This was a trip of a lifetime. Ev turned 30 in May and I booked an action packed five night adventure into the land for fire and ice for his present. Much planning was done online, researching different tour companies and trying to negotiate our time frame as best as we could.
I highly recommend Iceland and it should belong on everyone's travel bucket list. It's truly a holiday like no other. This post will show you who we booked with and why, recommendations of places to eat and stay and give you an idea of what to pack and costs involved.
In all honestly, this post is going to be a little bias and super positive simply because we got engaged on this trip lol- I spent most of the holiday beaming ...so really, I will always hold a soft spot for this tiny country.
Ev actually did a two part vlog of our trip away which includes our engagement, us eating fermented shark + even our crash on our snowmobile lol! So, if your more into a visual element, please see our latest vlog;
Part 1- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EnokGli8pU
Part 2- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOH_lyj7Ed4
Where we stayed?
Hotel Borg. An art deco 1920's established hotel is in a perfect location if visiting Reykjavik. It's located downtown of the city, overlooks the Austurvöllur square and is a stone's throw to restaurants, bars and the harbour. Accommodation is very expensive in Iceland. In fact the running theme in this post will be that Iceland is very costly in general (especially for food!) so one of the reasons I actually chose this hotel was based on the decent breakfast reviews and the heated bathroom floors lol! Our room was a corner room which was reasonably large, a decent bathroom and really good heating (Iceland is cold and wet!). Our breakfast was plentiful- think buffet but with a good quality choice of everything you could want, and we took advantage, filling ourselves up each morning meaning we only had to get a small lunch during the day. We were gifted with access to the spa also, and a sauna and jacuzzi were a welcome site after a day of outdoor activities. Room service was decent- and dinner prices on the menu were actually cheaper then some of the places we went to eat in within the city. You can book a room here. Five nights for a superior room with breakfast was €1316.
We flew with Wow Air. The Ryanair of Iceland. Flight time is less then two and a half hours. And they are probably a little bit stricter then Ryanair. Price wise- definitely not as cheap, but like I said previously nothing is low priced in Iceland. We booked a shared 20kg suitcase (you need bulky items for this trip- no holidays cover ups in this suitcase!)and had two carry ons. Travel from Keflavik airport was a coach bus- unless you rent a car or have arranged a private transfer, you have no other option. We bought a return ticket on our flight and it cost €70 each. The journey from the airport was just under 1 hour, and includes a transfer from the bus terminal in a smaller bus to our hotel. All the trips/excursions we booked had pick-ups included in the price. And we walked around the whole of Reykjavik. So we had no other experience with travel within Iceland. Should we ever go back (we so want to explore the south of Iceland!)- we would probably rent a 4x4 car during a warmer time of the year and venture into the rural roads.
I spent a lot of time researching what I wanted to do in Iceland. Exploring for Northern lights and visiting a glacier was on the list. This is where you have an opportunity to play around with your budget. You can book tours for a variety of prices, it just depends on what your looking for. There are super cheap tours on Greyline.com, but this was a special trip and I wanted some of the more private options that were available. I booked;
- Northern Lights of the beaten track (Iceland Expeditions). A semi private expedition, pick up is in a spacious, rural road worthy Land Rover Discovery and we hunted for a few hours for lights outside Reykjavik. Our guide was actually the owner of the company- Dofri and he was fantastic. He was so knowledgeable and has a brilliant sense of humour. Our jeep also hosted a couple from HK and a lovely lady from the UK, who told us that she had previously taken a coach trip to see the Northern Lights but that it pulled into a parking lot and they waited their for a few hours. Dofri went in the search the best he could and to areas that would never have been possible in a large bus. It wasn't clearest of nights- but we did get glimpse and a lovely blurry photo that we will treasure! We had actually booked the Sunday night, however the weather was poor and the trip was cancelled, so we booked for Monday night instead which was perfect anyway as Ev asked me to marry him on Sunday night and would have probably spent the night sobbing with happiness and staring at my ring lol! Wrap up, be prepared with a very good camera and be welcomed by some yummy hot chocolate and a drop of rum for the rebels.
- Lava tube caving (Iceland Expeditions). We went with the same company for the Lava tube caving which covered the Leiðarendi cave- a 2000 year old cave that showed incredible rock formations. It was somewhat an active trip in that you need to bend and lunge to get through tight areas of the cave but when you deal with the idea that hot lava flowed right through that cave- the feeling is so exhilarating. Our leader- Erik was super engaging and a great teacher. I've never been into Geography, but this was an educational trip done really well. Waterproof gear is needed- droplets happen throughout the cave and you need to be covered. Our walk from our jeep to the caves was also drench inducing- so just be prepared.
- Blue Lagoon (Blue Lagoon.com). It's one the best experiences we have ever experienced. A geothermal public bath that has sulphur based water between 37-39 degrees. The lagoon is huge and you can swim all around. We chose the premium option at €70 each which included a robe, slippers and the first drink for free (they actually limit the amount you can drink which maybe was a good thing as you could probably stay in the water and swim up to the bar the whole day!). Though there are cheaper options too and even more expensive option which included a private section. What an experience. Book your bus tickets through the site too- they are cheaper to do so! And pack your hair with the conditioner they provide as the sulphur will dry out your hair. You have to pre-book and we went for 12pm opening and stayed for hours floating in the bliss. I only wish we had a volcano in Ireland as I could do this every week!
- Snowmobiling on the Langjökull glacier and the Golden Circle Tour (Snowmobiling.is). I wanted to book snowmobiling but also wanted to book the Golden Circle tour and this tour company operated a two in one. We got picked up in the Monster Truck- but happened to be the only passengers for the tour which was fantastic as it mean't we got a one to one trip. Our leader Mardis was amazing- knowledgeable and friendly, and so much fun. She brought us around the Golden Circle loop- we stopped at the Gullfoss waterfall and viewed the tetonic plates at Thingvellir National Park. We visited the Geysir and all the mini ones around it and went climbing up the mountain next to it. We later took the super truck out to the snowmobiling base and then went on an hour snowmobile ride on the Langjökull glacier. This is probably the most adventurous I have ever been and was definitely the highlight of our trip- the snowmobiling was so much fun (including the mini crash which you can see in our vlog lol!). Being on a glacier is surreal and if it's in your budget I would totally go for it! When do you ever get to do something like this?!Pricing was 45,900 ISK per person.
Staying and eating in Reykjavik?
If your staying in the city, there is actually loads to do, see and visit. We took one full day to walk around the city- see the artwork and capture some of the sights. Iceland is tiny with a population of 300,000 and yet 2/3 of the population live in Reykjavik. Think cute little streets, corrugated iron houses and big jeeps lining the roads.
We ate at the Hornid (Italian food)- yummy pizzas and pastas, Saegrifinn (Seafood)- lobster soups and scallop skewers, Apotek (mixed gastro menu)- by far the best restaurant we ate in and it wasn't the most expensive either (their lunch menu is very reasonable...for Iceland!)- the mink whale was so good, we had it twice in one day! Cafe Loki (traditional Icelandic food)- we had fermented shark...hey when in Iceland right?! And had ice-cream at Ísbúðin Valdís- try the peanut butter oreo flavour!
We also visited the Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral which is simply stunning- concrete and vast but so beautiful. Walked around the harbour, visited the stunning Harpa building and searched for wall artwork high and low.
Reykjavik and Iceland is by far the most expensive place/country I have ever been to...it surpasses uber expensive Paris and trendy Dubai. A meal for two- two mains and two drinks (no starters or desserts) would set you back around 65 euro. Which personally I think is very expensive for sub-standard food. But your dealing with a country which has to import everything in. A bottle of water would set you back around 3-4 euro (tap water is the purest you will ever find so bring a reusable bottle with you!) and I can't comment on the shopping as we didn't set foot into a shop! If you budget well, and plan your trips accordingly it could be done much cheaper, however this was a birthday trip for Ev and I wanted the experience to be more personal and memorable!
What to wear?
We visited Iceland in late Oct/early Nov so it wasn't actually the coldest time of the year yet, but good thermals, waterproof gear and layers are a necessity. I bought the comfiest pair of Sorels that I lived in for the entire time I was there and they were waterproof but fashionable at the same time.
These are my must have items if visiting Iceland during the Winter season;
- my Sorel's- the pair I chose was the Cozy Carnival boot (sorel.com)
- I lived in my thermals and got these from Amazon (Amazon)
- I wore a base layer (by Mountain Warehouse) top under all my jumpers each day (Amazon)
- Smartwool socks- my feet were toastie (Amazon)
- UA beanie (Under Armour)
- UA Storm ColdGear Elements Glove (Under Armour)
- ...and don't forget your swimming togs!