If (just if), if I were to fly to Europe this summer on Icelandair,
It just so happens that we did this last summer! We did it on our way in due to other scheduling factors, but I think on the way out might be better from a jetlag point of view.
Iceland is different than anywhere else on earth. It’s beautiful in a certain way, although most of the colors are quite drab. I think it’s definitely worth going once in your life, if you can manage it.
Be warned that it’s very expensive to stay and to eat there. It’s also pretty cool and often rainy even in the summer. Bring warm enough clothes, and a good rain jacket.
We did a day or two near Reykjavik and then ventured out along the southern coast. Near Reykjavik there is a standard “tour” (Golden Triangle) that covers the major features in that area, and those are all worth seeing, whether you take a tour or go on your own. The geothermal features are great, and there is one little geyser, called Strokkur that erupts every few minutes, so you never have to worry about missing it.
Vik on the southern coast is well worth the trip for its basalt columns and black sand beaches (too cold to swim).
Seljalandfoss was our favorite waterfall. I forget exactly where that one was, but also somewhere along the southern coast. Hopefully you can find it in a guidebook. :)
You should definitely go swimming in one of the geothermal pools as well. The “Blue Lagoon” is the major tourist trap place, but there are several others around Reykjavik as well.
If you rent a car, drive carefully! One of the first things we did was rescue a couple of young women who had rolled their vehicle right off the road. We happened to be first on the scene. (They were remarkably fine, except for a few cuts that probably needed stitching, but very shaken!) The rate of tourist auto accidents is huge. The roads are dirt/gravel and you need to take your time and be careful. (Also your rental will be a stick — so make sure you know how to drive one before you go!)
Not everyone speaks English by any means, so it’s useful to know a few words before you go. I’d recommend the names of various basic food items. We never learned to say/pronounce “where is the bathroom” well enough to be understood, which was a bit of an issue (I’m still not sure how you are supposed to say it!)
I second everything MathMom said, esp. regarding the Blue Lagoon, the geysers and the waterfalls. We went to Iceland enroute to Paris and because we were coming from within “Europe,” French officials wouldn’t stamp my passport when I got into Paris!!!! I really wanted that stamp, dammit. If you care about that kind of thing, it’s something to consider.
The hotel I stayed in, in Reykjavik is CenterHotel Skjaldbreio. It’s right on the main thoroughfare, great location, nice hotel, typically small (by US standards) but comfortable. firstname.lastname@example.org or +345 595 8510
Also, if you like seafood, you MUST MUST MUST MUST go to Sjávarkjallarinn. It’s like the Nobu of Iceland or something. So goooooood! It was one of the highlights of our trip and great wine list, as well. http://www.sjavarkjallarinn.is/english.htm
Have fun!!! (Because naturally, I’m assuming you’ll go based on our rave reviews!)
Oh, one more thing…. I don’t know about the dirt/gravel roads. When we were there in March, every road we were on was smooth blacktop. Maybe they paved the whole country between last summer and this past March. LOL.
For the Blue Lagoon, bring an underwater camera. You won’t regret it and you’ll be really happy you did. For the waterfalls and geysers, bring a raincoat and a spare pair of pants in case you get sprayed.
nani, I wonder if you stayed in/near Reykjavik and that’s why you only saw blacktop roads? We stayed on/near the “ring road” (to really go into the interior you need a 4wd vehicle, which are prohibitively expensive to rent) but spent a fair bit of time on gravel roads. We were used to gravel road driving, but it was clear that lots of tourists were not. Also the roads are narrow, without much shoulder. What happened to the girls we “rescued” was that they hit the sloped shoulder, lost control, and rolled.
Here are a few links about driving in Iceland lest you think I am making this all up ;-):
One thing they don’t seem to tell you is that right after the road is topped up with fresh gravel is the most dangerous time of all. All that gravel is very loose and it’s almost like being on ice, in a way.
I don’t think I mentioned in my first message, but I think we stayed 5 days total, which we felt was worth it. We were trying to go as cheaply as possible (with 3 kids!) so we stayed in youth hostels (quite passable) and bought a lot of groceries rather than eating in restaurants all the time. This was a challenge not knowing the language, but do be sure to try some of the interesting yogurts they sell there if you like yogurt (they have a big dairy industry). Otherwise we found the groceries available (especially fresh fruits and veggies) pretty sparse compared to home.
Oh, I don’t know. We went to the geysers and the waterfalls (the ones where you can see the Westman Islands in the distance from the road), as well as the Blue Lagoon. We also got lost more than once, LOL. I guess those are all on the “ring road?”
If you have the slightest interest in history and archaeology, go. Nevermind the geysers and lagoons – go for the museums. As many as possible. The Icelanders combine ancient artefacts with multimedia presentations in impressive and beautiful ways. They have museums where you can spend a day without getting bored, and in any case Reykjavik is small and pleasant enough that you can walk from pretty much any museum to any other.
The youth hostel is fine – clean, quiet and inexpensive. Buses can take you pretty much anywhere of interest. Get a guided tour of Thingvellir for a combined hike and historical experience.
Also, just go for the experience of a capital where you won’t see a homeless person, employment rates are improbably high, and the streets are immaculately clean. And try their chocolate-covered licorice and their dried fish snacks, available in any corner store :)
nani, it sounds like everything you went to was within a few hours of Reyjkavik, though I’m not sure which waterfalls you’re talking about. We ended up going out along the main highway along the south coast as far as the Skaftafell national park (the big ice area in the south), which is worth it if you have the time, but I suspect that that area is where we ran into the gravel roads.
If you want to do the museums, you’ll probably find the Reykjavik tourist card to be a good deal. It gives you free admission to bunches of places. We only did 1 day of museums because we were there with 3 kids (5-12yo) and their patience for such things was limited, and also because the landscape was so unique that we mostly wanted to experience that. The thing that stands out most for me was the old manuscripts at the “Culture House”. The Reykjavik card was also good for admission to the thermal pools (not the Blue Lagoon but the less touristy ones). We enjoyed the botanical gardens too (I think entry was free).
There was somewhere where we went on a boat tour in icy waters which was fun, but I don’t remember the details right now. I may be able to reconstruct it by referring to our photos.
I am getting ready to pull the trigger. Arrive Sunday, afternoon, depart Wednesday, on the way back to NYC. I may try a packaged hike one day, and explore Reykjavik another. I don’t know how valuable the extra half day will be. I am thinking that the car rental is not going to happen, and I am a bit concerned about how much these 3 nights will cost.
So, H, mathmom, Nani, what do you think?
Two days spent just the way you’re suggesting would make a very worthwhile visit. Make sure the packaged hike includes Thingvellir, and do read up on it a little before the trip. As for prices, I don’t remember off the top of my head, but could get back to you by e-mail in a day or so. Some of the museums had stiff admissions fees, but they were so worth every cent. You may want to carry your own packaged lunch around, though – eating out is expensive enough to make bread and cheese from the corner store an attractive option. (I assume it’s because the cost of labor is higher in Europe that the difference in price between groceries and served food is so much higher there than here.)
If you’re going to pay for a packaged tour, I’d go for the “Golden Triangle”. I think you would kick yourself if you skipped that. It will take a full day. We drove it ourselves, but if you are not renting a car, you will need to pay for a tour. There are tons of companies that offer them. Spending a day in Reykjavik is definitely worthwhile. There’s plenty to do in Reyjkavik to fill the extra half day as well.
Cost will depend a lot on where you stay and what you eat. If you want to keep costs down, stay at the youth hostel (if I recall correctly, the one in Reyjkavik was very nice) where you will also have access to a kitchen. There’s usually a grocery store in walking distance from the hostels, particularly in Reykjavik that shouldn’t be a problem. We ate a lot of yogurt, Gouda, herbed cream cheese, crackers (Wasa bread) and salami. You can also get reasonably priced sandwiches at a lot of small markets. Iceland is not a place to visit for its fine cuisine, so you’re not missing much, though we did hear that some of the very expensive restaurants were quite good, I don’t think there was much that was uniquiely Icelandic about them, and you can probably get a nice dinner in NYC for much less. If you have a very early flight out on Wednesday, you might want to stay at the hostel nearer the airport, Njardvik I think it is, that last night. We did that. That one was also very nice.
I am planning for a 4 day trip.
1 day – Golden Triangle
1 day – Some Glacier tour / some tour from renting a car if i can find some people to chip in…
2 days – Reykjavik
What say? I am not so sure about 2 days in Reykjavik. Is there any way i can get bored in 2 days? FYI, i dont like museums… If there is beautiful scenery nearby i can bike to that and sit and watch that all day though… What do you guys think?
Aug 25 – Aug 28
Is there anyone going to Iceland end of August ?
went a few years ago on the way to Paris, stayed for 3 days and loved it. Am going back next Friday (8/9) for horseback riding adventure in the North. It is VERY expensive once you are there. Keeping this in mind you can purchase beer/wine/spirits at the Duty Free shop on the way out of the airport. This is a much cheaper way to have a glass of wine/beer with dinner which you can pick up at the grocery store instead of going out to eat. Since I will be on horseback and going from inn to inn I have purchased some of the Vendage wine in small box form (not the best but it will do – until the TSA started with their draconian 3 oz rule a friend of mine affectionately called these Purse Paks) to put in my back pack – I don’t want the weight or fragility of glass.
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