Traveling to Iceland has always been on the top of my bucket list. I fulfilled that dream recently after spending a week in South Iceland with my daughter and 15 month old grandson. Many of us are intrigued with Iceland—this little island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It was a very unique experience and I’ve had a lot of questions…how, when, where and most of all, why? I hope this blog will answer some of those questions.
Iceland is truly a remarkable country. Remarkable on many levels and offers visitors an extraordinary variety of experiences. Right now, it is a perfect time to visit Iceland as it is not overrun with tourists (yet). But don’t wait!
Airport: KEF Keflavik Airport
Capital: Reykjavik, means “smoky bay”
Population: 330,000 (two thirds live in Reykjavik)
Language: Icelandic, but English is no problem
Landscape: Volcanic land but have many glaciers and natural wonders
Water: There is no need to buy bottled water when you’re here. Water out of the tap is pure, clean and tasty! Locals boast it’s the best in the world!
Electricity: 220 volts
Stay Connected: Internet hot spots can be found everywhere!
We travelled in late April, early May and flew direct (6 hour flight) from Edmonton with
Icelandair. We stayed 2 nights at the Icelandair Hotel Fludir and 4 nights at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura. We opted for a self-drive program.Driving the South Island was very easy; the roads are mostly two lanes—some with finished shoulders, some with not. Our stay was based on visiting the South Island’s Golden Circle Route.
Just a reminder that we were traveling with a toddler so we made frequent stops and our evening activities were cut short. I have to say that our little traveler was ‘golden’ . Start them young I say. PS. We purchased him a seat on flight which enabled him to sleep comfortably. (Icelandair offers a 20% discount for children). Which was definitely worth it!
FYI! Icelandair has a stopover program from Canada allowing a stopover of up to 7 nights on your way to Europe. Icelandair flies to 28 European destinations.
ICELANDAIR HOTEL FLUDIR (3*)
One hour from Reykjavik and located 20 minutes from the Geysir and Gulfoss Waterfall. All rooms overlook a patio with garden access (odd, but door exits from the bathroom). The restaurant serves traditional Icelandic food made from organic produce. The lobby bar is a pleasant setting for a relaxing drink. The staff can help arrange activities like fishing and hiking trips. Free Wi-Fi internet access. Reykjavik city centre is a 1-hour drive away. Parking is free at the hotel.
ICELANDAIR HOTEL REYKJAVIK NATURA HOTEL (4*)
The hotel upgraded us to a family room upon check-in. Rooms appointed, comfy beds and all the expected amenities.
This eco-friendly hotel is next to Icelandair offices and at the Reykjavik Airport. Very closed to Öskjuhlíd Hill’s quiet woods and a short walk to the Perlan, as well as a very short walk to the Nauthólsvík geothermal beach. WiFi and gym access are free. Natura Spa on site. There is a fee to use the pool and spa (30Kr).
A fridge, tea/coffee facilities and satellite TV are standard in Icelandair Natura’s modern, soundproofed rooms. Some rooms include access to the spa. The in-house Satt Restaurant serves a breakfast buffet and Icelandic daily specials. The stylish Satt Bar is a nice place to relax and chat with others. The hotel is also home to the Icelandic Modern Art Exhibition. Other facilities include a tourist desk and bike rental in the summer time. The Icelandair Natura received the “2014 Environmental Award from the Icelandic Tourist Board”
Free bus passes are available to all guests. The pick-up and drop-off point is in front of hotel and is an easy walk to the city. Very handy!
FYI! There is also the Icelandair Hotel Marina in Reykjavik—right now there is lots of construction in the marina area, but I would consider staying at this hotel in the future. Great location—walking distance to everything! We also visited the Icelandair Hotel in Vik—very nice! Great place to stay when visiting the black beaches and making your way around the Ring Road.
ATTRACTIONS AND PLACES WE VISITED (in no particular order):
Fludir: We visited the Secret Lagoon (Gamia Laugin) at Hveraholmi, the geothermal area near Fludir. We were able to visit this particular lagoon as there were no age limit compared to the Blue Lagoon. It was made in 1891 and is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. Plenty of locals were amongst the tourists, which is always a good sign. Towel rentals available. Geysir and Gulfoss a short drive away.
Laugarvatn: Smaller, but as equally as nice is a visit to the Fontana (www.fontana.is) Geothermal Baths and Natural Steam Baths (30Kr, bathing and towel rentals available). There is also a local kitchen that offers a lunch and dinner buffet daily. Three times a day, experience the Geothermal Bakery–staff explain how and show how they bake their famous Iceland bread in a geothermal ‘oven’. You can also sample the warm bread with butter (15Kr).
Skogafoss Waterfall, Skogar: Folk Museum and Skogafoss, a dramatic 180 foot waterfall. Hike up to the top as it’s worth the view!
Eyjafallajokull Volcano: The centerpiece of Iceland which also includes the Solheimajokull Glacier, Reynisdrangar Cliffs and Reynifjara for the black sand beach.
Thingvellir National Park: A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the geological wonders of the world where you can see the effects of the tectonic plate movements are visible (there are scuba diving experiences available here). Also was the site of Iceland’s Viking Parliament. Lots of hiking trails to enjoy the unique landscape of Thingvellir.
Gulfoss: Huge and powerful two tier waterfall on the River Hvita. It was saved during the 1920s from a dam project by the first environmental activist in Iceland. There a new coffee shop/deli and souvenir shop located here. Just a 5 minute drive is Hotel Gulfoss, recently renovated. We enjoyed a buffet breakfast here after viewing the waterfalls.
Geysir Hot Springs: Set on a hillside, we viewed violently bubbling pools and watched erupting 60 foot water spouts of Strokkur Geyser. Hiking trails here as well as souvenir shop and café.
Fridheimar: (www.fridheimar.is) is a unique food experience just outside of Reykholt. It is a vegetable farm where its main product is tomatoes. They recently opened up their greenhouses to visitors and now offer yummy lunches every day from 12-4:00 pm—and of course, tomatoes are the star. Tomato soup is always on the menu along with a variety of homemade bread and fresh cucumber salsa. As well, you may want to try their famous Bloody Mary. This was a perfect lunch stop if you’re doing the Golden Circle. There is a corral of Icelandic horses on the property.
Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa: On our last day, Amy took a bus from the hotel to the Blue Lagoon. Age limit is 2 years old. Amy purchased the Premium Package which included entrance free, silica mud mask, algae mask, use of towel, bathrobe and slippers, 1st drink of your choice. Yes! There is a swim up bar at the Lagoon. Cost was 70€, the price goes up to 80€ during the summer months—June to August). Reservations are highly recommended for both visiting the Blue Lagoon and bus transportation. Luggage storage available at 4€ per bag. TIP! Do not get your hair wet! The water sucks all the moisture out of it.
I Heart Reykjavik Tour: We found this tour through Audur’s Iceland blog. We met at Hallgrims Lutheran Church for a 2 hour walking tour of Reykjavik. She explained the history, culture, some of her favorite restaurants and cafes, gave us lots of hints of worthy things to see and do in Reykjavik. Well worth it….check out her blog at http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/
- Saga Museum
- Perlan – great view of Reykjavik from here
- We checked out the Kolaportio flea market near the Harpa and harbour.
- Harpa Building, an iconic landmark in Reykjavik
- Leif Erikson Statue and Hallgrims Lutheran Church
- There are lots of short half day tours in and around Reykjavik
- Hop On Hop Off City Sightseeing Bus with 15 stops
See puffins up close! 10,000 pairs of puffins arrive to the island of Akurey, an island known for its puffin population, just off the coast of Reykjavik between early May to August. Akurey is covered with small hills and slopes with rocky shores with is a natural habitat for these small birds. The puffin-watching boat is specially designed to get you as close to the shoreline as possible and get a close-up look at the puffins. This tour was booked through Viator and offered pick up and drop off at our hotel.
There are lots of great places to eat! Here is a few of our favorites.
– Barjarins Beztu Pylsur (open since 1939)-an Icelandic hot dog with all the toppings—ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, crisp fried onion and raw onions. I like mine with mustard and remoulade. You choose!
– Frodheimar grows their own tomatoes in a geothermally-heated greenhouse and produce delicious courses using the tomato has the main ingredient.
– Hotel Gulfoss – great buffet breakfast after viewing the falls. They also have a buffet at lunch and dinner a la carte. Reservations recommended.
– Halldorskaffi – Great soup and sandwich options.
– Svarta Fjaran in Vik – Great soup, both vegetarian and seafood, homemade bread and smoked salmon.
– Pizza With No Name – The best pizza around! Hidden Gem! You will have to ask where to find it!
We used a packing list found on Emily Winfield’s Pinterest Board. It was designed for a 11-day stay so we cut down some of the clothing category.
DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT:
Jacket – while you may not need a wool or down coat in the spring, you will want a lighter coat for the cool mornings and a waterproof warmer jacket for cold and wet days.
Puffer vest – this was great for layering and warm enough for an unseasonably cold day.
Shoes – We were comfortable in our hiking boots and sneakers but we saw some people with rain wellies. On warmer days in Reyjkavik we wore our Birkenstocks.