A few months ago (most likely right after we came home from our summer vacation, LOL) my eye was caught by an online advertisement for Icelandair. Now, we all know how these things work, right? You only have to even THINK about something and it will pop up in the ads in your Facebook or Instagram feed. And then if you click on something, well good luck because you’ll be bombarded with those ads forever. In this case, I’m not sure where this ad came from because, although Iceland has been on our “to visit” list for many years, it’s not something I had actively thought about for a while. It’s like the Internet knew…
Booking with Icelandair
In any case, what caught my eye was a package including flights and hotel with the option to add on some extras (Blue Lagoon, Northern Lights…) so I threw caution to the wind and clicked… down the rabbit hole I went… In fact the Icelandair website is really well done and offers a number of different ways to set up your trip. We opted for flights + hotel with a few added on tours and experiences leaving us with some free time but if you wanted you could totally organise every minute of your trip through this booking engine. I knew I had a long weekend in November (Friday – Monday) and that Neil had some vacation days to take so I started looking at a package departing Thursday night and returning Monday night. It turns out, you can do a lot in even just that small amount of time! Before we knew it we had booked a pretty reasonably priced long weekend with some “must see/ do” activities already organised but with some time for ourselves as well. The perfect balance for a long weekend. In this post, I’ll cover the “booked with Icelandair” items and activies, in a subsequent post I’ll talk about the extras we did on our own…
Choosing your hotel in Reykjavik
When faced with the choice of hotels in your package it can be overwhelming and if you don’t know the city you might end up in a cheaper hotel that is a little bit out of the way. Though the city itself is small and pretty walkable, if you’re booked on any of the tours (or are arriving on a bus from the airport), know that many of the tours/ buses arrive at/ leave from the town hall on the northern shore of the Lake Tjörnin. While we didn’t know this at the time of booking, we lucked out because our hotel was a short walk from here making it super convenient for the tours we had booked but also arrival/ departure. We chose a slightly more expensive option for our hotel but were so glad we did. The Center Hotel Plaza is part of a chain but conveniently located on the main square – comfortable, quiet rooms (and it’s bigger than it looks from the outside) and an excellent buffet breakfast (important as food in Iceland is pretty expensive so it’s good to start your day with a hearty meal!) and we were able to walk to everywhere we needed to go. Definitely worth the few extra dollars over a cheaper hotel that is further away from the action.
Visiting the Blue Lagoon
Ok, so it’s kind of a given that if you only have a short time in Iceland you’ll most likely visit the Blue Lagoon.
Yup, it can be done! Our flight touched down at 6.15am, we were on a bus (and had time for a decent coffee at the airport beforehand) at 7.30 and in the waters at 8.15am. With, like 10 other people. In the dark. It was actually terrible weather – super windy and rainy and a lot of the people who were there at the same time as us were inside the buildings, waiting out the weather but we just went for it. I mean, if it’s rainy and cold, there’s nowhere better to be than in a hot spring! It was actually great because there were so few people…
Our basic package included a couple of towels, a small locker and a drink. So, hey, sure I’ll have Prosecco at 8.30am!BLURRY photos with fog and mist and wind and water! But hey, swipe your wristband and you can buy a waterproof phone case (I did, after this!).
Things to know:
1. If you arrive off the plane you will be asked to check your luggage. This is an additional cost (!) but in the actual change rooms there are “large” lockers that would definitely hold carry on cases. Something to know if you have a lot of luggage to avoid extra charges.
2. The change rooms are really well equipped with showers, hair dryers and private change rooms. You’ll want to make sure you have your toiletries and anything else you might need with you and not in your checked luggage. Make sure you have that accessible so you’re not on the floor of the locker room where you check your large luggage trying to find what you need!
.Once you’re there at the Lagoon, make sure you know the bus schedule for getting into Reykjavik – they run pretty regularly but do check. There is a lot to do at the Lagoon itself (spa, stores, restaurant etc…) but if you’re literally just visiting the waters you are probably on a tight schedule like we were so you’ll want to get into Reykjavik as soon as you are done. The bus into Reykjavik is free (included in your package) so it’s an economical way to visit the Lagoon (transfer to the city from the airport runs around $45 per person so you might as well include the Lagoon on your way in!).
4. Don’t convert prices into your own currency when you’re at the Lagoon. Otherwise you might have sticker shock at the $12 coffee you just drank 😉 There’s nowhere else to go so you just have to suck it up. We were not there at a “meal” time which helped as we just needed caffeine!
Cheers to Reykjavik beer tour!
This popular tour, based at Bryggjan Brugghus Brewery in the heart of Reykjavík’s Old Harbour, is perfect for foodies, beer nerds, and those wanting to learn about Icelandic culture, customs and current affairs!
So yeah, not exactly a “tour” (as in walking around to different places) but we were very happy about this by the time we got to it (no sleep, directly to the Lagoon, another tour after that and a dinner right after this experience made for a very full day!) but most definitely a “tour of Iceland through beer!”
Though the food is described as “tapas” style, the price of the tour ($95) should be an indication that this was more a dinner than a snack. We enjoyed Icelandic seafood and lamb as well as ice cream and chocolate (all made locally) with our beer pairings and could have, in fact, called this dinner (we didn’t – more on that in a later post!). Bryggjan Brugghus Brewery is in fact Iceland’s 1st micro brewery and a definite “must visit” for beer lovers. They had a decent menu there as well but if you’re not needing a full dinner, this “beer tour” is a great option.
Aurora Northern Lights Center
Included in our package was entry to this quirky little visitor centre where, amongst other things, we got to take “the shot” (in case we didn’t see the Northern Lights!).
Take a walk through history and learn how people and cultures around the world saw the Northern Lights via legends and myths connected to this amazing phenomenon.
It was really well done and also included a section on how to best capture the Lights if you are lucky enough to see them.
The Northern Lights
Yup, we were lucky enough to see them (albeit SUPER briefly but hey…). It’s not a given that you’ll see the lights but we booked a package anyway because, well, when in Iceland… The tours came with the caveat that you are not guaranteed a sighting and also that they can cancel the tours if the conditions are not ideal (tours were cancelled on every other night we were there so we really lucked out…). If that happens, you are allowed to rebook on another night but there are no refunds so if you’re only there for a few days you might not be so lucky.
Tours begin at 9pm and you drive far out of the city away from manmade light to the middle of nowhere…
It’s cold out there so make sure you’re dressed properly. You might be outside for well over an hour (though, of course there’s a hot chocolate/ waffle van at your site selling horrifically expensive snacks to keep you warm…). And when you see the Lights it might not look like it does in the photo above – at least to the naked eye. I saw some green and blueish blobs floating in the sky and honestly wasn’t sure it was the Lights until other people started reacting (and how!). I snapped away and got that shot above but I can tell you it didn’t look like that in reality! The guide told us this was a “valid” sighting (though some people on our bus disagreed) meaning that you couldn’t ask for a re-do/ refund. If you’re going looking for what you see on the postcards, you most likely won’t see this. be prepared. In any case, when in Iceland… Glad we did it….
The Golden Circle and Fridheimar greenhouse
When we read the description of this tour, we couldn’t NOT book it…
…you’ll see the spectacular Geysir geothermal area: a field abundant in hot springs, exploding geysers and bubbling mud pools. Then spend time at the majestic, dual-folding Gullfoss – the queen of Iceland’s waterfalls – before a visit to Þingvellir National Park, to many Icelanders the most important region in their country’s history. Alþing, the oldest existing parliament in the world, is located at the heart of this breath-taking park. The Great Atlantic rift is clearly visible here as well, which has slowly pulled Iceland apart along tectonic plates for thousands of years. You will also visit Fridheimar greenhouse cultivation centre, one of Iceland’s biggest greenhouses, to learn about growing vegetables with the aid of geothermal heat which Iceland has in abundance.
The Fridheimar Greenhouse was absolutely fascinating…Their mandate is to grow the best tasting tomatoes with eco-friendly practices and it’s a really inspiring place. As well, there are all sorts of tomato-based treats…
The Geysir geothermal area was also like visiting another planet…
My photos show no people but it was pretty busy. Your tour will stop for a good 90 minutes here so there are plenty of opportunities to take photos (and, of course, shop and eat at the visitor centre…)
The Gullfoss Falls are absolutely SPECTACULAR (especially on a grey day…)
The last stop on the Golden Circle tour is Þingvellir National Park. It’s full of history as well as breathtaking scenery…
Alþing, the oldest existing parliament in the world, is located at the heart of this breath-taking park. The Great Atlantic rift is clearly visible here as well, which has slowly pulled Iceland apart along tectonic plates for thousands of years.
It really is like being on another planet (again, so much of the scenery looks like what you imagine Mars would look like!). Unfortunately, just as we arrived at the Park, it started pouring rain so the 1.5km walk through took a quicker turn than we were expecting. It was bucketing down, not just a sprinkle so we didn’t get to explore as much as we would have liked. Fortunately the tour guide gave us lots of information as we were driving there so not all was lost. Just a shame the weather is so unpredictable (but it was cooperating for most of the rest of the trip so….).
That concludes the “pre booked” part of our Iceland weekend – all booked through the Icelandair site. We’re not much for “package” tours but this made it really easy to plan and prioritise the things we wanted to make sure we saw and allowed a lot of independence as well (as in, you’re not on a “tour” with the same people but your time is organised for you). Stay tuned to see what else we packed into our 31/2 days….
Please note that we researched and booked this vacation independently. This post is not sponsored by Icelandair but I was impressed by the process and would highly recommend doing what we did!