We were staying for 3 nights in Iceland, and flying with only hand luggage. So we used our Weekend Away packing guide as a checklist which made the packing easy.
It's not really cold in Iceland at the beginning of October. But it is nevertheless quite a lot cooler than in the UK, so we needed to get out some warmer clothes that were lightweight and would pack easily. Merino wool fits that bill really well.
To travel in I wore:
- Black jeans
- Merino wool jumper
- Merino wool scarf
- Waterproof walking boots
- Waterproof walking jacket
And I packed in my carry-on case:
- Thermal base top and long pants
- Merino top
- Walking trousers
- Waterproof trousers
- A poncho
- Warm Ecco boots (smart and practical)
- Ear muffs
- PJs & underwear
As we were flying with easyJet my handbag had to go in the case before boarding too (they only allow strictly one piece of hand luggage). As always I put all my travel papers and documents in a travel wallet.
Our flight was delayed by 45 minutes, but thank goodness Iceland are an hour behind us so it didn't feel so bad. When you have only 3 nights every minute is precious. Top tip: Stay at least 4 nights, there really is so much to see and do.
The other realisation we came to pretty quickly is that this is an island you could easily visit a number of times to see different things. For example, April to September is the best time for whale watching; from May to August you will experience 24 hour daylight; in May to October you can take a tour inside a volcano (I would have loved to do this but we didn't have enough time); and November to February have the longest nights, so more chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Then of course there is the weather and how that changes the whole landscape.
After we landed we had to pick up our car from Blue Car Rental. Our research had shown that local firms had better service and were far cheaper than the big names – and we weren't disappointed. If you plan to drive it's worth downloading the App 112, as although SatNav came with our package, if you hit this app the emergency services are notified and can locate you. It's a great idea and makes you feel extra safe. Also 4G is pretty much available everywhere.
Then we headed for the Blue Lagoon. Yes, it's on every tourist itinerary but it really is worth it. The Icelandic people don't do tacky! So it was all very well done. Tip: Buy the premium package; the extras you get are worth it and you don't have to join the (often long) queue for the basic tickets. Top tip: Watch their video before you go as it will guide you through everything and make sense of it all.
Still, nothing prepared us for the gorgeous warmth of the water, which was very welcome as it was cool and windy outside. We enjoyed the white mud face masks which are free and available from tubs around the pools. We were told the sulphur can be smelly but we didn't find it so at all.
We enjoyed the pools and moved around finding the hot and hotter spots. We stayed on for lunch in the restaurant, which we all voted exceptional. Nothing like fast food at popular locations in the UK; this was all freshly and beautifully prepared. A choice of bread with noisette Icelandic butter, sparkling wine, fresh fish of the day which was Blue Ling (a bit like cod) and Arctic Char (more like salmon) were all voted delicious.
Next we drove on to Reykjavik, and with the SatNav we easily found our way downtown to the Airbnb apartment which was to be our base – wonderfully located just behind the Cathedral and within easy walking of all major sites and restaurants. For a capital city it's really easy to navigate and park, and no parking fees either!
Considering how cold this country gets you would think that they might have thick curtains, log burners, thick hearty stews and the like – but not a bit of it. We saw a very pared back, minimalist and very stylish everything. The food we ate was freshly cooked and very healthy. Did you know Iceland is totally self-sufficient for its energy, and it all comes from renewable sources? And the Government have almost no debt.
After dropping our luggage, first stop was the Catherdral tempting us from across the road. None of the photos that I had seen did justice to this beautiful building and to see it lit up at night is quite stunning. To me it sums up the Icelandic style; it is very striking in its structure but with clean lines. Inside it is very plain but stylishly so. We paid the 800 ISK each to take the lift to the top of the tower for wonderful views of the city. Top tip: wear a warm hat, it's open at the top… and it's windy!
From here we wandered down Skolavordustigur Street looking at the shops. Steve stopped to buy a hat, as he hadn't heeded our packing advice and hadn't packed one… Still, it was a great excuse to buy a souvenir. They also have some fabulous lightweight down jackets at ZO ON, designed in Iceland and in some fab colours. And yes, whilst I knew it wasn't going to be cheap, I still bought one…
We continued to wander until a hail storm drove us inside Stofan Kaffihus (Cafe). It was really quirky with sofas, just like being in someone's home – very relaxing and we had delicious hot chocolate.
Then we set off for dinner at Verbud 11 down by the harbour, which we had booked ahead. Top tip: To avoid disappointment call ahead and make a reservation. Biggest challenge? We walked the wrong way for a good 15 minutes before realising, so arrived a little late, and cold. It was a shame we didn't have time to go back and explore the harbour in daylight, something I would come back to do. This is where all the boat trips go from.
Dinner was lovely and we took a taxi home. Top tip: We were told Euros are taken and yes they are in some places but not readily. My advice would be to use your credit card – everyone takes them, even taxi drivers.
Dress-wise for dinner there's a real mix, even in upscale restaurants. Some people (probably locals) dress up, whilst others were in jeans, jumpers and warm coats.
Next morning we were up bright and early to drive to Husafel, a small hamlet about 30 minutes from the edge of the Langjokull glacier to pick up a bus for the “Into The Glacier” tour. Really, you get to go inside the glacier! It was awesome, and something I will always remember. Friends had told us that glaciers are blue but this one wasn't. That's because the blue colour apparently comes only if a layer of water is trapped just below the surface. We learnt how long it took to bring the project to fruition and the effect of global warming on the glacier.
Our journey to Husafel took us along the coast, and under the sea through a 6km tunnel, amazing. There was snow in the countryside, steam coming out of the soil – literally – and the most amazing autumn colours.
For this day trip I wore my thermals, walking trousers with waterproof trousers over, merino jumper, my new duck down jacket, waterproof walking jacket, walking boots, ear muffs, scarf and gloves, and was toasty warm. What not to wear were sparkly trainers, skin-tight jeans and a thin jacket – which some tourists seemed to think was the perfect attire! Fortunately at the base camp where we boarded the ice vehicles (ex-missile carriers) they were prepared for such an eventuality, and had some warm overshoes and thermal suits to lend. But really, do you want to look so foolish?
We decided to drive back via an alternative route through the mountains. What we hadn't appreciated was that these roads were going to be mainly volcanic black dirt, which made the journey much slower. But the views were worth it. At this time of year we weren't expecting snow except on the mountains and higher ground, so when we drove through a blizzard near Reykjavik that was interesting…
After a quick change of clothes (I wore my black jeans, merino top, poncho, scarf and boots) we went out to dinner at Kol, a very smart upscale restaurant; not cheap, but very delicious.
We were up early again on Sunday morning to do the very touristy Golden Circle. Unlike the previous two days when the sun had shone, today it lashed with rain all day long. They do say in Iceland if you don't like the weather just wait 5 minutes and it will change, but it didn't on this occasion.
Our first stop was Pingvellir National Park, where the parliament used to be held in Viking times. Then on to see the geysers (top tip: Think very carefully about where you stand before the geyser erupts or you will get very, very wet!) followed by the Gullfoss waterfall, where we also enjoyed a delicious lunch. We then headed south to see the magnificent waterfall at Skogafoss, where if you stand too close you will get soaked.
On the way back to Reykjavik and just outside Selfoss we stopped at the Fakasel Horse Park to watch a show about the history of this amazing breed, which has been kept pure for over a thousand years. In fact because of the Island's isolation they still have original goats, sheep, horses and cattle. Remarkable if you think about it.
We found the Icelandic people to be polite, professional and friendly, but not warm and smiley. As I said at the beginning they don't do tacky… nor cheap either, but value for money it most certainly is. We loved it and are already planning our next trip.
Very top tip: Pack waterproof trousers, waterproof boots and a light waterproof jacket to cover your warm one, just so that you don't have to wear a wet jacket all the time.
Written by Helen