Late in 2018, our thoughts turned to what we'd do to celebrate the end of 2018. Having had a couple of recent New Years Eve's wiped out through illness, myself and Jo were ready to do a little more for the upcoming New Year celebrations.
Rather than spend time in the UK, we decided to book a last minute short break to Iceland. We booked through TUI, taking advantage of their pre-arranged Iceland tour packages to give us a view of the island.
We departed from London Gatwick early on 30/1 taking the 3-hour flight to Keflavik airport - the closest to Reykjavik where we'd be staying for 3 nights. Once we landed, we boarded an hour-long coach journey to our hotel, the Grand Hotel Reykjavik.
Once we'd arrived, we checked in to our hotel and set ourselves up for our first excursion - a city tour of Reykjavik - taking place that afternoon.
The city tour lasted approximately 3 hours, visiting the main sights in the capital. We started out at Hofdi House, where a meeting between Gorbatsjov and Reagan took place in 1986, which effectively ended the cold war.
Our tour guide was a Reykjavik native, although originally grew up in the US. His dry humor kept us all going on the cold and wet tour of the capital.
The following morning we were up early to head out on the second of our excursions - the Golden Circle tour. From what I can tell, this tour is included in all TUI package holidays to Iceland and visits some of the main sights further into the countryside and mountains of the island.
After a 90-minute coach journey, we reached our first stop on the tour, Geysir. Geysir is a geothermal and hot spring area. Situated around the site are many hot springs with the main attraction being a regularly erupting geyser called Strokkur.
Moving on from Geysir, we traveled to Gulfoss to visit the glacial waterfalls. The views here were spectacular and the weather was also picking up!
After a simple lunch of lamb soup (delicious!) we moved onto our final stop for the day, Thingvellir national park. Thingvellir is situated in a rift valley and lies at the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. As such, the rock formations and scenery in the area is breathtaking - my bad photography doesn't do it justice.
Being out in the exposed countryside of Iceland, this was probably the coldest we felt during the whole trip. The air temperature was about -5℃, however with the wind-chill it felt much colder.
New Years Eve
Day two was also New Years Eve. For the celebrations, we made our way back out to Perlan, where we had a fantastic 4-course meal and enjoyed a tour to one of the many bonfires lit in Reykjavik to celebrate the end of 2018.
Fireworks are banned throughout the year in Iceland but are legal between Christmas and New Year. The island Search and Rescue teams sell fireworks between these dates as a fund-raising initiative to support their work throughout the year.
I'd read about the Icelandic people's love of fireworks at New Year, but wasn't really prepared for what we saw. From 11.30pm onwards the sky was lit up with fireworks set off in every direction we could see from the hilltop position of Perlan. The firework display went on for almost 2 hours as people set off fireworks from wherever they could find space. It was a truly remarkable sight, and in many ways, it was more enjoyable than the orchestrated firework displays we're used to in the UK.
Following on from the celebrations of the night before, we had an early start to travel back out into the countryside for a New Years Day swim. We were collected just after 8am and made a two-hour trip to the natural hot springs called the "Secret Lagoon." Unlike the other main hot springs bathing trip offered to tourists, the Blue Lagoon, the Secret Lagoon is more back to basics aiming to give guests the true Icelandic experience.
Bathing in water at 40℃, with the outside temperature sub-zero was an amazing experience - especially after the previous night of celebrations.
Finally, we rounded off our visit to Iceland with a late night trip out to try and find the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, the weather was bad and the cloud cover meant that we didn't see the natural light display. Instead we spent a couple of hours in the middle of the countryside getting wet!
It was a disappointing way to end the trip, yet it didn't spoil our experience. The three days we spent in Iceland were fantastic and I'd highly recommend others to take in the New Year in the land of fire and ice.