A long weekend in Reykjavík, Iceland
With my sister, Emma, turning 30 in June, I wanted to treat her to something special. I wanted to to get her something that she would really like and something that could be remembered for a while to come. Various ideas popped into my head and I soon decided on a three day trip to Reykjavík, Iceland. It’s somewhere that she had wanted to visit for a while (and I did too). The cost of getting to to the country, staying there and feeding yourself is not particularly cheap, but it’s a fantastic place – if not a little grey and chilly!
It wasn’t until the August bank holiday that we got to travel, setting off on the three hour flight from Heathrow on the evening of Friday 23 August. Icelandair was our airline of choice – not that we had much of a choice. Reykjavík is served by very few airlines – the country’s flag carrier alongside low cost carriers WOW-Air and Easyjet from London airports. Unfortunately, Icelandair, like the low cost airlines, offers next to nothing in the way of service. Just one complimentary drink was offered on the flight with the usual array of snacks offered at scandalously high prices.
An hour behind the UK, it was shortly after 11.00pm that we touched down in Iceland. It was very misty, very wet and a little cold too (even in the summer months, this north Atlantic country rarely gets above the low twenties). After a bit of queuing in immigration, thanks to the arrival of some other late night arrivals, we were on our way to the waiting Flybus outside.
The Flybus is the regular coach service between the international airport and the BSI bus terminal in Reykjavík, and, in some cases, hotels too. The journey time to the bus terminal is around 45 minutes and a return ticket is approximately £18 per person. For a round trip to a Reykjavík hotel, the ticket price increases to around £23. Complimentary WiFi is offered on all coaches and minibuses, although we found it to be somewhat temperamental.
Our base for this three night trip was a very centrally located apartment at Njálsgata – in the heart of Reykjavík. It was sat right next to the Fosshotel Lind and only a stone’s throw from the Best Western Reykjavík, both of which are served by the Flybus. The accommodation was booked using the Holiday Lettings website offered by Trip Advisor. There were endless accommodation options on the website, varying in price, but all were significantly cheaper than hotels. We paid around £93 per night whilst average 4-star hotels, such as the Radisson Blu, were selling rooms for around £170.
It was around 2.00am (3.00am UK time) that we eventually got to bed. With just two full days in Iceland and keen not to waste either of them, the alarm was set for a reasonable hour. The plan was to explore Reykjavík on foot in the morning and locate the tourist office and then to enjoy two excursions over the two days – whale watching and the famous Blue Lagoon!
With the weekend of our visit coinciding with Reykjavík’s gay pride and some sort of marathon, the centre was especially busy, but it was a fun and friendly atmosphere with plenty of music and things to do. We stopped off for a quick Subway breakfast, took a walk along the water and browsed some of the shops. The prices, perhaps unsurprisingly, were far from competitive and the goods on offer were limited, especially in the many souvenir shops. Volcanoes, puffins and whales were the theme with most items, whilst the pricier shops offered the traditional (but ghastly) Icelandic woollen sweaters.
That afternoon, we set off on a 3-hour whale watching boat trip, which, at £50 per ticket, wasn’t brilliant value for money. It was to take around 40 minutes to reach the whale watching area, so we took a seat below deck and away from the cold, the rain and the sea spray! As we sailed further out to sea though, the water seemed to get rougher and rougher, and our little boat was being thrown all over the place. Now and again, as the boat was lifted and then suddenly dropped by waves, you would hear gasps from others on the trip. It really was quite unsettling! I soon began to feel a little queazy and so did lots of others – and we were yet to see even one whale.
On reaching the whale watching area, lots of passengers were being violently sick. Two women behind me could be heard vomiting but keen not to trigger my very sensitive gag reflex, I didn’t look back. When the smell of sick wafted forward, I had to get outside for some fresh air, only to find that another lady had thrown up right by the only door onto deck. The boat’s bar man – who wasn’t selling any drinks – got out and cleaned up the mess, allowing me to get outside and away from the stench of vomit and the sight of sick people.
Commentary on the trip was provided by a very enthusiastic lady. She would provide every update in German and English, pausing regularly to yell “Minky whale, three o’clock”, indicating that she’d spotted a whale (of the Minky variety) to the right of the boat. At this point, everybody would excitedly rush to that side of the boat, only to find that the sighting was nothing more than a flipper or fin poking out of the water, hundreds of metres away! Whales leaping out of the water, just like in the Free Willy films, were not to be seen on this trip!
Thankfully, the trip came to an end, and I say that only because I was feeling very very sick. The cheerful people who had boarded the boat just three hours earlier were smiling no more and many looked white. They too were no doubt glad to be back on dry land.
The following day, we were collected at 11.00am for our trip to the Blue Lagoon. This geothermal spa located at Grindavík is apparently one of Iceland’s most visited attractions and it was obvious as to why. Despite being man-made, this attraction felt natural and that’s no doubt helped by its very rural location. The naturally heated water contains sulphur and other minerals, some with healing properties. The sulphur results in an egg-like smell but you quickly get used to it.
At £34 for entrance only, the Blue Lagoon is another pricey Icelandic attraction, but with no restrictions on how long you can stay, you do get real value for money. Visitor numbers are restricted too – as we found on our arrival – which means you’re not sharing the facility with endless others. Due to it being very busy when we arrived, it took around an hour of queuing
before we could get in, but the wait was worth it. We found a nice secluded spot in the lagoon, slapped on lots of silica mud and relaxed for around three hours. I unfortunately didn’t come away with super soft skin and an impeccable complexion but still had a great time. This was one of the ‘exit through the (very overpriced) gift shop’ attractions.
That evening, we stumbled upon Hressingarskalinn in the heart of Reykjavík. This restaurant served up lots of tasty dishes – some Icelandic – and at a much cheaper than expected price. Not keen on trying any of the Icelandic seafood options, we settled for more ordinary meals, but value for money was very good. A two course meal for two with soft drinks totalled around £30. The restaurant has scored 4.5 out of 5 on Trip Advisor too so is definitely worth a visit.
The following morning, we left the apartment and waited for the Flybus at the Fosshotel next door. These efficient and super-reliable buses are highly recommended. After a quick stop at
the BSI bus terminal, we continued on our way to the airport. Our route home was indirect, requiring a change of planes in Copenhagen, Denmark. Yes, it was a little inconvenient and added a good few hours to the journey time but it practically halved the ticket price. At around 9.00pm on Bank Holiday Monday, we were back on UK soil, just 72 hours after we set off. A great time was had.
For more information about the chosen accommodation in Iceland, click the ‘Tripadvisor’ link at the top of the page.