Gee-whizzers this is a late post. It’s been one entire month since we returned from Iceland but I’ve just struggled to find the time to finish the post I started some 4 weeks ago #SorryYall. Sometimes the places that you enjoy the most are, strangely, the ones that are the hardest to write about. It is hard to quantify your affection for an experience or justify your wanderlust for a destination within just a few paragraphs alone. Plus there is the inevitable deflation-come-depression when you’re reminiscing of wonderful times whilst just dying to make your next escape. I’ve made two Iceland videos Our Iceland Adventures and Tips For Driving In Iceland which are just about to eclipse 1000 views on Youtube – most of which were probably me re-living my memories… Luckily we’re off to Paris in a fortnight so hopefully I can draw a line under Iceland and carry on with the new travel experiences that 2017 will bring. Talking of drawing lines…
I think it’s fair to say that Iceland is very in vogue right now. This has been helped somewhat by it becoming slightly more affordable since their economic crash (and in spite of their booming recovery). Iceland now sees more airlines, more flights and more tourists than ever before. This, of course, coincides with a time where tourists are dying to escape the madness of the western world what with Trump, Brexit and all the doom and gloom at home (ie the true reason for Iceland becoming a hit at the moment: pure escapism) . Being diligent travellers, we planned ahead by booking our January flights way back in March at a sexy £71pp return. If you were looking to fly next weekend, for example, you’ll be looking at a £192pp for an easyjet return. It definitely pays to plan ahead. In Iceland every £ saved is a £ earned.
Savings And Shitboxes
We were on a similar money-saving tip when deciding to hire a car. Our basic plans for Iceland included the Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle plus Northern Lights hunting. Throw in the 45 minute (each way) transfer from the airport and you’re clocking up some serious mileage (or kilometerage, I suppose I should say). Expect to pay £80-100pp for a Northern Lights Tour and the 5-6 hour Golden Circle tour will command a similar fee. A return coach to the Blue Lagoon plus airport transfers will easily add up to £100pp on top of that and you can see how Iceland quickly becomes an expensive place to visit. That’s potentially, easily, conservatively £500 worth of car journeys.
Instead, we opted for a cheap ‘n’ cheerful 4×4 from Geysir via CarDelMar (and topcashback) costing just £140 for 3 days (including Gravel protection). What’s more, there were cheaper options than our non-essential 4×4 with hatchbacks starting at just £80. We opted for the 4×4 for the increased height and traction to make us feel more safe and secure however the ‘upgrade’ definitely wasn’t a real necessity. We quickly and affectionately nicknamed our Suzuki Jimmy… ‘The Shitbox’. And it was a shit box. Seriously, I have never had to de-ice the inside of a car before. Add to that the zero fog lights, a tiny boot, no stereo and a complete lack of power and you can quickly see how it gained its nickname. Still, it did the job and I would highly recommend you find your own shitbox too. Not only for the savings but also for the freedom it gave. I’ll explain more on that later.
Petrol, of course, was the only additional cost but 700km and 2 tanks of fuel later only set us back approx £120. So the fuel plus the car came well under half the cost of adding up all the tours. Quids in. Lovely jubbly. Check out my top 10 tips for driving in Iceland here, plus it’s got a pretty video of the crazy-picturesque views.
Arriving at Night & Chasing Northern Lights
We touched down on foreign soil at approximately 4pm and it was a dark and gloomy 5pm by the time we were leaving the car rental place.
Driving is pretty easy on Iceland’s well maintained, well signposted roads and within 45 minutes we were pulling up to Island Apartments, our home for the next 3 nights. Parking in Reykjavik is simple with bays being labeled P1 to P4 with P1 being the most expensive and central, followed closely by P2, P3 etc. Our parking zone was active Mon-Fri 9am-6pm and Saturday 10pm-5pm so we never actually needed to pay during our stay, we just made sure we were on the road during these hours – easy to do when the limited amount of daylight hours fell easily between these times!
We had a quick explore of the town which we found ran parallel to our superbly located apartment. We spied on plenty of bars and restaurants (and sipped on some lovely White Russian cocktails) before returning home with some essential shopping supplies for our self service apartment: chocolate, crisps, coke for our Vodka etc. You know, like I said… the essentials. We were actually laughed out of the supermarket for trying to buy beer – it turns out that the shops can’t sell anything above 0.3% alcohol, and the single, government run off licence was closed at this time. Definitely plan ahead and buy your booze at the duty free, or live like an Icelander and buy it at the airport as soon as you land.
As with the rest of the tourist crowd, we were here (partly) to see the almost unpredictable Northern Lights. I say unpredictable, there are certainly good sources that will accurately predict solar activity, cloud cover etc however these factors can change often; and they frequently do. Our plan was to keep an eye in the official website (vedur.is), make use of a few great Aurora forecast apps plus use our handy fold out map to decide where best to drive to in order to catch a glimpse. Unfortunately, being winter in Iceland, cloud cover was near 100% for our entire trip. I think the sky broke through only a handful of times in our 4 days there – never once happening at night. We were prepared for this disappointment and were therefore not ‘expecting’ to see the Northern lights and were thus not too gutted about this fact. Solar activity wasn’t particularly wild during the weekend of our visit so I’m sure there’s a good excuse for another visit in the future.
Each evening we quickly write-off the idea of spotting the Northern lights opting to enjoy good food and drink instead. When queuing at the airport we overheard another passenger tell of their story Aurora hunting…
“We saw the Aurora last night! …so surprised it came out on my camera as it was only in the sky for, like, 10 seconds. We waited out with our tour group for 3 hours Friday, 3 hours Saturday and the same Sunday – we just caught a glimpse as we boarded our coach home!”
~ Random Plane Guy.
If you ask me, that’s 9 hours wasted and 3 evenings ruined. Don’t get me wrong, we were prepared to camp out but with such little activity I think we were right to skip it on this occasion. That’s a lot of hours wasted in my book and our time was better spent exploring the bar, restaurant and general Reykjavik scene.
Our first full day in town saw us making the 45 minute drive back towards the airport. We opted for the luxury package at the Blue Lagoon which includes a robe, slippers, mask, beer and a lunchtime reservation at their Lava restaurant with a free glass of sparkly. Although we donned the robes and slippers for all of 20 yards, the package was certainly worth the premium and the overall experience was outstanding.
We arrived at the Blue Lagoon at 11am after a 45 minute drive through a torrential snow storm. Arriving in the car park we could barely take a photograph due to freezing hands, 360 degree wind and a face full of falling snow. This is when we knew were in Iceland – and we loved it.
The lagoon was beautiful and the contrast of 40°c water and – 2°c air made for a surreal but very comfortable, refreshing experience. Sipping on a cold beer has never felt so rewarding. There’s plenty to do at the Blue Lagoon, besides taking selfies; there are face masks, a bar, a sauna and a steam room. After an hour or so we changed and headed to Lava for the most exquisite meal of our stay. Icelandic lamb is simply a-maze-ing.
We enjoyed another fancy meal that evening at Grillmarkadurinn in Reykajvik, a classy grill/steak house often recommended for its good food, atmosphere and ‘reasonable’ prices. Of course ‘reasonable prices’ is quite the understatement when it comes to food in Reykjavik. Expect to pay £45-50 for a rack of lamb or steak dish plus £15 a cocktail. Welcome to Iceland! Although in fairness, both of the meals we had today were of outstanding quality, with excellent service and beautiful surrounds – it might be pricey, but Iceland sure knows how to do hospitality.
Our initial experiences of Iceland were that it was, certainly, expensive but so far, incredibly worth it. We’d enjoyed quite a civilised, relaxed day and a half by now. The next few days were going to be all about hitting the road and exploring.
Golden Circles, Waterfalls, Geysirs, Side-way car sliding, Fast Food, Black Sand, Craters plus the time we got absolutely soaked through whilst posing for the perfect selfie…. all coming up in Part 2 (Sorry but this shit was getting longggg……).
Are you planning a trip to Iceland? Ever been to Iceland? What were your first impressions like? What would you recommend for a first timer? Also, why not check out my reviews from places I visited on my review page. Comment down below to help out the super-on-trend crowd…