Travelled in: January 2017
Iceland has been a very high profile holiday destination over the past few years and it is easy to understand why… the beautiful scenery, the northern lights, the blue lagoon, glaciers, ice caves… the list goes on…
Most Europeans will remember THAT volcanic ash cloud that interrupted everyone’s summer holidays back in 2010. Yep that came from Iceland, and since then tourism rates have rocketed! Today tourism is the second largest industry on this fascinating little island all due to THAT volcanic ash cloud giving it a bit of exposure. A little fact I learnt on my trip here is that Iceland’s population is tiny, only a mere 323k people live in Iceland – most of these in the capital city Reykjavik, which is crazy if you compare that number to the 64 million people living in the UK!
I loved our little trip to Iceland, but I really only just touched the surface, there is plenty more to see! This is what I got up to over a long weekend…
Arriving in Iceland…
Iceland is known to be an expensive place to visit, so before I booked my trip here I compared prices on a few different websites… To book everything separately flights, accommodation and day trips it was looking to be a good £1000 each for 4 nights, which was a bit out of our budget. I discovered that via Icelandair I could create my own package deal which was actually very reasonably priced. I chose which flights I wanted to take, which hotel I wanted to stay in, if I wanted transfers and even which trips I wanted to book.
I booked return flights Wednesday – Sunday from Heathrow to Reykjavik, airport transfers, accommodation for 4 nights, with trips to the Blue Lagoon, Northern Lights, Gulfoss, Geysir and Pingvellir National Park all for £498 each. Which I think was a bit of a steal!
Staying in Iceland…
When I was looking for accommodation in Iceland I found very few hotels for under £250 a night in Reykjavik. With our package we could chose between a few hotels, the most affordable was Hotel Cabin, so this was the option we went for! From the pictures online it definitely didn’t look particularly luxurious, but it was cheap, the reviews were good and we weren’t going to be spending a huge amount of time there anyway so it was exactly what we needed.
I was really pleasantly surprised by Hotel Cabin, it was basic, but clean, comfortable and warm, with a good atmosphere. The only downside to the hotel was the breakfast, which you had to use your imagination for. The hotel is about a 20 minute walk in to the center of Reykjavik which for us wasn’t a problem as we quite enjoyed a walk along the seafront in to town.
Travelling in Iceland…
Iceland is a super easy country to get around, it is very well connected by bus with many tour operators to chose from. All of our trips were booked with Reykjavik Excursions.
To get to Reykjavik from the airport there is a Flybus that will drop you off directly at your hotel. Most tour operators will also pick you from your hotel for any day trips you book.
Weather in Iceland…
The Icelandic weather HAS to get a mention as I found it to be completely unpredictable, we experienced so many different weather conditions during our short stay, rain, snow and even some sun.
We were in Iceland in January, the temperatures didn’t differ too much from the UK, but the wind was freezing and the rain was torrential… So definitely a must to pack layers and practical clothing, especially if travelling in winter… (there’s me looking all wrapped up above)
Another thing to bear in mind is the amount of daylight hours, in winter the sun rises quite late, on my trip it rose at around 10.30am and then set again at around 5pm, so daylight hours were fairly limited. In Summer time the country has around 22hrs of daylight.
Eating in Iceland…
Eating out in Iceland comes with a bit of a price tag, but we managed to find a couple of great places that were fairly reasonable…
Hamborgarafabrikkan – I was recommended this place for a great burger, and it didn’t disappoint! I went for the Hemminn Burger which I highly recommend. The prices are pretty reasonable compared to some of the other burger places in the center. It was around 2,500 KR for a burger and chips. (With current exchange rates that is about £17.)
Wok On – This place was opposite our hotel and always busy so we decided to give it a try. Perfect for a quick meal, you can build your own noodle bowls that are cooked fresh in front of you. Base noodles start from 990 KR then you add on your extras for additional costs.
Apotek – Go here for an amazing and traditional Icelandic Sunday Roast for an incredibly reasonable price of 2990 KR per person. As well as the Roast they looked like they also had a very good priced A La Carte menu.
The Deli – Cheap and cheerful, the Deli is a small take away place with a happy hour between 5-9pm where you can get a 16in pizza for around 2000 KR.
Lebowskis – If you want to drink in Iceland it will save you a lot of money to know when and where the happy hours are… This place offers a happy hour daily from 4-7pm and has a fun atmosphere, live bands in the evening and an affordable food menu.
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur – No trip to Reykjavik would be complete without visiting the world’s most famous hot dog stand. They are a bloody tasty and cheap snack or light lunch.
Shopping in Iceland…
Iceland is known to be a very expensive country so I wouldn’t say this is a very good place to come shopping, especially not with the current exchange rate! Maybe you will want to buy a typical Icelandic Lopapeysa (the typical Icelandic wool sweaters), you could check out the boutiques on Laugavegur or Skólavörðustígur as they are full of cute Icelandic souvenir and clothing shops.
For high st or designer shopping there is the Kringlan mall which is slightly outside the city center.
Bonus Supermarkets is definitely a name to remember if you are on a budget in Iceland, it is a really affordable supermarket where you will find all sorts of products at half the price than if you were to buy them in the local continence stores or gas stations.
3.5 Days and 4 Nights in Iceland: My Itinerary…
Reykjavik Seafront & The Sunvoyager – The most scenic place in Reykjavik city center is along the seafront, on a clear day you can see across to the mountains which look amazing when they are covered in winter snow. There are also many statues/monuments along the seafront you will come across, one of which, and in my opinion the most impressive is The Sun Voyager.
Harpa Music Hall – Just next to the harbour is Harpa Music Hall which is such a cool building to go and explore, we hid in here to take shelter from the snow, but happened to be in the right place at the right time as we got to see a performance from the Harvard University Choir which was pretty amazing.
Lake Tjornin – So our first day in Iceland was snowy and this was the day we went over to see Lake Tjornin, it was completely frozen over and covered in snow and there were some kids playing football on it so we didn’t really get to see “the lake”, but this is still a really pretty area of the city.
The National Museum of Iceland – I didn’t really know much about the history of Iceland, so decided to go and check out the National Museum. Although quite interesting it is a really small museum and you pay a fee of around £10 to get in, so if History isn’t really your thing it’s probably not a must see.
Hallgrimskirkja – Now this place is a must see, as well as having a great view from the bell tower of the whole city, it also has a very impressive Organ in the church itself! For the second time that day we were lucky and found ourselves there at the same time as the Harvard University Choir performing. There is a fee to go up the clock tower, however nobody actually checked our tickets when we got in the lift so we could probably have gotten away with not paying this…
Reykjavik City Center – The city center itself is fairly small, it runs from the downtown area near the harbour up to Hallgrimskirkja, most businesses and restaurants are located around the main street of Laugavegur.
Northern Lights Tour – So we had a bit of a nightmare with our Northern Lights tour, we had pre-booked a Northern Lights Boat Trip with Special Tours Iceland, however due to the bad weather during our stay our tour got cancelled 3 nights in a row. On our 3rd night we were desperate to see them before we left, so I decided re-book with another company and go on a coach trip with Reykjavik Excursions.
We finally manage to see the lights, BUT not going to lie we were a bit disappointed by what we saw! To the naked eye they looked NOTHING like the pictures you see with these amazing colours scattered across the sky. When you look at the lights without a camera it literally looks like a cloud with a glimmer of green, however if you look through a professional camera lense you can see the colour of the lights slightly brighter. Maybe we just saw them on a bad night, but our guide said they were an 8/10 so we were a bit confused to what all the hype is! If you want a good picture I would say to definitely take a good camera, we only had our phones and our photos didn’t come out very well! (Hence why there is no picture here.)
Just to note if you are planning to see the Northern lights it is best to visit between October and April. Northern lights are still visible in Summer, but due to the longer daylight hours they are harder to find. Also bear in mind you need clear(ish) skies and some aurora activity to see them, so if weather conditions don’t permit this your tour may be cancelled. Most tours will allow you to re-book if your tour does get cancelled, or if you do go on the tour and you do not see the lights they will offer for you to come back at any time to re-do the tour.
The Blue Lagoon – Although very touristy The Blue Lagoon is definitely something you have to experience on a trip to Iceland. Although entrance is pricey and you don’t really get anything if you choose the basic package it is a really fun and relaxing experience. We bought smoothies at the Lagoon Bar and I didn’t find them to be too expensive and you get free silica mud masks which are handed out by the staff at the Lagoon. I definitely recommend bringing your own flip flops/ towel, and if you want one a robe, otherwise you will end up paying an extortionate amount of money on top of your entrance fee if you decide to hire them there.
The Golden Circle: Gulfoss, Geysir and Pingvellir National Park – Although it rained all day on our trip here I loved this tour. Gulfoss Waterfall was a massive highlight of our trip it looked so impressive surrounded by the snow and icy landscape. Seeing the rifts between the tectonic plates at Pingvellir was a really cool experience too. Definitely a must do tour when you are in Reykjavik.
Kolaportið Flea markets – Bit of a random one, but if you are in Reykjavik at the weekend this a fun place to go and check out, it’s located downtown by the harbour and sells some incredibly random things, but if you are looking for a souvenir it is probably cheaper here than it would be in any of the gift shops.
Other things to do in Iceland…
Glacier Hikes/ Ice Caves – Most of these tours are located on the South Coast of Iceland, so are a fair drive away from Reykjavik. There are some tours that will take you there and back in a day from the city, but if you are able to it’s probably better to spend a few days exploring the South Coast and incorporating this in to your trip… This will definitely be what’s on my agenda if/when I next make it back to Iceland.
See/Ride some Icelandic Horses – Iceland has their own breed of horse which were originally bought over by the Norwegian settlers back in the day. They are only pony sized, very cute with a long mane and can be found all over the country. Out in the country side there are some hotels/tours that are purposely focused around spending time with the horses.
Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach – Located on Reykjaviks coast line is one of natures wonders – a geothermal beach! I went to one in New Zealand and it was amazing, I would have loved to have visited this one, but it was closed when we visited!
The Perlan – This dome shaped Reykjavik landmark is said to have one of the best views in the city. It’s a bit too far out of the center to walk to which is why we didn’t get here, but if you want an overall view of the whole city landscape this is supposed to be the best place to see it!