I've had Iceland on my travel list for a while but I was worried about how popular it's become and how expensive it's supposed to be. But in the end my desire to see it for myself led me to booking a ticket from London to Reykjavik on my last trip back to the UK. I had the joy of traveling with my Mum and my little Brother which felt amazing after a string of solo trips recently. The flight from London was really easy, on BA we flew 3 hours and landed to snow beneath us.
Reykjavik is Iceland's capital and is a relatively small city. We were staying in the Old Harbor district which had beautiful views of a nearby glacier and the harbor boats. The city has a beautiful city center with a big lake and a fun, trendy bar / restaurant scene. When we went at the end of January it felt SO cold, but actually was only around freezing, with the wind making it seem colder.
I wasn't sure how I would get on in Iceland with my diet restrictions (I'm still following a plantbased diet) but I was really pleasantly surprised. On the first day as we treked around the Old Harbor in the snow, I did a quick google for vegan restaurants and found an amazing Pizza place nearby called Flatey Pizza where we all enjoyed beautiful pizzas. I ate so well over the 2 days and I was seriously impressed with the abundance of vegan options.
As we only had 2 nights it was a whistle stop tour; I'd read about the importance of booking a tour guide to do the key attractions because in the winter the roads outside of the capital city can be off limits for visitors due to the icy conditions AND because taxis are ridiculously expensive. I booked a tour with Reykjavik Excursions for us to do the Golden Circle, a man-made tourist circuit of 3 of the most impressive natural sights in the Reykjavik area.
This was an amazing day; my highlight was definitely the Gullfoss waterfall where the power of the water seemed immense and the water against the ice and snow was mesmerizing. A close second favorite was the stop to see a huge geyser. It was so fun waiting for the geyser to explode and it happened about 3 times every 10 minutes but very unpredictably so I couldn't help but jump every time! I was worried I wouldn't be able to find vegan options on the Golden Circle tour so I stocked up on snacks, but I was again very happy with what I found. At the Geyser there is a tourist mini "mall" with a great soup place offering several vegan soups - it was delicious and I highly recommend it.
On our last day, I booked us in for an 8am slot at the Blue Lagoon - an instagram favorite due to the beautiful blue turquoise water and the steamy ambiance. TIP: YOU NEED TO BOOK THIS IN ADVANCE!! I booked (tickets here) over a month out and could only get the 8am slot for our day (which luckily ended up being the best time for us). I didn't really have high expectations and expected it to be touristy and disappointing but it was WELL worth the money. Getting there at 8am meant that it was still dark and fairly empty, so when we first swam out into the freezing outdoors it was pretty pitch black (the sun doesn't rise until about 10am) and an amazing experience. Another TIP: If you are on a budget take your own towel, flip flops and robe - you can upgrade when you get there but it is expensive!The pools are big enough that you can easily swim around happily for an hour or more and there are saunas and steam rooms too as well as a swim up face mask hut and a bar. This is such a happy memory for me as my mum, brother and I enjoyed using the goPro to capture some selfies and kid around in the water for 3 hours until our transport to the airport.
- WHERE TO STAY: We rented an airbnb one bedroom apartment with kitchen and living room / sofa bed for around $350 for 2 nights. If you choose airbnb, find the nearest hotel so you can tell your tours / transfers where to pick you up (I would definitely recommend picking an airbnb near a hotel if you go in winter).
- TOURS: The tours are fairly expensive but well worth it. We did the Golden Circle tour through Reykjavik excursions. One tip is to book your tours in advance and include pick ups/drop offs from your nearest hotel. Also book your pick up and drop offs to/from the airport in advance. I purchased ours here
- FOOD: Book nice restaurants in advance. Would recommend for nice Tapas Burro Tapas and Steaks (some good veggie options) and for casual bites XO was great and near our airbnb. I didn't find the food overly pricey but I am used to San Francisco prices so hard to put into perspective, but I'd say we were paying around £15-45 p/p for lunch/dinner.
- TRAVEL: We flew with British Airways LHR to KEF. We booked the bus from the airport in advance through Reykjavik excursions and it could not have been easier - the bus was there waiting for us when we came out of the terminal at KEF.
- BUSES: There are TWO bus terminals in Reykjavik so if you do need to get a taxi to the bus terminal for a tour or transfer then be sure to specify which one (this caught us out when we missed our connection!) The Icelandic people are VERY punctual (or at least the buses are!) Don't do what we did and miss your pick up.
I would thoroughly recommend visiting Iceland, especially in the winter when prices are slightly more reasonable than in the summer. Iceland is a beautiful and interesting place that felt very different to anywhere else I've been in the world and I hope to visit again in the summer one day! Put it on your travel wish list!