Aah, Iceland…. This cool island is very hot right now, but when I visited the first time in 2000, people thought I was crazy. It was “so off the beaten path”, and where exactly was it anyway? Nowadays, travelers are beating a path just to get there. Last year alone, the country had 325,000 American visitors and about 1.3 million from across the globe! The entire Icelandic population is only 332,000! Well, we returned for a quick 48-hour stopover visit so here’s where we stayed, what we did and how we got around!
$$Warning$$: Don’t be misled thinking that Iceland is a “budget” destination. It was expensive in 2000, and it was even more expensive now (in my opinion). I’m not saying it’s not worth it, I’m just saying, be prepared. As an example, we got two take out sandwiches, which were delicious, but for $25, uh yikes!
So, where is Iceland, exactly? Well, it’s in the North Atlantic Ocean and its ever changing weather reflects that, so come prepared with all weather gear.
Day 1: Arrival in Reykjavik
We arrived on our overnight flight from the U.S. on Icelandair for our two-day stopover, passed through customs and made our way into the insanely hectic, and under construction, terminal. We didn’t rent a car; rather, we found our way to our transportation – Flybus. For about $100 for two, we got round trip transportation to downtown Reykjavik.
Note: At the airport, there’s a central location just outside the terminal to catch your ride into the city. For your return, the pickup stops are designated on the Flybus website. You select your time for pick up. You’ll need to be at your stop 30 minutes before your pickup (our pickup was at 4:30 am, so we were at the stop about 4 am, ugh). Again, if you’re staying in town, you’ll likely need to change buses at the bus terminal. Like the airport, the bus station is a bit hectic, so just be aware of this.
We stayed at the Canopy by Hilton and it was awesome. We got there early in the morning so our room wasn’t quite ready, but they had a place for us to freshen up. Yeah, it was a bit pricey, but it was well worth it - centrally located, comfy, the hotel staff was super nice, the breakfasts were great (and on departure day since we were leaving early, the hotel even packed a little “to go” bag for us the day we left – nice!).
We found an ATM, got some cash, and headed out for the day. Yay!
Pedal it: We rented bicycles through Reykjavik Bike Tours. The “office” is a bright red shipping container on the docks – great idea! I emailed the owners prior, and they told us there was no need to reserve bikes. We rented them for about three hours, rode out to the light house then through Reykjavik, and out to the northwest end of the city.
After our ride, we had a leisurely lunch at Höfnin, right at the harbor about 20 feet from Reykjavik Bike Tours. I had fish balls (sort of like small round fish cakes) and the Hubby had haddock. We agreed that it was the best meal we had in Reykjavik.
Oh, and don’t forget the treats! After all, we “pre-worked” it off by riding bikes, right? On the recommendation of our hotel, we stopped for ice cream at Valdis. I think every person in Iceland was there, but the line moved quickly. I love black licorice, so I had salted licorice ice cream and the Hubby had stracciatella (it’s basically vanilla ice cream with chocolate shavings in it!). Both delish! Really, who can pass up ice cream in Iceland?
We made it an early night since we were doing a glacier hike the next day with an early pick up.
Day 2: Glacier Hike
We booked our tour through When in Iceland, an online market place that finds a tour you’re interested in at the best price. When in Iceland set us up with Arctic Adventures. for our glacier hike tour. The day was long, wet, and grueling and fantastic and we had a lot of fun! I have a whole new respect for ice climbers. Walking in crampons is way harder than I thought and it’s easy to stumble. I got a real workout and was completely drenched with perspiration by the end of the day. It also rained, and by rain, I mean poured, the whole day. Even with a water proof jacket and pants (if you don’t have it, rent it, you’ll be glad you did), it was still difficult to stay dry.
Shoe Tip: Most people don’t have crampons (the spiky things you strap onto your shoes for traction), so you’ll likely need to rent them. But don’t fool yourself that if you’ve got crampons your hiking boots will be adequate – rent the ice climbing boots – you’ll be glad you did. Not only are they rigid enough to hike and climb, but they’re waterproof (mostly), especially since guides actually recommend that you walk in the streams to have a more stable footing (who knew?). Consequently, if you have your own hiking shoes, they will be completely soaked if not completely ruined. And if you didn’t pack a second pair of hikers, well, my friend, it’ll be a very soggy rest of your trip. Rent the hiking boots.
Like I mentioned, the glacier hiking day is long. The meet up is early and the ride to the glacier is a couple of hours. You’ll likely stop at a rest stop along the way where you can pick up snacks and water. You definitely want to bring snacks and water on the hike (there were people who did neither – it was astonishing), you just may not want to bring a backpack, since chances are, that’ll get wet, too, and who needs one more wet thing to carry?). Your choice. We opted not to bring one, but we had flexible water bottles (you could also bring hydration packs) and energy bars in our pockets. That got us through, but we also had the wherewithal to bring takeout sandwiches from Joe and the Juice in Reykjavik, which were really good (again, some people were ill prepared). The tour bus also stops at a rest stop on the way back so you can get some food, a hot drink and use the restrooms.
Practical note on restrooms: Surprise! There are no restrooms on the glaciers, so plan accordingly. While there are restrooms at the base where you start the hike, you can’t just “run back to the outhouse” once you're on the hike if nature calls.
Common sense on listening to your guide: Please do it. Chances are, he or she knows infinitely more about navigating a glacier than you do.
Group courtesy: Finally, be considerate of your fellow sightseers – it’s not just you on the tour so don’t hold up the works or be a jerk – everyone is cold and tired and you don’t want to be “that guy” or “gal”. Just sayin’….
Day 3: Bye-Bye Iceland
Early morning departure to the airport. Our bus failed to pick us up at the designated time and when our hotel called them, they said they had made the stop and picked up about a dozen people, which was, uh, not entirely accurate, since there was no one at our stop but us for like, a half hour. But, we made the next bus and got to the airport with enough time to spare.
Souvenir alert: The Icelandic people seem to be crazy for chocolate and black licorice, also two of my faves. I got chocolate covered licorice, aka, “puffin eggs”. You've gotta try ‘em if you’re a fan of both!
Upshot: I had a great time, but I think I may have been holding onto the ridiculous and unrealistic hope that Iceland hadn’t changed in 17 years. The good news is that it’s still easy to get to, the people are still nice, and there are lots of new places to stay and to eat. The downside is that stuff is more expensive, it’s more crowed and the small airport is not set up for all of the people that are flooding in, BUT the country is still so beautiful and the people are so wonderful. That’s why you go and that why it’s still worth the trip.
Are you planning a trip to Iceland or is it on your bucket list? Let me know on Facebook or in the comment section below!