Iceland, the land of fire and ice, what can I say except that visiting this country was without a doubt the highlight of my 2015 and all my globe trotting adventures. It was an experience I will never forget and one which I didn’t want to end. If you’ve been following my travels you would by now be familiar with my obsession with Scandinavia and Iceland. For those of you who are new to Seymour & Ford, hello my name is Meg and I have an obsession with Scandinavia and Iceland. As a child of the 90’s I first heard of Iceland through the Mighty Duck films, specifically the sequel where Team USA is rivalled in talent and force by Team Iceland. Riveting stuff. It’s embarrassing to admit because many people believe my longing to visit Iceland stems from the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty… not quite. Alas, it was Mighty Ducks 2 where my ten year old self found the Icelandic players ‘dreamy.’ This curiosity, though motivated by questionable reasons, sparked a love affair with Viking history, next I was enchanted by the music of Bjork and lastly the adventures of Walter Mitty sent me over the edge.
I think for many people, Iceland seems inaccessible due to expense and location. I won’t lie it is a pricey place especially for those travelling on weaker currencies. For me personally in the lead up to my travels I was on a tight budget, packed lunches and no unnecessary spending on nights out, shopping or life’s little luxuries… and I would do it all again. My hope is that upon reading this blog, you too will be inspired to venture north to a country where nature still reigns supreme.
The Quick 5
How did you get there?
Iceland’s booming tourism industry has made the country increasingly accessible and due to such growth I envision more airlines eventually including Reykjavik in their list of destinations. For example are you travelling from Europe to North America? Why not fly with Icelandic Air and organise a stopover as part of your ticket? If venturing to Europe on an organised tour maybe consider storing your larger suitcases at Heathrow for a few days whilst jumping on an easyJet flight to Reykjavik with hand held luggage only? For those visiting Ireland, easyJet offers frequent and cheap deals to Reykjavik departing from Belfast which is accessible in 2.5 hours by train or bus for those visiting or living in Dublin.
As a temporary Dublin resident all my flights have departed from the Republic, but due to the expensive airfares on offer from my local international airport, Belfast was far more economical even when taking my coach tickets and exchange rate (Euro to Stirling) into consideration. My airline ticket only set me back €140 return having booked in advance and choosing to travel off peak. I was and still am astounded by this low price with easyJet as travel from Australia to Iceland would set travellers back thousands and travel from Dublin to Reykjavik hundreds.
Upon arriving at Keflavik airport coaches are situated directly outside the arrival terminal awaiting passengers en route to Reykjavik city centre. I would highly recommend booking your transfer online to avoid lines, but if like me you were a little unorganised in the holiday hassle tickets are available for purchase in the arrivals halls where cash or card is accepted. Tickets will set you back around $21.00 USD and transfers are available with Reykjavik Excursions or Gray Line Iceland. I elected to use Reykjavik Excursions (Flybus) as I was already booked on a few day trips with their company and for those travelling with children under 11 you will be happy to note that their fare will be waived if accompanied by an adult.
I found the service to be efficient but sometimes the snow can impact your journey time which is to be expected. If you organise your transfer with Reykjavik Excursions upon arriving in town you will dropped off at the BSI central bus terminal where a mini van will then take you to your accommodation. The change can be a little chaotic as drivers try to group people together that are staying in accommodation within close proximity to each other and though it may feel like an inconvenience it is essentially to provide a quicker service for tourists and given the width of the roads in the city centre a smaller van is a necessity. For my fellow backpackers who don’t wish to wait for a mini van, you can always walk from the bus terminal into town in the summer months as the walk is only 15 minutes depending on your speed but don’t contemplate this in winter, the snow is too thick and the pavements too slippery. For those wishing to take a taxi from the airport the journey time is roughly 45 minutes in good weather so the fare would be high to say the least. The buses are an efficient means of travel and are scheduled to service each arrival into Keflavik.
Iceland tips, tricks and advice?
If venturing to the Blue Lagoon and wanting to capture the moment, remember to cover your phone in a plastic zip lock bag to prevent damage from any accidents. Ladies and gents with long hair be sure to heed the warning about conditioning your hair before and after swimming otherwise you will be left with dry and damaged ends. Lastly bring your own bottled water. The facility has an on site canteen and pool bar, but it is expensive and trust me you will be left with a serious thirst needing to be quenched.
Wear sturdy shoes! I know this might sound pretty darn obvious but having lived in Sydney most of my life I have never seen snow and ice like that before and it is fair to say that for those living in the Southern Hemisphere it is difficult to even comprehend that level and quality of snow. Invest in proper winter boots that are insulated against the cold or at very least have a decent grip on the sole. I assumed that casual winter boots would be suffice at my time of visit and judging by the footwear choices by many tourists on my plane, they also made the same assumption. However, our arrival into Iceland was marked by the first snow of the season so you would have seen us all slipping and sliding all over town later.
If that expense is not in your budget then believe me when I say at the very least pick up some good quality woollen socks and water proof the shoes you do have at your disposal. Despite living in Ireland and having access to beautiful wools from across the Emerald Isle I succumbed to laziness and just packed cotton socks thinking if I layered up then I would be fine. How wrong I was. Until I purchased woollen socks in Reykjavik I was almost in tears at how cold my feet were. Do not under estimate the weather conditions. Lastly be sure that whatever you chose to wear on your feet is designed to sit high on the base of your shins as the snow is deep and there is nothing worse then your feet sinking into beautiful powdery goodness only to have the snow sneak in through the top of your shoes. Keeping all this in mind the pavements were incredibly icy and efforts to clear them redundant against the weather conditions, so beware and prepared to move incredibly slow and factor in extra time when moving from point A to point B.
In terms of accommodation, though Reykjavik offers an array of accommodation options to suit all budgets I would encourage tourists to look into what is available though Airbnb. A hotel was a little out of the budget for my partner and I and unfortunately we couldn’t find a hostel that offered a private room during our required dates. Ultimately this worked in our favour as not only did we secure a tasteful apartment to ourselves through Airbnb which sat just directly behind the main pedestrian thoroughfare but the cost for two people actually worked out to be more economical than a hostel.
How long should I spend in Iceland?
As I write this I am sitting on my plane back to Ireland leaving behind the most magnificent country I have ever and dare say will visit. The diverse Icelandic landscape is truly in a league of its own. It is this diversity and utter uniqueness that leaves you wanting more. I assure you now that no matter how long you decide to stay in Iceland it won’t be enough and it’s just one of those things you have to make peace with. I pray that one day I will be back with weeks set aside to hike volcanoes, climb glaciers and go whale watching. But for now I am happy with the four days spent in Reykjavik sampling the freshest salmon whilst crossing the Northern Lights and the Blue Lagoon off my bucket list. Four days is enough for those on a tight schedule and budget, but any less I feel as though you will be cheating yourself. Four days is perfect for those using Reykjavik as a stopover when crossing between continents, those on a long weekend or those wanting to sample the best of Iceland as part of a Scandinavian expedition. With this time you can appreciate this quaint city whilst fitting in a myriad of day trips and fill your nights with northern lights tours or fine dining.
Best time to see the Northern Lights?
At risk of sounding pessimistic if you travel to Iceland with the goal of seeing the Northern Lights you have to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally that during your visit the odds simply might not be in your favour. The weather in Iceland is incredibly volatile and this spectacular natural light show is entirely dependant on several factors. For example, out of the three people I know who have ventured north, only one was not successful in viewing the lights despite giving himself a week.
During my own stay in Iceland I was one of the lucky ones. Though the solar wind activity was feint I counted my blessings as every other night was affected by cloud coverage or heavy snowfall. Undoubtedly, there are things you can do to better your chances (as I will list below) however, the best advice is to not to embark upon a trip to Iceland with the sole purpose of seeing the Northern Lights and certainly don’t define the success of your trip by the same means. Iceland is by far the most exquisite and scenically blessed countries I have had the pleasure of visiting and the array of activities available to tourists plentiful. Make exploring everything else Iceland has to offer from whale watching to hiking glaciers your focus and if it happens that Mother Nature is on your side during your stay consider it a bonus. From the moment you leave the airport you will see that Iceland is a beauty and this beauty is not solely defined by this colourful illumination.
a) Be weary of the months you are travelling as summer days are long due to virtually non existent darkness, so travel in winter or early spring from November to April if you want to see the lights
b) Book your tour the first night of your stay, so in the event of misfortune caused by the weather most tour companies will take you back out the following night
c) Give yourself a solid few nights in Iceland, the longer you stay your odds increase
d) In reference to the above two points, as some companies are kind enough to take tourists back out the following night if there was no activity, therefore, be prepared for packed buses and organised chaos.
e) Use the services of a tour company! Now unless you are a meteorologist or have vast understanding of solar activity I would not recommend hiring a car and trying to find the lights yourself. Trust the professionals who know where the best activity for that night will be.
f) Invest in a tripod. To capture the best shots of the night sky you will need to adjust your long exposure settings and no matter how hard you try, your hand will not be steady enough therefore producing blurry pictures. I’m in no financial position to be purchasing expensive camera equipment (as much as I would like too) but inexpensive tripods can be sourced on gumtree, eBay and camera stores. I understand this might not be a necessity for some travellers, but for those just starting out exploring the photographic medium it would be a shame to travel all that way, have luck be on your side with the lights only to have blurry pictures to remember the experience by.
What day trips would you suggest from Reykjavik and is the Blue Lagoon worth it?
Reykjavik is a brilliant base for first timers to Iceland, it is a capital city surrounded by natures finest and you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding how to spend your days. You really only need one day dedicated to sightseeing the city itself and this is easily achieved on foot without the need of a guided experience.
For the remainder of your time organise day trips suited to your interests, whether you’re a nature lover, equestrian or adrenalin junkie. The Golden Circle is a must and a spectacular introduction into what Iceland has to offer.
The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s biggest attractions and is only getting more popular, so do yourself a favour and avoid weekends. The Blue Lagoon offers an array of packages depending on how much you want to spend and spoil yourself. Personally I think the most reasonable package is the Comfort package priced at €55.00. It is relatively inexpensive and includes a complimentary drink from the pool bar (try the berry smoothie) and towel hire as bringing my own wasn’t an option. What attracted me most to this package was the inclusion of sample beauty products. As I have sensitive skin I was reluctant to purchase the larger products for sale and the rules pertaining to cabin baggage allowance might have hindered my brining anything back home.
Many companies offer drop off and pick up services from the Blue Lagoon as part of their airport transfers. This is a great way to maximise time but as the experience will leave you relaxed and sleepy I would suggest being dropped off at the Blue Lagoon post flight. This is a refreshing way to start your Icelandic adventure whilst settling into holiday mode. Unfortunately, my schedule only permitted drop off en route to the airport which due to the very nature of plane travel left me stressed leaving the magic and serenity of the Blue Lagoon a distant memory. In regards to luggage, there is no need to be concerned as the centre is equipped with a well managed luggage storage facility which you will find in a separate building immediately upon your arrival. The packages can be quite steep so save money by bringing your own towel and question if you really need to hire slippers and a robe as you will only wear these items for mere minutes. Also keep in mind that the lagoon is surrounded with nutrient rich mud buckets to slather yourself in so purchasing spa treatments or products prior to entry might be a waste of money given it is freely available.
Now yes the Blue Lagoon is an ever growing tourist hot spot, so make sure you get there early to avoid the entrance lines to both the luggage facility and the pools themselves. Despite it being an Icelandic must for most tourists, I found it a very calming environment and given it has been in my bucket list for years it was a non negotiable part of my holiday. However, for those looking for a less popular thermal experience the Fontana Wellness Centre is slightly less expensive but due to its vast proximity from Reykjavik is best accessed as part of a day trip with Reykjavik Excursions, Gray Line Iceland or Iceland Mountain Guides.
We all have our travel bucket lists, add Iceland to yours 🙂
*Note: Thank you to Yasir Badani for his assistance with the images of myself featured and for being my patient model. Follow his adventures around the globe @yasirbad*