We recently went to the Reykjavik area of Iceland where we had a fantastic time. We found it very easy to fall in love with the country, the people were very friendly and helpful (and often spoke better English than we do), kids were very welcome everywhere in Iceland (handy when you’ve got a 6yr old with you)…
…and the place, although a little bleak at times, had a really wonderful beauty.
I absolutely can’t wait to visit Iceland again, there’s a lot to do and the food is great. I can totally see why Iceland is popular for long weekend breaks… 2.5hrs by plane, same time zone and everything feels so easy and pleasant!
Hotel-wise, we stayed at the Hotel Cabin in greater Reykjavik. Cheap, clean and well organised. It’s a 20 min walk into the centre of Reykjavik. It worked great for us for this trip, but next time I’ll probably pay a little more and stay in the centre of Reykjavik. We booked this trip to Iceland with Broadway Travel – £199 per person including flights, hotel & Northern Lights trip – absolute bargain! I definitely recommend subscribing to their email list and keeping an eye on their offers.
Without further ado, here are my tips for if you’re planning a short break to Reykjavik or West Iceland:
#1: Hire a car (4×4 if travelling in Winter)
Private transfers and taxis are expensive in Iceland and driving to places like the waterfalls are so much more enjoyable if you can stop when you want to take photos. The scenery in Iceland is beautiful and I personally think it’s a real shame to just see it whizzing by on a coach.
Why do I say a 4×4 specifically?
Only these types of vehicles are allowed in the highlands, with good reason. You might not find you go into the Highlands (we didn’t), but if you’re driving in Winter then the roads can get pretty scary. We had a Skoda Octavia 4 wheel drive estate for a day, which was great, however the weather going to Gulfoss waterfalls was so bad, we had to turn back. I don’t think we would have made it in 4×4 either to be honest, but you’re most safe in a 4×4. Expensive, but you’ll thank me if you drive in Winter.
Which leads me onto…
Don’t drive in Iceland in Winter unless you are a confident driver
You’ll be pretty much be driving on ice and snow the whole time. The good thing is that they have amazing tyres, which make driving on the slippy ice and snow a lot easier…but it can still get pretty hairy! If you doubt your driving abilities at all in the snow, don’t do it.
Here’s a bit of video from our trip so you can see for yourself…
If you do get a bit stuck, it’s worth noting that the mobile coverage in Iceland is really great…like REALLY great. I used Vodafone Eurotraveller and had connection pretty much everywhere we went.
Transfers to Reykjavik
Our cheap break to Reykjavik didn’t include transfers. When I tried to book private transfers with our tour operator, they said it was going to be £250 for four of us. What?!?! It’s only 45mins from the airport! Transport seems to be expensive in Iceland, the taxis are very expensive also (£15/£20 for around 5-10min drive). We opted for the much cheaper Grayline coach transfers – £66 for four of us, rather than £250. I really hate coaches (I think you guessed that already), but even I couldn’t justify such a price difference.
I wished someone would have advised me to book a car before we went away to pick up from the airport. I usually read a few blogs before going away and maybe would have seen this tip, but our recent holiday to Dubai and Thailand kinda took my mind off the Iceland trip. Not to worry, we still had a fab time and here I am passing this tip onto you.
#2: Book ahead for the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is a geo-thermal spa about 30-40 mins from Reykjavik. Again, I would have seen this tip maybe somewhere had I done my usual research. We turned up without pre-booking and had to wait a good half hour at least before getting in. This doesn’t sound like much, but we almost didn’t get in at all. It’s easy to pre-book over the Internet and well worth it. It’s £35 each for basic pool access and a locker (be warned, you’ll need a towel and lockers are in great demand in the ladies…they really need more). The next ticket up is the £50 one which gets you a towel, skincare pack and a drink…and there are more benefits with some extra payment options.
We really enjoyed the Blue Lagoon, it’s obviously bloody cold when you’re out of the water (bring a nice big fluffy beach towel) but you’re not out in the cold air for long at all and the water is very warm. Swim over to the left hand side where you’ll find buckets of silica mud to use on your face as a mask.
#3: Don’t just go to Iceland for the Northern Lights
For two out of four of the days we were in Iceland, we were in hurricane conditions. Well, just a few miles an hour off a hurricane actually…the actual hurricane had hit Sweden (my friend Oliver was in the middle of it!) and we got the tail end of it in Iceland. This did make a bit of the trip challenging…but the Northern Lights watching especially. This was definitely the most miserable part of our trip. 4+ hours on a coach (Grayline coaches again – this time, no toilet?! No toilet for a 4hr trip?!), trying to shelter from the bracing wind. We didn’t get to see the Northern Lights unfortunately (they were too far North the night we went and too much cloud was on the horizon to see any faint hints of them), but if I’m honest, even if we did it would still have been pretty miserable.
Our coach turned up at a place windier than hell itself with around 8 other coaches and everyone then tried the get into a café nearby to ease the boredom whilst we waited for our guides to tell us if they could see the start of the lights. It was like tinned sardines in there and we quickly went back to the coach (was far too windy and cold to stay out for more than 5mins at a time). Our guides advised they would come running as soon as they started to see them (they usually last for 10-30mins), but sadly for us that night it didn’t happen. Fantastic if it does happen, but if you’ve built your whole break in Iceland on that trip, then you’ll be really quite disappointed if you do have to spend 4+ hours on a coach with no food or drink (tip: take water and snacks with you) tired and just wanting your comfy bed.
Thankfully, I was very pessimistic about our chances of seeing them, so wasn’t too disappointed!
You could take your own car and go hunting the lights…you’ll need to pay close attention to the weather forecast, the coaches say they decide on where to go based on the places that have a dark view of the North and no cloud above. Or maybe you could follow the coaches all trekking out of Reykjavik at 8pm 😉
If you’re staying in Reykjavik, I do think the coaches are maybe the best option, just be prepared: wear lots of warm layers, take water/drinks and snacks and something to keep yourself occupied (e.g. kindle with a backlight, as they turn all the lights off when waiting). If you don’t see the northern lights that night, all the tour operators have a policy of letting you come again and again until you see them…for two years.
If you’re staying in a few places around Iceland, maybe pick somewhere that’s out of Reykjavik or a town to be in with a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
#3: Go to Þingvellir on your way to Gullfoss waterfalls
The Þingvellir area (sometimes called Thingvellir) is part of a fissure zone running through Iceland, situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It’s an UNESCO heritage site and I think it’s pretty damn cool to say you’ve stood on two different continents in the space of a few minutes!
Here’s me in þingvellir trying to stand upright in the fierce wind…
Search for images of þingvellir on Google and you’ll see it looks pretty gorgeous in Summer months. Want to see what it’s looking like at the moment? Here’s a live webcam.
#4: Go to the waterfalls
We sadly didn’t make it to the waterfalls because the weather got so bad we couldn’t get to it in the car. Such a shame because I hear from lots of people that the waterfalls are really amazing. Gullfoss waterfalls are maybe the biggest / easiest to get to from Reykjavik…there are lots though, definitely see if you can see them when you’re there.
#5: Eat at The Fishmarket
Our friend Mark tipped us off about eating at The Fishmarket and I’m so glad he did, it was amazing! We went for the tasting menu which was around £55 each (without drinks). It’s a treat meal…but absolutely worth it, we got around 10 courses and each was very tasty. A mixture of fish and meat dishes, each more exciting than the last. We took Arabella (my friend Sam’s little girl) to the restaurant with us because she’s pretty good at trying new foods. The restaurant immediately said she was fine to have the same portions as us but we’d only pay half. Pretty decent.
I’d recommend The Fishmarket in a heartbeat. Can’t wait to go back to that restaurant.
#6: Go see Hallgrímskirkja
Hallgrímskirkja is a wonderful looking church in Reykjavik. It looks like a spaceship. End of.
#7: Go shopping for clothes and home ware in Reykjavik
I was in Reykjavik during my spending ban, so I wasn’t able to purchase any clothes…but found it pretty damn difficult! Most of the fashion stores have gorgeous clothing, beautiful silhouettes and cuts…a little All Saints maybe, but not quite as grungey.
This was one of their vintage stores. I know that cardi is ridiculous, but I wanted it. I still want it. If you’re into rummaging in vintage stores, check this article out for the best places in Reykjavik.
Reykjavik was also seriously good for home ware shopping. Lots of little shops selling the most gorgeous stuff…they have all that beautiful Scandi vibe going on. Whilst you’re shopping, it would be rude not to stop off for a…ok, multiple…hot chocolates! They do it well in Iceland.
#8: Go see an event at the Harpa Concert Hall
The Harpa is a beautiful building in Reykjavik and it’s worth checking if there’s something on whilst you’re in town.
#9: If travelling to Iceland in Winter, wrap up warm
I know this is like a ‘well duh!’ tip…but seriously, take a lot of layers! Snow boots are an absolute MUST…sunglasses (it might be snowy, but you’ll probably get gorgeous sunshine too)…waterproof jacket / trousers…thermals.
#10: It’s easy to fly to Iceland from the UK
Flying to Iceland is really handy from a lot of airports in the UK, especially from Manchester. We flew with Easyjet and it only took a few hours. We went mid-week, but Icelandair do some handy Friday afternoon / back Monday morning flights if you fancy a cheeky weekend stay in Iceland. Worth keeping an eye on prices though, booking in advance can save a lot.
Hope you found these tips for short breaks in Reykjavik and Iceland handy! Would love to hear about any tips you might have from a trip there…we’ll definitely be going again, there’s so much still on my to do list in Iceland and I’d love some more pointers for experiences!