Mysterious, dramatic, stunning and awesome are just some of the words that could be used to describe Iceland
You really must visit Iceland so I thought I would write some tips for when you plan your trip. So many friends have travelled here recently and asked from tips on where to go. It seems to be a great stopover on the way to the States. Having been lucky enough to visit both in the winter and the summer in 2018, I travelled with my three children (8, 7 and 3 years) to meet up with my sister and her family in June. These plans were kept secret from the kids and they weren’t told them until we were heading to Edinburgh airport.
First things first
It is only a 2 1/2 hour flight from Edinburgh with WOWair – book ahead and you could get a great deal. You will arrive at Keflavik international airport. A tip here is to go to duty free on your way out and get your beer and wine. You will notice the big shopping trolley’s and realise this is what all the locals do. Alcohol is super expensive in Iceland and not sold in supermarkets. I highly recommend getting a hire car, as you will see the most of and best parts of Iceland. On both trips (summer and winter) I hired a car with procar – they pick you up from the arrivals hall and take you to their office, a short distance from the airport. The cars are great condition, the staff friendly and you are on the road quickly after arriving. Reykjavik is a 50 min drive from the airport which is enough time to get used to driving on the wrong or more correctly the right side of the road. The kids loved that we were driving on the wrong side of the road.
I think the best part of our one night stay in Iceland’s capital was the visit to the local swimming pool – Laugardalslaug. After ‘showering completely naked’ (which is the Icelandic way and common practice before going swimming) and telling the kids to not laugh at me or more importantly anyone else we dived into the warmest of waters and spent hours going from pool to pool and down all the slides. They are all still talking about this pool and for the rest of the holiday they just wanted to go back, but there was so much more to see and do. After our swim we headed straight for a hotdog stand and demolished 8 hotdogs in as many seconds. I remembered exactly how to find this stand, from my winter visit, as it has the best hotdogs in Reykjavik ‘Bæjarins beztu‘ Opened since 1937 a number of celebrities have also visited and enjoyed a hot dog with the works. They are probably the cheapest food you will find in the capital.
There are so many other places to see in Reykjavik – Harpa concert centre, the harbour area, walk along the main street, find trolls, the best bakeries (Braud & Co and Sandholt) Reykjavik coffee Roasters, the church Hallgrimskirkja, all the coloured houses, visit a man made ice cave at the Perlan Museum but I think the best part of my city stay was the free walking tour. These run everyday from the centre of town and you visit the major attractions in the city center. They are run by Icelandic comedians so you are sure to laugh a lot – Thor was our tour guide and has been voted the funniest man of Iceland in 2007.
So much to see
Most people head for the golden circle. And there is a reason for this. There is so much to see. You could do it as a day trip from Reykjavik or stay in the golden circle as we did. Try not to be the driver the whole time as you want to look out the window at every opportunity. The waterfalls are spectacular and to see them all covered in ice is awesome. Any search on Iceland will tell you to visit the most popular waterfalls and with good reason – Gulfoss, Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss. There are lots of people about so good luck getting a photo without anyone else about. Then there are the thermal pools. Stop off at the now not so Secret Lagoon. This is worth the drive and make sure you have a waterproof camera. Afterwards make sure you find the Sindri Bakari Bakery They have a great selection of handmade bread and pastries and is exactly what you need after a swim. It is hard to find but worth it.
We also went on a trip north west of Reykjavik and saw more amazing scenery, visited The Cave – Iceland’s mightiest lava cave, saw lots of Icelandic horses and more thermal pools.
As with any good thing everyone wants to visit and I would certainly go back but the numbers of people visiting Iceland are causing problems for the landscape. We realised this after a finding a fabulous little thermal pool that had a lady sitting at the entrance in her tent charging a fee. We chatted to her and discovered it was her family farm and the pool used to be a sheep dip. It now has so many visitors they are thinking of filling it in because of the disrespect shown to the land. The same goes for the Bruarfoss waterfall near Geyser. The walking track to the falls are on private land. I get the need to get that photo for Instagram but just take note of your surroundings and don’t be ‘that’ tourist that ruins it for others.
Other places to visit:
- Vik and Reynisfjara Black sand beach
- Thingvellir National Park – you can go snorkelling here and see the crystal clear water.
- Krauma Spa and the boiling river. This place is amazing and if you have quiet, well behaved children I would take them here as it is free. I don’t so we didn’t stay. But they loved the boiling river and at times you couldn’t see them for the steam.
I think the planning part of a trip is the best part and I spend hours researching my destination, much to my husband’s delight. But sometimes finding that page that has so much great information is wonderful and so I would suggest having a look at AllTheRooms – including some top hiking routes of which I would love to go back and do more of!
Accommodation in Reykjavik: it can get quite pricy so book ahead. Both times we stayed right in the centre. Grettir Guesthouse was a lovely one bedroom apartment that easily fitted the four of us. Car parking is easy enough to find and free at the church carpark. Or if you want something even more central on the main street and right opposite the bakery then check out 41 – A Townhouse Hotel. The penthouse suite was amazing and if you are sharing costs with friends, which is what we did in the winter then it is worth it!
Out of Reykjavik we stayed in airbnb accommodation and they were all fabulous. In the golden circle we had a place with a hot tub which was the perfect way to end a day of sight seeing, plus in the winter we tried to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. If you want to sign up to Airbnb use this link and get £25 off your first trip.
As the accommodation was all self-catering we saved lots of money by cooking and eating at ‘home’. Do your shopping at Bonus supermarket (the one with the pig) as it is the cheapest and there are lots of them.
Most of the attractions in Iceland are natural wonders which are free to visit but you do have to pay parking at some of them – 500kr (Thingvellir National Park, Seljalandsfoss waterfall)
You really should visit the Blue Lagoon as although everyone else does they do so because they are pretty amazing. But then after that stick with the local pools – cheaper and all with water slides.
And don’t worry I did take a travel candle with me
So when are you booking your trip to Iceland? I would love to hear if these tips were useful so leave me a comment.
If you are wanting to explore closer to home check out my wee Outlander Tour