Christmas in Reykjavik


Post written by Laura

Throwback Thursday

Date visited: December 2005

I was excited to be visiting Iceland for the first time as I anticipated spectacular wintery scenery, mulled wine at quaint Christmas markets and being in awe of the Northern Lights.

Unfortunately for me only one of these materialised during the 4 days I spent there back in 2005.

Iceland looked very white as the plane came into land at Reykjavik Airport at around 4 pm. Strangely it reminded me of landing in Luxor 6 months previously except this time the white landscape was due to snow rather than sand!

It was starting to get dark as the plane landed and being connected to the terminal via a tunnel I didn’t experience what I imagined to be a freezing blast as I set foot outside of the plane!

Church in Reykjavik

Disappointingly it wasn’t actually that cold. The forecast for the next few days for Reykjavik was “wet and warm” which meant it would be raining and about 5 or 6 degrees and warmer than London!

During the 50 km drive from the airport to Reykjavik we passed large expanses of desolate snowy lava fields. As we approached Reykjavik I noticed that almost every flat and house had Christmas lights. I later learned that the Iceland people are quite religious and all love to celebrate Christmas. 

My first impressions of Reykjavik with its thin layer of ground snow was all straight roads and roundabouts… and with less traffic it was a bit like a quiet version of Milton Keynes.

My companion and I stayed in the Hotel Leifer Erikkson which was was a budget 2*. The hotel was named after the Viking that discovered Iceland in the year 1000. Fortunately it was located in an excellent position for the shops and restaurants of the city and right opposite the large famous church (as shown in the above photo).

I booked some excursions with Shaun the white Namibian receptionist. He was very helpful and also recommended a traditional Icelandic restaurant for us to try and assured us it would not be too expensive.

Christmas lights in Reykjavik

Soon we were heading off to explore Reykjavik walking down the main street with all of its Christmas lights and Christmas trees. We soon came face to face with a large group of people walking along with candles and discovered this was a march for peace!

We found an Irish bar and were taken aback at the price for two drinks – a glass of red wine and a beer cost £14! It was quite a strange little bar with ‘cubby holes’ made out of various doors! Yes – doors all fixed together to make cubby holes! 

After wandering around up and down the streets trying to find the restaurant called Zoo as recommended by Shaun the hotel receptionist, we eventually found it. We were so pleased to find it that we just walked straight in and were given a table for two. However, the smile soon disappeared when we opened the menu and discovered the average main course to be over £30!

I enjoyed a traditional Iceland dish of Lamb Bearnaise which was lamb with a buttery white wine sauce served with lots of vegetables with cranberries and a jacket potato. The bill for two mains, one bottle of wine and no starters or desserts came to £80!

Troll in the garden centre

Christmas Eve exploring the Golden Circle

As to be expected in a 2* hotel, breakfast was fairly basic consisting of cereal, cheese, ham, jam, toast and coffee. I was excited to be going on the ‘Golden Circle’ excursion which promised to showcase many of the breathtaking natural sights of southern Iceland.  

It was still pitch black when the mini bus arrived at 8:00 am to begin the tour. We were fortunate to be the first pick up and as such were able to sit on the front seats.

We were driven for an hour or so until we came to a strange garden centre type of place to stop for a break. Even more bizarre was that we were standing amidst a mini banana plantation! The place was like Santa’s Grotto with thousands of Christmas decorations and also a few trolls. Trolls and elves are a thing in Iceland where most of the population believe in them. We had a drink in there before heading back to the bus. 


By now it was 10 am and only just starting to get a tiny bit light. It felt weird to be driving around mid morning while it was still dark outside!

Our mini bus driver was excellent and keen to share his knowledge with us. He gave us a great deal of information about Iceland as he drove us to the next stop which was some craters. It was cold, dark and windy but we could just about make out the crater.


Thankfully there was a little more daylight by the time we arrived at our next stop which was Skálholt cathedral, one of the most historic places in Iceland. It has been a cultural and educational center for over 700 years and still attracts musicians, choirs and is used as a place for retreats. We had a look inside the cathedral which was also a place of pilgrimage during mediaeval times.

Waterfall with salmon ladder

The next stop was at a waterfall which had a salmon ladder to enable salmon to jump up to each level and get up the waterfall.


Next we went to the main waterfall Gullfoss, the ‘Golden Waterfall’ which was quite awesome. We had to be very careful as it was snowy and icy and therefore slippery. The driver had already warned us that there had been a few accidents at Gullfoss waterfall throughout the last year or so and with a small, low level rope separating us from the thousands of gallons of water, we did have to be careful. At the time I thought it was the most spectacular waterfall I had ever seen!


It was now lunchtime and we walked up to a nearby café where we enjoyed a traditional lunch of lamb, potato and vegetable soup for a cost of £8 per portion.

Geyser Strokkur

Fortunately the rain had held off for the waterfall, however, our next stop was at the geothermal area and the geysers where it had begun to rain. Strokkur Geyser is the most active and one of the most visited of Icelands geysers. It erupts every 4 – 10 minutes and was quite fascinating to watch. The water coming from them was boiling and we were warned not to test the temperature with our hands! 

Geyser Strokkur

The pool of water bubbles and gurgles and then, just before it goes off, it bubbles up and then suddenly erupts sending a jet of water up to 15 – 20 meters high.

Hot spring

Surrounding Geyser Strokkur were a number of hot springs and bubbling mud pits!

Reykjavik Harbour

Finally the mini bus took us back to Reykjavik where the driver kindly took us on a short tour of the city and pointed out some sights.

We had asked the driver to drop us off in the town centre so we could walk back to the hotel. As we did so the streets seemed eerily quiet. It was Christmas Eve and we thought the streets would be buzzing with activity. But nothing was open and nobody was about!

We went back to the hotel and had some of the complimentary hot chocolate which was being offered in the reception area. The receptionist advised our pre-booked trip to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) had been cancelled due to the cloudy weather. He also explained that most places would be closed and the only restaurant open would be at the Hotel Borg between 6 and 8 pm.

Pond in the centre of Reyjkavik

We walked for a few minutes to the Hotel Borg but they informed us they were only open for their own residents. We trudged around the deserted streets but were unable to find a single open bar or restaurant. Luckily a kebab shop was open so we brought a bag of chips and headed back to the hotel.  

We spent the evening in the hotel and had the quietest Christmas Eve ever feeling like we were in a ghost town. We popped back out a bit later but literally nothing was open. No bars or restaurants or even hotels. There was no traffic on the roads only the odd tourist looking lost and bewildered. The kebab shop was still open so our Christmas Eve meal was a slightly under-cooked cheeseburger with more soggy chips where we sat on our own in the corner of the depressing kebab shop on plastic chairs with a plastic tablecloth.

The evening of Christmas Eve was very disappointing however the day tour of the Golden Circle was fabulous! Visiting Iceland just after the shortest daylight day of the year meant that it never really got fully light while we were there and the dull cloudy weather didn’t help. I would love to see some of the amazing sights of Iceland in the summer!

Blue Lagoon

Christmas Day and the Blue Lagoon

We woke up to heavy rain this morning. We had breakfast and phoned our families to wish them a Happy Christmas. It didn’t feel like Christmas for us as everything was shut and with it being so dark, windy and raining outside we had nowhere to go!

Fortunately we were soon to be visiting the Blue Lagoon, the hot thermal springs. The Blue Lagoon is a natural spring bath, made from hot water bubbling up from under the Earth.

The mini bus picked us up from the hotel and as we approached just before 2 pm we could see the steam rising at the Blue Lagoon.

Blue Lagoon

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked through to the changing rooms to change into my swimwear. When ready I walked outside into the cold air and quickly got into to the lagoon where it immediately felt like a gorgeous warm bath.

Most of the lagoon was about waist deep and it was essential to keep our shoulders under the water with our heads surfacing in the steam above. The water was very buoyant and so relaxing. There was a layer of black sand covering most of the bottom of the lagoon although we couldn’t actually see this as the water was very cloudy.  

The pool was surrounded by the black lava rocks, contrasting with the almost luminous blue water. It felt quite weird and like being in some kind of radioactive laboratory! 

Blue Lagoon

We made our way to one side of the pool where we could put clay onto our faces which had special natural properties good for people with skin conditions such as eczema and it was also said to make you look 10 years younger!

Everyone was putting it onto their face, so we did too. You are supposed to leave it on to dry, but the next thing we did (with our clay face pack on) was to be massaged under the waterfall, which kind of washed it all off! It was a lovely feeling standing under the waterfall with the water pounding the back of my neck and shoulders.  

There wasn’t many people in the pool so it wasn’t at all crowded which was great. We slowly wandered around the pool passing through the warm water. There were lights which showed where the warmest spots were which were lovely. We came across a few seats under the water but due to the amount of salt in the water, it was quite difficult to actually sit down without our legs rising up! 

We headed back to the clay where I put some more clay on my face and actually left it to dry. It only took about 10 minutes so I washed it off and my skin did feel very soft and smooth and exfoliated!

Water next to the Blue Lagoon

All in all it was a relaxing and wonderful experience. It felt so good chilling in the warm water and felt quite surreal with the sky being at a kind of twilight darkness with the mist rising from the pool. Kind of strange and mysterious. Certainly an excellent experience not to be missed.

We reluctantly had to leave after just over an hour. The shower area was very clean with complimentary shampoo, conditioner and shower-gel. I certainly felt very relaxed and chilled out and pampered.  

We had a snack and a drink in the Blue Lagoon café and were pleasantly surprised by the relatively cheap prices.

We were driven back to Reykjavik and dropped back at our hotel. We were not surprised to learn that our re-booked trip to see the Northern Lights was cancelled again. And that unfortunately most of the bars and restaurants would also be closed again. We had a cup of complimentary cappuccino and went to the room.

We found BBC1 on the TV but it was just in time for ‘The Christmas day edition of EastEnders!’ Nooooooooooooo!!!! 

We ventured out a bit later in the evening in search of some food and drinks but it was still raining hard and Reykjavik was still closed! We tried some more hotels but they were all closed with the only open place being the kebab corner shop again.

We reluctantly entered planning a pizza tonight but no! Pizzas, fish, lamb kebabs etc were all off the menu. We had a choice of cheeseburger, chicken kebab or vegetarian kebab.  

Settling for the vegetarian kebab we trudged back to the hotel in the rain, clutching our Christmas dinner all wrapped up in foil.

We sat at the bar asking the receptionist/bar man questions about what we can do tomorrow. It soon became apparent that everything is off for tomorrow too! The puffins have migrated, so no bird watching on the famous cliffs; the whales have also migrated, so no whale-watching; many of the roads to remote places are too dangerous because of the rain making them slippery so some trips are off; most of the Reykjavik attractions would still be closed tomorrow.

The Northern Lights trip was also off due to cloudy conditions, the cave trip was off as this only runs at weekends (and the next day was Monday); the dog sledding has not yet started as there is not enough snow. The only thing that was available the following day was a trip to the Blue Lagoon… 

Eventually we discovered that there was actually a trip running the next day to the place in the mid Atlantic where the North American and the European tectonic plates meet. That sounded exciting so we booked it.   

Viking boat

Boxing Day at the Reykanes Peninsula

After breakfast, together with a young couple we were picked up by mini bus for the trip to the Reykjanes peninsula. A small amount of snow had settled overnight.

We headed off in the dark with the driver giving an interesting running commentary about Iceland, Icelandic people and their way of life. We were surprised to find that the average salary in Iceland is only about 12,000 to 15,000 krona per month (approximately £1200 – £1500). He said that Icelanders don’t go out very often and beer has only been legalised since the late 1980’s. 

The first stop was at a real Viking ship. It was on display next to the sea and was used in 2000 by some young men to sail to America in! We took some pictures but it was still dark at this point. (Sightseeing in the dark was weird). 

Reykanes Peninsula

We then went on to a place called Mid Point, the exact spot where the European and North American plates meet. (Reykjavik is actually in North America and not Europe). There is a small footbridge which divides the two plates which we walked across. Although it was too dark for any photos to show, it was starting to get light at this time and we could see how the plates are moving. They are moving apart by an inch per year.  

Reykanes Peninsula

We then drove to the tip of the peninsula and saw the bird cliff (although just a few seagulls were present as it is winter) and watched the enormous waves crashing against the black lava cliffs. I think they are the biggest waves I have ever seen and it was certainly a powerful natural sight to watch. It was also freezing cold at this point, about -5 degrees.  

Hot springs at Reykanes

We drove a short distance to the hot bubbling craters in the ground. This area was covered in grassy mossy stuff as a result of the warmer conditions. There was a small bridge/platform we could stand on over some of the bubbling craters which was completely steamy. 

We ended the trip by driving to the Blue Lagoon where I had a Danish pastry and some fresh orange before boarding the coach back to Reykjavik. It began snowing a bit harder on the way back and the lava landscape became white again.  

The driver dropped us off first right outside our hotel. It was still snowing but as it was now almost 1 pm we thought we would make the most of the daylight and have another look around Reykjavik.  

We walked down the main shopping street towards the town centre. Although the odd café and supermarket were now open, most shops still remained closed. Not like Boxing Day in England where everyone goes mad for the sales!

The weather not very nice and we were getting wet and wetter so we found a museum called the ‘Culture House’ which was open and contained a lot of interesting information about the history of Iceland.  

We had a quick walk around to find a café but decided to buy some lunch from a supermarket and take it back to the hotel to eat. 

We by now discovered it was illegal for shops to sell wine or spirits. It is possible to purchase beer but wine has to be brought from either a special government shop or from bars or restaurants.

We had a pleasant and relaxing afternoon back in the hotel. We watched a film (most of the TV is in English with Icelandic subtitles) with a baguette each, some crisps and snacks and drinks. 

The Northern Lights trip was cancelled again so I had to accept I wouldn’t be lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis on this trip.

Later that evening we walked down the main street and were ecstatic to find a few bars and restaurants that were open. Hurrah! We came across a Chinese restaurant called the ‘Asian’ and after checking the prices discovered they did a set meal for £22.00. The restaurant was about half full when we entered. The food was pretty average but a huge improvement on the kebab corner shop!


We had a pick up at 5.30 am ready for an early flight at 9 am the following morning.

With its wild and dramatic landscapes Iceland is a magnificent place to visit. However with Icelandic people traditionally celebrating Christmas in their homes, Reykjavik simply shut everything down! So I would highly recommend not choosing Iceland for a Christmas break! And I didn’t see any sign of a Christmas market with mulled wine either.

However I’m really keen to visit Iceland again at some point and have grand plans to drive the Iceland ring road although that would be in the summer!

In 2005 I had never heard of ‘blogging’ and never did I imagine that 18 years later I would be re-producing my trip notes and uploading my photos into an online space where I could instantly re-live my travel experiences at any time and from any device. FaceBook had not long been devised back then and Twitter didn’t exist!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s