Bucketlist Destinations: The frozen beauty of Iceland
Iceland – the world’s 4th most expensive country, a bucket list destination coveted by travellers across the globe and one of the only countries on earth that doesn’t have a single McDonalds.
If you want to visit Iceland on your own terms, I cannot emphasise the value of renting a car enough.
We rented through the relatively new car agency Lagoon (find them here), a pleasant, smooth and (in Icelandic terms) reasonably priced rental experience from start to finish! A Lagoon rep will meet you at the airport and drive you (free of charge) five minutes to their offices to collect your car, dropping you back to Keflavik on your way home as well. We got the Suzuki Jimny and James fell in love with the little mini-jeep so much he’s considering trading in his Audi for one (seriously). Getting GPS in the car for a little extra as well as taking out gravel insurance will make your adventure across Iceland a lot easier and worry-free.
Where to stay
There’s a wide variety of accommodation in Reykjavik, ranging from quirky hostels to boutique, luxury hotels. Kex Hostel on the sea front is good value and a great spot at night, where they often have live music and guests from all over the world come to drink Gull (Icelandic beer) and whiskey on the rocks. (Kex means ‘biscuit’ in Icelandic, and the hostel is set inside the shell of a former cookie factory!) Book your bed at Kex either directly (here) or through Hostel World (here).
We are serious supporters of Airbnb, and as usual our apartment did not disappoint. We stayed in a brand new downtown apartment just off Laugavegur, the main street, with a parking garage in the basement for our rental car and the most gorgeous space to relax in after long days adventuring across the countryside. If you want to treat yourself, look no further than right here, the exact Airbnb we stayed in here.
Food, glorious food
We were both surprised and impressed by the food in Reykjavik. Without exception, every restaurant looks like somewhere you’d want to eat dinner in, and we were only sorry that we didn’t have more nights to try the beautiful menus on offer all across the city. You name it, Reykjavik’s got it – traditional Icelandic cuisine (lots of fish and seafood), steakhouses, Italian, Thai, Nepalese. One special recommendation is Resto, located just off the main street and rated the second best restaurant in all of Reykjavik. Make sure to book ahead as it gets busy and we saw some people being turned away. Of course it’s pricey, but everything in Iceland is and believe me when I say it’s money well spent. Read more about Resto here.
The Blue Lagoon
This was a massive source of excitement for both James and I. I had dreamt of visiting the Blue Lagoon from the first time I heard about it. It more than lived up to expectation, and was easily one of the best experiences of my life! There are a number of different ticket packages you can go for when visiting the Lagoon, and you can find the one that fits your budget and style best here.
A friend warned me that it gets extremely busy with tour groups in the late morning and afternoon, so we got up early and got to the Lagoon before 9am and it was so worth it. (The drive from Reykjavik takes about 45 minutes). We loved it so much we stayed for hours (more than I care to admit). Something I was glad to have been warned about before our trip was how drained and weak you feel once you get out of the water. Your legs will feel like jelly and you’ll feel quite dizzy, a result of the hot temperatures (38-40 degrees) and dehydration to the body. We brought a supply of chocolate with us from Ireland because you really need all the sugar you can get before you head off!
If the idea of the Blue Lagoon doesn’t quite do it for you, go a little further off the beaten track to Gamla Laugin, the Secret Lagoon just outside Fludir on the Golden Circle. A hidden gem down a dirt road essentially in the middle of nowhere, the Secret Lagoon is smaller, quieter and that bit more authentic. At the equivalent of about €28 per person, it’s also significantly cheaper than its more famous counterpart.
Tips before you travel!
Iceland seems to be an almost entirely cashless society – practically everything can be paid for by card, even in the most obscure little shops and stalls. We didn’t bother getting any Krona before travelling and had no issues whatsoever, but if you’d feel more comfortable carrying a little money head to FexCo on Westmoreland Street. They won’t rip you off (as much as other currency exchanges will), and you won’t find Krona in the bank anyway.
If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, you may as well leave budgeting at the door because EVERYTHING is almost hilariously expensive. Accept it, don’t get annoyed! Most people travel to Iceland as a once in a lifetime experience, and trust me that what you’ll remember afterwards will be the breathtakingly beautiful sights you saw and the adventures you had, not the money you spent along the way. There are little things you can save on here and there, like bringing your own breakfast and snacks with you on the road instead of buying all your food at pricey tourist centres. (I kid you not, I packed a box of Crunchy Nut in our suitcase the night before we left and neither of us were sorry.) The scenery is half the beauty of Iceland, and that’s 100% free!
Comfortable, waterproof shoes – don’t leave for Iceland without them, you’ll do a lot of walking in all sorts of weather! We kept a spare change of clothes in the car at all times too.
For the most memorable evening sky and sunset of your life, head to the tip of Reykjavik at the waters edge to a place called the Grotta lighthouse in Seltjanarnes (stick it in your GPS and you'll have no problem. There's also a bus route that leaves you a five minute walk from the lighthouse peninsula!).