We were looking forward to this trip as we planned it ages ago, and it was great!
Iceland is a very easy place: things work, people are nice (and everyone speaks English), everything is good quality and it’s very chilled out. A great place to go to wind down. Also great for all things nature.
Everything in Iceland is done through organised tours. These are the easiest way to get around and prices are good for what you get.
It is really easy to book things – you can do it in advance, at your hotel, at the plane, at the bus terminals… you really can’t miss it. And you can normally do it on the day of the tour as well, which makes it really easy.
In the winter tours are subject to last-minute cancellations, but most tours are refundable or you can choose to go on another day if available. Tours pick you up at your hotel so again it’s very convenient.
The most popular tour provider is Reykjavik Excursions.
Icelandair was the tour provider we used and they have many options. They use Reykjavik Excursions as their tour provider.
WHEN TO GO:
We went in the winter to see the Northern Lights, but it seems that is only popular with the British. The high season is actually in the summer.
In the winter it is very cold, and you will always risk having your day tours cancelled because of poor weather conditions (we were going to do a glacier walk but that was cancelled), so you should take that into account. In the summer you can go whale watching and it’s also the best time to go to the national parks to see geysers and waterfalls.
The winter highlight is definitely the Northern Lights – if you’re lucky enough to see them (we were). The heating is very good everywhere, so at least you don’t feel cold when you’re inside places.
You have to be lucky, but this is definitely the highlight of any trip to Iceland.
Because the weather is so unpredictable, tours are often cancelled, or worse – you might be driven around in the middle of the night and not even see anything!
We were very lucky to see it – the night before tours went but the lights were not there to be seen, and in the two days that followed our trip the tours were cancelled. If your tour is cancelled you can do it on the next night.
There’s no point trying to photograph it unless you have a SLR. Normal point and shoot cameras will not register anything. Which is just as well because the lights move around quite quickly and you wouldn’t want to miss it!
Be prepared to feel cold. The whole set up is a bit difficult, as you’re just driven to the middle of nowhere, get off the bus and wait around in the cold for an hour or so before you even see anything. As someone said when we were there “this whole experience would be much improved by the availability of deck chairs” (and blankets, I would add). You really need to layer up for this.
We hadn’t booked this tour originally, but decided to go as people were raving to us about it.
It’s the easiest thing to book – we just turned up at the bus terminal 20 min before the departure time and straight away were on our way.
The tour cost about £50 per person and can be booked here.
This was really lovely and definitely worth it – the contrast between the hot water and the cold outside makes it a great winter activity, and the setting is also very nice.
- There are clay masks on the sides of the lagoon, and you can just put them over your face while you bathe. These are free.
- The queue system to get into the building is a bit silly, and you have to queue up even if you already have a ticket. Make sure to go straight to the queue when you get there to save time.
- You can also get extras such as robes and towels, or you can bring them with you.
- Lockers are available outside the building for large luggage (as many people stop at the Blue Lagoon to or from the airport) at a cost, but they are also available for free inside the building for you clothes etc.
REYKJAVIK CITY CENTRE:
There isn’t that much to do in Reykjavik, but it’s quite nice and very easy to walk around. The main street is called Laugavegur, where you will find most things.
- Hallgrímskirkja Church: this is the ideal place to go to see the sunset if the weather is good. You get whole views of the city and the mountains in the background
- Street art: there’s lots of very nice street art around.
- Harbour: The harbour is a nice place to go to if it’s dry. This is also where the Harpa (Opera house) is. It’s a lovely building designed by Olafur Eliasson and definitely worth a visit just to look around.
- The settlement exhibition: this is an exhibition in the city centre, and a good option for a rainy day.
Reykjavik is a quiet and small city, but there are nice places to go to at night in the city centre. Here are a few (all in the main road):
- Lebowski: An American-style bar that is quite popular. They show football and have live music on.
- Dillon: A rock bar that also has live music occasionally.
- Bravó: A chilled-out bar made better by the manager, who is quite chatty and likes to talk about music with the customers.
- Listings: there are two local free publications which are useful: What’s On, which is definitely worth a read as it’s as hilarious as it is useful; and Grapevine, which is good for gigs.
Glo is a great find with mostly vegan and veggie food. They serve a few dishes everyday, all accompanied by a generous side salad. There are lots on offer and you can pick three types of salad for your dish. Prices are around 1800isk per dish.
If self-catering, Bonus is the cheapest supermarket, but smaller shops which are open 24h are also available.
Alcohol in Iceland is slightly more expensive than in London, but most bars have happy hours with 2-for-1 or half-price deals, including for beers.
Another option is to buy alcohol at the government-run Vinbod (or something like that), which are not always open on Sundays and are not easy to find. There’s been in supermarkets, but those are very light at about 2%.
Our favourite beer was Viking Classic, and we tried the local spirit (schnapps) Brennivin which tastes pretty much like vodka.
Most packages will include accommodation, and there are many options to choose from.
We stayed at Klettur, which we chose only for the price, but it was very nice and centrally located. Staff was really helpful and even made breakfast early (at 4am) on the day we left because there were a bunch of guests on an early flight that day.
Although our travel guides said otherwise, most shops close on Sundays. Things are not cheap, but there are nice knits and things like that.