It sure seems like a lot of people are going to Iceland lately, and there’s a reason! It’s easy for tourists to navigate, the people are very friendly, it’s very safe, and most of all, the scenery is absolutely beautiful everywhere. Seriously, I didn’t realize that the south side of Iceland is covered by highlands and mountains so that your drive goes right along side of them with a view of waterfalls every few miles. Absolutely stunning and I’m sure even more beautiful in the summer when the grass and trees are green.
My understanding is that people should visit Iceland twice to experience both the Summer and Winter seasons. We went in the winter in hopes of seeing the Northern lights and to do an ice cave tour. Unfortunately the weather still didn’t cooperate, even though we visited in February, but we still had a wonderful time and I got so many pictures it was hard to choose my favorites.
Unique to Iceland:
- Blue Lagoon geothermal pool & spa
- Northern Lights
- Ice caving
- Beautiful waterfalls
- Geyser area
- Black Sand Beaches
- Glacier Hiking
- Glacier Lagoon (with seals!)
- Street Art in Reykjavik
Visit the Blue Lagoon – I’ve saw several articles and different posts indicating that the Blue Lagoon is over-rated. It is not! We absolutely loved it. It was so relaxing to just swim around and soak in the milky, warm water. Tip: Just buy the basic pass, the premium is not worth it because the slippers are cheap flip flops and people steal your robe anyways. We also didn’t feel that impressed by the free drinks or the aloe mask. So you can save money by buying the basic pass. All of that being said, the Blue Lagoon was just awesome.
Tour the Golden Circle, South Coast, and More – Since we only had a few days to spend in Iceland, I was so happy to find the multi-day tours offered by Extreme Iceland. We did the 3-day, 2-night tour that included “Jokulsarlon, Golden Circle and Ice Caving”. There was 2 main things that appealed to me about this tour. First, you stay out in the countryside each of the 2 nights which gives you more time for sightseeing (more stops!) because you aren’t driving back and forth to Reykjavik each day. Second, each day of the tour you have the chance to see the Northern Lights. And, I think because of those things and the extra stops that you get to fit in, the price of the 3-day tour is a great value (we spent about $750 each for the 3 day trip). And while we didn’t get to do the ice caving or see the Northern Lights (due to weather), our tour guide made sure to pack in a lot of stops so we didn’t feel like we missed out. Below is a list of all the amazing stops on our tour (tips will be at the bottom of this post):
- Thingvellir, Continental Divide
- Waterfalls: Gulfoss, Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Systrasfoss, Svartifoss, etc.
- Stop at a local farm for the best Ice Cream in Iceland
- Lava Fields
- Diamond Beach & Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
- Black Sand Beach
- Fjaðrárgljúfur Glacier Canyon
- Several Scenic Overlooks to take pictures
Wander Around Rekyjavik – Reykjavik is such a fun city. We had a really nice time walking around to find lunch and dinner. They have lots of quirky restaurants, signs, and street art that are fun, not to mention the Iceland Phallalogical Museum, and the lovely Hallgrimskirkja.
Next time I visit Iceland:
- See the Northern Lights
- Go ice caving
- Check out the Summer Activities
In the summer, I feel like you could probably rent a car with no problem. Since it was winter, we relied on public transportation, walking around downtown Reykjavik, and tour buses.
To/From the airport: You have the choice of 2 shuttle services to take you to your hotel or pick you up. You can choose either Flybus or Greyline which are comparable. We used Greyline and booked it online through Viator. You can also buy your tickets inside the arrivals terminal. Either one seems pretty easy. It’s about an hour and half transportation time and a whole lot cheaper than a taxi.
Reykjavik City Buses: The bus system is fairly simple. Ask your hotel for a map and a bus pass if they offer them. The Natura hotel offers bus passes for free.
Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina – I liked it. We had a beautiful view of the marina, although I wouldn’t pay extra for the upgrade if I stayed there again. Tiny room, but it was clean and neat and served our requirements. The only thing disappointing was the breakfast. I was sure it was supposed to be continental but they charged us $30 for a breakfast that just seemed way over priced. Either book the breakfast as part of your room or skip it. Just know it’s not worth $30.
Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura – I also liked this hotel. It’s definitely a little older than the Marina hotel, but it’s still nice. Our room was actually a bit bigger, but the bathroom was an odd configuration and you couldn’t open the shower more than a crack without hitting the toilet! So obviously they improved on the design for their next hotel! But anyways, we liked it. It felt like it was decorated by Ikea which we thought was fun. And it was really affordable and they give out free bus passes as part of their environmental theme! So I’m a fan.
Hotel Katla – This hotel was one we stayed at through our package with Extreme Iceland. Again, no complaints about the Hotel Katla with the exception of the dinner. The buffet was $50 and I honestly did not feel that it was worth that. I opted for the $15 cheese pizza (they have 2 pizza choices and the buffet as your dinner selection) which I think was the right call for me. Just budget accordingly, or pack/bring something from one of the stops along the way. (Brian got to try horse meat as a lunch meat on this buffet! – Yuck)
Hali Country Hotel – This hotel was the other one we stayed at through our package with Extreme Iceland. Again, no complaints about the Hotel Katla with the exception of the dinner. Unless you like seafood, the non-seafood choices were pretty blah and wwwaaayyy overpriced. Although the seafood eaters on our tour thought their dinner was amazing. Just budget accordingly, or pack/bring something from one of the stops along the way.
Restaurants/ Meals & Drinks:
Baejarins Betzu Pylsur- My husband thought I was crazy, but I read several articles online that you have to try the hot dogs in Iceland. And I even found this hotdog stand that was supposed to be the place to go. It was about $10 USD for 2 hot dogs and a coke, and Brian loved the one “with everything”. 🙂
Freysnes – For 2 of the days on our tour we stopped at the same place for lunch. And honestly, I’m kind of glad because it was my favorite meal of the whole tour (Reminder: I can be a picky eater). They specialize in hamburgers and french fries. So it was very American, but try it with the “hamburger sauce” and you’ll feel like a native. 🙂
Geysir – We ate a hamburger from one of the 3 restaurants at Geysir. It was okay but nothing special.
American Style – After several days on tour eating mediocre food, we thought it’d be fun to see how Iceland serves “American Food”. It was okay.
Satt – The restaurant at the Hotel Natura was very good. I had a pizza that was delicious and Brian had a really good steak and waffle fries. Pretty expensive, but at least this time the food was better!
Hressingarskalinn – If you’re in Iceland, you should probably try at least one viking restaurant. We stumbled across this one and had a nice dinner one night. It was a fairly American menu despite the name. You might find a better one, but this one was find and just happened to be where we were walking that night.
Esti Daulr Kaffihus – We just had ice cream at this place (which was delicious!) but rumor is that they have an amazing steak. You just have to be okay eating with cows looking at you through the windows!
Tips/ Things to Know:
- If you are flying an overnight flight and hoping for early check-in, good luck. We saw tons of tourists sitting on the couches in the lobby waiting for rooms. We paid for the night before and let the hotel know that we’d be arriving early in the morning.
- You don’t need cash in Iceland. We did not find a single place that did not accept credit card.
- Some of the bathrooms require you to pay, but only a couple (ex. Black Sand Beach & Geysir).
- The buses are a bit tricky. We had no problem leaving our hotel, but I still have no idea how you find the bus stop that goes back to the hotel. We took a taxi!
- Iceland has a Tax Rebate program where if you spend more than an amount (I think it was $50), you get an instant tax rebate at the airport. If you get some of those rebate papers, allow about 30-60 minutes extra time at the airport because the line can get kind of long.
- If you fly Icelandair, they have an automated baggage check system with scales and conveyor belts! It’s really easy to do it yourself and you don’t have to stand in line.
- If you can handle little sleep, do not be afraid to go straight from the airport to the Blue Lagoon. It’s less back and forth because the Blue Lagoon is close to the airport and they have a huge building devoted to checking your luggage while you enjoy the spa.
Tips for the Extreme Iceland Tour:
- Expect the food to be expensive and mediocre. Budget at least $50/person for dinner & $20/person for lunch and you’ll be fine.
- You can rent boots from Extreme Iceland that are pretty nice & comfy. If it’s a rainy/muddy time, then just wear them the whole tour. They also provide helmets, crampons, and axes for free.
My Time Spent on the Island:
- 4 nights/ 5 days in February 2017, visited Reykjavik, Golden Circle, South Coast