Browsing Category

Scandinavia/Nordic Countries

Europe Norway Oslo Scandinavia/Nordic Countries

48 Hours in Oslo: An Insider’s Guide to the City’s Quirkiest Spots

May 17, 2017

It was a rainy and cold day in London when the plane took off – Oslo bound.

I belong to a small group of travel enthusiasts who think “if I’m already cold, why not brave colder.” This little mantra rarely disappoints.

Armed with a wooly hat, pink gloves and a return Ryanair ticket (which cost less than a Hackney Cab from Heathrow to central London, priority boarding and all!) I landed in Oslo to a pretty sprinkling of snow and the cleanest airport train I have ever boarded.

First let me clear up a widespread misconception.

It’s really easy to have a great time in Oslo and nowhere near as expensive as people often say. It’s important to know that before being put off.

What follows is a fun way to spend 48 hours exploring not all, but certainly a good enough flavor of an incredibly pretty and frankly cool (weather pun intended) city – in an affordable and accessible way. The great news is, as summer approaches, Oslo becomes even more enjoyable and simply being outside in the gorgeous public spaces will prove it is a perfect city weekend break.

Must Do’s in Oslo

Buy an Oslo Pass

I can’t stress this enough. You can get 24 hour and 48 hour versions (the 48 hour one proves the best value for money) and best of all, you can download the app to your phone, which makes everything super easy.

The pass not only gives you FREE travel on all public transport (including island hoping through the fjords on the public ferries!) but it also gives you free entry into more than 30 museums and galleries, free walking tours, decent discounts on so many attractions (including ski rental, climbing and concert tickets!) invaluable special offers in restaurants, bars and shops and in the summer, free entry into the outdoor swimming pools.

Discovering this pass made Oslo more affordable than staying at home in London for the weekend!

Get up early and go to bed late

As soon as the summer months come around this is made even easier with up to 18 hours of daylight in a given day. If you don’t dilly dally you can see an awful lot of Oslo in a small but concentrated period of time.


Even if you do take the above advice and decide to get busy, make sure you also enjoy soaking up the moment. There are many places in Oslo where just sitting on a bench or in a café/bar can be the best hour you will spend in your day.

Get a bit silly

If you have an opportunity to don a Viking helmet, just do it. It’s fun.

If you’re off to Oslo and looking for some inspiration, check out what we got up to in this magical Norwegian city…

48 Hours in Oslo, Norway – The best quirkly little finds around!

Friday Evening

Ice, Ice, Baby

I arrived and made my way quickly into town thanks to Norway’s efficient train system.  After ditching my bag, I went straight out for a proper cold drink at the Magic Ice Bar, where glasses are made of ice and they lend you giant overcoat to keep you warm.

I don’t think it is possible for a vodka based drink to taste better than when it is drunk directly from ice!

The ice bar’s theme this year is in celebration of Edvard Munch so all of the sculptures were based on his paintings and I couldn’t resist creating my own version of the Scream taking a selfie through the ice wall!

Sweet Surprises

We decided to take a stroll through this incredibly walkable, safe city which led to the discovery of a great little bar, Bar Lardo.  This bar specialises in natural wines served with delicious meats and cheeses (the meat is sliced in front of you upon order) which proves the perfect compliment to the wine you will inevitably have one too many of.

I tried a Sicilian orange wine and a natural red which was just a little fizzy, a curious but excellent discovery. The atmosphere here was buzzy, friendly and utterly local – exactly what we were looking for!  It was impossible to feel like a tourist sat at this bar.

There is no-nonsense, no-pretence, no-airs-and-graces feel about the place – just good honest knowledge of what will surprise and delight you mixed with a perfect Friday night atmosphere.

I highly recommend it.

Warning:  It is very easy to while away hours here, luckily walking home a little tipsy isn’t a bad thing and can lead you to discover that in Oslo, even the pavements have existential thoughts.  There is art scattered all over this city. It is a joy to behold!


Soaking up Oslo’s Culture

I was up early to make the most of the glorious sun streaming in through my window.

Off I went, straight to the harbour and the brilliant Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art. Split across two buildings at the very end of the increasingly hip and trendy harbour area, you not only get a great dose of art but also a pretty spectacular view. In the summer there is even a tiny but glorious beach where you can sit or bathe depending on your inclination.

You can take your pick from the multitude of bars and restaurants on the harbour-side, many of which will welcome your Oslo Pass. I stopped into Døgnvill where I had one of the best vegan burgers I have ever had – order the Vegan Viking – you won’t be disappointed.

See Oslo Like a Local (only better!)

Once fuelled, my next stop was to the wonderfully named Viking Biking where I embarked upon a 3 hour bicycle tour of Oslo. This is a really fantastic way of getting your bearings on the city, and with Oslo aiming to be car free by 2020 this bike tour feels like you are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Our guide provided an unbelievable array of brilliant information whilst we enjoyed pedalling and taking in the vast array of sights.  Patrick, our Oslo-born touring mastermind was a fountain of knowledge and even pointed out (what was to become one of my favourite things from the entire trip,) the City Hall bells.

These ring on the hour but they were not playing boring old scales – they play real songs! At 3pm, when I was there, the played the ‘80’s classic, Twist in my Sobriety by Tinita Tikaram – a somewhat random, but delightful sound!

Best of all, the tour gives you plenty of time to stop and explore once you get to many of the destinations and if like me, you arrive on what seemed to be international ice cream day (in spite of the cold, everyone seemed to be eating one) you’ll even have time to enjoy a Cornetto whilst admiring the art scattered amongst the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

Whilst on your tour, it is also possible to wear a safety helmet with Viking horns on it. Do it. It casts a magnificent shadow on the pavement and where else can you pedal around a gorgeous city looking like a modern-day viking?

Post cycle I felt a little righteous, so where better to go than to a cocktail bar ranked one of the best in the world – Himkok.

Moonshine Magic

The enjoyment of this bar with its own distillery begins before you even get there – seeking it out is part of the fun. I will say no more other than look for a sign that gives away one of the building’s former incarnations and push the unmarked door.

If you need a little more guidance, keep a look out for an old fur shop which reads ‘Pels Pels’ in Norwegian.

Once inside you’ll see where they make their own gin, vodka and aquavit and if you explore further (which we’d certainly recommend doing) you will discover it is like the Tardis; there are outside drinking areas, a cider only bar, a taptail bar (they put their best house cocktails on tap so that everyone can enjoy a cocktail without the wait!) and a barbers no less.

For pure indulgence, sit at the bar in the cocktail lab; explore the beautiful menu (a piece of art in itself), watch the cocktail makers create their seasonal cocktails with grace in front of you and then sit back and taste.

Each one I tried was frankly sensational.  I took advice from one of their knowledgeable bar staff (Tomas) who recommended each of my cocktails and didn’t let me down once.

If you’re lucky you will be shown their special collection of unusual and interesting spirits from around the world – it is behind lock and key, but even just pressing your nose against the glass case is good enough!

They have live music on weeknights and a blanket ban on electronica (so as to not put off the older clientele).

The lack of pretension in this bar was an absolute delight – everyone was genuinely there for a great time.

Somehow, with all of its fancy drinks and hipsteresque qualities Himkok ultimately is a bar to welcome one and all. Pretty much how I am feeling about all of Oslo at this point.


Diminutive Delights

When you have spent an evening sampling cocktails you wouldn’t necessarily think that surrounding yourself with tens of thousands of miniature bottles of spirits would be ones first port of call the next morning, however the Minibottle Gallery proved to be the most wonderfully surreal hair of the dog!

The museum has a total of 53,000 bottles, most are guarded in a safety vault (?) but 12,500 are exhibited in over 50 unique installations. This museum is so fantastically curious that I don’t really want to give much of it away, suffice to say there is a slide to get to the basement installations and a fascinating erotic parlour where you have to tweak a nipple to enter!

I don’t think my eyes have ever witnessed so many ‘things’ in one viewing, unless you count grains of sand on a beach. And I don’t.

This place should be on everyone’s visit list. What began as a 7 year old boy’s collection has become a man’s enthralling obsession, and I’m glad it has!

Ice in Oslo – Year Round

Next, following a short boat trip I arrived at one of my nerdy pilgrimages. The Fram Museum. The whole building is built around Roald Amundsen’s polar expedition boat and for someone that always dreamt of visiting the biggest white wonderland, it was always going to be a hit with me.

Having recently returned from Antarctica I felt an overwhelming desire to stand atop another boat that had been there too.

It is a deeply fascinating and well thought out museum, whether you have an interest in Polar expeditions or not  There is an Antarctic simulator where you can experience what it must have been like to be trapped in the ice (basically, if it’s a hot day you can really cool down in there), an area where you can test out your strength and artifacts galore – that’s not even mentioning the two gigantic ocean-going ships housed inside.

Setting Sail for Warmer Climates

A hop, skip and a jump away and you are in the Kon-Tiki museum – another building housing a vessel which has survived the Planet’s seas, only this time it’s a raft!

This hand built raft was used by Thor Heyerdahl to demonstrate the way in which ancient people could have made long sea voyages and contacted different cultures.  With his crew, they used it to sail 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Successfully!

Norwegian mariners are clearly a curious bunch and I felt terribly ordinary simply boarding the public ferry back to the city centre.

Golf (with a Twist of Lemon)

With a few hours before the flight home there was one more pit stop on my list. The Oslo Camping Bar.  I had no intention of pitching a tent, but every intention of playing a round of mini golf whilst sipping another brilliant Norwegian local bevvy. This time, beer.

This bar is awesome!  The mini golf course threads its way under, over, behind and between tables, upstairs, downstairs and finally up and over the bar. There are 18 holes, a maximum 7 par policy to keep things moving smoothly and enough variation to keep you on tenterhooks throughout.

If I could have teleported a bunch of my friends here to help me while away a lazy Sunday afternoon I am pretty certain I would have missed my plane. As it was, I found myself leaving Oslo with an absolute certainty that this was a city I would visit again and with each season so distinctly different.  I know I will experience it differently each time and that’s a great thing.

If you crave the endless summer sun or the glittering majesty of a city blanketed in snow, Oslo will not disappoint you. It encourages you to be outdoors no matter the weather and there are more statues and sculptures per square metre than I have seen anywhere else on my travels.

It’s grown up and eco conscious, sophisticated yet decadent.  It has just the right amount of Scandinavian oddness and is a fantastic way to spend 48 hours.

I highly recommend that you go! Go, go, go to Oslo!

Oslo's quirkiest, most memorable attractions all in one easy-to-read guide. 48 hours in Oslo have never been more interesting with mini-golf bars, secret entry pubs, viking cycling and more! Find out what makes Norway's capital the place to be...

Thank you to VisitOSLO and each of the spots that Zena visited for making her feel so welcome.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

day trip Europe Iceland Scandinavia/Nordic Countries

How to See Iceland’s Golden Circle Without the Crowds

April 23, 2017

The Golden Circle is Iceland’s most popular day trip and for good reason – it’s close to Reykjavik, is suitable for those looking to drive themselves and offers an excellent variety of unique scenery.

We elected to leave our rental car parked up for the day and joined Moonwalker.


Because even though you can drive the Golden Circle, we discovered there’s a better way to see Iceland’s most famous route.  Not only did we get to sit back and relax but joining a private tour meant we were treated to benefits that would have been out of reach in our rental.

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review MoonwalkerSee Everything at the Right Time

When you’re travelling with an expert, you will of course benefit from their expertise – it only makes sense!

Bessi understood how to best work around the limited daylight hours we faced, fitting all of the standard Golden Circle stops in alongside one extra-special-you-can’t-do-it-by-yourself one (more on that soon).

Thanks to his local knowledge (like the best place to get chicken wings – just ask him), we were also generally able to avoid the crowds and maximise our time at each location.

We’re not kidding either – check out our photos.  Each of those locations is normally jam-packed with tourists but Bessi knew exactly how to work things, often leaving us incredible tourist hotspots practically to ourselves.

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review MoonwalkerHead Off Road – Lose Yourself in Iceland’s Back Country

As we already mentioned, it is absolutely possible to drive Iceland’s Golden Circle yourself but the one absolute highlight of our day cannot be achieved without expert help.

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review MoonwalkerBeing greeted by a sign like this puts a halt to your average driver but not these guys!

Trekking up through Kjölur, the Moonwalker truck battled knee-deep powder with ease.  Out in what felt like the middle of nowhere, we plowed our way to Skálpanes where we were rewarded with plenty of opportunities for snow-angels and views out over the most incredible, all-encompassing white landscape.

On days with less snowfall, Moonwalker leads the charge up to Langjökull where he actually takes his customised Land Rover onto the glacier.  Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for us but the deep snow made for an exciting ride and we came down off the ‘track’ well and truely happy.

Worried about getting stuck up there?

Don’t be!

With an extensive history in search and rescue, Bessi’s the man they call when others find themselves in a bind.  He’s got the gear required to get out of a difficult situation and the experience to seldom need it.

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review MoonwalkerRelax and Enjoy the Ride!

One of the things we love most about travelling are the challenges we face.  Getting from A to B, figuring out how each new country works – navigating these differences is all part of the fun.

Sometimes though, travelling can be hard work.

When you can occasionally hand the reins over to someone that will do an amazing job, why wouldn’t you?

Bessi’s truck comes hooked up with complimentary WiFi (because, let’s face it, you won’t be short of Instagrammable material), he’ll stop anywhere you like and does all the hard work for you.

On a number of occasions, Bessi dropped us at one location and arranged to meet us at another – this saved doubling back, giving us more time to squeeze additional photo-stops in.  Now that’s something we couldn’t have made work in our rental!

Arrive as Strangers, Leave as Friends

Before we arrived in Iceland, we’d exchanged a few emails with Bessi to organise our tours but after spending only two days with him, both Nathan and I were genuinely sad to say goodbye.

I’m not sure what it is about Bessi but he instantly made us feel at ease.  With a great sense of humour and warm and welcoming demeanour, we laughed our way around the Golden Circle, more like long-lost-friends than clients.

A quick look at Moonwalker’s TripAdvisor page makes it clear that we’re not the only ones to feel this way.

And yes, you should check out his page – we’ve never seen so many positive reviews in one place!

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review MoonwalkerIceland is beyond gorgeous – it’s absolutely everything I had hoped it would be and more.

What better way than to see it than by avoiding the crowds and heading up into the deserted highlands with one of the best tour guides we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting?

Practical Information

As Moonwalker customises each of their tours to suit the needs of their guests and the weather, your tour may not look exactly like ours but chances are it will include a visit to the following sights:

  • Faxi Waterfall – A relatively small waterfall by Iceland standards but a lovely first photo-stop.
  • Haukadalur – A geothermal wonderland and home to Strokkur, Iceland’s active geyser.
  • Gullfoss Waterfall – One of Iceland’s most powerful and certainly its most visited waterfall.
  • Kjölur – The best 4WDing experience to be had in Iceland.
  • Þingvellir National Park – The birthplace of Icelandic government and a stunning example of continental drift (plus a beautiful place for a hike).

Bessi requires a minimum of two guests for a tour to go ahead or if you’d prefer, you can book him out for the day yourselves and make the most of a truely customised trip – either way, we guarantee your days with Moonwalker will hands-down be amongst the best of your time in Iceland.

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review Moonwalker

Have more time up your sleeve?  Check out Snæfellsnes Peninsula or the South-East Coast of Iceland.

 Iceland is known for its natural, rugged beauty but as time goes on, almost for its crowds of tourists. Find out how to organise your itinerary to make the most of your holiday to the Golden Circle, whether you join the best tour in Iceland or self-drive. Iceland is known for its natural, rugged beauty but as time goes on, almost for its crowds of tourists. Find out how to organise your itinerary to make the most of your holiday to the Golden Circle, whether you join the best tour in Iceland or self-drive. Iceland is known for its natural, rugged beauty but as time goes on, almost for its crowds of tourists. Find out how to organise your itinerary to make the most of your holiday to the Golden Circle, whether you join the best tour in Iceland or self-drive.

Thank you to Bessi of Moonwalker for having us along as his guests.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  Even if we paid twice the price of his tour, we’d be singing his praises!

Remember that although driving the Golden Circle yourself is possible, venturing up Kjölur is not – do yourself a favour and get in touch with Bessi.

1 Comment

  • Reply In Review: Winter in Iceland - Blond Wayfarer August 11, 2017 at 12:58 am

    […] Golden Circle is the most popular tourist route. Plenty of tours run in the winter. Make sure to do whatever you can to see Iceland’s Golden Circle without the crowds. It’s absolutely worth […]

  • Leave a Reply

    Accommodation Budget Europe Iceland Reviews Scandinavia/Nordic Countries

    Kex: A Funky, Affordable Hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland

    March 19, 2017
    Kex Hostel review Reykjavik Iceland

    Iceland is has a well-deserved reputation for being drop-dead-gorgeous.  It is.

    It also has a reputation for being fairly expensive.  For the most part, that’s true too.

    Though we tend to stay in more private, comfortable accommodation options these days, our desired locations and activities always drive our decisions.  If there’s only basic accommodation in the area we’re headed, we go regardless.  If we want to travel long term, we tend to favour hostels and Airbnbs apartments to help cut down on our spending (with the added bonus of meeting other travellers and locals).  If we’re headed to an expensive area, you can be sure we’ll reduce the amount we spend on accommodation, putting our savings towards amazing activities, as opposed to missing out on those.

    So when we found ourselves looking at accommodation in Iceland, we knew we’d have to look at alternatives.  We were there to see the country, not blow our budget on hotels – after all, nobody goes to Iceland just to sit inside their fancy room (though if you are looking for one, we know just the place where you can treat yourself!)

    Recommended by a blogger friend (thanks Diana – check her out at MVMT!), we knew off the bat that Kex was anything but a fall-back option.

    Located in an old biscuit factory and decorated with salvaged materials, this hostel has a distinctively eclectic, industrial feel – one that’s impossible to miss.  It’s also known locally for hosting the best musicians in town – one of our tour guides even recommended it as the place to be come evening.

    Funky, quirky and certainly memorable, Kex provided us with everything we needed in a comfortable base.

    What We Loved About Kex:

    • Kex is well located, a comfortable walk from the centre of the city.  As far as position goes, the hostel is spot on.
    • Breakfast is hearty, filling and plentiful.  It’s reasonably rustic – don’t come expecting pancakes and eggs cooked to order – but for a hostel, it’s easily the best we’ve ever seen.
    • Earplugs are on offer at the front desk free of charge – take some!  Though our roommates (we were in a four person co-ed room) were incredibly respectful, there was a fair bit of noise coming from outside on the first night of our stay.  I made the mistake of passing on the earplug and regretted my decision for a number of hours as I lay there, wishing the noise away.  Learn from my mistake a grab a few packets!  We used them the next few nights and slept really well – no complaints from us.
    • The quirky vibe of the place was awesome.  Kex has a unique feel to it – it makes you take yourself a little less seriously (which is never a bad thing).
    • There’s a room configuration (and quality) to suit a range of travellers.  Sure, it’s not a high-end, boutique offering, but with a range of rooms from industrial mixed dorms right through to private hotel-style rooms (which come with private bathrooms – yes!), there are plenty of options on offer.
    • If you’re travelling by yourself or would just like someone else to take care of your activities, they offer a selection of day trips from Reykjavik – too easy.
    • There’s free WiFi and a fully equipped kitchen (another great way to save money in Iceland – we found eating in to be significantly cheaper than eating out).

    Things to Note:

    • In true European fashion, showering is a communal affair at Kex.  I remember the feeling that washed over me when I first walked into the woman’s bathroom to find all of the shower heads grouped in the one big cubical – I must admit, my first thought certainly wasn’t “oh yea!”.  With that said, there are a few unisex single showers so as long as you’ve got time on your side, you are able to have a private shower if you prefer.  One morning we had to race out the door and the single showers weren’t available so I braved the communal one – it turns out I shouldn’t have been worried at all – not a single soul walked in whilst I was in there (but I still get kudos for being brave so it’s win-win).
    • Being right by the city, Kex doesn’t have any private parking.  This means that, if you’re driving, you’ll either need to figure out the pay and display machines out front, use the carpark building a few hundred meters down the road or do as we did – check out the spots around town and then come back once the free parking begins (which, from memory was at 6pm – just don’t overstay your welcome the next morning as we did see a car get ticketed).

    Though Kex houses 215 guests, we never once felt crowded or like we saw even a portion of those guests.  Granted it wasn’t absolute peak season whilst we were there but the private rooms were fully booked, leading us to believe they were running at a fairly high level of occupancy.

    If you’re looking for a polished, luxury hotel, there’s no doubt this isn’t the place for you.  However, if you’re looking for a bit of fun and a hostel you won’t soon forget, Kex could be right on the money!

    Do you know someone headed to Iceland?  Pin this post to help them with their planning!

    Iceland's funkiest hostel! Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank. It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need? Iceland's funkiest hostel! Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank. It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need? Iceland's funkiest hostel! Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank. It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need?

    Thank you to Kex Hostel for so kindly hosting us for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

    1 Comment

  • Reply Janie April 22, 2017 at 3:01 am

    What a cute place!! I will definitely have to look into this for my stay. I’ve heard about it often, but your beautiful photos have sold me on it! 🙂

  • Leave a Reply

    Activities Eco Tourism Europe Iceland Scandinavia/Nordic Countries Tours

    Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Better Than Iceland’s Golden Circle!

    March 9, 2017

    Some things just feel like they were meant to be.

    Places, rugged and wild, that are so gorgeous, they just have to be seen.  Iceland was that for us.

    Likewise, some people seem like they were born into their jobs, a perfect fit for what they’re doing.  Bessi of Moonwalker tours is the epitome of someone who’s found their calling – it’s practically impossible to imagine him doing anything else.

    So you can imagine our excitement at getting to spend two whole days with him exploring the Land of Fire and Ice, my dream destination, Iceland!

    Upon Bessi’s recommendation, we booked in to spend our first day at Snæfellsnes Peninsula and decided to rejoin him for the Golden Circle, Iceland’s most iconic day trip.

    We didn’t initially know much about the Snæfellsnes Peninsula but, putting our faith in an Icelandic expert, we set off on what was to be one of our very best days on the island.  The following is our review of the day…

    Meeting Bessi and Hitting the Road with Moonwalker

    Incase you hadn’t already figured it out, the second we met Bessi we clicked.  I’d been speaking with him over email for a number of months where it was clear that his passion for Iceland and personable nature was to be a real highlight of our tour but somehow he exceeded our already high expectations.

    The writing was on the wall when a few days before our tour Bessi flicked us an email – the northern lights were out over Reykjavik and knowing that we were in town and desperate to spot them, he took the time to let us know.  At that stage we’d not even met him in person but when he went out of his way to help us live out our northern-light-spotting dreams, we knew that Bessi was far more than your average tour guide.

    With Moonwalker, nothing is ever a problem.  Bessi’s got an amazing sense of humour, is kind, patient and incredibly knowledgable about practically everything (music, history, folklore – I challenge you to ask him something about Iceland that he doesn’t know!).  There’s a reason he consistently pulls perfect Trip Advisor ratings out of the hat and trust me, he deserves every one of those stars.  Every single one.

    Our Snæfellsnes Itinerary

    As promised, Bessi arrived on time ready to show us the best of the west coast of Iceland and with the sun still well below the horizon, we set off on the Ring Road.  We stopped briefly on what Bessi assured us was normally a road – mountains of snow covered the tarseal and we bounded around in it, enjoying the slowly forming sunrise.  Before long it was onto the first of our many gorgeous stops for the day!

    Búðir Church

    One of the few remaining black churches in Iceland, the Búðir church was built in 1703 and after a checkered past, was finally reconstructed for the last time in 1987.  Covered in tar to protect its wooden cladding, this black church provides striking photos against the snow and cotton candy skies that Iceland is so well known for in winter.

    Arnarstapi:  Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss

    Not far from the Búðir church, we found ourselves standing in front of an intentionally placed pile of rocks.  A little unsure at just what we were looking at, Bessi shared with us the first of many Icelandic tales.  Legend says that Bárðar Snæfellsáss (deity of Mt. Snæfell), the guardian spirit of the area, was born half-man, half-giant.  As he grew, so did his giant-nature until he disappeared into the Snæfell Glacier, his spirit forever guarding the local people and surrounding area.

    The sculpture was commissioned and later created by Ragnar Kjartansson, representing Bárðar’s spirit, an important part of local folklore.

    From Bárðar’s sculpture we headed over to the coast, at times knee deep in snow, to admire the rugged beach below.  Centuries of waves crashing on the lava fields have left a collection of swirling basalt columns, unique to Iceland – I could have stayed there all day, watching the waves crash against the cliffside.

    Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland Nathan, Sarah and Bessi

    Snaefellsjoekull National Park

    Svalpufa-Pufubjarg: Londrangar

    Our favourite basalt columns made another appearance further around the peninsular, only this time they were even more impressive.  Rising up from the ocean, their resilience against the harsh ocean was a sight to behold.

    Londrangar and the adjoining hill, Svalthufa, form the remains of a volcanic crater, much of which has been eroded away over the years.  With the addition of younger lava fields, the topography of the area is amazing and if you take a second look, you’ll be able to spot what looks like an old ship in the silhouette of the pillars.

    Dritvik Djúpalónssandur

    Continuing our journey, we stopped at Dritvik Djúpalónssandur, a beautiful, secluded black pebble beach.

    After climbing down to the shoreline, weaving our way between basalt boulders and pillars in a setting that absolutely belongs to the Icelandic elves we came across a series of ‘lifting stones’.  These perfectly formed little boulders were used for testing the strength of local fishermen in years gone by – starting with the monster Fullsterkur (full strength) weighing 154kg, to Hálfsterkur (half strength) at 100kg, Hálfdrættingur (weakling) at 54kg and working down to Amlóði (useless) at 23kg, would pit their strength against mother nature.

    To qualify for work aboard the ships, potential fishermen had to lift at least the ‘weakling’ stone to hip height – how on earth they did it is anyone’s guess though!  Bessi warned us that we wouldn’t be able to lift even the lightest of the stones and though we tried, unsurprisingly he was spot on!

    Once we realised we couldn’t manage much more than rolling the stones around (trust me, they weren’t normal 23kg stones!) we ambled through knee deep snow, marvelling at the valley we found ourselves in.

    Upon reaching the shoreline we spotted countless pieces of debris from the Grimsby fishing trawler, a local boat that wrecked on Dritvik Djúpalónssandur back in March of 1948.  It was hard to believe how far inland the wreck had travelled, making it clear just how strong the waves could be at times.

    Enjoy Iceland’s beaches but be mindful of their incredible power at the same time.  A safe visit is a good one.

    A Black-Sand Beach Detour

    It was the small touches on our tour with Bessi that we loved most.  If there was ever an opportunity for an extra photo stop or touch of fun, you could be sure that Bessi was already onto it.

    Not quite sure of what to expect, he pulled over to the side of the road, urged me to turn on the GoPro and raced off onto one of Iceland’s many black-sand beaches.  Without another soul in sight – that’s what Iceland’s all about!

    Stopping to Visit our Furry Friends – The Icelandic Horses

    Fluffy, hardy, iconic.  Iceland is synonymous with its gorgeous horses!  To the rest of the world, they generally only get to pony height but in Iceland they’re definitely considered horses and boy are they cute.

    I knew I wanted to get up close and personal with some Icelandic horses at some point in our trip and luckily for us, Bessi knows just the place!  A few times a week he pops along to a farm owned by a lovely elderly couple and, with a loaf of fresh bread in hand, helps ensure they maintain their ‘winter coat’.  With a few honks of the horn, these three characters come charging over – there’s no doubt they know what’s coming and that it’s the absolute highlight of their day!


    With the  sun starting to sneak closer to the horizon, it was time to move on from our furry friends.  Our next stop was one that we could see clearly from the paddocks – the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland – Kirkjufell.

    Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland 4wd vehicle Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

    Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

    With its distinctive peak and cascading waterfalls in the foreground, Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) is a firm favourite with photographers and for good reason.  It’s absolutely breath-taking.

    Towering over the landscape at 463m high, there’s a perfect photography spot tucked in just behind Kirkjufellsfoss (Church Mountain Falls) where, with a wide angle lens, you can snap the picture-perfect image that has become infamous.

    Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

    With the sun setting on a gorgeous, fun-filled day of Icelandic sight-seeing, we begrudgingly began the trek back to Reykjavik over a mountain pass.  Bessi’s truck made short work of the deep snow but without his truck and driving experience, we wouldn’t have stood a chance on the road (if you could even call it that without any real sign of it!)

    We had the most amazing day exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and though we loved the Golden Circle, if we could only have done one of the trips with Moonwalker, I’m going to make a controversial call and say that it’s the Snæfellsnes Peninsula that we’d recommend.  The scenery was beyond beautiful, the landscape diverse (it is after all known locally as offering everything you could want to see in a day trip) and the drive comfortable.  With the added benefit of being comparatively off the tourist trail, we often had stops entirely to ourselves which is exactly what you dream of when you think of Iceland’s great outdoors.

    What are you waiting for?  The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is waiting for you!

    Headed to Iceland?  Pin this post to help with future planning and to share it with other travellers!

    Leave Iceland's Golden Circle behind and head out to Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  Everything you could want in an Icelandic itinerary all in the one place!  We recommend touring with Bessi of Moonwalker - he was absolute magic! Snaefellsnes Peninsula - One of our favourite day trips from Reykjavik (it beats the Golden Circle, hands down!) Leave Iceland's Golden Circle behind and head out to Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  Everything you could want in an Icelandic itinerary all in the one place!  We recommend touring with Bessi of Moonwalker - he was absolute magic!

    Thank you to Bessi at Moonwalker for so generously showing us the sites of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  After two days on the road he felt more like a friend than a tour guide and we could not recommend him enough!  As always, all thoughts are our own.


  • Reply GirlAstray March 11, 2017 at 4:12 am

    Those are some stunning views! I´d be particularly interested in seeing the black church. Can you also enter there or is it closed when it´s not a mass?

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis March 11, 2017 at 6:41 pm

      They do still use it as a functioning church – when we were there on Christmas Eve day it was to be used later that night. It was closed when we were there though.

  • Reply kad8585 March 11, 2017 at 4:25 am

    Thanks so much for such an informative post. I haven’t been to Iceland but when I get there, I will use Moonwalkers and ask for Bessi. He seems amazing. I cannot believe that he told you where the Northern alights were before you met him. So great!!!

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis March 11, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      My pleasure – we really had the best time! Bessi’s a special character (and yep, great at spotting the northern lights which were surprisingly difficult to spot!)

  • Reply Jean March 11, 2017 at 4:30 am

    Wow this looks like you have an amazing time. I love the little Icelandic ponies too. Is be feeding them all the bread

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis March 11, 2017 at 6:43 pm

      Aren’t they gorgeous! Indeed, he gives them bread a couple of times a week to help them bulk up over the winter.

  • Reply Kristine Li March 11, 2017 at 8:17 am

    This post is amazing! I didn’t know the church was covered in tar – simply thought it was black paint! Iceland really looks out of this world and it’s a country I hope to visit by next year! The ponies are SO CUTEEEEE omg.

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis March 11, 2017 at 8:21 pm

      You’ll have to let us know if you head that way Kristine – we’d certainly recommend jumping in with Bessi! The South-East coast is amazing too 😀

  • Reply Brooke Thio March 11, 2017 at 9:02 am

    Looks like a great tour to do in winter – thank you for the recommendation!

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis March 11, 2017 at 6:44 pm

      Pleased we could help! We’re keen to head back in the summer to compare but I can’t help but think winter would be my favourite season in Iceland – it’s just so magical!

  • Reply Allison Wong March 11, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I’m adding this to my Iceland wish list!

  • Reply Morgan March 11, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    I totally agree!!! Also one of my favorite days in Iceland. The best part was the lack of tourists. I would say it was the Iceland I was looking for. I’m so sad because I lost my pictures from this day. Thanks for sharing and letting me relive it through yours. xx Morgan

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis March 13, 2017 at 7:40 am

      Spot on! Oh no though re. your photos!! You’ll definitely have to go back and snap some more 😉 We’re hoping to join Bessi again over the summer as I’d imagine the country looks totally different then.

  • Reply Anisa March 11, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Wow. It does look amazing. I hope to make it to Iceland soon, so I pinned this for when I plan my trip.

  • Reply reflectiveponderer March 11, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    This is so breathtakingly beautiful!! I am so eager to visit Iceland , but of late, have seen hundreds of posts and updates about the capital city. Will definitely like to explore more of the country when I visit – although I don’t drive and will have to figure out something.

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis March 11, 2017 at 6:47 pm

      The capital is very funky and a great place to base yourself for the most part but we really appreciated getting out of the city on these day trips (+ we spent 2 nights staying out on the South-East coast). Bessi can take you out in his Moonwalker truck so no need to drive! We also had a rental car but felt much more comfortable driving with the guys that know what they’re doing in those conditions.

  • Reply Kendal March 11, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    What a great find! I’m heading to Iceland soon and will definitely add this to my preliminary itinerary.

  • Reply Kiara Gallop March 11, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    This post is really making me want to return to Iceland! We only had 3 days there, so we chose a day in Reykjavik, a day at the Blue Lagoon, and a day on the Golden Circle tour, which we loved. So I can only imagine how amazing the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is 🙂

  • Reply Stef Henne March 14, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    My husband and I are going to Iceland on a stopover for 2 days in December…I will have to look into this tour! It looks awesome!

  • Reply Dariel March 18, 2017 at 9:52 am

    It is also my favourite part of Iceland! Pity we didn’t go to the church, it looks gorgeous.

  • Reply How to See Iceland's Golden Circle Without the Crowds - Exploring Kiwis April 23, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    […] more time up your sleeve?  Check out Snæfellsnes Peninsula or the South-East Coast of […]

  • Reply Kamie Berry August 12, 2017 at 4:12 am

    This really makes me want to go to Iceland, especially to see those adorable ponies. Your pictures are amazing!

  • Reply tabithoughts August 12, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Such beautiful views! Iceland wasn’t on my list of places to visit before I die, but it is now. It’s stunning!

  • Reply 10k Challenge Top 10 #travel Posts | August 13, 2017 at 11:02 am

    […] 6. Exploring Kiwis: Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Better Than Iceland’s Golden Circle! […]

  • Leave a Reply

    Activities Eco Tourism Europe Iceland Scandinavia/Nordic Countries Tours

    Iceland’s South Coast – Exploring with Arctic Tours

    February 13, 2017

    Iceland, widely known as the land of fire and ice, is a country of extremes.  Gorgeous, breathtaking, incredible extremes.

    During our time on this stunning island, we joined Hörður on a winter tour of Iceland’s South Coast – an experience we enjoyed every moment of.

    Whether you plan on joining a tour with Arctic Tours Iceland (previously known as VIP Tours) or intend to drive yourself, the following guide will help you plan out your itinerary.  It is worth noting though that although some of these locations are easily accessible from the Ring Road in your own transport, others require a serious 4WD and the experience that only comes with years of driving in harsh Icelandic conditions – because of this, we certainly recommend joining Hörður to make the most of your day on the South Coast.

    Setting Off

    Arriving bright and early as planned, Hörður collected us from the Radisson Blu with open arms and a warm smile.  It’s always such a pleasure to put a face to the name when we’ve been talking with someone online and after discussing our exciting Iceland plans with him through the internet, it was a treat to finally be in Iceland and about to set off on our tour!

    With short daylight hours in the depths of winter, the first part of our journey was cloaked in darkness.  The upside to a low-hanging sun, as we were to find out though, are the seemingly endless sunrise skies – a major benefit to be had.

    To get around outside of Reykjavík can take a fair bit of time, with many sights being spread out.  Fortunately the roads are smooth and comfortable and the scenery breath-taking (when the sun rises makes an appearance, anyway)!

    Riding in Style

    Comfort is key when you’re covering a decent number of kilometers and Arctic Tours Iceland have you covered in this regard.  The seats are roomy and comfortable, the suspension on the Land Cruiser is top-knotch and there’s an ever present supply of heating should you want it.

    As an Instagram addict, I was delighted to find that Hörður also supplies his guests with complimentary wifi so you can be as connected as you want to whilst on the road.

    Pro tip:  Cellphone batteries aren’t made for the cold!  My phone (that normally lasts almost a whole day on one charge) was dead after our first pitstop.  Be sure to take your charging cable with you and Hörður will sort you out with a power source.

    Key Sights Around Iceland’s South-East Coast

    Gljúfrabúi Waterfall

    Next to Seljalandsfoss, you’ll find Gljúfrabúi, the lesser known of the two waterfalls.  Though we didn’t venture inside (it was the start of our day and wet boots didn’t seem like the best of choices), you can climb over the small rocks into the cavern and up close with the waterfall.

    It’s an absolutely gorgeous spot and somewhat an undiscovered gem compared to its more famous neighbour.

    Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

    One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls (though there are many!), water tumbles down Seljalandsfoss at a great rate of knots!  Paths lead up both to the left and right of the waterfall allowing for plenty of prime viewing opportunities and, when the weather allows, you can actually head in behind the waterfall itself and take stunning photos looking out.

    Reynisfjara – Black Sand Beach

    Sometimes a destination really surprises you and Reynisfjara was exactly that for us.

    We have black sand beaches in New Zealand, not too far from where we’re normally based in Auckland so I must admit, though we went with open minds, I didn’t expect to be blown away by the beach.  After all, we’d seen it before.

    We were so wrong!

    The sand itself is inky-dark and on the day we visited, snow and hail sat in stark contrast to the sand to be swept away by the outgoing tide.  Bordering the beach, incredible basalt columns puncture the sky, beckoning visitors to take a closer look.

    If you sneak around the corner of the bay, you’ll find a cave amongst the rocks, but be careful.  Whilst we were there, we saw a tourist get caught in a wave – she was incredibly close to being swept out to sea and I must admit, it really scared me to see someone come so close to what could have been a very tragic end.  As with all waves, they come in sets which means there will be the occasional one that’s a bit bigger – because the beach here is so flat, a little difference in a wave results in a large difference in the height it reaches.

    Enjoy yourselves, just don’t turn your back to the water.


    From the gorgeous coast, we worked our way up to Dyrhólaey, the rocky outcrop we could see from our original beach vantage-point.  The drive to the summit was steep and the road snowy so I wouldn’t consider making this trip by yourself in the winter – without doubt, it’s a job for Hörður’s Toyota!

    From the summit, we braved the strongest hailstorm we’ve ever experienced, headed for the most spectacular views.  Nathan succumbed to the weather (not that I blame him!) whilst I managed to snap a few photos before racing back the the 4WD.  Even on a day with such dicey weather, the views from Dyrhólaey were spectacular!

    Skógafoss Waterfall

    After a quick bite for late-lunch at the neighbouring restaurant (which is well worth a stop – surprisingly they made some of the best food we ate in Iceland!) we raced up the stairs to the top of Skógafoss, a gigantic waterfall found on the way back to Reykjavik.

    The views from the top were well worth the hike up, though we saw a number of visitors a little scared to step out on the platform.  Strike up the courage to it is and you’ll be rewarded with a brand new perspective of Skógafoss and the valley below.

    Seriously gorgeous, right?!

    After racing around the South Coast for the day, we made our way back to Reykjavik in the last of the fading sunlight, more than happy with our decision to join Arctic Tours Iceland.  We had a fantastic day chasing waterfalls and checking out the rugged, natural beauty of this island paradise with Hörður.

    Sure, it’s not a traditionally beautiful island destination but I can whole-heartedly say it’s my new favourite place in the world.

    Iceland is spectacular – whatever you do, don’t miss out!

     Exploring the South Coast of Iceland with Arctic Tours - why this needs to be a stop on your Icelandic itinerary! Iceland's South Coast - Diverse and exciting, it's the better option than the Golden Circle! Iceland: South Coast Highlights, Road Trip Itinerary and Tour Review

    Thank you to Hörður of Arctic Tours Iceland for so graciously showing us the highlights of Iceland’s Southern Coast.  We had a fantastic day out and completely recommend both Arctic Tours and the Southern Coast in general.  As always, all thoughts are 100% our own.

    1 Comment

  • Reply Access the Giant's Causeway for up to 90% Off! Northern Ireland on a Shoestring - Exploring Kiwis August 30, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    […] approached the Giant’s Causeway a little unsure as to what to expect.  Having visited the basalt columns in Vik, Iceland (and loving them), we couldn’t help but wonder if we’d be greeted with a sense of […]

  • Leave a Reply

    Europe Iceland Luxury Reviews Scandinavia/Nordic Countries

    Reviewing The Radisson Blu Saga – A Landmark in Reykjavík, Iceland

    February 1, 2017
    Radisson Blu Saga hotel review

    During our recent visit to Iceland, we spent two glorious nights at the Radisson Blu Saga.  Warm and comfortable with fantastic service, we felt instantly at home (if our room was freshly renovated and we had people to look after our every need!)  We certainly recommend the Radisson Blu Saga – read on to find out why.

    The Radisson Blu – An Icelandic Landmark

    In a country where myths and stories take pride of place, it seems fitting that our favourite Icelandic hotel,  the Radisson Blu Saga comes with its own unique backstory.

    Though Reykjavik is a bustling little city now, it wasn’t always that way.  When the capital made the decision to ban horses from the main city streets to make room for cars, the local farmers were understandably unimpressed – so much so, that the Icelandic Farmers Association decided to purchase land slightly outside of the city centre on which to build their new base.  After all, there’s not much more important to an Icelandic farmer than their prized horses!

    By the time the new farmers’ headquarters was built, cars had well and truely infiltrated Iceland’s way of life, to the point that local farmers had been swept up by the automobile themselves.  Though their horses were as valued as always, the need for their new HQ to be based outside of the city centre wasn’t as great with cars becoming their preferred means of transport and their offices were eventually renovated and turned into the Radisson Blu.

    If you use your imagination, you’ll be able to visualise where the horses would have been housed – breakfast is served in what were originally the stables!

    Now however, you’ll only see the well-known Icelandic horses well outside of the city, keeping each other company (whilst often accompanied by a heard of tourists keen to snap a special picture) but the Radisson Blu remains in town as a nod to life gone-by in Iceland.

    Pro Tip:  Your best chance of spotting the northern lights over Reykjavik are just down the road and when you’re finished up in the cold, you’ll look forward to returning to the comfort of this fantastic hotel.

    Around the Hotel

    With 236 rooms available, there’s something to suit most budgets and needs.  All rooms enjoy views of the city or seashore and include the standard amenities that you would expect from a five-star hotel, along with a level of personal service often reserved for a boutique hotel.

    Though the building is getting on in age, the rooms themselves have been very tastefully renovated and there’s no doubt, the hotel has good bones.  The stairwells hint at the age of the building but last I checked, that’s not where people spend the majority of their vacation time.

    Onsite you’ll find three restaurants and a lounge bar along with a small boutique selling gorgeous locally-made scarves, beanies and souvenirs.

    For those that want to be more active, there’s a gym available for your use and a salon should you want to fancy yourself up before a night out on the town.

    There is also plenty of complimentary parking on the grounds of the Radisson and all tour operators will happily come out to collect you should you prefer not to drive.

    Our Room at the Radisson Blu Saga

    From the second we walked into our room (until the moment when we begrudgingly left for the last time) we knew we were onto a winner.

    With a massive, beautifully plush bed (literally one of the best we’ve ever slept on), a powerful rain shower and a great selection of supplies (robes, slippers, shower ammenities, tea and coffee making facilities and a chocolate each), we were well catered for in our room.

    Though it was dark and cold outside, we’d have never known thanks to powerful heating and adjustable lighting within our room.  Whilst snuggled up in our room we enjoyed the TV which included a solid range of international channels and the complimentary Wi-Fi was, as always, well put to use.

    At the end of a day of exploration around Reykjavik we really enjoyed coming back to the warmth and comfort of our room – a haven from the weather and darkness outside.

    Good Eats in Reykjavik

    There are some obvious perks that come with the Radisson Blu’s association to the Icelandic Farmers Association – namely, fantastic food!

    Breakfast at Sunnusalur

    Often when we reflect back on the quality of a hotel stay, it’s the cooked breakfast that seals the deal for us.  Breakfast at home is always a quick affair, focused more on convenience than culinary flair so we always look forward to our first meal of the day when we’re treated to a stand-out one whilst travelling.

    The buffet at Sunnusalur (one of the Radisson’s three onsite restaurants) did not disappoint – in fact, it went down as one of the best breakfast buffets we’ve ever enjoyed!

    They had a fantastic range of both hot and cold options, with something to please everyone – omelettes, bacon, sausage, skyr (a local favourite), fresh fruit, cereal, cold cuts, cheese, waffles with cream, fresh fruit juice (try the ‘hulk’ with spinach, mango, lemon, ginger and avocado or our favourite, banana and blueberry), there really wasn’t much they didn’t have.

    With such a fantastic spread, you’ll be well set up for a busy day exploring Iceland.

    Dinner at Grillið

    Tucked away on the top floor of the Radisson Blu, you’ll find Grillið, a fine-dining restaurant with an incredible eye for detail.  Frequently rated as one of Reykjavik’s best restaurants, they serve only the freshest of local produce and sustainably-sourced ingredients.  Grillið take their food incredibly seriously and it shows.

    With panoramic views of the city and service as friendly as it is slick, Grillið serves up local specialities, memorable and unique to the area.

    A little unsure of what to expect, we tried the four course set menu which sounds relatively simple but in reality, is anything but.

    • Herring, eggs and onions
    • Liver, goose and bramble berries
    • Lamb, celeriac and crowberries
    • Chocolate and mandarins

    Each dish was beautifully cooked and delicately seasoned, served with wine to compliment the different flavours found within each course.

    I’m a chronically fussy eater and must admit that when I first sat down, I had my reservations about just how many of the presented meals I would be able to eat but to say I was pleasantly surprised would be a huge understatement.  Not only did I eat every dish but I genuinely enjoyed them all and came away having tried dishes that were as memorable as they were unique to Iceland.

    Consider yourself a foodie?  Don’t miss Wake Up Reykjavik’s awesome food tour!

    Why You Should Consider Staying at the Radisson Blu Saga

    We had a fantastic stay at the Radisson Blu Saga and would unreservedly recommend a stay here to visitors to Iceland.

    It’s close enough to the city to be convenient (especially if you have a car) but removed from the sometimes confusing one-way streets of the centre of town, plus you’ll save money by being on the outskirts of town.  The staff at the Radisson are second-to-none and somehow strike the perfect balance between treating you like family whilst catering to your needs as if you’re royalty – you can’t ask for more than that!

    Headed to Iceland?  Save this pin for future reference.

    Radisson Blu Saga Iceland review

    Thank you to Radisson Blu Saga for hosting us.  All thoughts are honest and, as always, our own.

    1 Comment

  • Reply Kex: A Funky, Affordable Hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland - Exploring Kiwis March 19, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    […] So when we found ourselves looking at accommodation in Iceland, we knew we’d have to look at alternatives.  We were there to see the country, not blow our budget on hotels – after all, nobody goes to Iceland just to sit inside their fancy room (though if you are looking for one, we know just the place where you can treat yourself!) […]

  • Leave a Reply

    Activities Eco Tourism Europe Iceland Scandinavia/Nordic Countries

    Hunting out the Northern Lights by Boat – Reviewing Special Tours

    January 29, 2017

    When we made the decision to visit Iceland in the depths of their winter, we had one thing (and one thing only) in the forefront of our minds – the northern lights.  Of course we were excited to see this beautiful island blanketed in snow and for the gorgeous candy-coloured sky that seem to float around throughout the day, but it was the northern lights that drove our booking initially.  We knew that they’d be at their strongest this winter which meant that we weren’t going to hang around until our next holiday in March/April – we were off to Iceland late December!

    The following post reviews our experience joining Special Tours on their Northern Lights by Boat trip.

    Our tour started boarding thirty minutes before our 9pm departure time after an easy check-in process down in Reykjavik’s Old Harbour.  When you arrive, it’s clear you’re in the right place as you’ll spot a series of structures ready to greet guests.  As one of the larger operations, we had two boats to choose from and promptly boarded in a bid to escape the cold.

    Inside the boat, we we pleased to find a snuggly-warm cabin and comfortable seats (so comfy that I even managed to fall asleep on the way back to shore which is very unlike me!) and plenty of warm drinks and snacks on offer to help take the chill off when we returned from outside.

    After climbing into our warm onesies, we relaxed for the relatively short trip out into the harbour, all the whilst listening to our awesome guide who patiently filled us in, sharing everything we’d ever want to know about the northern lights.

    The following infographic explains the phenomenon (in short) where solar wind travels towards earth and hits our atmosphere – the different colours seen in the northern lights are formed depending on the type of gas and height at which the ions and gases collide.  Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that but it’s a good starting point for your understanding.  If you’re anything like us though, you’re interested to learn more about how and why the northern lights form but are most interested in seeing them for yourself!

    Special Tours Northern Lights Boat Tour review, Iceland, Reykjavik, How the Northern Lights work

    Unfortunately, Mother Nature isn’t always clued into our plans!

    Though we had a strong forecast (you can check the forecast for yourself ahead of your trip here) and relatively clear skies, the beautiful photos that we’ve seen so many times before didn’t quite eventuate for us.

    Out on the upper deck of the boat, we waited patiently for the vibrant green hues to wash across the sky but found in reality, the northern lights are seldom as bright as they appear in photographs and that night, luck wasn’t on our side.

    We were fortunate to spot glimpses of the northern lights on the horizon and though we urged them to brighten up, they stayed relatively static throughout the evening.

    The following photos show what a beautiful display the lights can put on when they’re on form…

    Spectacular, right?!

    Even though we didn’t see the northern lights in all their glory, was it worth heading out on the water?  It sure was!

    We had a fantastic time out on the boat, ticked a bucket-list experience off and enjoyed seeing the city from a different perspective.  Rugging up felt like a real adventure and even without much in the way of northern lights, it was great fun keeping our eyes peeled in the hopes of spotting them.

    We would definitely recommend heading out with Special Tours whilst you’re in Reykjavik, Iceland, to track down the northern lights.  Away from the lights of the city, you’ll have the best chance of seeing them and even if you don’t, you’ll learn lots and have a great time in the process… and hey, if you don’t see them, they’ll happily take you out again and again until you do!

    Do I need to get out of Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights?

    Not necessarily but it really will help!

    Though our luck ran a little short whilst out on our boat tour of the northern lights, our patience was rewarded a few nights later when Bessi from Moonwalker Tours fired us an email telling us to drop everything and head outside… when someone says the northern lights are visible above the city, you do exactly as is suggested and head outside right away!

    It’s seldom that the northern lights show themselves above Reykjavik so we consider ourselves incredibly lucky that they showed up on one of the evenings we were there.  We watched them dance about before our naked eyes for a good 45 minutes or so before heading back to our hotel.

    Northern Lights over Reykjavik, Moonwalker ToursNorthern Lights over Reykjavik, Moonwalker Tours

    The reaction between the ions and gases in the atmosphere occurs year-round but it’s only in the winter that the night sky is dark enough to see them.  It makes sense then that the lights above the city are generally too bright to allow the northern lights though which is why most people head out of town to see them.

    Can I drive myself out of Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights?

    We had a rental car and could have driven ourselves out of the city but in our travels we noted a distinct lack of parking spots on the ring-road near Reykjavik.  This means that although it’s possible to drive yourself out of town, it’s not particularly practical to do so.  If you do want to give it a go, we’d suggest heading out towards the airport where the roads are quieter and it might be easier to find a quiet spot to stop – whatever you do though, don’t just pull aside on the Ring Road incase you cause an accident.

    To improve your chances of being in the right place at the right time, we’d definitely recommend booking yourself on a boat tour with Special Tours.

    If you’re heading to Iceland, be sure to pin this post for future reference!

    Special Tours Northern Lights Boat Tour review, Iceland, Reykjavik

    Thank you to Special Tours for so kindly welcoming us for the purpose of this review and for supplying the photos of the northern lights.  As always, all thoughts are our own.


  • Reply Marlies January 31, 2017 at 6:52 pm

    I also tried to see the Northern Lights when I was in Iceland. We also got a good forecast but didn’t see anythings 🙁 I did it with a bus but I had no idea there was a boat tour! Maybe I will do that next time I go Northern Lights hunting 🙂 😉

  • Reply Frenchie on the road January 31, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    Taking the boat to watch Northern lights seems to be a cool adventure! It’s a pity you didn’t get the best of them that night but still, it must be impressive!

  • Reply Ivy January 31, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    The Northern Lights are also one of our top reasons for wanting to visit Iceland! Glad to hear you guys were able to catch it without leaving Reykjavik. Makes up for the boat! What an incredible experience this must’ve been

  • Reply Jackie Taylor February 6, 2017 at 12:09 am

    The northern lights are so beautiful! It’s one of my goals to see these one day. They must look even more incredible in person!

  • Reply - Exploring Kiwis March 9, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    […] stage we’d not even met him in person but when he went out of his way to help us live out our northern-light-spotting dreams, we knew that Bessi was far more than your average tour […]

  • Leave a Reply

    Europe Norway Scandinavia/Nordic Countries

    Norway by RV: Day Three and Four – Røros, Oppdal & Trondheim

    January 26, 2017
    Norway RV Oppdal Trondheim Røros Touring Cars

    We recently returned from the most amazing week touring Norway in an RV and whilst on the road, I documented our travels, diary style.  We highly recommend travelling Norway by RV – not only was it a fantastic way to see the country but it provided us with tremendous flexibility and would easily be the most cost effective way of travelling the country independently.

    If you’ve not read our first two posts, be sure to read about picking up our RV and our day spent in Lillehammer (where we had the best fun tobogganing!) before starting on this one…

    Getting a Few Kilometres Under our Belts

    These past two days have been fairly uneventful – lots of driving and plenty of time to admire the spectacular scenery.

    We’ve covered a fair few miles as we decided to take the long way around to Røros rather than risk another road closure up in the mountains. There’s no doubt that getting around in Norway would be faster in the summer time but the beauty of the snow all around us, the glow of Christmas lights and the low numbers of cars on the road just can’t be beaten, even if it does mean we have to avoid the smaller roads due to snow.

    Heading to Røros

    Most of yesterday was spent driving the roundabout way to Røros with on beautiful stop at Oppdal, a little skiing town not far out of Trondheim. It reminded me very much of Queenstown back home in New Zealand but has two ski-fields sitting right there on the mountain beside the village. It was a beautiful spot and one that in retrospect we’d love to have spent more time at.

    Instead we continued though to Røros, a traditional little mining town. By the time we arrived at 8pm, everything but a few restaurants were closed for the day. The town itself was beautifully lit and decorated for Christmas and with snow spilling over awnings and icicles dropping from rooftops, it was the epitome of what I’ve always imagined when I think of a ‘white Christmas’.

    It may have just been the time of year but we did find the town to be incredibly sleepy; I imagine in summer when the days are longer and the national parks at their glorious best, it would be quite a different story.

    Regardless we enjoyed a wander through town before heading off and parking in a quiet spot in the forest, just out of town – our fingers firmly crossed for a moose sighting. We had no such luck but the road signs keep telling us that they’re around so we live in hope!

    Snuggled up nice and warm in our RV we drifted off to sleep and awoke to the gorgeous sunrises to which we’re becoming accustomed.

    A New Day and the Hope of Dog Sledding

    We contacted a number of dog sledding operations a few months back and never got a reply. Though we knew it was a long shot, we fired off one last email to each company and unfortunately for us, they were either fully booked or no longer running day trips.

    If you’re keen to go dog sledding in this part of Norway, we’d definitely recommend locking your tour in before you arrive in Røros. If you’re not intending on sledding in winter, we’d probably recommend saving yourself the driving time and foregoing Røros, opting instead to stay in Oppdal.

    Instead of sledding, we packed up the RV and backtracked through Trondheim to Oppdal (on the E6), before turning off on highway 70 headed for Stryn.

    The scenery though this part of the country is absolutely spectacular – massive fjords and mountains, punctuated by rapids and river are all covered to varying degrees in snow. Today it’s been raining when has made driving a bit easier, melting the ice and snow off of the road, though our RV seems to be able to handle whatever conditions are thrown at it with ease.

    Onto Stryn tomorrow – the adventure capital of Norway we’ve been told – bring it on!

    What Would we Have Done Differently?

    Knowing what we know now, we would have changed one of two things.

    1. Realising how much we actually wanted to go dog sledding (sometimes you just don’t know how badly you want something until it’s ruled out!) we would have pushed to lock in a booking, ensuring a spot with one of the few providers.
    2. Had we not been able to make the booking, we would have left Røros and Trondheim out altogether, instead opting to stay in Oppdal where we would have enjoyed the ski-resort vibe, gone swimming in the hot pools and headed up the mountain for some snowboarding.  It was such a gorgeous little town and as it directly services the ski-fields, would stay awake much longer into the evening.

    As it turned out, we spent the best part of each day getting to and from Røros without gaining much from the experience.  With that said though, half the fun of Norway for us was the journey itself and every step of the way was absolutely gorgeous!

    An RV-ing Tip

    Though we saw others driving RVs there weren’t many of us on the road – because of the relative lack of RVs (and obvious lack of people camping in tents) there were very few campsites open.  Though this wasn’t a worry (free camping, yes!) it did mean that filling up with fresh water and dumping our grey and black water became quite the event.

    The excitement we experienced the first time we found a dump station was far beyond anything I’d anticipated.  Driving around with full grey & black water tanks and empty white water tanks was starting to become a little bit of a worry but just outside of Oppdal we struck gold!  Oppdalsporten Rasteplass ended up having the best dump station that we found anywhere in Norway – having fresh water and a place to rid the RV of our waste water (all for free) meant we could continue on our journey, absolutely stress free.  It’s hard to believe now, but if you’d seen the look on our faces as we drove away, you’d have thought we’d won the lottery!

    Feeling inspired?  Grab an RV and head to Norway this winter for an adventure!  Oh and don’t forget to pin this post…

    Røros, Oppdal & Trondheim, Norway in an RV

    Thank you to Touring Cars Norway for providing us with a fantastic RV for the purpose of a review.  All thoughts are always our own.

    No Comments

    Leave a Reply

    Europe Iceland Scandinavia/Nordic Countries

    Iceland Itineraries: Exploring the South-East Coast

    January 19, 2017
    South-East Coast Iceland Itinerary

    For many, Iceland is an absolute bucket-list destination.  We were no different.  After months of planning we finally made it to Iceland and started on the most amazing itinerary.  Though we had countless incredible experiences planned, there was one that piqued our excitement (a bucket-list experience in a bucket-list location, if you will) – ice caving on the South-East coast.  We could not have been more excited to explore these gorgeous blue caves but unfortunately for us, it wasn’t to be.

    The combination of unseasonably warm weather in the months leading up to our visit and the incoming rains, left the ice caves flooded and too dangerous to enter, which unfortunately for us, meant our dreams of ice caving in Iceland had to be put on ice.

    winter South East Iceland Itinerary Ring Road Glacier Adventure

    With accommodation booked and a rental car to hand, we made the decision to drive through the storm and see what this part of the island offers – after all, what did we have to lose?

    As it turns out, the South-East coast is a veritable treasure-trove of delights and we left the area without an ounce of regret.

    If you’re headed to Iceland, this guide will help you decide if you want to drive the Ring Road to the South-East Coast.

    PS: You definitely want to!

    If you’ve got extra time, why not use this itinerary to navigate all the way around the island?  Once you’ve started on the Ring Road, you may not want to stop!

    Must See Spots on Iceland’s South-East Coast


    Only 10-15 minutes from our accommodation we found ourselves at Jökulsárlón, one of Iceland’s very best natural wonders.  If you’re driving from Reykjavik, pull off the road directly after the  suspension bridge crossing the Jökulsá River (left towards the glacier lagoon, right towards the beach) and if you’re making the easy drive from Hali Country Lodge, simply turn off right before the bridge.  Both stops are walking distance from one another and equally worth your time.

    Diamond Beach

    Striking fine black sand, scattered with diamonds – when you walk onto this beach, you’ll know without a shadow of a doubt that you’re in Iceland.  We spent a great deal of time at Diamond Beach, initially enjoying the cloudy sky but relatively mind weather, before the heavens opened and poured hail like we’ve never seen before.  They say if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, to wait five minutes for it to change – truer words have not been spoken!

    We had a great time taking in the gorgeous sites of Diamond Beach.  Each chunk of ice had its own unique colour – some crystal clear, others cloudy and more still glowing with a beautiful blue hue.  These sites are exactly what bring people to Iceland!

    If you’re paying this beach a visit (or any of the Icelandic beaches, for that matter), do keep an eye out for the occasional large waves that wash up.  We’d kept a good eye on the swell but still managed to get caught out with our backs to the water a fair way up the beach.  Luckily I came away only with wet feet and a smile still on my face but I can imagine not everyone would be so fortunate.

    Jökulsárlón Diamond Beach South East Iceland Itinerary Ring Road

    Jökulsárlón Diamond Beach winter South East Iceland Itinerary Ring Road

    Glacier Lagoon

    Across the road from Diamond Beach, massive icebergs float just out of reach of the shore.  Though the wind was wicked, we had a fantastic time wandering the shore, climbing the neighbouring stoney hill and checking out the beautiful colours of the icebergs.  In breaks in the weather, the glacier at the mouth of the lagoon glanced out at us, its gorgeous blue shining through the last of the fog.

    What a spot!

    Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Iceland winter South East Iceland Itinerary Ring Road


    Located within the Vatnajökull National Park, Skaftafell has become one of the most popular natural destinations in Iceland.  During the summer, there’s a cafeteria open to welcome guests but in the winter, that wasn’t the case.  The information centre runs all year around, ready to give advice and selling some basic supplies and souvenirs.

    Let’s face it though, you’re there to immerse yourself in the gorgeous natural beauty of Iceland and regardless of the time of year, you’ll have no problem doing that.  The glacier is an easy 30 minute walk from the information centre (where you’ll find plenty of parking) and should you wish, glacier walks can also be arranged.

    Skaftafell Glacier Iceland winter South East Iceland Itinerary Ring Road

    If you’re looking for waterfalls (and there’s no shortage of stunning ones!) check out this guide to the top 15 waterfalls in Iceland (many of which are on the South Coast).

    Also, be sure to stop off at the abandoned DC-3 on your way back to Reykjavik – it was one of the highlights of our visit.

    Do I Need a Car to Get to the South-East Coast of Iceland?

    Though it’s possible to join private tours that will take you to the South-East Coast, we decided to hire our own 4WD through Geysir and drove ourselves (though we did head out on guided tours later in our trip which we very much enjoyed!)

    Doing so allowed us maximum freedom at minimal cost and because we planned on spending our free day in Hali out in the ice caves, it was the only sensible choice – it wouldn’t have made sense to book in a tour just to spend our only free day doing something else.

    The Ring Road around the island is kept in great condition and even during the winter’s first major storm (snow and hail far beyond anything these Kiwis had seen before) we felt relatively comfortable driving, even as we approached midnight.

    The time of year you visit will of course have a large impact on your driving experience but even with our lack of experience driving in such wintery conditions, a bit of common sense (combined with studded tires) saw us right.

    If you’re a reasonable driver, you should be able to handle the Icelandic driving conditions without concern.

    Whatever you decide to do in regards to transport, you’ll be treated to the most spectacular views every step of the way.

    Rental car iceland South-East Coast winter Skaftafell Glacier Iceland winter South East Iceland Itinerary Ring Road

    Rental car iceland South-East Coast winter Skaftafell Glacier Iceland winter South East Iceland Itinerary Ring RoadWhere to Stay on the Coast

    Though the South-East Coast of Iceland is a comfortable drive from Reykjavík, it is a fairly big one, and with so much to do there, you’ll definitely want a few nights there.  We spent two nights at the Hali Country Hotel but could have easily made it three or four.

    The hotel is warm, cosy and on a good night, the perfect spot to see the Northern Lights.  To spend time in the depths of the country with so few lights and such a peaceful calm was a real treat and the perfect way to chill out at the start of our holiday after a busy few months at work.

    Whether lounging in the generously sized shared areas or relaxing in your room, Hali Country Hotel is the perfect spot to unwind after a day spent making the most of everything the area has to offer.  The beds themselves are of course comfortable and the rooms generously sized – the hotel is unassuming and provides exactly what it says.  We really couldn’t have wished for more.

    Onsite you’ll find a restaurant that’s open to purchase meals from (and it serves the most fantastic cook breakfast which is included in the price of your room – bonus!) which is handy as the lodge itself is fairly remote.

    Is it Really Worth Making the Trip to the South-Eastern Coast?

    After questioning whether it was worth heading five hours out into the countryside knowing that our ice caving had been cancelled we were so incredibly pleased we forged ahead.  Iceland offers the most spectacular and diverse landscapes imaginable and to bounce around from icebergs to glaciers, rugged black-sand beaches to mountain peaks, it just doesn’t get any better.

    Absolutely – make the trip!

    If you’re planning a trip to Iceland or want to help someone out that is, don’t forget to pin this post!

    Incredible Iceland South East Coast Itinerary Ring Road

    Thank you to the Hali Country Hotel for hosting whilst on the South-East Coast and to Geysir Car Rentals for subsidising our ride.  As always, all thoughts are our own.


  • Reply Jenni January 21, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    I loved Iceland when I visited last January you look like you were as cold as I was lol but it is so worth it to see the northern lights and the spectacular scenery. Did you notice the smell of eggs too. The Hali country hotel looks cozy and a great place to spend the night after hunting for the lights

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis January 22, 2017 at 10:54 am

      It was cold but such a nice change from Abu Dhabi – I must admit, I really enjoyed it but it’s different when you’re all rugged up in the right gear. We sure did notice to smell – Rotorua back home is the same way though so it wasn’t new for us. It was an amazing trip! What was your Icelandic highlight?

  • Reply Rachel Elizabeth January 22, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    I wish I would’ve gone to the ice caves! I went to Iceland last winter and missed out! I think a return trip is in order. Loved it there. Glacier Lagoon looks incredible too.

  • Reply cosmosmariners January 23, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    My family and I are hoping to fit in a trip to Iceland this year, and your post makes me even more excited to finally take that trip! We’ll definitely be doing a road trip whenever we get there since I love the flexibility a rental car allows you to have when traveling.

  • Reply Jenna Kvidt January 24, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Iceland is one of our favorite places! That’s too bad you missed out on the ice caves. We have been wanting to do that too, but we were there during the wrong time of year. Guess it’s a reason to plan another trip back! 🙂 So glad to hear you had a wonderful trip and this makes me want to head back for another visit!

  • Reply Nuria Vidal January 27, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    AAhhhhhh Iceland !!! How I love this land. Been there in Nov-Dec and had a blast! Everywhere you look is breathtaking, otherworldly! Love all your suggestions!

  • Reply Cory Varga January 28, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Your photos are stunning. I always wanted to see the Northern lights and what a better place than in Iceland. I can’t wait to visit, we are planning on checking Iceland out on March and maybe doing a road trip. I’m so glad I came across these pictures. Pinning this!

  • Reply How to See Iceland's Golden Circle Without the Crowds - Exploring Kiwis April 23, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    […] Have more time up your sleeve?  Check out Snæfellsnes Peninsula or the South-East Coast of Iceland. […]

  • Reply Campervans Iceland (@CampersIceland) March 27, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    I would say a big YES to exploring the east side of Iceland. I’m sure Nathan & Sarah would agree? 🙂 Here you have additional info on traveling in the east Iceland:
    Happy travels!

  • Leave a Reply

    Activities Adventure Eco Tourism Europe Iceland Mid-Range Reviews Scandinavia/Nordic Countries

    Snorkelling the Clearest Waters in the World in Sub-Zero Temperatures – Incredible Iceland

    January 7, 2017
    Scuba Iceland Snorkel Silfra review

    It’s not everyday you snorkel in water that floats around 2 degrees, tucked into the rift between two tectonic plates but that’s exactly what we got to do in Iceland!

    With snow on the ground and a chill in the air, we were promptly picked up from our hotel by Scuba Iceland and after collecting another two sets of guests, made our way out to the Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir).

    Warming up inside the visitors centre, Astrid, our guide, filled us in on both the geographical and political significance of the area.  Much more than just a national park, the rift valley has an interesting history, having been home to the viking parliament in Iceland (where they understandably only met in the summer time!) and now one of the best examples anywhere in the world of the effects that consistent tectonic plate movement can have.  Looking back over the valley, it’s clear where the American and Eurasian plates stop and the gap in between – the rift valley – provides the perfect spot to snorkel and dive in some of the clearest water in the world.

    Back in the van, we headed over to another site, only a few minutes away to get suited up.  With water temperatures staying a daily constant 2-4 degrees regardless of the time of year, the same equipment is used year-round.  We stripped down to our base layer of thermals (no need for swimming togs as with any luck, you won’t really get wet!) and donned smooshy marshmallow-like onesies for warmth.  On top of those went wooden socks and then the hard part – getting into our dry suits.  After a fair bit of pulling, squeezing and manoeuvring, we were snuggly in our suits.  With seals checked, we added neoprene mittens and hoods, masks and snorkels and flippers to our outfits and were ready to go.

    We began the relatively short walk over to the entry point at the start of the fissure, where a platform and stairs have been built to assist adventurers in getting in.  Good thing too as after waiting around for about 30 minutes in sub-zero temperatures, we appreciated having an easy point of entry to the water!

    Tentatively making our way into the fissure, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  It was the first time in a drysuit for any of us and the feeling of water closing in around first our boots and then our legs and torso, whilst remaining dry was an interesting one.  

    Before we knew it though, it was time for our hands to enter the water and our faces – suddenly we had first-hand knowledge of just how cold the water was!  Throughout the snorkel, our hands and face/head were the only things exposed to the elements but it was a good thing that was all as I don’t think my fingers have ever been so cold!

    After approximately 30 minutes in the water, we curved back into a sheltered lagoon where the option to continue snorkelling around was given.  With hands like ice-blocks, I charged right for the steps and clambered out of the water to begin thawing them out.  Standing there, looking back on the water, I couldn’t help but feel like we’d just experienced something that most people would never get to.

    After making the relatively short walk back to the vans, we got out of our gear (which was a heck of a lot easier than getting into it!), warmed up in our own clothes and enjoyed a delicious treat of the most amazing hot chocolate (complete with cookies to dunk).

    Snorkelling through the Silfra Fissure was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  We were mesmerised by the beautifully crisp, clear water and the rock formations surrounding us.  Jumping in was a real adrenaline rush and as we snorkelled along, it was hard to believe that we were in the middle of two tectonic plates, swimming through an Icelandic fissure that was covered in snow with crystal-clear water that hovered just above freezing – one for the bucket list for sure!

    Save this post for later – why not pin it?

    Scuba Iceland Snorkel Silfra Rift Review

    Thank you to Scuba Iceland for allowing us to join them for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

    No Comments

    Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: