Help a Reader Travel: Iceland

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Welcome to another post of helping a reader travel! As I’ve mentioned before, I have not been to every destination (unfortunately), but do get questions from friends and other blog readers on all sort of travel destination questions. Thus far, we’ve been able to help other readers travel to MauiThe Greek Islands, The Pacific Coast Highway, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Cape Cod & The Islands.

So this weeks travel destination includes Iceland. I received the following email from reader Meghan:

“My friend and I are planning a week in Iceland from Oct 29 through Nov 5. We’ve planned it around the Iceland Airwaves music festival in Reykjavik. We’re both huge outdoor enthusiasts and want to take a few day trips, and possible overnight trips outside of Reykjavik, on the days that we aren’t interested in any of the bands playing. I’ve searched the web and read some travel books, so I have a nice list of destinations and sights to see, but I’m unsure of how best to get to these places, considering the time of year that we’ll be visiting. Although I’m not a big fan of tour groups, I’m also concerned about driving around Iceland in November. I’m wondering if you or any of your readers have experience in Iceland in the off-season (i.e., not summer) and how easy or difficult it is to get around the country on your own. I’d also love to hear some tips about places/things to see that I won’t find in any guidebooks. Thanks!”

This sounds like an amazing trip! I’ve been eying a trip to Iceland for awhile now, but for some reason haven’t yet made it there. It is so close to East coast of the US and I’ve heard fabulous things. I will personally be looking to go for a 5 day trip at some point. There are also direct flights from Boston and New York (as well as some other cities) for cheap! I’ve seen flights as low as $550 in coach!

If you’ve been to Iceland before, let’s help out reader Meghan by commenting below. Also, if you have any upcoming travel where you need some help, feel free to email me at dealswelike@gmail.com to be a featured “Help a Reader Travel” Monday special. Thanks!

Pingbacks

  1. […] Welcome to another post of helping a reader travel! As I’ve mentioned before, I have not been to every destination (unfortunately), but do get questions from friends and other blog readers on all sort of travel destination questions. Thus far, we’ve been able to help other readers travel to Maui, The Greek Islands, The Pacific Coast Highway, Argentina, Costa Rica, Cape Cod & The Islands, and Iceland. […]

Comments

  1. I am from taiwan and i had been to Iceland off season and I am going back for airwaves this year too. I could share something later when I have more time

  2. Iceland is AMAZING. I could go on and on, but I’ll try to just hit the biggest points. I was there in January during a week when we were told they got the most snow they had seen in 9 years, but it was still incredible. Being from Miami, we loved be completely out of our element.

    I HIGHLY recommend the Hilton Nordica in Reykjavik. If you are Hilton Gold or higher, you will get upgraded to the executive floor. The rooms are extremely clean and modern, and if you get a mountain-facing room, the view is incredible. The executive lounge is a hidden gem, and the food is outstanding. Great breakfast, great treats to full meals every day, and free alcoholic beverages in the evening, not to mention a view to die for. In particular, all of the cheeses are unusually amazing. Also, try the local beer called Gull. The restaurant in the hotel – Vox – is also one of the best in the city. One more thing about the Hilton, if you have an executive room, you also get in to the on-site spa for free. They will also come massage you as you sit in a hot tub for free. There are also hot tubs on their roof. Incredible to sit in the warmth with the cool air around you. There are also shuttles back and forth from the city center, since the Hilton is slightly off the beaten path.

    The Hilton Nordica has an excursions center right in the hotel that can help you plan all of your excursions.

    You asked about transportation. A lot of people rent cars there, and supposedly it is easy to get around. But, we did not rent a car, and I’m personally glad we didn’t. The snow would have been challenging, and we had heard of road closures during the time we were there due to extreme weather conditions. There is a shuttle from the airport to the Hilton, which is relatively inexpensive. The Hilton also has shuttles that will take you for day-trip excursions to most of the places you probably want to go. Also, the weather in Iceland is supposedly quite temperate for its location, so you will likely not run in to the same extreme snow conditions as we did. You could even have clear skies and temperatures in the 50s at that time of year.

    Don’t miss:

    1. Blue Lagoon – I’m sure you know all about it, but until you are there, you don’t know what you are missing. No matter the time of year, the temperature in the geothermal waters is around 100 degrees. I can tell you that feeling completely warm, with steam coming up from the water around me, as snow fell on my head is an experience to remember. Also, you can get massages in the water! Unforgettable experience.

    2. Northern Lights – They are not always visible, but you could definitely get lucky. There are tours (you can get through the Hilton) where they take you by jeep out to whatever areas have the best viewing possiblities. They will also take professional pictures for you, which is a good thing because I could not capture the lights on my camera. Also, if you don’t get to see the lights that night, they will take you the next night for free!

    3. Golden Circle Tour – See some of the most beautiful and breathtaking sights in Iceland. I’m sure you’ve heard of this one too. Geisers, waterfalls, and beautiful landscape.

    Getting there – Iceland Air is pretty cheap and a pretty nice airline. I know that Delta has started running some flights out there, but I’m pretty sure it is summer-time only. Also, you should note that you can do stopovers on Iceland Air for next to nothing. For example, I did a flight from JFK to KEF and then KEF to AMS for a TOTAL of $440. Then flew back eventually from LHR using points.

    Have an amazing time! I’m jealous and can’t wait to go back some day!

  3. We visited last summer and went through Arctic Adventures: http://www.adventures.is/

    We usually do not like tour groups but this company was awesome. The groups were small, with timely hotel pickup, transport, training, and all gear and food provided. The guides were super friendly and knowledgeable as well! This was one of our best trips that we have taken and it was in large part due to Arctic Adventures!

  4. i have been to twenty-three countries so far, and iceland is BY FAR my favourite. i went with my partner last november. if you are into outdoorsy stuff, you are going to love it 🙂

    i am also not a tour group person, but decided that iceland would have to be an exception. we did three tours and they were all amazing. after reading a bunch of reviews, we went with iceland excursions (http://www.icelandexcursions.is/). they have a lot of tours, and i would bet that every single one of them is spectacular. they are not terribly pricy either. we did the golden circle classic, northern lights, and blue ice. with blue ice you go to a glacier and get to do some ice climbing. it was such a cool experience. it’s one of the most expensive ones but it is a must!

    we decided to save money on hotel so we could afford the tours. we stayed at bolholt apartments and it was $157 for four nights (booked on hotels.com so we also earned WR credit). it was really good because there was a kitchen and dishes so we saved money on food that way. it’s about a twenty minute walk to downtown, but you just go straight so it’s easy. the tours will pick you up at bolholt too so that’s nice.

    you asked about getting around on your own and off-the-beaten-path attractions and i didn’t help with either of those..oops 🙂

  5. I went to iceland last summer. if you are coming from east coast, consider making a trip to europe and using iceland as a stopover on iceland air. why? sometime, the fare can be cheaper than flying to just iceland.
    i suggest renting a car with gps, i went without a map and didn’t get lost once the whole 2 weeks while there. renting car can be costly but it’s much cheaper than an organize tour. plus you are going off easy so it shouldn’t be too bad…especially if you are splitting with several people.
    i stayed at the radisson blu on the friend/family rate which included breakfast. it was a steal at 80euro/night and you are right inside the city.
    eating can be expensive so consider going to grocery store and try some of the local delicacies.

  6. I had a very similar experience to Eric at the Hilton Nordica in Reykjavik. I really debated about whether to stay there or not as it is a bit outside the city center. Like Eric I was upgraded and it was a great stay. I usually do a lot more planning than I did for this trip, but went on the spur of the moment when I found a good fare out of New York right after I was visiting there. The tour desk at the Hilton was amazing and I was able to book many things same day or the night before. Most tours drop off and pick up right at the hotel. I liked Reykjavik Excursions http://www.re.is/ and I also did a cool tour in an off road jeep to the eruption area of Mt. Eyjafjallajokull with Volcano Tours http://www.volcanotours.is/

    I personally would not drive especially that time of year and don’t forget that there is not much daylight anyway. Absolutely go to the Blue Lagoon. All the companies have transport out there or you can stop on the way in or out to the airport. You can go to local pools and experience the local culture.

    If you feel very adventurous and have the time, Iceland Air has excursions to Greenland and the Faroe Islands. I will definitely do one of those the next time I am there.

    This post makes me want to go back while I still have Hilton Gold. Any good fares out there now? I wish there were more direct flights and it were served by more airlines. Keflavik is a nice airport and it is a very easy country to travel in. Enjoy!

  7. I had been to Iceland this feb and going back again in Oct for airwaves too… so maybe we will see each other in Iceland lol

    Since you go to Iceland for airwaves.. I would think to make it most of airwaves at least attending some important event..

    For Airwaves..
    Below are the must

    Nov 3rd – Blue Lagoon chill party
    Nov 4th – Sigur Ros concert

    and some great line up…

    For rest of days…… you can do Golden circle, Northern light. Grotta Island, if you have time , you can go to Jokulsarlon (Glacier Lake, very beautiful, but far).

    Golden Circle –
    8 hours tour which you can get cheaper rate combined with airport shuttle bus by http://www.netbus.is
    around 80 usd for total. This is doable by your own car too.. very easy to get there.. I tried both… just because I miss Geysir (I called it blue bubble)

    Northern light –
    with tour operator http://www.re.is, to see that you would need some luck, but you can join the tour 2nd time for free if you don’t see it for first time, I got the luck for the second time.. it was wonderful, amazing..

    Jorkusarlon –
    quite far, 7 hrs drive from Capital, My friend and I drove there and stayed one night at Hali’s guesthouse for over night then back, driving experiences, I would say it was very exotic.. you would see a lot of things that you really see in really hardly.. and not many cars (We even didn’t see any car for almost 2 hours), I know it is long way but it is an amazing place, very worthy. If you have no idea about that place you can check Bon Iver’s Music video “Holocene”. If you don’t wanna drive, you can do 1 full day tour with tour operator http://www.extremeiceland.is. It is a must to do if you have 1 full day free…

    Grotta Island –
    is a jem of capital, not very touristy but easy to get there.. it is a small island that you can see the beautiful coast line and wonderful foot hot spring.

    The highlight of airwaves is music, if you try to make it to many places thenyou will miss some good music… it is would be hard for you to make decisions.. I know because I am in the same boat… so I make my trip a bit longer like 15 days… because I wanna do northern Iceland this time

    Food… highly recommend “The Dill”, best dinning experience in Iceland, it is an awarded restaurant, I think it is worth to try… it is not a Michelin restaurant but in my opinion it is better than some Michelin restaurants…

    Hot dog place opposite of Hotel Radisson 1919 is famous spot.. which is a must too.. Also some nice brunch places like Cafe Paris, Cafe Laundromat (You can do laundry in basement)and Cafe Loki…

    Stay… depends on how many people travel with you, I always recommend rental apartment in Reykjavik, such as 37 apartments and the apartment running by Hotel Odinsve.. I stayed both apartments, they are both great.. and with very reasonable price.. I stayed Radisson 1919 too.. I like it very much and with wonderful location…

    Transportation… Car is essential since public transportation is not really functional for tourist…

    I don’t find Iceland expensive comparing other cities in US such as NYC…but wine and beer are very expensive.. so remember to bring wine before you fly into Iceland, you can bring 2 bottles of wine for each person… you can find that you need to pay double in town for the same thing…

  8. Here are something more…

    English is widely spoken.. so language is not problem for tourist…

    Wifi is almost free in most cafe and hotel…so don’t forget to bring you iphone if you have one…

    Credit Card is widely used even you can pay the hot dog with the plastic money…. so you don’t need to exchange too much Krona which is very weak now..

    Remember to exchange the spare Krona in Airport since it might be worth nothing in other countries… and there is a sweet thing about the bank in airport, they take all of your Krona and exchange it most of it (I dont know how to describe ), even giving you the coin… I got 32 euro last time banknote and coins…. I never got coin with this kinda situation.. maybe they know that no one wants Krona, so it is kinda service for tourist..

  9. I stayed at the Hilton and the Park Inn (By Carlson). The Hilton exec lounge is great, but if you didn’t have status I think it wouldn’t be worth it. The Park Inn is a great way to redeem the Carlson points- we got a room for 2 nights at only 22,000 points a night. It’s not the best hotel, but with free breakfast it was a steal.

  10. I went in late October a few years ago and loved it. The people are nice, the food is good (try sheep’s face for an appetizer – trust me), and views are spectacular.

    To get around the rental car issue, we hired a driver to take us on a tour that included snow mobiling on glaciers. Unfortunately, I don’t recall who we booked it through.

  11. Thanks everyone for the awesome tips so far! I was worried this might tempt me in to staying a few extra weeks.. haha.

    We are budget travelers and I’m new to the whole frequent flyer/points collecting game, so it’s too soon to be thinking about upgrades and free nights, but I appreciate the tips. I was already thinking about renting an apartment, and as many of you suggest this, I probably will.

    Does anyone have specific recommendations on apartment locations? I’ve read that weekend nights can get pretty wild, so I’d like to keep a safe distance from the noise and commotion, but still be able to easily get to the main street.

    Eric & David – We’re flying from NYC and Icelandair is the only option for direct flights. I haven’t checked if it’s cheaper to fly to other destinations first. Thanks for the tip!

    Emily – blue ice sounds fantastic! I’ve been looking for some kind of glacier hike or climb.

    Linda – I’d love to check out Greenland, just don’t think I’ll have the time. Guess I’ll just have to go back!

    Elton – Wow, thank you. So much info! And yes, I have my Sigur Ros tix already – can’t wait! I’m not sure about the Blue Lagoon party. I will absolutely visit the Blue Lagoon, just don’t know if I want to go at the same time as EVERYONE else. Have you been to Airwaves before?

    David – Sheep’s face, got it.

  12. Save your money. Skip all these tours everyone has recommended above. The Golden Circle can easily be done on your own and at your pace in a rental car. The Northern Lights tours don’t guarantee sightings, are quite pricey(!) and this isn’t something you want to see out of a bus anyway.

    My suggestions (based on my November trip last year):

    1.) Rent a car – absolute must if you even remotely want to indulge your love of the outdoors. Most roads are in excellent condition and you only require a 4×4 if you want to drive all the way up a glacier or a volcano (you can easily hike up the latter)

    2.) To set up your “own” Northern Lights tour minus the tour bus and the crowds, check http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/3 between 10p and 11p for conditions

    3.) If conditions look promising (not unlikely in late fall and early winter) drive out in your rental car from Reykjavik towards Thingvellir National Park (most tours will go here too), you can easily find this on a GPS or alternatively drive out NE on Hwy 1 towards Hvalfjordur
     
    4.) Keep an eye out for the aurora, enjoy them in your own car, walk around at your own pace, and return having avoided a bit of a tourist trap and without your wallet feeling a lot lighter 

    5.) Yes, food in restaurants is expensive but of very high quality and alcohol in bars is pricey but comprises of imperial pints of beer and some of the strongest cocktails you’ve ever had

  13. the northern lights tour through IE is $35 per person. they don’t take the tour unless the conditions are right, and your ticket isn’t used until you go out on the tour. i believe even if the tour does go out and you don’t see them, you get to go out on the tour a second time. so if you book it for early in your trip, you have quite a few chances.

    it comes down to how you want to spend your money. you can make your own meals and go on official tours, or you can make your own tours and go out for meals.

  14. Hi, this is some great information. Does anyone know the best way to use frequent flyer miles to get to Iceland. I’d love to go!!

    • @Kara – During the summer months, Delta sometimes has flights to/from Iceland, but I have not been able to figure out their schedule yet. Iceland Air is really inexpensive that using points might not even be worth it.

  15. @Kara — it’s pretty hard to get there with miles, but i used amex MR points to book a flight through iceland air.

  16. Star Alliance (via Lufthansa, SAS) can get you to KEF year-round as will Oneworld (via AirBerlin). So United, US Airways, AAdvantage, BA Avios etc can all be used to go to Iceland on FF miles.

  17. We go to Iceland regularly – my wife is Icelandic. You may very well see no snow at all while you are there…in Iceland if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes.

    The main roads (generally coastal) are fine and well maintained. As you go to more out of the way places, it’s rocky gravel roads…if you plan to go exploring a 4×4 would be helpful. Renting one just the days you want to explore should be no huge expense. Things are just “expensive” lately rather than “aaarrggghhh” of 2008.

    You seem like someone who asks questions, so I don’t suspect you’ll be found dead in a snowdrift somewhere no one in their right mind would go…so don’t worry too much, it will be fine. It’s easy to get around, people are happy to help, the tours are fine if you want to do that, but a drive to the Blue Lagoon with a side trip to the boiling springs you heard about will be much more fun than a hotel tour bus for you, I expect. There’s a week’s worth of sightseeing within 3 hours of the city. All this assumes “normal” (bad, but not crazy) weather….

    Speaking of which, the problem isn’t snow per se, it’s snow crystals blowing at 60 mph. Dress for wind, not cold. it hardly gets below freezing there. A typical winter day is high of 35, low of 34.

  18. PS – what “progapanda” said is all good. And stop alot and walk around, the beauty there is often up close, like the raging glacial white water going underneath the bridge you just drove over.

  19. PPS – My mother-in-law (Sonja, threesisters@threesisters.is) runs the “Three Sisters” apartment hotel which is quiet and near the main street, though I think they mostly rent as apartments in the winter, but she will be likely be happy to receommend you a quiet place. If Toti answers and books you a room, call back the next day to make sure he remembered to put it in the computer 😉

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