We travelled as a group of three sixty-something ladies on a “girls only” trip to Reykjavik in the hopes of seeing the Northern Lights and to explore just a little of this wonderful country during the four days we planned to be there.
After much time online researching costs and hotel reviews we were surprised to find our cheapest option was with Tui (Thomson) and booked our stay just six weeks beforehand for just £400 each. This package included a room for three with breakfast at the Reykjavik Lights hotel, transfers and two trips. It was almost an hour from the airport to our hotel so to have the transfers included (and two trips!) was great value, especially as everything in Reykjavik is very expensive.
The trips comprised a whole day Golden Circle Tour and a night-time trip at 9.00 pm to search for the Northern Lights. If we didn’t see the Lights on our first outing, and we didn’t, we were taken out again two nights later to try again. We only had a poor showing but it is pot luck. Both trips picked us up from our hotel and brought us back again and included an English speaking guide alongside the driver.
This hotel is officially 3* and compares to a good Premier Inn: in other words it’s clean, fairly basic but comfortable and it’s situated on the outskirts of the city. We chose it because, apart from the great rate, it had very good reviews online. It also has great Wifi and British TV channels in the rooms.
I had emailed ahead to the hotel just to ensure we had three separate beds and our room had no view but plenty of space and very comfortable beds. The waterfall shower also had a hand held shower and was basically in a wet room so we needed to be careful and use a towel to mop the floor. However everything dried quickly and the towels were replaced daily. The cold tap water is drinkable, as it is everywhere in Iceland, and it’s also freezing cold and quite delicious. The hot water, on the other hand, is scalding hot so everyone has to exercise care using it.
Water is plentiful in Iceland and thermally heated so is cheap to produce, as is the heating, so we were very cosy.
We had never seen so many sockets (two pin round plugs) in a hotel bedroom – there were even two in the wardrobe! There were no safes in the rooms, though they had a safe deposit box in Reception. We just locked valuables like passports and iPads in a suitcase and experienced no problems with security. There was also a kettle, cups and tea and coffee, though we’d brought our own. Long-life milk could be purchased in the foyer or, if you were very lucky and asked nicely, you might be given some fresh milk from the breakfast area.
Breakfast consisted of a fairly good hot and cold buffet and everyone was stoking up on it each morning a) because it was cold outside and b) because food is so expensive!
If we three “girls” hadn’t been staying there the average age would have been about thirty: mostly couples, British and great fun. Every time we appeared in the lobby to wait for a coach whoever was sitting down on the benches quietly got up to let the Grandmas sit down.
Now please take note if you’re thinking of visiting as this was the most important and useful purchase we made in Iceland – crampons. We already took walking boots (two of us are Ramblers) and in fact we wore them to travel as they were too heavy for the 15Kg suitcase allowance. We really didn’t need any other shoes for four days, but then we didn’t dress up to go out clubbing. But with the amount of snow and ice we encountered these boots were not quite enough to make us feel safe; especially not for me with my two-year old hip replacement which, incidentally, means I now get stopped and searched every time I go through Security at an airport!
We found the crampons at the chemist just up the road from our hotel where we went with a copy of my repeat prescriptions as I’d left some pills at home. Not only did they let me have my pills (luckily only about £10) they went out of their way to help us find the most suitable crampons/grips and by buying three sets plus another small item (all on one credit card) to bring our purchase up to 6,000 Krone we could claim the tax back at the airport. Do keep your receipts! And by the way, everyone uses credit cards.
I’ve since discovered I could buy the crampons for around £10 online back home but we paid 1,950 Krone – a bit under £16 but worth every penny. They’re called WinterTrax and have strong, curly wire underneath with a rubbery framework and Velcro straps which go across the top of your feet. We wore them outside at all times, took them off indoors and called them our best friends.
It was amazing to see a lot of tourists wearing Ugg boots or canvas trainers. They got soaking wet very quickly so they must have been freezing and they gave no grip on the snow and ice. We saw lots of slips, skids and a few falls, one needing hospital treatment. Sad.
There were quite a few disabled folk in wheelchairs and the shops and hotels seemed to cater for them pretty well though we saw no access available on the coaches used for our trips so they may have required separate, adapted transport. Also there aren’t many public toilets in this city so keep your eyes peeled.
We took waterproof coats and trousers (great leggings for extra warmth from Primark) and wore layers. The weather can change within minutes out there so be prepared for all eventualities.
We went on a trip to the Blue Lagoon which we booked online ourselves before we travelled but felt it was over-hyped and the basic visit cost over £100. It was fun but we equally enjoyed a visit to the public thermal baths just half a mile away from our hotel. It was about a tenth of the price and we sat outside in -1®C in beautifully warm water while the sun went down, chatting to the locals who were just lovely. They all learn English from the age of six and sitting around in the hot baths is a social event.
We saw a poster in our hotel advertising the Best Guided Tour of Reykjavik – FREE. I booked the tour on my mobile in less than a minute and the next day we were taken around the city by a history student who had us in fits of laughter for two hours. She crammed in a potted history, politics and some Nordic folklore and happily answered everyone’s questions. Donations were made at the end of the tour and I think most of us that day gave 1,000 Krone per person – £7.80 approx.
The tour helped us to get our bearings so we were then able to walk to the new cathedral and eat lamb soup in a roll at the street food café (near the Hard Rock café). This is an experience not to be missed and even if we’d had to queue it would have been worth it. The city is almost surrounded by sea and mountains so if you can make it up to the top of the cathedral the dramatic views are well worth it – and there is a lift.
Finally, while everything is so expensive, almost every hotel has a Happy Hour from 5.00 – 7.00 pm. Icelanders only drink at weekends and there’s only one shop selling alcohol in the city – yes it’s true – so hotels are popular with the tourists in the early evenings. We spent our first happy hour in our own hotel but it was a little soulless so we walked to the Hilton two blocks down the road and went back twice! Much more to our liking. NB Happy Hour means the drinks are half price, not two for one, so I got a very strange look from the waitress on the first evening when I ordered two small lagers for myself.
I hope this has helped if you’re thinking of visiting Reykjavik but if you’re not, then please do consider it. It’s perfectly do-able on a budget and it’s quite a unique country.
Takk. Bless, bless. Translates to “Thanks. Goodbye, take care”.
“Reykjavik Lights Hotel website”:https://www.keahotels.is/en/hotels/reykjavik-lights
“Free City Walking Tour (Two Hours)”:https://citywalk.is/
“Blue Lagoon (book direct from UK)”:http://www.bluelagoon.com/