Iceland

This is a guest post from my wife. Enjoy 🙂

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I turned 30 on 1st February (woo…) and my husband and I decided to go away for it as a treat. I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland (and hopefully see the Northern Lights!) so we booked to go from 31stJanuary-4th February 2018.  Below is what I learnt with some tips along the way…

 

Getting there with WOW air

We flew with WOW air. Flights cost us just over £350 return and that included one 20kg piece of hold luggage that we shared (at a cost of £29.99 each way). Hand luggage was restricted to a small carry-on bag – e.g a handbag/laptop case or small backpack and they were very strict on this. I saw one person get charged because their hand luggage exceeded the maximum size and many were asked to prove that their luggage was small enough. If you want to bring on a standard sized piece of hand luggage (22 x 18 x 10 inches, 26 lbs/11kg) then you will have to pay a fee of £18.49 (each way). We therefore saw it more economical to share a large suitcase.

The flights themselves went smoothly. They departed on time and arrived on time. Like most no frills leg room was limited but for a short (ish) flight this was ok & there was no inflight entertainment. I therefore recommend flying with WOW air if they come in the cheapest (which is likely!).

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Transfers

I was rather luckily informed that the price of a taxi from the airport is extortionate, around £125 (one way)! This didn’t really surprise me as Iceland does have an expensive reputation. We do normally just jump in a taxi at the airport because it is convenient but not for that price! However, I researched and was able to find an array of transfers available. The cheapest that I could find was with FlyBus/Reykjavik Excursions at a nifty £56 return. The transfer does ask what time you land but for peace of mind, the transfers are also frequent.  This only took us to the BSI bus terminal though, which was 15-20 min walk from our hotel. You can pay nearly double to be dropped off at your hotel but for me it was a no brainer – that £50 could be spent elsewhere.

 

The walk

 

After a lovely 50 minute scenic coach journey we arrived at the BSI bus terminal. Upon getting off I thought I had made a mistake. The rest of the coach were going to their respective hotels and I thought maybe we should have done the same. However, we proceeded with the walk and you know what? It wasn’t that bad. Ok yes there was quite thick snow on the floor that my poor husband had to pull our suitcase through but other than that it was worth the money saving (he also agrees!) and on the way back home the snow had almost gone and the walk was a breeze (quite literally since it was a little on the windy side). So if you are prepared to walk a little bit I would recommend doing this.

The hotel

We stayed at Fosshotel Lind – https://www.islandshotel.is/hotels-in-iceland/fosshotel-lind

I’ve used my trip advisor review for this section as I think it sums up my thoughts on this best:

‘…It’s conveniently located, only a few minutes away from Laugavegur – a street with many good restaurants, bars and souvenir shops.
Hotel pickups for excursions is immediately at the front of the hotel and drop offs are at bus stop 10 (a 2 min walk away)
It is also a 15-20 minute walk away from the BSI bus terminal which is handy if you want to save some money and be dropped off there for transfers, trips etc.
The room itself was a decent size, clean and comfortable. The shower was powerful, although perhaps a little bit claustrophobic. There is a slight sulphur smell when using the hot water but that is just the case in Iceland due to the underground geothermal springs. There is also a very informative sign on the bathroom door advising of this.
The cold water is lovely to drink.
The breakfast was good. There is both hot and cold food as well as pastries and cereals. The breakfast seating area is large so getting a seat is easy…’

Overall it was a good hotel that ticked all the boxes for us. It came in at £ 490 for 4 nights.

 

Food

 

Lunches

On our first day we got to our hotel around 3.30pm and after settling in decided to go and explore. At around 5pm we were feeling a bit peckish and didn’t think we would last until dinner. We wanted something small but substantial and the place that fit that bill was Reykjavik Chips. In terms of simplicity this place has it. It serves chips and beer (and soft drinks) and that’s all. It’s dear for chips but by Iceland’s standards relatively average and the chips were lovely – really well cooked. They came with a choice of dip of which there was a good variety and we opted for chilli mayo which was super delicious. Check out their website for prices.

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http://www.rvkchips.is/

Lunch on the second day was at Salka Valka a quirky little café minutes from Hallgrimskirkja. The décor is interesting – for instance one wall is covered with a map of the world. The food was very comforting on a cold day and fantastic value for Iceland. I had the fish stew and my husband the fish of the day. Both were lovely and filling. One thing to note is that the broccoli is served cold but I just mixed it into my stew. It’s definitely worth a visit.

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Total for 2 meals and two cokes – £44

Our third day of lunch was at a little haunt that we kept walking past on Laugavegur called Svarta Kaffið. This restaurant had a sign outside stating that they have the best soups in town so we thought we would check it out. Walking inside we were greeted by a bustling room full of people. We sat down and was advised that there were two soups on the menu – a meat paprika soup (basically a Goulash, although when one punter asked if it was they were advised that it very much wasn’t. It was pretty darn similar though!) and leek and potato. Like pretty much everyone in there we opted for the meat soup. A few minutes later our soup was served up to us in bread bowls. Similar to Reykjavik Chips it was simple and novel and it was dear for soup (around £12) but was a good place to come for a quick lunch. My only disappointment was that there wasn’t much soup – I would have liked a bit more! As we left there was a queue forming down the stairs so it is a very popular place!

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Total for 2 soups and two cokes – £32

On our fourth day we were on the Golden Circle Tour so lunch consisted of a burger and chips from the Geysir visitor centre!

Dinners

Food is a big deal to us and we also like to eat as much of the local cuisine as possible when in a country. We would normally drink wine with a meal but in order to save money we each had a beer.

Harry’s Seafood & Grill Restaurant – Laugavegur. We wanted to stay close to our hotel since we were going to be up early the next morning therefore, we ended up hereThe restaurant was pretty empty when we visited at around 7.30pm and this didn’t really increase during our time there.

We both ordered the lamb which was really tasty.

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Price for 2 meals and 2 lagers – £72

Old Iceland – Laugavegur . We visited this place for my birthday. Personally I was drawn to the name and the restaurant itself looked inviting. It didn’t disappoint. Since it was my birthday we opted for the set menu of:

Cured salmon – Pickled cucumber, dill mayo, rye bread, affilla cress and salmon roe

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Fillet of lamb and slow cooked shoulder – Artichokes, parsnip, beetroot, potatoes and demi-glace

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Brownie – Toffee, roasted oats, vanilla ice cream and strawberries

All of which were super delicious, generous and well presented. We were very full by the end. The only criticism was that the mains were served up pretty much straight after our starters which rushed us a bit. However, we asked if we could wait a bit before we tucked into our desserts and they honoured that.

Price for 2 set menus and 2 lagers – £128  

https://oldiceland.is/

Ostabúðin – Located on Skólavörðustígur we were not sure if we would get a seat but they fit us in the very corner – which was slightly cramped! The food made up for this though. My husband was very excited as this place served whale, which he ordered for his starter and I got to try Arctic Char which I ordered for my main. Both were super delicious.

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Price for 2 starters, mains and beers – £113

Matwerk Kitchen – Laugavegur. After a long day on the Golden Circle tour we wanted to eat quite close to our hotel. We had walked past this several nights and it always looked popular so we thought we would give it a try. As we hadn’t booked they sat us up in the higher chairs by the kitchen which we did not mind. For starter we both had Icelandic langoustine in creamy onion vinaigrette with home made beer bread and butter snow which I preferred more that my husband. For main my husband had the fresh fish of the day whereas I had the salted cod steak however, we had to swap as I found my dish too sweet. Sadly neither of us were blown away by the food which is a shame.

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Price for 2 starters, mains and beers-£104

 http://matwerk.is/#home

Drink

Since generally beer is the cheapest of alcohols this is all we drunk in Reykjavik . We tried 3 different lagers in all –Gull, Viking and Brio. Gull was probably my favourite.

Below is a list (in order of preference) of the bars we visited whilst in Reykjavik.

Boston – We visited this bar on the last night. Located on Laugavegur, you could walk past this quite easily. Check it out though. It is quite small but that adds to its charm and like most bars here it has a happy hour.

Lebowski Bar – In contrast to Boston this bar is huge! The façade is inviting and the inside (you guessed it) is inspired by the Big Lebowski. At the back of the bar a big screen pays classics like Space Balls and Beverly Hills Cops and of course there is a happy hour. https://lebowskibar.is/

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Bravó – We were drawn to this bar because it has the longest happy hour which lasts from 11am- 8pm. Again it is small but the vibe is great with its mismatched décor and multi-coloured lights.

Meze – We stumbled across Meze looking for happy hour drinks. It is a predominately a restaurant but they gave us a seat at the bar to enjoy some beers.

Hlemmur Mathöll – Located on the corner of Laugavegur this is a trendy indoor food hall with a big bar. You can sit around the windows and watch the world go by. http://www.hlemmurmatholl.is/english/

Hlemmur Square – Next door to the above, we tested this place for a drink to end the night. The vibe was that of a hotel bar (because it was!) but it didn’t really have much of an atmosphere.

Excursions

 

Blue Lagoon

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For my birthday we went to the Blue Lagoon which I booked directly on their website https://www.bluelagoon.com/.  We picked a 9am entry which meant a 7.30 pickup from the hotel. Why? So that we could get there for sunrise. Was it worth it? Eerie skies on arrival, a minimal queue, the sky gradually changing purple to red to daylight whilst in the lagoon, back in time for lunch without rushing– absolutely!

I put a lot of research into what ticket to purchase and decided upon comfort over premium. Comfort gave you the following:

Entrance to Blue Lagoon – Silica Mud Mask – Use of Towel – 1st Drink of your choice

Whereas the extras on premium are:

Use of Bathrobe – Algae Mask – Slippers – Reservation at LAVA (optional) – Sparkling wine if dining at LAVA

Personally I think a towel is enough. Once I was out of the lagoon I showered then dried and then got changed. I wasn’t walking around so a robe may have been slightly redundant. Also the changing rooms are warm.

You still get a mask (in fairness the Algae was included in the comfort ticket when I went but this has now changed) – I feel that two masks is a bit over the top though – just my opinion here.

I brought along our own slippers (which I purchased on Ebay for £0.99 before coming).

We were happy enough with our free glass of prosecco but if you are coming for LAVA (the Blue Lagoon restaurant) then perhaps premium is a better option.

So all in all we didn’t feel like we lost out with comfort. A towel and a drink was all we needed. We spent about 2 and a half hours in the lagoon. Premium was by far the most popular choice though.

The lagoon itself was A-mazing. I thought it may be overrated but that wasn’t the case. The time flew by and there was so much to do there. The bar was in the lagoon itself which was fantastic and the range of drinks you could choose from was extensive. There is a sauna and a steam room and also a fresh water fountain to help keep you hydrated.

My top tip would be to bring a waterproof phone case. I didn’t which meant that my photos were limited but if you are trigger happy it’s the best option for protecting your phone.

Just a quick note on the whole changing rooms and showering naked. Yes you do have to do it. No you don’t have to shower naked in front of other – its private. I went into the shower with my bikini on and took it off once I was in there. I also put loads of conditioner in my hair and tied it up to prevent it from drying out.

In terms of changing rooms there are a couple of private ones but the chances are you are changing in front of others.

 

Northern Lights

Unfortunately due to cloudy skies our tour was cancelled and it was also cancelled for the following 2 nights. However, on our first night we headed to the sea front and got a mini display for free and without crowds of people. So I definitely recommend a stroll along there to see if you get lucky – there’s nothing to lose!

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Golden Circle

For our last day of the holiday we booked to go on the Golden Circle Classic tour with Grayline. We were very lucky that the day was storm free and overall quite sunny.

The tour kicked off at 9.30 which meant a 9am pickup from our hotel. The minibus came pretty much on time and took us to the Grayline bus terminal where we boarded our coach.

First stop: Þingvellir national park. This was a thing of real beauty especially in the snow. We arrived for sunrise which was particularly stunning. This park homes an iconic rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Definitely worth a visit.

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From there we moved onto the Gullfoss Waterfall. Again a thing of sheer beauty. You can view it from above or at a more level viewing. The visitor centre however, is atrocious. We didn’t bother with getting lunch there because the queue was too long. There were people everywhere!

We then drove a short distance to the Geysir geothermal area. Greeted by the ever familiar smell of sulphur and a constant stream of steam from the ground, the Geysir was a true spectacle. We also chose to have lunch here. The visitor centre here had a food hall and a lot more space. A good call by us!

Finally we ended with a short stop to the Faxi Waterfall and then Skálholt church. The church was small and had a small museum below but the best part was the spectacular views of the mountains.

We were then dropped back in Reykjavik at 5.30pm.

All in all a good tour. One downfall (and this wasn’t really Grayline’s fault) was that after the first stop when we returned to the coach some people broke the unwritten rule of remaining in their seats from before. Luckily this didn’t affect us but it did create quite a bit of turmoil and disruption. The tour guide then announced for this to not happen again however it did on our second return. Finally natural order was restored by our third return and all was well.

A general comment is; we thought that we should have had less time at the waterfall and more at the Geysir so that food could be consumed more appropriately. Saying that I would recommend brining sandwiches as a cheaper and easier alternative.

https://grayline.is/tours/reykjavik/golden-circle-classic-tour-8706_9/

Attractions

As well as the excursions we also visited some of Reykjavik’s attractions:

Sólfarið – or the Sun Voyager. A rather striking sculpture on the sea front. The views from it are amazing.

Hallgrimskirkja – a very original looking church with glorious views of Reykjavik, make sure you go to the very top (for a small fee). It’s cold but worth it.  https://en.hallgrimskirkja.is/

Perlan Museum Museum explaining volcanos, glaciers and all things ice. It also has a man made ice cave inside with a free guided tour. Really informative and very fun and a lot cheaper than visiting the actual ice caves! https://www.perlanmuseum.is/en/

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Saga Museum – Waxwork museum with audio tour. Provides an early history of Iceland. Very informative. https://www.sagamuseum.is/

Verdict

Iceland is a country of pure beauty and one I would definitely revisit. There is so much to see and do and it is like nowhere else I have ever been. It was shame that I didn’t get to see the Northern Lights properly but that gives me the excuse to return in the future. I would thoroughly recommend as a destination and 4 nights is a good length of stay. In February it is cold but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I loved Iceland and I will never forget it!

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