Friday, March 13, 2015

Icelandic Excursions

Iceland has got the whole tourism thing down to a science. You can book fun activities through from the warmth of your home, or you can simply stop by a tourist kiosk once you get to Reykjavik. Many people book vacation packages to the Land of Fire and Ice in the off-season due to its affordability (raises hand and shouts, "Here!"). If you are one of those people looking for a budget trip, know in advance you may sacrifice getting to see many of the exciting things Iceland has to offer due to poor winter conditions. This is why we will be paying full price next time we visit... :)

"Experiencing the weather and nature is part of the fun and adventure of traveling in Iceland..."
"Iceland winters are not as cold as you would expect..."

These are just a couple examples you will find regarding tourism in the off-season. DO NOT BE FOOLED. Iceland is ASS COLD in the winter. The thermometer may read 38 degrees, but there is a near-constant arctic wind blowing in your face at 25+ mph the entire time. As a result, I have gotten incredibly sick both times we have visited. It took a good 3 weeks before my lungs were fully recovered from this last trip. To put it in perspective, there was a blizzard one of the nights we were there. The wind was so strong that the next day the snow was gone. Need another anecdote? I was actually startled awake one night when the wind stopped blowing. The sudden lack of noise made me wonder if the world had finally ended.

There are several email chains and blogs out there boasting beautiful Icelandic scenery and lush green countryside. The tricky part is that the roads to see these natural wonders are not at all negotiable in the off-season. In fact, one of my acquaintances rented a car to see some of these places in March of last year. She found herself stuck in bad weather in the middle of nowhere for three days. She was lucky to get caught near a small town, and she met many other tourists whose cars had rolled trying to see the amazing Icelandic attractions in the harsh winter months. If you are renting a car, proceed with caution.

The moral of the story is this: Iceland is incredibly fun year round, but people who are looking for outdoor activities will have the most fun in summer (start a savings account now).

All of that being said, we had some pretty memorable excursions to the countryside on our trip. I apologize in advance for the terrible quality of some of the photos in this post. Our trips to the countryside were pretty active, and with the weather being kind of iffy, lugging a big camera along was just not practical.

Horseback Riding

I am obsessed with horses. Jeff puts up with my mania and travels to the arctic with me so I can live in my happy place. For anyone who has had experience on a horse, Iceland is the premier place to visit in any season. Riding one of these things is like driving a Ferrari. These little guys look cute and cuddly, but they are insanely responsive, sleek, and powerful. I want one!

Most touristy horseback riding experiences (especially in the United States) involve riding in a line and walking the horse for an hour behind angsty preteens. Not in Iceland! You are galloping those suckers all over the lava fields, and it is the most incredible sensation. Of course, there are beginner options too, but we like to go big.

The best part of the riding experience is that it is friendly to visitors traveling in winter. You can see we were wearing full snowsuits provided by the company, so you only have to show up in warm layers. 

I still dream about riding those horses. I told Jeff we should by one for our kids and he said, "You mean you want to buy one for yourself?" He knows me.

The Golden Circle

I have done the Golden Circle tour twice. On this last trip, the tour was included in our snowmobiling package. Unfortunately, the weather was so poor that we could not see anything out of the windows for 90% of the bus ride. The tour guide did a great job explaining the sites through which we were passing...we just could not see them.

Thingvellir National Park

By far, my favorite part of the tour is Thingvellir National Park. We got out of the bus here, but the wind was so strong that it almost knocked me over. I tried taking pictures with my real camera, but it was so windy that I could not hold it still enough to get a good shot. So here it is taken with my iPhone.


When you get to the geyser area, called Geysir, you may be a little underwhelmed if you have ever visited Yellowstone. However, it is still pretty amazing. The big geyser goes off regularly, so you are not waiting around for activity. Hooray for instant gratification!

WARNING: do not stand near the geyser when it goes off. You will get drenched, and you will be sitting in wet clothes on a bus for the rest of the day. We watched half a dozen people with fancy cameras on tripods get soaked, then the geyser decided to give them the middle finger and squirt them a second time by erupting two times in a row.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Pictures cannot do this site justice. The amount of water is simply unfathomable. However, getting to the waterfall area was a little treacherous given the strong winds and pelting side rain. Jeff gave up the battle halfway to the viewpoint. I braved the elements in order to produce this photograph to share with the world. You're welcome.


We booked a snowmobiling excursion to make our trip that much more extreme. There is a glacier close to Gullfoss Waterfall, which is where all the action took place. The touring company provided snowsuits to everyone, and we made our way across the tundra after "suiting up" so to speak.

It was pretty incredible getting to see the glacier up close...

...and personal...But I can say with absolute certainty...

...those snowsuits were NOT WATERPROOF.

Jeff and I enjoyed the experience, but I imagine if you are a snowmobiling enthusiast you would not appreciate the ride so much. You are definitely going in a straight line, which means you can only go as fast as the person in front of you. Kind of like horseback riding in the United States.

AND a non-waterproof snowsuit means an hour and a half long bus ride back into the city in sopping wet clothes. So from my two experiences doing the Golden Circle tour, I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND packing at least 1 extra change of clothes, because I definitely had to peel my clothes off when we finally arrived back at the hotel.

Back in Town

When you get back into the city, it is always a good idea to find a nice spa area. Our hotel happened to have one in the basement, so we took advantage of the warm water and thawed ourselves out. 

And once you are warm and cozy, it is time to go out and indulge in all the things that are delicious and Icelandic. Like ice cream. Iceland's ice cream is - dare I say it? - the best I've ever had.

And who can be mad about a White Russian from the Lebowski Bar that is essentially an alcoholic milk shake? Oh man, Iceland sure knows how to do dairy. I'm salivating from  the memory.

So, if you happen to find yourself visiting Iceland in winter, don't believe the tourist websites when they tell you Iceland's winters are mild. You will probably not get to see all the things you saw in that email chain that was sent to you, and be warned that you will likely go home with the black lung. Because friends, I am here to tell you that Iceland in the winter is colder than a bitch's stare. However, do take advantage of the "mild weather" and enjoy the delightful things the country has to offer from indoors (the FOOD!). I guarantee that you will still have a blast.

Also, remember to pack the following, because Iceland is f***ing cold: 2 hats, 2 pairs of gloves, lots of wool, LL Bean boots, a warm scarf, long underwear, and at least 2 jackets - preferably down and preferably ones that cover your ass. I was warmest when wearing both my down jackets at the same time. Good luck, and consider yourself warned - but not warmed.

Feel free to check out our other 2015 Iceland posts HERE, HERE, and HERE. Okay bye!

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