provide a free voucher to try again on a free evening.
- Dress warm but don’t over do it, you can always sit in the tour bus if you are cold.
- Bring hand warmers and foot warmers. I tried foot warmers for the first time on this trip but not that night and my feet were freezing even with wool socks and snow boots. Once i had foot warmers on for the rest of the trip it was a game changer. Like a mini heater in my shoe I was a happy girl.
- Bring a tripod, I had my little Gorilla tripod and that was all I needed worked great.
Below are the first pics i took, remember they aren’t great haha!
Day 2 – Off to our 2 day tour!
We wanted to try and hit up a lot of the beautiful spots in South Iceland. So again with Artic Adventures I booked a 2 day tour to the south coast. I compared many tour companies and liked theirs the best. Now please know that I would prefer to not have to do a tour but in the winter the roads can get icy and dangerous or closed off and it’s best to have someone who knows that they are doing navigating the entire thing. Our tour guide was amazing she was so sweet and told us lots of fun stories on the way to our first stop and throughout the entire trip. We also had a small group which was even better. Our first stop on day 1 were the water falls you can click on the link above for the names and info I’m not gonna even try to type those out. These were so beautiful and everything I had hoped to see. Really it’s such a reality to check to see how small we are compared to nature.
- Water proof jacket, pants and boots ARE A MUST! Do not even try to show up to these with jeans, no that’s stupid you will regret it. The first one we went into we had to walk into the water. I was soooo happy I had waterproof snow boots on that I could happily walk into the water no issues at all. Make sure your gear is water proof not water resistant, not the same. Or buy waterproof spray from REI or other store like that and spray your shit down before your trip!
- If you bring your DSLR and its a professional one with good lens it should be water sealed already but I have a silicone case i put on my camera anyway from amazon. My lens wasn’t water sealed but it survived LOL. We went into a bonus waterfall the first one in photos below. Not sure that was on the trip list but our guide took us and this is where you will get soaked.
- If you are going in the winter and want to climb behind the waterfall, buy some crampons. Not high grade ones just some simple ones that slip over your boots. In all the blogs I read not one mentioned how icy the climb up to the waterfall would be. There is nothing to hold onto and nothing stopping you from falling down to your death! So yea buy that shit put it on your feet so you aren’t like the rest of us praying to god we don’t slip and die. Because YES I almost saw a girl go down and well I was not able to help her because I would have gone down with her. If you go in the summer you’re fine probably. It’s just the mist of the water freezes on the rocks and grass and everything freezes.
Part 2– So our guide made an executive decision to take us to the Glacier lagoon next. She said it may be too windy and cold the next day so she didn’t want us to miss it and we would arrive just before sunset, so off we went! I am so thankful she made that choice because OMG the colors of the sunset with the glaciers were breath taking, I could shoot that place all day, everyday. She also did a quick stop at Diamond Beach, which was also gorgeous and a bonus since I never read about it. That entire experience was beautiful, who knew I would love Ice so much! Before stopping here though we made a quick stop in Vik for food and pee break which gives a far view of the Black Sand Beach. I had a very expensive cheeseburger here because again food is expensive 😉
No tips for this part, just enjoy it. Take it in and take awesome photos!
Part 3 of Day 2- SO really by now I am exhausted and happy to be heading to our hotel for the evening. We had a nice dinner with our tour group and guide. This dinner was my big food splurge because why not, I just survived those icy rocks I deserve a good meal and YOLO! So after getting stuffed we headed back to our rooms to relax and hope to see the lights once more. At about 9:30 I peaked out the window of our room and there they were dancing in the sky THEY ARE OUT I yelled! We dressed quickly ran outside for our second chance to see them and this time we were ready with how to take a good photo. I am so happy I got a second chance because my first shots were embarrassing. Settings for photos, Canon Mark 3, Canon 28mm 1.8 lens, ISO 3200, F/ 3.2 , 30 second shutter speed on tripod using the 2 second timer to avoid camera shake and viola!
Day 3- Glacier hike , Ice Cave & Black Sand Beach, with a quick stop at the worlds largest lava field!
Final day of our tour and we started with a bus ride to the glacier. The bus drive there was crazy, I didn’t know a bus could move like that it was kinda scary and fun! We got all geared up with our pro crampons, ice spike and helmet.
- We lucked out big time with weather because we thought it was going to be very cold and windy. But no we had perfect high 30’s and no wind at all sunny weather. Again dress in layers but remember on the hike its a workout you will sweat you will get hot fast so don’t go crazy. I wore a thermal long sleeve, long sleeve on top light top, thermal long underwear, leggings on top and snow pants. You will need hiking style snow boots for the crampons, if they feel you aren’t wearing the right shoes you can rent some. I bought a great pair of northface that did me well the entire trip and a good price, even cheaper now!
- Good spot to use your gopro on your chest and yes bring your camera
Day 4- Last day, we go to the city for shopping
On our last day we decided to just relax and walk around Reykjavík, buy some stuff and find a hot dog which are a thing there and visit a few sites. While we were in the south coast the other two days it snowed in the city so we came back to a snowy view. Our airbnb was about a 20 minute walk into the downtown which wasn’t too bad, again I dressed warm no layers on my legs just jeans but I had my cozy foot warmers on and was good to go. Again like I said everything is expensive there which I knew going in but still always a shocker!
- DO not pay for the hop on hop off bus tour, the reviews are so bad and really you can walk to everything. At first we were like oh man a 20-25 minute walk into the downtown in the cold no thank you. But then my friend Maria was like well think of it as NYC blocks and all the walking you do there! So yes it’s really not bad at all so just wear warm shoes and again those shoe warmers are the best!
- Do try a Iceland hot dog, they are super yummy and affordable haha! They put the toppings on the bottom then the hot dog, hellooooo!
- Visit a coffee shop. Coffee is a big thing there and I know they have a ton of cute coffee shops.
- If you are a foodie and I kinda wish i had done this now that I think about cost of food, they have a Reykjavik Food Walk which would have been fun!
- Learn to say Hello, Thank you and goodbye. I think they appreciate it when you can try to speak the language and it’s not an easy one but the basics may help!
- Google maps got us around on my phone pretty well
- Map out the day so you don’t walk back and forth, but again I’m a planner…
- If you want to buy a wool sweater or hat etc I suggest going the the Iceland Hand knitting association store in the downtown. The money from the sale goes to the person who made that specific sweater and it tells you the name of the knitter. Sweaters start at $200 the smaller sizes so the larger ones go up. I bought a short sleeve one that I can use with a long sleeve shirt because A. it was less $146 B. I won’t die of itchy heat from a full sweater because they are very warm. Since it was a little less I threw in a cute Puffin wool hat into my purchase which was like $55 but it’s so cute, although itchy AF. There is another store Iceland Wear IS that’s more commercial but i think a little less on hats and gloves but I figured I would invest right into the people!
- Lastly carry a CC on you, cash is not needed. I used my venture card the entire trip so I could earn miles with these crazy purchases! I didn’t run into one spot where CC was an issue.
Last day We headed back to the airport 🙁 . However I had a great time, did things I would never have done on a vacation and took awesome photos. I was ready to see my family again. If you have any questions on what gear I bought feel free to comment and I can always link to it. I really found great stuff with good quality for this trip and didn’t spend toooo much. I want to go back in the summer time to visit the North side of the country, so hopefully one day!