I’m back after a well-deserved break. For this summer vacation, we chose to fly to Iceland. And we were quite happy to escape the heat wave that was hitting London.
We had planned this trip quite a while ago with two French friends of mine. We traveled independently, which means we organised the entire trip from A to Z (the 4 of us agreed not to use any intermediary for our trip).
The first thing we had planned – almost 6 months ago as prices were already rising – was the flight. We chose WOWair as they offer direct flight from London and have much more competitive prices than others companies (so for once, I’ve been unfaithful to British Airways…) The on-board service was good (of course as it is a low-cost company, you will have to pay for drinks and snacks), they played some movies/cartoons (although the flight was only 2.5 hours) The only problem with this company is the following: as you cannot do any online check-in, we had to wait quite a long time in the queue at the check-in desks at the airport. So just be patient and take a good book with you 😉
As we were planning to be on a the road (almost) every day, we invested in renting a good 4×4 vehicle (as some roads are not tarmac). Being on the road is the best option to discover the incredible diversity of this amazing country.
Although we had chosen to sleep in campsites most of the nights, I have to admit Iceland is NOT a cheap destination. The cost of the vacation in Iceland can be skyrocket easily (if you include car rental, gas, food – on top of that we had invested in good hiking shoes and clothes), but this country has so much to offer, it was worth every penny!
The good thing about travelling in Iceland is: every sight-seeing spots is free – you will NEVER have to pay for a parking space or an admission fee to go see a waterfall, volcanoes or other natural sites (which by the way always have facilities).
We really enjoyed all the different landscapes Iceland has: glaciers, vulcanoes, shores, fjords, lava fields, waterfalls… Every day we discovered something completely different. Iceland is also a great place for animal lovers: the local horses (which look a bit like ponys actually, but are so cute I never got bored watching them), sheeps, puffins on the seaside, all sorts of birds around the Myvatn lake, whales in Husavik ( you will need a 3-hour boat tour to admire them), sea lions…
People are incredibly friendly and helpful – most of them speaking flawless English – I even got help once at the supermarket (trying to detect which type of meat was in front of me) from an Icelandic lady who could speak perfect French!
Camping is a very good option when you travel in Iceland – only if you go there during the warmest period. It is incredibly cheap (approximately £7/night per person – which guesthouse can beat that?) and gives you a lot of flexibility if you are on the road. Moreover, most of the campsites we slept in had a equipped kitchen (except the one nearby the Skaftafell National Park which incredibly lacks facilities regarding the number of tourists it welcomes)
Also, if you choose to camp in Egilsstaðir, avoid at all cost the camp site which is town and choose instead the one which is located nearby the lake. We slept in the one in town – the owners were incredibly rude (I think they just want to advertise their seedy restaurant which is next to the campsite) and the facilities are almost non-existing.
Guesthouses are also a great option – although significantly more expensive. But it enables you to meet locals and other tourists. We slept in a guesthouse for our last night before our flight and it was really pleasant to meet the local owner as well as other travelers. (One night was around £90) Spending 1 or 2 nights in a guesthouse or a hotel is incredibly refreshing during a road trip, as you enjoy even more the “luxury” of having your bed, your own shower 🙂
Sometimes you have to pay for a 5-minute shower in a camping (something like £2) So this is our tip: for most or less the same amount of money go to the public swimming pool (the smallest village has one) and enjoy hot-pots, swimming pools, toboggans, unlimited hot showers, hair-dryers and a free cup of coffee (!). Iceland has a very nice swimming pools/ baths culture.
Also about the Blue Lagoon – which is the most touristic place in Iceland: we decided not to go, as we had enjoyed hot pots several times during our trip and had the opportunity to go to the Nature Baths in Myvatn – which is a natural lagoon. My point is: this place looks more “authentic” than the Blue Lagoon, and is much much cheaper (and you will have this lovely sulfur smell as you are on a geothermal site). But if you REALLY love spending time in a spa, and have an unlimited budget, why not trying both.
In most of the blog/forums I read before leaving, Reykjavik was not considered as a place to stay more than 1/2 a day. My opinion is it would be a pity not to spend a least 1 or 2 days discovering the city – and the Icelandic way of life. (as more than 1/3 of the Icelandic population leaves in the capital city).) Reykjavik has a great cafe culture, so you will find a lot of nice places to relax and eat a bite. We discovered a little cozy vegan restaurant with delicious meals for affordable prices.
I personally enjoyed coming back to a bit of “civilisation” after 8 days on the road (where the biggest “towns” you cross will be small villages with nothing more than a gas station and a few eateries).
Iceland does not have that many “national dishes”, but there are a couple of nice specialties which are not to be misses: seafood soup, garlic-seasoned langoustines, skyr (the delicious local creamy yogurt), smocked lamb, whale (whose consistency is very close to beef meat).
If you make a stop in Vik, avoid the only “grill restaurant” which is located next to the wool factory: the choice was very poor (burgers, warm sandwiches), the food tasteless came in ridiculous portions for quite a high price (who wants to spend £20 for a low quality burger with 3 fries?)
Iceland is a wonderful country where you can see and experience very different things. The only thing you have to consider beforehand isf how many “tourist things” (such as : hiking on glacier, Blue Lagoon, boat tours…) do you want to pay for. Your budget (and your experience) can vary considerably.
Personally we spent 90% of our time walking and admiring the landscapes – when we were not on the road or setting our tents. Which is already such an AMAZING experience, as what stands in front of your eyes is so unique. All you have to do is open your eyes and appreciate the beauty.
We treated ourselves in a few restaurants (of which – an excellent langoustine restaurant in Hofn) visited the whale museum in Husavik (I’m seasick, I was a bit reluctant to the idea of spending 3 hours ill on a boat so instead I spent the afternoon learning about these fascinating animals) and enjoyed the baths in Myvatn.
Every trip is different – and I think a holiday is just a expensive as you make it – so there is no reason not to fall for Iceland!