Back in February 2016 I had the choice to spend my 25th birthday at work, secretly panicking I was officially in my mid 20’s OR in Reykjavik, Iceland? Tricky choice, I know.
As quick as we had decided we were on the plane, off the plane and had arrived to snow and lot’s of it! Out of the airport and onto the coach into Reykjavik… wait… why has the bus driver stopped? Why is he telling us to get off? This is NOT our hotel?
And here’s where my tips begin.
1. Use Reykjavik Excursions
First thing to note about Reykjavik Excursions – the coaches use the bus station as a hub. Our coach on arrival dropped us off at the station, without anymore information. Cue a 2 minute panic that we have no way to get to our hotel. But once we found someone with a clipboard they explained the mini buses will take us the rest of the way… phew.
Despite our first encounter not being the best, I had been recommended to use them by a colleague at work who only had the highest opinion of them. To give them credit after this first day, they were always on time, picked you up where they were meant to and everything ran smoothly. Smaller mini buses pick you up for excursions from your hotel which then take you to the main station. Everything is done using paper tickets booked and printed beforehand. Our hotel luckily did have a printer we could use.
2. Book excursions beforehand, if you can
On our first night was spent frantically trying to book everything as time slots and tours were selling out very fast. We had assumed as with most places we could book while we were out there and there would be plenty of spaces. However all of them were well worth it.
Some don’t need any booking at all like the Hallgrímskirkja Church, which you can visit any day between 9am-5pm. However, to go up the tower may require some patience as there was a huge queue waiting to go up.
3. Check the weather
When we were out there, as mentioned earlier, we were greeted with snow and lots of it. This in the U.K. would mean endless delays and issues, however, all of Iceland seemed unfazed and continued as normal. All buses and tours (except Northern Lights) were unaffected.
If you are considering hiring a car the forecast may be the deciding factor as from the coach we could see many cars had spun out to the side of the road due to the snow.
Do wrap up especially warm in the winter months (like February when we went) it can get very cold and icy, especially when it is windy. This was especially an issue at the Gulfoss waterfall where you are very exposed to the elements and can make walking around harder.
4. The Golden Circle tour is a must!
The Golden Circle Tour will take most of your day but you will see some amazing sights all in one go. The stops on our tour were the Thingvellir National Park, Strokkur and Geothermal Geysers, Gullfoss waterfall and Friðheimar greenhouses. Each of these were all equally worthwhile stops.
5. Northern lights require planning
Much like before, the weather is key to successfully seeing the lights. In the 4 days we were there the tour only ran one night…the first night. The tour organisers will try their hardest to take you to the right places and persevere but if it’s cloudy (like it was for us and typically is in Iceland) it can be very difficult.
The closest we got was a small streak of green for a couple of seconds, not even enough time to get off the bus and the tour guide saying grandly “I give you the Northern lights”.. um maybe not.
6. The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon was amazing and a definite must, we booked to go the day before we flew home, although you can book to visit before you fly or after you land. While you float around – some parts deeper than others – you can pop to the sauna, grotto or the stalls which hand out Silica Mud Masks. Inside the main building is also a small cafe for food and drinks just incase you need a break.
You will have to get naked, but whether this is in front of people or not, is up to you. I had opted to wear my costume underneath my clothes to save at least one ‘changing’ episode.
Getting ready to leave meant a queue for the shower cubicles so do factor this into your time if you have a coach to catch like we did. The showers are mostly cubicles but there are 3 or so open which had no wait. Changing cubicles are the same I only really saw one and was occupied very quickly. By the time you come back in from the lagoon you kind of don’t care as you more than likely won’t ever see them again.
Just for the girls… Do smother your hair with the conditioner they provide.
I read many a horror story of people’s hair getting very damaged after coming out of the pool and having recently had my hair dyed I was adamant that I wasn’t going to wreck it.
I’m not sure how it would have been had I not, but best not to risk it if you’re worried.
Lockers and towels
Towels or robes are easy to rent from the front desk. There are a few different packages varying in prices and extras. Robes aren’t the cheapest option but I wish we had chosen them in hindsight. Towels get very cold when wet, used a few times and left on the outside (coming in and out of the water) plus they all look the same! Towels are just left on the side of the rocks so we tried to leave them together and in a memorable place.
Choose a locker away from the main unit.. I repeat away from the wristband terminal that assigns your locker! I very stupidly chose the locker closest to myself as I entered, this was one over from the machine used to allocate and open lockers. Upon getting changed before and after the pool this makes it very difficult not to be moved, delayed or disturbed when people need their locker.
Choose a nice corner locker and change in peace.
8. Horse is on the menu…
A few of the restaurants do have horse in some form and puffin. We ran out of time to go on the tour to see the wild puffins, but I feel this would have made it even harder seeing it on the menu!
Our usual pastime in any new place is to land, find the hotel, drop the bags off, get freshened up then explore every which way from the hotel, to scout the area. This is a tried and tested method I’m sure many people do and has always proven to discover random and amazing art, statues, sights we hadn’t thought of and potential eating places that we may not have found otherwise.
One of my suggestions was the Icelandic Phallological Museum (basically a penis museum to you and I). Where else in the world can you find a penis phone in the same place as many a whale penis? It is based all in one room and with everything you could think of and was a bit a fun. The single glove dating gate gave us a chuckle and was opposite a Christmas shop in February!
In Iceland it proved to help us stumble across one of our favourite places…the Harpa, a large concert hall with a giant light up piano on the side. It turned out to be our go-to place most nights to play a tune and see the lights outside flash up in time.
Overall Iceland is an amazing place to visit with so many other sights to see that we didn’t get round to. Whale watching and puffin watching were two trips we didn’t do, but I’m not keen on water although puffin watching was something I’d love to do if we get the chance to go back.