Reykjavik & Surrounds: Iceland Travel Guide

Time of travel: March 2016

Iceland is one of the most amazing places I have ever been to and I can’t recommend it enough. However, it is very expensive so you do need to plan it well if you don’t want to spend a fortune. Also, tours/attractions do fill up well in advance. Hopefully this post might help you save some money and plan the basics for your trip.

The Basics

Accommodation: We based ourselves in Reykjavik as it was a short trip, but you need less than a day to explore it. I recommend choosing an AirBnB (mainly because eating out is painfully expensive). We found a lovely central studio apartment with loads of great reviews which cost €447 for the 5 nights ( €89 per night). Definitely more reasonable than hotel prices and having our own kitchen saved us a small fortune. If you don’t have AirBnB you can sign up using my referral link and get €50 off your fist booking. There was an underground parking space included which was fantastic and it meant that the car wasn’t covered in snow every morning.

Car rental: We booked through rentalcars.com* and the company we rented  from was Green Motion. When you arrive at the airport you call them and they collect you as the offices are actually about ten minutes away. We paid for a Volkswagen Golf (or similar) and couldn’t believe our luck when we were given a Honda CRV for the week. The total (including insurance) came to €230 and we paid another €32 for a GPS. They will try to sell you insurance for gravel and ash damage but if you’re only doing the basics it’s not really necessary. (*If you click an affiliate link and spend money on the product I may earn a small commission. It will not change the price you pay)

Travel to/from the airport (without a car): A company called Reykjavik Excursions operates several buses between the town and the airport. The bus times coincide with arrivals at the airport. On return, the buses run frequently from 3.45am onwards and take 45 minutes. They cost about €15 and there’s a free pick up service that brings you to the bus station from a specified list of hotels that runs half an hour before the bus leaves the station. It’s a really well run service and hassle free.

Food/Eating out: There are plenty of bars and restaurants but they are really expensive so we only ate out twice. Don’t worry though – there’s always Subway! Bonus is the Aldi/Lidl of Reykjavik and located on the main street. The logo is a drunk-looking pig .

Tip:  Bring any over the counter mediciation you might need (e.g.. throat lozenges and painkillers). You can only buy these in a pharmacy which isn’t open late and closed on Sundays. Also they give very limited medication over the counter.

Things to do

Snorkelling:

Fantastic once in a life time experience snorkeling between the North American and Eurasian plates. There’s no sea life but the rocks are fascinating and the water is unbelievably clear. I felt a bit claustrophobic in the dry suit as it’s tight around your neck but it was worth it for the experience. You don’t need any special gear just warm tight clothes for underneath the drysuit (though I saw someone wearing jeans!). Cost €127. You can book here.

Drive the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is one of the ‘must see’ trips in Iceland. Ideally you should do Iceland’s ring road which goes the whole way around the country but if you don’t have a week and a camper van then the Golden Circle is a great option and what most people do. There are a multitude of tours but I suggest driving it if you can. The roads on the Golden Circle are serviced and ploughed so they are safe but if the weather is terrible there can be a light blanket of snow later in the day. There’s about three hours of driving involved. 

  • From the centre of Reykjavik it takes about 45minutes to drive to Thingvellir National Park. There’s a visitor centre and another five minutes up the road there’s an information centre which has a little cafe. We spent about 45 minutes to an hour there but you could easily stay longer in the Summer when it’s not absolutely freezing.
  • Another hour up the road are the geysers at Haukadalur. There are two famous geysers there called Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir does not erupt anymore but Strokkur frequently does every five to ten minutes. There are also plenty of little hot springs to look at but you can’t touch them as the water is 80 to 100 degrees C.  It’s nice for wander around for about half an hour before retreating to the restaurant across the road for tea. 
  • Ten minutes on and you come to Gullfoss Waterfall which is genuinely spectacular, especially in the snow. This was a big highlight of the trip for me and photos just don’t do it justice. During the Summer you can walk down closer to them but the paths are closed off in snowy weather.
  • Tips: The cafes are expensive so consider a packed lunch if you’re on a budget. We spent about six hours doing the above in total. I found a really good blog here that helped us plan our trip and get an idea of what to expect.

The Blue Lagoon

Incredible and such a novelty. Go early in the morning and book in advance. The basic package is fine if you just bring your own towel and flip flops. Costs €40 each. We spent about four hours there and it was another highlight of the trip for me If I had more time I definitely would have visited some of the hot springs that locals use – they’re less crowded and more authentic. 

Tips: Arrive early – at 9am there was already a ten minute queue but it’s so worth arriving early. Leave your towel inside as the weather is changeable!  Bring moisturiser and put it on beforehand because the water can sting your face a bit particularly if you have sensitive skin or have just shaved. They provide conditioner which you should use before you get in because the water makes you hair extremely dry.

The Blue Lagoon at 9am

Explore Reykjavik

You don’t need long to explore this little city.

  • There’s a famous hotdog stand near the Flea Market called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (you can Google Map it) which apparently served Bill Clinton. We queued in the rain for our hot dogs and they were delicious.
  • Hallgrimskirkja Church is at the top of the hill (it’s not steep). It’s a Church Of Ireland church and the largest in Iceland apparently. It’s open from 9am until 5pm and you can go up to the very top of it to look out over the city. It’s about €6.50 each. The view is nice but if you’re low on money then I wouldn’t bother. The part I liked most was the church organ which is unbelievable.
  • Harpa which is Iceland’s concert hall and conference centre is also well worth a visit. It has a shop, a café and is just generally nice to wander around.
  • Last but not least there’s Reykjavik harbour which is so beautiful. There’s a sculpture of a ship called Sólfar which means sun voyager. It’s really impressive but the view steals the show. Particularly in the evenings when the mountains in the distance look the they’re glowing.

The Northern Lights:

I would have LOVED to see the Northern Lights but sadly the skies were too cloudy every night we were there. I used this website to check each night and it seemed to coincide with the tour company cancellations too.

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