Sunday, 17 June 2018

A Comprehensive Guide to Visiting Reykjavik, Iceland

Image of Blue Lagoon Reykjavik
I can almost hear the eye rolls if you've opened this post "oh, not another blogger in Reykjavik" but I can confirm, yes, yes I am a walking travel blogger cliché and I love it. In February of this year, I finally fulfilled my decade long dream of travelling to Reykjavik, Iceland and it more than exceeded my high expectations. It's a breathtakingly beautiful, frozen paradise with untouched, stunning scenery in abundance. Here's my comprehensive guide to visiting Reykjavik- including where to stay, what to pack, what to do, recommended excursions and some top tips.

WHERE TO STAY 

We booked flights and a hotel via Expedia for £344pp for 5 nights and opted to stay at CenterHotel Thingholt which turned out to be a great choice. Admittedly, I was a little worried when I first arrived as it doesn't look much from the outside. It's a single door on the side of a building and if you blink, you'll almost miss it. Fear not, however! It was thankfully a case of looks can be deceiving. Location wise, it couldn't have been any better it was right in the heart of Reykjavik in close proximity to restaurants, shops, cafes and excursion bus stops. The room was slightly on the small side which is generally to be expected with city centre hotels but it was clean, modern (eclectic cow print everywhere) and had everything we needed throughout our stay.  Our Expedia deal also included a free breakfast and free access to the mini spa. The hotel staff were extremely helpful and went above and beyond to assist with our needs. The only minor complaint we had was the level of street noise, again, to be expected in the city but a thumping bass shaking the walls until 3am one night was really not the one. If you're looking for luxury, you won't find it in this hotel but if you're happy with a fantastic location, friendly staff and clean rooms, I can't recommend this place enough.

Image of Golden Circle Tour Reykjavik
GOLDEN CIRCLE TOUR 

Of course, you just can't visit Iceland without booking a Golden Circle Tour but I have to admit that there were so many different choices online that I just didn't know which one to book. I did have a couple of requirements; I didn't want to be out in minus temperatures all day nor did I fancy being crammed on a bus with 70 other people being herded on and off like cattle. Arctic Adventures ticked all of the boxes with their Express Golden Circle Tour - a 6 hour excursion on a modern, spacious minibus with a maximum of 18 people per group. It includes all of the key stop offs, Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss Waterfall and Geysir with an additional visit to feed the Icelandic horses. Although we had less time to the 8 hour tour, we didn't feel rushed in the slightest and had plenty of time at each attraction. Our tour guide was amazing too - so knowledgable, engaging, energetic and really added something extra to the overall experience. It's not possible to put into words how breathtaking the Golden Circle is, photographs don't do the place justice; you just have to experience it for yourself.

Image of Geysir in Reykjavik Image of Gulfoss Waterfall Reykjavik
Top tips for your Golden Circle Tour: 

-Take a packed lunch with you including a large bottle of water. We stopped once at a café but it was quite far into the journey and choice was limited.
-Take some change with you - it's a long day and there's a charge to use the toilet at all of the stops.
-Get your thermals on! Whether it's snowing or not, the open spaces mean it's windy and bitterly cold. We removed our gloves to snap some photos and spent the next ten minutes back on the minibus trying to get some feeling back into our hands.
-Be sure to book in advance of your trip - these tours are so popular that it's unlikely you will be able to tag on the end of one while you're there. It's not impossible but I wouldn't recommend risking it and then missing out on the opportunity.

You can book the same Express Golden Circle Afternoon Tour with Arctic Adventures here

Image of Icelandic Horse
BLUE LAGOON

It's probably the most touristy place you'll visit in Reykjavik but when you get there you will see that there's a very good reason why it's so popular. Wallowing in the hot, milky blue waters of the Blue Lagoon was the highlight of my trip by far - I had to pinch myself a few times because I couldn't believe I was finally there. It's an absolute must to book before you go and I'd recommend the Premium package. On top of access to the lagoon, you get use of a towel, a bath robe and slippers, Silica Mud mask, Algae mask and a free drink at the pool bar. Make sure that you arrive slightly before your allotted time and then you can spend as long as you want relaxing in the 38 degree water until you turn into a wrinkly prune. Although the Lagoon is bustling with people, I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't feel crowded in any way, there's plenty of room for everyone without feeling like anyone is invading your personal space.

Image of Blue Lagoon Reykjavik
Top tips for your Blue Lagoon trip: 

-Apply conditioner to your hair before you enter the lagoon especially if you are visiting in Winter. It's the most bizarre experience that your body will be warm but your hair will (literally) freeze.
-Try to take as little as possible with you and avoid taking valuables. There are lockers in the changing rooms but space is quite limited.
-Book your transport to the Blue Lagoon via Reykjavik Excursions. You will be picked up from an excursion bus stop by a minibus and taken to the station to transfer on to a bus to the lagoon. They run frequently and the journey takes approximately 45 minutes from Reykjavik.

Book a Blue Lagoon Premium package here.

THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

Perhaps a controversial move, but we didn't actually book a Northern Lights tour.  So, why didn't you want to watch the twinkling green lights dance across the dark night sky, Fran? I hear you ask. Don't get me wrong, I would have loved to have witnessed them but it just seemed like a little bit like too much hard work for me personally. We encountered so many people who had booked a tour and had spent hours on a crowded bus attempting to chase the Northern Lights across Iceland in subzero temperatures, only to be extremely disappointed that they didn't manage to see them. Granted, you are able to jump on another tour the next evening for free but it's a logistical nightmare. I didn't want to waste two evenings in Reykjavik without Northern Lights success.

If you are going to book this tour, I'd recommend waiting until you get there so you can check the Aurora Forecast to give yourselves the best chance of seeing the lights. Turns out it was a good decision for us because the excursions were cancelled every single night we were there due to dangerous weather conditions. My advice would be to go with very little expectation and you won't be disappointed.

HALLGRÍMSKIRKJA

Hallgrímskirkja is another tourist hotspot as it's the largest church in Iceland. You can take a lift 75ft to the top and experience 360 views of the city. It's a bit on the expensive side (you're looking at about £9/£10) but it's well worth it for the beautiful photo opportunities.

Image of Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik

THE SUN VOYAGER

The Sun Voyager is a steel, boat like sculpture designed by Jon Gunnar Amason to mark the 200th birthday of the city. It's located on the scenic waterfront looking out on to the Atlantic Ocean and represents hope, dreams and imagination. It's iconic and is one of Reykjavik's most famous landmarks - we were so lucky that the weather was beautiful so we could see the statue in all of it's glory!

Image of Sun voyager statue in Reykjavik
LAKE TJORNIN 

Lake Tjornin is a beautiful body of water located in the city centre of Reykjavik with stunning views. We watched the sun setting over the lake which was quite a spectacle. I did, however, feel like I was on the set of Alfred Hitchcock's film The Birds as there are over 40 species that are found here and the sound of the birds squawking is a little bit crazy. I was pretty nervous visiting this area because I'm terrified of birds but luckily people were feeding them so they all flocked to the same space which gave me the opportunity to take some pictures from afar without being subject to a mass avian attack.

Image of Lake Tjornin in Reykjavik
Image of Lake Tjornin in Reykjavik

PACKING ESSENTIALS

Packing for Iceland was up there with one of the most, if not the most, stressful packing experiences ever. I'll never take simple city break packing for granted ever again, I can promise you that. If you've been researching the weather in Reykjavik, you'll know that it's incredibly unpredictable and can change in a matter of minutes (honestly, I'm not exaggerating!). I've listed the essentials below when visiting Reykjavik during Winter:

-Thermal gloves
-Thermal socks
-Thermal leggings 
-Walking boots
-Waterproof jacket
-A backpack/cross body bag
-Thermal flask
-A warm coat 
-A small lunchbox 
-Scarf
-Hat/ear muffs
-Swimming costume


TOP TIPS 

-The Icelandics don't really deal in cash so I'd really recommend applying for a Monzo card which is a debit card that doesn't charge you for transactions abroad. There's a waiting list so you'll need to apply for one way in advance. You can find out more info here. I actually took out a Halifax Clarity Card but this works in the same way as a credit card whereas there's no interest or pressure to pay back with Monzo.
-Save, save, save! There's no getting around it, the prices in Iceland are absolutely extoritionate so if you don't want to compromise on the overall experience, you're going to need the money.
-Share meals where you can to save money. We found that portion sizes were huge in a couple of places so sharing worked well for us and our budget.
-Book a shared minibus via Airport Direct to and from the airport. It's much cheaper as taxis are so expensive. The company were extremely professional and they were precisely on time with the pick up to ensure we had plenty of time before catching our flight.


Let me know in the comments if you've ever visited Reykjavik, I'd love to go back and visit the South of Iceland so leave your recommendations below!


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3 comments

  1. We pretty much did the same holiday at Easter but minus the snow and blue skies - lots of rain! I’d go back tomorrow though, loved it SO much. Another fan of Arctic Adventures here - we added snowmobiling on to our golden circle tour with them!

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  2. Wow! It looks like you had an amazing trip, I am beyond jealous! The water and the ice and everything looks so pristine white and clear blue! I'd love to do a golden circle tour, and the blue lagoon looks (and sounds) incredible. Iceland has just been pushed right up on my bucket list x

    Rachel | rachelemmablog.blogspot.co.uk

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  3. I already know I won't visit it, but I came for the photos. Look at this church, this town view and this cute horse! Absolutely gorgeous photos!!

    xo Honey - blog Royal Lifestyle - Twitter - Instagram

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