March 24, 2017

Top 10 travel tips for Iceland

Iceland has been on our bucket list for ages and we probably will visit again soon - it is one of the best places we've ever visited (and we didn't even get to see the Northern Lights).  If you're thinking about going here is our top 10 travel tips:

1. Everything will be expensive.
Expect it, rationalise it - beans on toast when you get home. Worth it!

2. Don't bother with cash.
We didn't take any currency, we just used contactless everywhere (even to pay for parking and taxi rides) - perfect for those of us who prefer to travel light like the Queen.

3. Fly to Akureyri in the North of Iceland. 
It is only a 45 minute propeller flight (you only need to turn up 30 mins before departure) a beautiful place where you'll almost be guaranteed proper snow even if it's unseasonably warm. We specifically travelled up for Andreas and his pack of Huskies - one of the best Dog Sledding experiences yet. Plus, you have the added bonus of the airline comping you an overnight stay at the Icelandair Hotel - plus a relaxing dinner, breakfast and taxis, if the weather takes a turn for the worst and you have to make camp in Akureyri. We were really lucky the weather was beautiful all day for our activities but the wind picked up late afternoon with gusts of 100mph making flights in and out a no-go (and walking in a straight line near on impossible!).

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4. Rent a car! 
We found the whole weekend to be a very chilled driving experience - with little traffic, parking was easy enough and we saved a small fortune on excursions.  We hired a little white Volkswagen Polo from AVIS - nothing fancy and certainly no super Jeep 4x4 beast, but it was perfect.  It allowed us to explore the Golden Circle route through Thingvellir National Park at our own leisure (we even stopped to pet the ponies!) + if we had been lucky enough we could have gone Northern Light hunting on any of the nights.  We did about 400km of driving on half a tank of petrol, plus the hire only cost £140 for 5 days, so a no-brainer for the bank account.

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5. Make reservations.
We forgot about how on a normal Friday night at home you may struggle to get a table somewhere nice to eat, it is really no different.  I did a lot of trip advisor research and had plenty of recommendations from friends who had already been to Reykjavik, so we were spoilt for choice on where to go. Icelandic tapas at Smakkbarrin was a highlight - added bonus, it all arrives in trendy mason jars (hello Instagram!). We also loved The Fish Company for something a little more Michelin star-esc, three courses each will set you back £200 though. Definitely make reservations - the place was packed on Sunday when we visited for dinner.

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6. Boots.  Do you need Snow Boots?
It was unusually mild for February for our trip, I think you'll be fine in chelsea boots and warm socks to be honest around this time of year.  I packed a pair of Panama Jacks (well worn and kept me toasty for exploring Gullfoss and Geysir) and our SOREL Caribou's made an appearance just the once.  We took them to Akureyri, where there was actually snow and even then I felt like we were a bit over-prepared and we did get a bit of friendly banter from the dog-sledding guides about them.  The only other advice is to take a well insulated coat - I took my trusty Musto jacket and it was perfect over the top of two layers.  You'll also be playing spot the Canada Goose game the whole weekend, it is literally everywhere in Iceland - talk about adding insult to injury - I've wanted one for ages!

7. Beer.
Pretty much a global currency for gauging affordability for a weekend away, right?  You're looking at about £16 a pint for something like a Viking local beer and a glass of Prosecco is about £18.  We hardly drank to be honest, not surprisingly, but also worth noting if you are driving there is a zero tolerance for drink driving - not even one beer.

8. The Blue Lagoon experience.
A must-visit before you fly home and essential to pre-book, we opted for the Comfort Package.  Simply means you can slurp on something refreshing whilst steaming your way around the lagoon & you'll have a nice towel at the end to dry off plus you get access to two face masks.  There's an Algae mud mask and the freebie Silica white one which is a lot like wallpaper paste, but actual skin-magic. You'll also need conditioner by the bucket - before and after, if you're unsure about how much - you've not got enough on.  I followed all the advice having read up about silica especially since I'm still recovering from my silver blonde tone-down but I still couldn't get a tangle-teezer through my hair - I had to invest in a deep conditioning treatment when I got home. Fair warning - it smells a lot like egg sandwiches when you arrive (that's not mentioned in the brochure is it!).

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9. Northern lights. 
It's not a given and I would never have booked our trip entirely hinged on seeing them - we didn't see them and it certainly didn't detract from our epic weekend.  You can keep an eye on the Northern lights forecast here - the auroral activity for our entire trip was 1 or low and it was very overcast so we rationalised very quickly we had zero chance of seeing them.  The dog-sledding guys in Akureyri mentioned that they tend to be more prevalent when the temperature is colder too!  A great excuse to visit again though.

10. Safety.
We both commented on how safe we felt wandering around Reykjavik and Akureyri.  It's really chilled and everyone is very friendly... even walking back to the hotel or to the car late at night we never once felt worried (and we all know how vigilant I am about safety).

That's in a nutshell!