Confessions of a Timid Rider,  Travels

Icelandic Adventures: Horses, Northern Lights, and Iconic Landscapes

Confession: I love to travel and going to Iceland to see the Northern Lights and ride the horses are on the top of my bucket list.

My husband and I travel together for our wedding anniversary ever few years. Covid-19 and the pandemic put a little delay in those plans, but despite it all we were able to fulfill my dream of visiting Iceland.

Some may think I’m a little crazy for going during the winter but if you’ve followed along at all you may realize by now that I don’t mind the cold as much as I do the heat. More importantly, I was determined to see the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.

The flight is easy from New York and we had arranged our visit with a travel agent so that my busy brain didn’t have to worry about anything once we were there.

We stayed in Reykavik Center, within walking distance of the harbor and so many amazing shops and bistros. The food is beyond tasty and fresh. I would return to Iceland for the restaurants alone. Each meal was better than the one before.

Northern Lights Tour

We took the red eye from New York and spent the day taking a little cat nap (we arrived at 8 AM and it was pitch black). In November there are only five hours of daylight on average and because of that we definitely felt the time difference more than we may have otherwise. We took a cat nap to reenergize then walked the city center and had dinner at a high end restaurant. Our goal was to stay awake for our bus tour of the Aurora Borealis later that evening which began at 7 PM.

The bus driver and tour guide were phenomenal (Gray Line Bus Tours). Our guide told us stories of growing up in the countryside and the first time he saw the Northern Lights, how much it impacted him. We drove the peninsula, being regaled with stories and legends, all while trying to look for a break in the cloud cover to view the phenomenon.

Unfortunately, despite three hours of searching the rain and clouds didn’t break and we were unable to view the lights. We were so disappointed but I was so tired that all I wanted was my hotel room. There are no refunds because of weather but the tour company gives out credits to try again at another time for no additional charge.

Blue Lagoon

One of the more popular attractions is the Blue Lagoon spa. It started as a spillover from the geothermal plant nearby, and found to have incredible natural healing properties with the lava rock, minerals, and micro algae that contains high amounts of collagen.

We soaked for hours, applied face masks made from the silica found in the pool, and even had a unique in-water massage. I will always say yes to a relaxing massage and was incredibly intrigued by the fact it would be in the water. I was laid on a floating mat with a towel over my body to keep me warm. The massage therapist floated me in a secluded area, relieving tension from underneath while we moved, and it was the most relaxing and soothing experience I’ve ever had.

At the end of the day we showered and changed for dinner in the Lava restaurant on site to finish a wonderful day.

The Golden Circle

When preparing for my trip, everyone mentioned the Golden Circle, which is a circular route in Western Iceland to see a variety of national parks, geysers, and waterfalls. This tour can take an entire day and plan to wear layers. The most useful thing that I brought was a pair of cramp-ons to fit over my boots and keep me stable on the ice, which was everywhere. My husband fell multiple times but I remained standing through it all!

Instead of a big tour, we opted instead to have a private driver. Not only was he incredibly knowledgeable but he was good company and took us to some smaller places that the big buses could not visit. We visited an amazing volcanic crater and had a farm-to-table meal at a tomato house in the southern part of Iceland.

Words cannot express the splendor of Iceland’s landscapes so I hope my photos will help. Next time I visit, and there will be a next time, I will bring my Nikon to try and do it justice.

Horses of Iceland

I’ll be honest that one of the biggest draws to visit Iceland was to see and ride the horses. Jason and I had the pleasure of riding Icelandic horses in Vermont a few years ago, so we were a little familiar. Still, there is nothing like combining this amazing breed that is distantly descended from Mongolian horses and other breeds brought by the Vikings, in the lush lava fields of their home country.

Icelandic horses are small but sturdy. They are a gaited breed, known for their calm, easygoing nature. I’ve had the privilege to work with a few and truly enjoy them as a breed.

We rode in the pouring rain at Ishestar, decked out in waterproof gear. I had to wear a baseball cap under my helmet to protect my glasses from the water but otherwise was extremely comfortable. The animals had studded horse shoes and we rode walk, trot, and tolt (an incredibly comfortable four-beat gait like a power walk) across the icey trails.

My big flex was the ability to mount from the ground, well from a large rock on the ground, my hips aren’t great. We took a break halfway through the ride to take photos and give the horses a few minutes to graze or relax. My husband and I had chosen the “fast ride” which for this tour was no faster than a tolt with the footing, and while it was too slow for some of the more experienced riders, I enjoyed being in the moment and was just happy to be there.

Truthfully, the ride was over before I was ready and I felt like it was just a small taste. I’d love to return and ride in the highlands and truly test my self and my confidence a bit, especially since the horse’s are so wonderful!

I fell in love with my horse Fljuga who was forward without being hot and truly made me comfortable despite the initial nerves. When it comes time to look for trail horse when we have our Vermont farm, it will absolutely be an Icelandic horse for myself.

Iceland is a stunning country of incredible scenery, friendly people full of stories and traditions, and unique horses. Five days is just enough to catch a glimpse of incredible culture and tease me with a desire to return and spend more time.

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