Iceland, at last!
After years of trips to Scandinavia, it was finally time to fly to Iceland. At 64°N, this was my second trip above the arctic circle; my first being Tromsø at about 70°N, exactly two years ago. Check out my video above or continue reading my blog:
It’s actually WOW Air that somehow persuaded me to fly to Iceland. For those who’ve never heard of this airline (with its purple planes) before, it’s an Icelandic budget airline connecting the US and Europe with Iceland at very low prices. Low as in: 320 euros from Europe to the US and back. Or… 120 euros from mainland Europe to Iceland. That’s about half (or even less) than what you’d pay when flying other airlines. Of course, as with any other budget airline, you’ll need to add the things you’d need, like hold luggage, seat reservation or a larger hand luggage, but even after adding all that, you’ll still pay less. And that’s exactly what I did, eventually paying around 180 euros for a trip back and forth, with one hold luggage and seat reservation. I didn’t pay for a larger hand luggage, as the smaller free one (being 42x32x25 cm) was enough for my camera, iPad and chargers.
I enjoyed my flight with WOW Air in their Airbus A321. The check-in and boarding procedures were stress free and I was welcomed on board. I was pleasantly surprised that my seat didn’t have a seat in front of me because of the emergency exit. After take off, the flight attendants served food and drinks (check their menu here). About 45 minutes before landing, they passed again to collect any waste. There was no onboard WiFi, so I made sure I downloaded enough from Netflix the night before.
From Keflavík Airport to Reykjavík
After arrival at the airport, I walked straight to the desk of Gray Line, situated just outside the arrivals area. One ticket (one way) costed me 2900 ISK (± 25 USD). That may sound much, but after all it was a 50 minute bus ride to Reykjavík, up to the front door of my hotel. I just had to mention the name of my hotel when buying the ticket.
There are alternatives. There’s Flybus (from the company Reykjavik Excursions) which costs 3000 ISK and Strætó (public bus) which is much cheaper, but will take you longer to get to Reykjavík. And if you decide it’s needed to take a taxi for some reason, then be prepared to pay a LOT more.
Reykjavík: what to see? where to eat?
Excluding excursions, I spent three days in Reykjavík visiting these places:
Let’s start with the main attraction: Hallgrímskirkja (pronounced hatlgrimskeerkya ) is a 31-year old, Lutheran church. Its spire is 73 meters high and is the largest church in Iceland (source). It’s modern looking on the outside and sober on the inside. When you enter, there’s a small shop on the left, where you can also purchase a ticket to go all the way up with the elevator, where there’s a 360° view of the city. This costed me 900 ISK (± 8 EUR/USD). I could see the mountains and the houses with their colourful rooftops. — The church is located in the heart of Reykjavík, walkable from Laugavegur (the main street). If you walk along the shore line, you can’t miss Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center. Its architecture is amazing. You can just walk inside and go all the way up (for free). Everywhere you look, there’s something worth taking a picture of. It’s amazing. There are also three souvenir shops downstairs, as well as a toilet. The building is open from 8:00 am until midnight (yes, midnight!). The beautifully lit building is nice to visit at night as well. Personally, I preferred visiting this place at sunset because of the colours shining through and reflecting on the windows.
Along the shore line (Sæbraut) you have a view of Mount Esja on one side and the modern harbour apartments on the other. 600 meters from Harpa, there’s Sólfarið (pronounced sohlfarith ), also known as The Sun Voyager, a viking ship sculpture looking over the water. Definitely a photo moment!
Downtown, there’s Laugavegur, the main street of Reykjavík. There you’ll find lots of souvenir shops, clothes shops, restaurants/bistros and the Loft Hostel. I picked up a pizza at The Deli in the evening because of its promotion (cheaper pizzas between 5 and 9 pm). They also have pasta promotions at lunch. Check out their menu here. Right next to The Deli, there’s a Subway, if that’s more your thing. A half sub menu (with drink and cookie/chips) costs around 1000 ISK (± 9 EUR/USD), depending on the sub. Finally, there’s Dunkin’ Donuts, offering coffee+donut or bagel deals.
There’s also a bistro called Svarta kaffið, where I ate on my first day in Reykjavik. They’re famous for their “soup in a bread” dish, served with butter. It sure was delicious! The soup costed me 1800 ISK (15 EUR/USD), but it was very filling and satisfying after a cold day out.
At Laugavegur there’s also a supermarket called Bonus. I really recommend you buy your foods and drinks here. It’s the cheapest supermarket I’ve visited. Bonus is located at Laugavegur 59. There are also 1011 kiosks spread in Reykjavik, which are practical if you quickly need to grab a bite or if you need to buy bus tickets.
If you walk down Laugavegur (heading west), you’ll end up in the Kvosin district, starting with Lækjartorg, where lots of buses stop and where you can purchase ticket reservations for Gray Line excursions. In the same area, there are several hotels, such as Centerhotel Plaza, Radisson Blu 1919 and Downtown Hostel. There are lots of cosy places to eat or take a drink here. Between this area and the shore line, you can grab a hotdog (“pylse”) at the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. It’s famous for their delicious hotdogs. I tasted one and it was delicious indeed (although in my opinion, nothing can beat the hotdogs sold in Norway and Sweden).
On my last day I ran out of places to go to. So bought two bus tickets at the 1011 kiosk in Laugavegur and took the bus from Hlemmur bus station to Smáralind. Smáralind is the largest shopping center in Iceland with more than 100 shops and restaurants. I didn’t really go there for shopping, but it was fun to stroll around. It’s impossible to go hungry there, because they have a kind of “food corner” on the second floor, where you can eat Sbarro, TGI Friday’s, Pizza Hut and more. I know, nothing typical Icelandic, but on a long trip, you might crave for something familiar. Personally I ended up eating at Krispy Kreme, because we don’t have Krispy Kreme in Europe.
Blue Lagoon Iceland
Before I left for Iceland, I ordered my entrance ticket to the Blue Lagoon online as it would save me lots of time at the entrance. The website even said it was required. There are three price categories: from standard (5400 ISK / 45 EUR) to premium (9500 ISK / 80 EUR), depending on your needs. There’s also a fourth price “luxury” which includes an a private changing room and entrance to the executive lounge (53000 ISK / 450 EUR – yes, four HUNDRED and fifty euros). These prices vary a little, depending on the season you’re going. I took the standard ticket because I was on a low-budget trip. I just brought along my own compact towel. The comfort ticket however is worth its price, as it includes a towel, a drink and an algae mask. Make sure you check their website!
On the website of the Blue Lagoon, I also booked a bus ride with a departure time corresponding to my entrance ticket. The bus ride was organised by Reykjavik Excursions. They picked me up in front of my hotel, 30 minutes before the departure time at their bus terminal (where I needed to transfer to a coach).
The Blue Lagoon is located in Grindavík, a 45 minute drive from Reykjavík. On the way there, you can see volcanic landscapes, volcanoes and mountains.
The bracelet and the locker rooms in the Blue Lagoon
When arriving at the parking lot, you need to walk through a nice path surrounded by walls of volcanic rocks. Then, you enter of the building of the Blue Lagoon, queue up and show your ticket to the staff. They’ll give you what you need. In my case, they just gave me the bracelet. This bracelet locked my locker and could be used when ordering a drink, as at functions as a payment method.
Online you can find loads of questions regarding the locker rooms, as Iceland has very strict rules at swimming pools. At the Blue Lagoon, there have been a few adjustments however, so here’s how I experienced this part, being April 2017:
- Choose a locker (the staff might guide you to a certain row of lockers).
- Wear or bring along your swimsuit and towel.
- Say hello to the staff who’ll tell you to put your towel into the towel rack. The towel rack has numbers corresponding to your locker number.
- Go to the showers and shower without your swimsuit on.
This part frighten lots of people, but there are dividers between each shower and there are a few that have opaque doors. If those aren’t available, then just enjoy the shower, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, really.
- While showering, wash yourself using the shower gel (provided in each stall) and apply conditioner without rinsing it out to keep your hair moist.
That last part is important if you have long hair, as the silica in the water will ruin your hair. I myself forgot to put conditioner, but as I have short hair, nothing bad happened. I just didn’t dip my head underwater. If you have contact lenses (like me), you need to take them out and wear glasses (or be prepared to throw away your lenses after water painfully entered your eyes).
The lagoon itself was very nice. The water was really warm (38°C / 100.4°F) and felt heavenly when it suddenly started to snow. Unexpectedly, I totally didn’t feel cold when going in and out the lagoon, even considering the freezing temperatures.
On the left side, there was a kiosk where I put a silica mask on my face. As recommended, I took it off after 10 minutes by washing my face off in the water.
The bottom of the lagoon is flat and hard in the first 10 meters, but further I started to feel sand under my feet. The deepest part of the water, is about 1m50. So, if you’re not that tall, just stay in the first half of the lagoon.
Is it worth it?
In my opinion: YES. Just make sure you read enough about the lagoon so you know what you’re visiting, without any surprises. It’s worth the price considering there’s no time limit. I’ve also seen photos of people enjoying the lagoon at night while watching the northern lights… How heavenly is that!
The Golden Circle Tour (Classic)
The booking and pickup
I reserved my ticket at the Gray Line office at Lækjartorg, downtown Reykjavík. It’s also possible to book a ticket online, but I’d rather do that at home than on a public hotspot. The tour costed 11000 ISK (93 EUR/USD) for the 8 hour trip. When booking the trip, 8 hours sounded long, but it didn’t feel long at all…
The Gray Line minibus picked me up from my hotel (mentioned while booking) at 8 am, departure time 8:30 at the BSÍ terminal. Also here I had to change to a tour bus.
Þingvellir National Park
After cruising through the beautiful scenery, the first stop was Þingvellir National Park (pronounced thingvetlir ). There was a platform overlooking the national park. Next to the platform, I walked down, between the famous walls until a waterfall, called Öxarárfoss. The national park is the place where the Eurasian and the North Americal tectonic plates separate. On the parking lot, there were toilets (200 ISK / 1.70 EUR) and a souvenir shop. We stayed at Þingvellir for 45 minutes. Gullfoss The next stop was Gullfoss (pronounced gutfos ), which means Golden Waterfall. There are several overlooking platforms on two levels, a toilet, a restaurant and a souvenir shop. Take a look at my pictures to see how this big waterfall looks like. We stayed here for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
After Gullfoss, the third stop was Geysír. And yes, there were several… geysers. One of them, called Strokkur, erupts every 5 minutes. People were constantly gathering around Strokkur and “wowed”every time it erupted. As it erupted very often, I was able to capture it several times: normal, slow motion and selfie mode 😀 — Afterwards, I headed down to Kantina, their restaurant and souvenir shop. There, I grabbed a bowl of fish and chips voor 1200 ISK (10 EUR/USD). We stayed at the Geysír site for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Please watch my video for a better view of the geyser.
The final 20-minute stop was at Hveragerði where passengers could go to the toilet, but also buy something in the supermarket at lower prices than in Reykjavík. There was also a free exhibition about the 2008 earthquake. Back in the bus, we drove off, passing greenhouses that were powered by geothermal energy. Here and there, I could also see steam coming out of the ground, indicating that there were many thermal water sources in this area.
The Gray Line Tour: conclusion
The tour was very well organised and friendly guided by Helga. Gray Line even brought us to the hotels, saying it was complementary (the pick up in the morning is included). If you have the time, definitely take the 8 hour tour (not the Express) to fully enjoy it. I can’t imagine doing the same tour in just 6 hours.
I’ve covered my whole Iceland trip in this blogpost! I’m definitely coming back to discover more of Iceland., particularly the south and the northwest of the country.
I hope you found it interesting and can use some of my tips in your future trip. If you have any questions, please write them below. Don’t forget to watch my video and subscribe to my social media profiles to stay up-to-date!