Our "Insider Tips" Iceland Travel Blog

 

We've just come back from a visit to Iceland so wanted to share our thoughts and Insider Tips with you!

Iceland is an unusual and fascinating country to visit at any time of the year. It’s emerald green in the summer and snowy in the winter, it has fascinating geology; stunning scenery; interesting cuisine; cool architecture and a tiny population of warm, welcoming people. Best of all (for us visiting from the UK), is that what used to be a really expensive destination is now relatively quite cheap, after the Icelandic economic crash of a few years ago.

As Iceland is volcanically active and straddles two tectonic plates, it is still being formed in geological terms. Much of the country is either mountainous or covered by glaciers and lava fields, this helps make it such a visually stunning country. Iceland is surprisingly temperate as it benefits from the warmth of the Gulf-Stream so even though it’s close to the Arctic circle, the winter temperature hovers around 0 degrees C; the highest summer temperature you will experience is around 25 degrees C. Another amazing by-product of the geology of Iceland is that it features, geysers, sapphire blue lagoons and a tectonic rift (more about these later)  this makes it a unique place to visit.

Image © Travel2Give - the Blue Lagoon Iceland

Insider tip – the best geothermal lagoon to visit is the famous Blue Lagoon (you have to book directly on their website or pay on entry). The best time to visit is in the morning or late afternoon and evening (it opens at 10am) when it’s at its quietest. Leave yourself lots of time to really enjoy your visit, I would recommend at least 3 hours in the lagoon. It’s expensive (35 Euro for standard admission) but worth it!

Reykjavik, the capital city, is relatively tiny, though two-thirds of the population of Iceland live there! Reykjavik is a lovely place to visit and has utterly charming traditional buildings in the centre and some amazing public architecture. The Harpa concert hall by the harbour is particularly stunning: entirely made of stacked glass lanterns and glass panels, it’s very 21 century and looks amazing it night when the led strips mounted in the lanterns perform an amazing synchronised light display.

Image © Travel2Give - the Harpa Concert Hall Reykjavik

Another architectural must-see is the Hallgrimskirkja church: with its steeple made of tubes of concrete in tapering lengths which together resemble a space shuttle at take-off. Inside the church you'll find clean, elegant vaulted ceilings and a steel and brass organ with 5250 pipes!

Image © Travel2Give - Hallgrimskirka in Reykjavik

Image © Travel2Give - building art in Reykjavik

Another unique feature of Iceland is the abundance of local outdoor-geothermal baths, they typically have half-a-dozen thermal pools with temperatures varying from mid-20 to mid-40 degrees C, a swimming pool and a large communal thermal bath at about 39 degrees C.

Insider tip – Do visit the local Geothermal pools, most neighbourhoods have them, they cost around £3 to enter, are simple to use and the staff are friendly and helpful.

Insider tip – Have a walk around the coastal paths; the forest around Perlan; the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula or the Nautholskvik Thermal Beach.

Image © Travel2Give - the very cosy bar at the Holt Hotel

Iceland isn’t as expensive to visit as it used to be! Since the 2008 Economic collapse, the exchange rate has doubled meaning you get twice as much ISK (Icelandic Krona) for your pound as you used to. On top of that, there are happy-hours in most Reykjavik bars (often it’s 2, 3 or 4 hours in fact!) The full-price for a pint of beer is usually equivalent to £5, not much more than London prices, so only paying £2.50 for a pint or a glass of wine seems pretty good to me, especially when the bars are thriving, exciting and ultra-cool. Food is also surprisingly reasonably priced and there’s a range of cuisine offered, from traditional Icelandic to American diners to Asian noodle bars. Tipping isn’t usual in Iceland, though with the downturn in their economy and the naturally-friendly service offered by the Icelanders you may want to leave a tip.

Insider tip – Get the ‘Reykjavik Appy Hour’ app for your phone and track which bar near you is offering half-price drinks. You can find it for iphones here and for android phones here.

Insider tip – Fancy a snack? Try happy hour at K-Bar: delicious home cooked KFC - that's Korean Fried Chicken, smothered in a delicious spicy sauce AND a pint of Icelandic beer for 2 people for less than a tenner! Or Try Nudluskalin, fantastic ramen and kari; Svarta Kaffi also do a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with delicious soup, tasty and not expensive.

Insider tip – Fancy a more upmarket treat? Grillmarkadurinn, do an amazing 11-course tasting menu for 2 people for just over £40 per person.

  

Images © Travel2Give - selections form the tasting menu at Grillmarkadurinn

There are some attractions which everyone sees when they visit Iceland, though touristy they are pretty much essentials as they are fairly unique! I’ve already talked about the Blue Lagoon: the geothermal spa built in a lava field filled with mineral-rich hot water, which has an amazing surreal phosphorescent aquamarine colour caused by the therapeutic ecosystem of algae, silica and minerals in the water.

Photo: The Blue Lagoon Iceland

Other must-sees are the geyser fields at Geysir where hot springs spout and mud pots bubble, and Iceland's famed Gullfoss (Golden) Falls, rated among the most beautiful in the world, with their awesome double-cascade, which is incredibly powerful. There are day tours which can take in these sights and a few more including the Thingvellir National Park where the European and North-America tectonic plates are pulling apart causing an awesome chasm to open in the ground, and a stop off at Hengill Geothermal Power Station.

Image © Travel2Give - Thingvellir National Park Iceland, the rift in the ground where the two tectonic plates of America and Europe are pulling apart

People also love to try to see the Northern lights whilst in Iceland, if the weather is warmer, a Northern Lights boat trip should be perfect (if the cloud and solar activity conditions are right) as a boat will get you away from the lights of Reykjavik quickly and it'll be more interesting and scenic than a coach trip into the countryside at night.

Insider Tip - You can see a forecast of solar activity at this link, you need a Kp value of around 3.0 to get possible Northern Lights over Iceland

Insider tip – The weather is very changeable: from sunshine and blue skies one minute to blizzards the next (in Winter at any rate!) It also rains frequently and can be very windy. Dress for the weather: warm, waterproof clothing, including waterproof trousers (if you have them) are essential if you want to hedge your bets against getting soaked!

It’s easy to get to Iceland, with direct flights from seven UK airports including Birmingham. Why not go for a long weekend or a week in the summer? 

 

Mark from Travel2Give, feeling cold in Iceland, February 2015!

 

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