We were only in Reykjavik for 4 days but we managed to pack a lotta things into that small time. Below is a couple of suggestions of what to do based on what we did, whether good or bad 😉
- Northern Lights Tour
We booked a Northern Lights tour through Gray Line excursions (one of the 2 main excursion companies in Iceland other than Reykjavik Excursions) and they were really great. We joined the tour at 9pm and were taken to a nature spot outside of Reykjavik where you were supposed to get a good view of the Northern Lights. Unfortunately on the night it was very cloudy so we didn’t actually see any at that spot. To be honest, my boyfriend and I didn’t really mind too much, as we knew it was a pretty big gamble – you can’t always guarantee the weather, and we’d worn enough thermals to not be fussed by the cold – So when we finally set back to the city at around 1am, I plugged in my earphones and fell asleep.
Almost home and I get woken up by some very enthusiastic American tourists who have seen the Northern lights out the bus window and are pleading (please read – whining) at the bus driver to pull over so we can see. To his credit, he did. And they were amazing! It was really great to actually get to see them – I’d persuaded myself that I wasn’t that fussed but it was quite exciting to constantly be looking out for the next light sighting. We were quite lucky to be right next to the bus driver door and he kept tapping me on the shoulder and pointing at the best spots in the sky for the next lot of lights to appear, so I had a pretty good spot!
So I would definitely recommend trying to see the Northern Lights when in Iceland, however if I had the choice I would try for a private tour or even a smaller group. Nothing quite ruins the incredible sight of the Northern Lights than a group of tourists whooping and cheering at 2am – quote ‘OMG THAT’S SO AWESOME’ – this followed by a half hour drive home where they then compared the pictures they had taken. Which leads me on to my next point – taking pictures.. of the Northern Lights? Really? It was a bit sad to see everyone run out of the bus only to spend 10 minutes setting up their cameras to try and capture the sight. It just seemed like a bit of a waste and a little bit sad, surely if you want a picture of the Northern Lights you could just Google one?
Either way, we had a lovely time but if I could go again and din’t have to worry about the budget I would try for a personal tour/smaller tourist group tour. At least this way you would have more flexibility to see the lights and not put up with any erm, enthuastic, tourists. No matter what you decide to pick, it’s definitely a must see for an Iceland trip, and I’m so glad we did it!
- The Blue Lagoon
Despite a -2C snowstorm this was still an absolute treat. This was another part of the trip that had been highly recommended to us, and I’m really glad we went with it. We booked this again through Gray line Excursions (spoiler – we booked everything this way) and this involved a pick up and drop off to our hotel including admission. If you go to the website of the Blue Lagoon (here) it has several options for entry. As I’m a dead set budget traveller I chose us the Standard Admission and it was essentially the basic entry to the pool but we had our own towels so I don’t think we missed out on anything. The other options go further up in price with included towel and bathrobe hire and drinks included etc.
This leads me on to one of the perks of the Blue Lagoon – there’s a swim up bar when you can order beer/wine/prosecco/healthy green smoothies if you’re so inclined. The slightly dangerous aspect here in terms of price is that you get given an electronic wristband on entry which you can use to pay for your drinks… Seems like a fabulous idea at the time but you’d be surprised how much you’d spent at the end (disclaimer: you can only purchase 3 drinks pp).
Overall this trip was absolutely fab. We explored the blue lagoon – it’s massive – and got to try on the clay mask they hand out. I can’t vouch for the incredible benefits it give your skin but it was quite fun to give it a go for a while, just to try the experience. Being able to swim up and grab a glass of prosseco was certainly a cherry on the top of a great little cake, and I would highly recommend this. Like i mentioned earlier, we were there in a -2C snowstorm but whilst my head (and especially ears) were bright red as a result, my body was nice and toasty. Getting out to get back into the changing rooms at the end felt like hell on earth, but oh well you only live once and all that. The changing rooms and electric wristband parts certainly made the whole experience a lot more streamlined and easy to handle.
- The Golden Circle Tour
When I was looking up (the limited) posts on what to do in Iceland (see here and here) each one recommended a tour of the Golden Circle. As I’ve mentioned previously we are budget travellers so we once again with Gray line Excursions and our tour guide an bus driver were great. The Golden Circle Tour – in this instance – takes you around several scenic destinations, a site where you’re in between two tectonic plates, the ‘Golden Waterfall’ and an exploding Geyser site. However we took the 8 hours all day Golden Circle tour which also meant we had to stop off at a coffee shop, a ‘horse show’ and a small but quite pretty Icelandic church. Whereas I enjoyed myself at the first three sites I mentioned, I feel that if I wanted to go back I would try and find an express tour (there are several available, like here and here) where this was possible. As personally I feel like the church and the horse show weren’t necessary and by this point I was so tired it really took a lot for me to get off the bus to attempt it.
Like I said, if I were to go again I would try for an express tour, or even a personal one if I could, as 8 hours is quite a lot to spend on a coach with other tourists – who may be a lot more enthusiastic/whiney than you are!
- Reykjavik City Exploring
We arrived on the Saturday evening so had a brief walk into the city to find somewhere to eat, settling at the Big Lebowski Bar for a couple of beers and some chicken wings and fries (we’d had a big lunch at Stansted airport so don’t judge us)
The next day – Sunday – we had the whole day to explore the city before the Northern lights tour that evening and so we walked along the harbour to take in some amazing views of the surrounding mountains.
We walked past the Reykjavik opera house, onto the main high street and then onto the iconic Church, Hallgrímskirkja. We tried out a local tapas bar which was a great way to get to try some Icelandic dishes – fermented shark (tasted a bit like mussels) and grilled whale (didn’t realise it was frowned upon at the time sorry) included. We walked to the edge of the city to a viewpoint which gave an incredible panoramic of the city, before walking back in for a coffee at the incredible coffee shop/restaurant :Fish.
After this we headed down to the harbour to scout out restaurants, before settling on The Laundromat Cafe for a grilled sandwich and chips each as an early dinner before heading out to see the Northern Lights. If I could go back again (which I would love to do) I would actually leave more spare time in to be able to explore the city more as even though I feel we covered the main points, it just felt like a great place to be in and I wouldn’t mind spending a few lazy afternoons mosying around.
Overall I’d say this is a pretty good summary of what we got up to on our trip to Reykjavik. We were there for almost 5 days which I think is a pretty average length for a trip there – after al it is expensive. I’m writing a post on where to eat in Iceland which will be up shortly, as the city has a lot to offer – but it certainly isn’t cheap!
If I could add a few tips for taking a trip there I would say:
- Grab an airport transfer from either Gray Line or Reykhavik Excursions as they’re a lot cheaper than a taxi (around £12 each way) and the buses have free and easy to use wifi which made the journey go a lot quicker.
- The tours and excursions usually pick you up and drop you off at a hotel, so if you’re in an airbnb like us, just find a nearby hotel and choose that as your pickup destination, we found that our chosen hotel didn’t mind at all. they even helped us to get a taxi to the airport back on our last day when we’d accidentally underestimated our departure time – at a discounted price!
- Food and drink is expensive in Iceland, and if you’re not too fussed and would like to save the cash then maybe consider cooking one of your meals everyday. We always had breakfast in our airbnb studio which mainly involved bread and eggs, and it meant the supermarketer prices worked in our favour a lot more than going out for breakfast everyday!
- And drink is very pricey… Personally we weren’t there to go crazy and get wild drunk, although we could recognise that some people were – so this didn’t bother us. But I was told before I went that often the beer and wine you buy in bars and restaurants has a lower alcohol percentage than you would find in th eUK – and a lot more expensive. So we were told to (and we did) buy a bottle of gin in duty free and bring it along with you. It was certainly cheap and it meant we got a few cheeky gin & tonics in every evening without having to break the bank.
- If you have the money, go for the proper private off road excursions. I did enjoy the ones we went on but I’m not really a people person – so if you can stand hoards of annoying tourists who walk slow and talk loud, then I envy you – but if you can afford to do otherwise then go for it. You’ll still see the same things, but you’ll probably have a smoother experience!