Before I visited Iceland, I hated the idea of tours. Too often when travelling I see hoards of tourists pour out of buses, take over a tourist destination, photograph everything, look at nothing and leave. As a result, I’m pretty dismissive of tours and prefer to organise my own itinerary – but when I travelled to Iceland earlier this year, I knew it was somewhere I couldn’t do myself. As part of our Secret Escapes deal (which I talked about in my previous post on how to visit Iceland on a budget), four tours were included in our package so today I wanted to talk about each and whether they were worth it.
1. Golden Circle Tour
Rather than the full Golden Circle tour, we chose the ‘Express’ option from Reykjavik Tours and it covered all of the things I wanted to visit; Thingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall and the Strokkur Geysir. Although I’d heard all about the nature of Iceland, this country really is like another planet. It’s unlike anywhere I have visited and being able to explore the most famous parts of the countryside was astounding. I could have watched the Strokkur Geysir, which erupts every few minutes, all day and not have got bored! A truly incredible experience, and one which is different every time you visit depending on the weather and time of year.
Would I recommend? 100%! Exploring the stunning landscape of Iceland was an incredible experience and one I would definitely recommend. If you’re brave, hire a car and do it yourself but if you want a more structured experience, go for the tour.
2. Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon has grown in such popularity over recent years that we struggled to book a slot during our trip. Every slot was sold out except the final 8pm slot. I’ve never seen any photos of the Blue Lagoon at night but the experience was incredible! Just imagine floating in hot water, watching the steam rise above you into the dark, starry sky – magical. To make our evening even more magical, on the bus back from the Blue Lagoon we spotted them; the Northern Lights like a haze across the Icelandic skyline. Just amazing!
The Blue Lagoon is expensive, and if you want a cheaper thermal experience then check out the Secret Lagoon instead, but one review I read pointed out that if you think of the Blue Lagoon as a spa, the price is suddenly much more affordable and I like this logic.
Would I recommend? If you can afford it, the Blue Lagoon really is a must visit. Try visiting at sunset for an amazing spa experience – and you might see the Northern Lights in the same evening too!
3. Northern Lights
The Northern Lights were the number one reason I have wanted to visit Iceland for so long and it was lucky we had spotted them on our way back from the Blue Lagoon as both of official trips were cancelled due to bad weather. The tour companies are very honest; if there is no chance of seeing the lights, the trip is cancelled so you know that if your tour runs, your chances are pretty good. However, there is no policy of refunds so if your tour is cancelled, like our was, you can reschedule but not get a refund. As both of our attempts were cancelled, we paid for a tour we didn’t actually get to go on.
As our Northern Lights tour was included in our Secret Escapes package, we didn’t lose out too much (and if I return to Iceland, I can use our tickets again). However, if you are planning on booking your tour separately I would advise not to book until you arrive in Iceland. Then you will only book onto a tour if it’s running and not waste your money – and hopefully see the lights!
Would I recommend? Yes but don’t pre-book; book when you’re in Iceland instead to maximise your chances of seeing those famous Lights. I’m gutted that I didn’t manage to capture them on my camera!
4. Whale watching
Before I visited Iceland, whale watching was probably at the bottom of my list as I didn’t expect to see anything. However, although we weren’t lucky with the Northern Lights, we were so lucky with our whale watching trip which we went on with Elding Whale Watching. The name of the tour is misleading as the season was wrong for whales but we did see pod after pod of dolphins. The experience was incredible as we were treated to a rare sight of pods of dolphins co-feeding; circling to move fish to allow each other to dive and feed more easily.
Would I recommend? Like the Northern Lights tour, whale watching is a risk but if you see some wildlife, it’s so worth it!
So all in all, I’ve ended up recommending all of the tours – oops! However, each tour has its pros and cons, depending on what you are looking for from your trip to Iceland. If I had to choose just one then the Golden Circle tour is an incredible experience, at any time of year, and something I want to experience again!