The Scoop on Iceland
I never thought of heading to Iceland until I found out about the Blue Lagoon. Its beauty captured my curiosity and Iceland Air captured my Credit Card info. I went with three close friends of mine and we had an amazing time in the short weekend we were there. Here are some helpful tips!
I recommend renting a car vs. doing tours, you'll save money and have more freedom to do as you please. For renting a car I recommend *SADCars* http://sadcars.com/ Their cars are not the newest cars but they are reliable and by far the cheapest car rental place in Iceland. They charge more if you get an automatic since standard is the most common in Europe.
If you book and pay ahead of time it is cheaper than reserving and paying there. I reserved a standard but when we got there they ended up giving us an automatic anyway at no extra charge. They're a small family run business; polite, reliable and helpful. You can directly email Sigga with questions, she's one of the owners and very responsive to emails. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Accommodations: As far as where to stay it really doesn't matter because EVERYTHING is far away from EVERYTHING. We opted for staying in Reykjavik, which was great because most restaurants, local bars and shops were all walking distance. I used Airbnb for our stay. Another great way to save some bucks. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2019375
The above link is to the apartment where we stayed as point of reference. Our location was great. Keep in mind that if you park in Reyk you do have to worry about meters during the week & Saturdays. It is free on Sundays. Parking isn't difficult though. There are large parking lots all over.
What to do? What to do?!
There is a lot of outdoor things to do and the best way to even get a hold on all of this, including directions to places with free maps, would be to visit the Info Center in Reykjavik. http://www.visitreykjavik.is/
This was quite helpful to us in trying to map out routes that would save us the most time etc. The staff is friendly and resourceful. They open at 9am and close at 7pm and are also open on Saturdays.
List of must do's on a short trip:
*The Golden Circle-* this includes tectonic plates, Geysir and Gulfoss.In that order.
The tectonic plates will be the first thing you see. You keep driving about almost another hour and you get to the Geysir Hot Spring Area (you wont miss it) about another 6min up the road is Gulfoss. A lot of people do a tour for this but it is completely unnecessary if you rented a car. It is however, A LOT of driving so make sure you have a car charger and some nice tunes to keep you company. The roads are numbered. There are only a couple of roads in Iceland you can actually drive on, which makes following it on a map very easy. A lot of destinations outside of the city don't have physical addresses, they use GPS coordinates. If your GPS picks this up then great, ours didn't so we ended up reading a road map old school. When you get to the Geysir Hot Springs area make sure you walk over to Strokkur, this one is the active one and blows up every 7-9min.
*Waterfalls* There are so many gorgeous waterfalls. We only spent 4 days in Iceland so we didn't have time to hit all of them. We visited falls in the southern region.
1) Skogafoss, very beautiful. You can walk up the stairs on the side of the fall and take some amazing shots from very high up. This is also a great place to see some Icelandic Horses as they are usually in that area. I wanted to bring one home!
2) Seljalandsfoss, this is the one where you can walk behind the waterfall and take great pics from a cool angle. We were not able to do that since it was way to icy. Going in the winter you'll prob run into that but don't be discouraged, still amazing to visit.
3) Haifoss is also in the southern region and one of the tallest waterfalls. Its a little difficult to get to but worth it.
4) Gullfoss (part of the Golden Circle) simply breath taking and one of the largest.
*Blue Lagoon-* This is a definite bucket list moment. It is about 50min south of Reykjavik. Again, there are a ton of tours for this but it's not necessary if you have a car. You do, however, need to buy your admission ticket ahead of time and book a massage (if you want one) because they do reach capacity. You can buy ticket right on their website and present e-ticket once there, no need to print. http://www.bluelagoon.com/
On the site there are options for packages. My recommendation is to purchase the Standard Package and once you arrive at the Lagoon determine what else you may need i.e. towels, bathrobe etc. It really doesn't save you money buying it in a package vs individual things. They already provide free shampoo, conditioner and body wash for you once out of the lagoon as well as a locker to store your things. They have a bar inside the lagoon you can swim up. It is non alcoholic smoothies, beer and wine. You can bring phones and cameras in as long as you're confident you wont drop them in the water.
Hallgrimskirkja This is the main church in Reykjavik. A must see. For about 800 kronas you can go all the way to the top (8 stories) and get a 360 view of the entire city. Great opportunity for some awesome shots.
Ice Caves/Glacier Walks Unfortunately, this is the only thing I would recommend you get as a tour. You don't need to get the bus transportation as part of the tour since you will have a car and can drive to where they will meet (It's never close to Reyk regardless of the agency). We did our tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides. The drive was about 2.5 hours south of Reyk and easy to get to. You can't be late or they will leave you (as we found out the hard way) however, they were nice enough to refund us our money back. I cant speak for any other agency though. We booked this through the Information Center. A tour is most appropriate for this due to the fact that you will need ice climbing equipment, helmet, ice pick, boot equipment etc which tour provides, as well as knowing which glaciers and caves are safest due to the weather and ever changing temps.
Northern Lights another HUGE bucket list moment. We got SO lucky when we saw them. Conditions necessary are clear night skies. We spent all weekend trying to find them to no avail. Our last night there the sky cleared up so we bought a boat tour ticket and went out into the harbor, away from city lights. It was quiet, very cold and pitch black on that boat but the next thing we knew green lights were dancing right above us. It was MAGICAL!!! My camera didn't have the right settings to capture them but the tour had their own photographer whom shared the pics with us. It made our trip complete. Best time to see them is Jan-March. We booked boat ticket through the Visitor Ctr.
Reyk doesn't liven up until after 12am. There are many clubs and bars in the city. No one seems to care that in the winter the temps drop because we saw plenty of women dressed in mini skirts and dresses. I recommend walking around and asking locals what's good that night. There's usually always a bar crawl happening and mostly everyone speaks English.
Landsbankinn. This is a bank in Reykjavik that doesn't charge any fee to exchange money. They have a 24hr atm which took my American bank card without a problem. They are open regular work hours M-F 9-5. You can walk in to speak to a teller, they will help you with any money exchange. It is right in downtown.
Icleand is raw beauty. Going in the winter was challenging but a completely different perspective on the word "vacation" since most of us tend to think of warm destinations instead during these months. Iceland/Reyk are safe and people are quiet friendly. It gives way for a great time. I hope this was helpful and made traveling to Iceland a real possibility. Remember flights to Iceland are MUCH cheaper in the winter months. Enjoy!