My husband and I have just come back from a long weekend in Iceland, which was absolutely brilliant! We wrote up some tips for a friend who’s going along later in the year, so I thought they might be worth sharing with you all in case you’re planning to go! Hit me up if you have any additional recommendations. :)
- We stayed in Hotel Odinsve, which is in the old town bit of Reykjavik. It’s a nice, small ish hotel. Quite cosy. Not too expensive, though they don’t do breakfast. I would definitely go back there.
- You don’t need a VISA if you have a normal UK passport. The gov.uk page on Iceland isn’t very clear but you definitely don’t need one, despite my panic the day before!
- Book both Blue Lagoon and a good Northern Lights tour well in advance! I’m talking a couple of weeks at least, to avoid disappointment.
- Many places have free wifi – it’s always worth checking!
- Almost everywhere takes card so don’t worry too much about getting loads of cash. Best to order cash in advance as Post Office etc don’t have it in stock most of the time.
- You will probably know this, but do be prepared for the sulphorous smells! It’s not constant but definitely noticeable!
- We ate at Ostabudin one evening which was really delicious. The Arctic char is particularly good.
- If you like hotdogs (as many Icelanders do!) the best ones are at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur near the harbour. It’s open until 4am most days, and is a bit of an institution.
- We heard from a lot of people that the best restaurant in town is Dill. We couldn’t make it as we decided to try and see the Northern Lights on the night we’d booked but it comes very highly recommended.
- Mikeller and Friends is great for unusual pizzas and craft beers. If they have the mango beer, try that.
- We had a lovely weekend brunch at Bergsson Mathus, which is right by the lake. As recommended to us by Lauren Bravo!
- Laundromat cafe is good fun too, as is Lebowski Bar which does a decent happy hour (useful as alcohol is rather expensive in Iceland!).
- The drinking culture in Iceland is to hit it hard on Friday and Saturday nights, starting about 10pm and doing bar crawls down Laugevegur, the main shopping/drinking street, where all the cafes turn into bars after 9. Most people end up at one of the clubs downtown on Vallarstraeti. We didn’t get to experience much of it, but definitely worth getting involved in just for the experience!
- If you’re going in autumn/winter and you’re planning to hire a car, get a 4WD. We were definitely glad to have one as there were a few icy roads and it made a big difference. The weather can change very quickly in Iceland but they have a great road website which includes webcams etc and figures for how many cars have passed through each section in the last hour. It’s essential when planning your day if you’re going out in a car.
- Definitely get the extra gravel insurance. There are a LOT of gravel roads and we chipped the windscreen on our hire car because of it.
- You need to drive with your lights on all the time, day or night – it’s a legal requirement.
- Do NOT park too near any Icelandic horses – they have a habit of biting the paint off cars and the hire people won’t cover it if you bring a car back with bite marks on it!
Obviously the Northern Lights are a big draw! The Aurora forecast website is brilliant as it shows you both the cloud cover and the likelihood of solar activity, which is measured on a scale from 1-9 (1 being poor chance and 9 being very likely to see something). Even if you don’t see them, you will see incredible stars so it’s worth trying.
The tours don’t run if the cloud cover is going to be too thick. DO book a good company in advance. There are four key ways to see the Aurora – you can either drive yourselves, go on a bus tour, go on a mini bus tour, or go in a super jeep (which looks like a small monster truck!).
Driving yourself obviously involves driving round some pretty hairy roads in the dark so we didn’t do that one.
If we had our time again, I would book Time Tours – they do mini bus tours, are affordable (about 15,200 krone for two people which is about £80), and come highly recommended on Tripadvisor. They do book up in advance (which is why we didn’t do that one) so make sure you plan it.
Arguably the best type of tour is the jeep tour as they’re much smaller groups but they’re about £100 each. The one we were recommended was SuperJeep.is.
We accidentally ended up on a big coach tour, which was fine, but not what we really wanted. It’s not much cheaper than Time Tours (about £30 each). If you do end up not booking anything in advance, Trips was the company we used and it was fine.
NB – all the tour providers will decide by 5pm if they’re running their tours that night. They don’t bother if it’s going to be too cloudy and they will email all the hotels before 6/7pm to confirm the plan. If you don’t see the lights, they will usually take you again for free the following night. I would recommend trying to see them from the first night onwards as they are very elusive!
We finally saw the aurora from the plane home so if you’re flying at night, keep a look out! If you’re planning to photograph them you WILL need a tripod.
You can definitely do this in a day. We hired a jeep (definitely get a 4WD), left Reykjavik around 9:30am, and were back by 4pm ish. They three key parts of the golden circle at Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss, however because we had our car, we were also able to see Kerid volcanic crater lake and Faxi waterfall. We followed the route recommended by this blog.
All of those are remarkable but one of the things I enjoyed most was just cruising round the incredibly beautiful landscape. It’s a bit like New Zealand in some ways. Very dramatic. Stunningly gorgeous.
This is obviously a classic thing to do! It’s near the airport so might be nice to do on your way in or before you leave. It’s quite expensive (we paid 110 euros for both of us) but it’s worth it. The water is really warm and it’s lovely to float about in! You can have in water massages too but we didn’t bother.
Book this in advance and go early if you don’t like crowds because it does get busy! http://www.bluelagoon.com/
Other things to do
- The National Museum of Iceland is quite good. When we went, they had an exhibition about women which was fab. Most of the stuff is written in English too.
- The Settlement Museum is also worth a look if you’re interested in the history of Iceland.
- The Hallgrimskirkja cathedral is beautiful and the views from the top of the tower are stunning.
- It’s nice to have a little wonder down to the harbour, and if you’re going in summer, the whale and dolphin watching trips are meant to be good.
Hope the tips are useful – would love to hear about your trip if you’re planning one!