Thursday, 21 January 2016

Iceland Trip January 2016

I have just returned from a fantastic one week trip to Iceland and thought it would be helpful to write some notes about what I did including things like where I stayed, who I rented a car from etc.

Flights: Easyjet - £136 return including a checked bag, booked direct through based on comparing flights using skyscanner. I picked this based entirely on price. The flight times were very pleasant: I landed at 7pm on Thursday 14th and took off at 7:30pm on Thursday 21st.

Hotel: Loft Hostel - £123 for Thursday night through to Monday night plus Wednesday night. The missing night was because I also booked a two day excursion with a night of accommodation elsewhere. I booked the hostel through Hostelling International based on Tripadvisor reviews and I bought the required national youth hostelling association membership on (£15/year).

This was my first time travelling solo and staying in a hostel with the explicit intention of meeting other travellers. I picked Loft Hostel because it was apparently very central and sociable. The reviews on Tripadvisor did explicitly state the need for earplugs but were overall positive.

It's fair to say I had a mixed experience. The location was perfect. The common area was great with tasty beer on tap. I did end up chatting to several other guests which was really nice. However, my first two nights were really disturbed. On my first night, everyone else in my 6-bed dorm stayed up until ~3:30am chatting to three girls who were leaving at that time to catch a flight. On my second night, three of my room mates returned noisily to the room around 3am and thoroughly woke me up. The rest of my stay was much better although there was sometimes some quite audible bass coming from outside - I assume from a nearby club.

Car Rental: Blue Car Rental - £196 for three days (~£65/day) for a Dacia Duster 4x4 with extra insurance. On arrival I was told that I would be getting a Hyundai Rav4 instead. I was really happy with this car. It had a USB port which meant that I could connect my phone to play music and charge it while I used it as my satnav. The car also had heated seats and cruise control. Both features which I made a lot of use of!

Self Drive Routes: I Heart Reykjavik - I found the excellent blog named "I Heart Reykjavik" and used two of their blog posts to guide my exploration:

The Snæfellsnes peninsula  (£5 each way to use a toll road tunnel which is a shortcut)

The Golden Circle

I had a huge amount of fun driving these routes and the freedom I had to stop and take pictures whenever I wanted was awesome compared to if I had been on a tour where it was up to the operator to decide where the stops were. The Snæfellsnes peninsula drive featured fewer stops but had some fantastic scenery. However, the golden circle really is incredible for both general scenery and for the specific sights that you can stop and take a look around.

Tours: ExtremeIceland
~£92 for Snorkeling in Silfra without pickup (+£16 on the day to buy the photos taken during the snorkelling). This was awesome and I was glad I drove myself there as it gave me an opportunity to explore a side road which gave me a new beautiful view point.
~£361 for 2 day excursion along south coast including one night of hotel accommodation and tour in ice cave. This was a really great tour - the ice cave, iceberg lake and black sand beach with blocks of ice washed up on it being the stars. However, the meal at the hotel was pretty expensive at ~£45 for three courses and a couple of bottles of beer. The remote hotel would have provided a perfect opportunity to see the Northern Lights but the clouds came in so there was nothing to see.

Tours: Reykjavik Excursions
£35 for Northern Lights evening tour - this was basically just a coach which drove you an hour away from Reykjavik to stand around for an hour in the hope of seeing the Northern Lights. This is fundamentally a very hit or miss activity as you need clear skies, solar activity and ideally a night without a full moon. On the night I went, we didn't see anything. You can return for free on another night if you have the time to spare.

Stuff within Rejkavik

  • Reykjavik cathedral - very pretty and you can take a lift up (£5) and get views over the city.
  • Penis museum - doesn't take long to look around but for £7 it's worth a quick look.
  • Whales of Iceland - basically a warehouse with 1:1 scale models of whales. At £16, it's not really worth it.
  • Grotta Island Lighthouse - takes about an hour to walk from downtown Reykjavik. It's probably not worth the walk although you could get most of the way there by bus.
  • Swimming pools - I went to Vesturbæjarlaug (walking distance from downtown Reykjavik), Laugardalur (probably worth getting a bus, slightly better pool) and Árbæjarlaug (definitely requires a bus journey - it's nice but probably not quite as good as either of the previous two but the location probably means it will be quieter).

This is how I glued all of this together:
  • Thursday - arrive in the evening, walk around Reykjavik at night
  • Friday - explore Reykjavik on foot finishing with a visit to Vesturbæjarlaug 
  • Saturday - drive around the Snæfellsnes peninsula
  • Sunday - drive around the Golden Circle and visit Laugardalur on the way back into town
  • Monday - return to Golden Circle for Snorkelling, finish at 2pm and drive back to Rejkavik, Northern Lights Tour leaving at 7pm
  • Tuesday - depart on ice cave tour at 9am
  • Wednesday - return from ice cave tour at 8pm
  • Thursday - late breakfast, visit Árbæjarlaug, get bus to airport