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Recommendations for non-group non-driver Iceland stuff to do
December 6, 2013 1:09 AM   Subscribe

Mr LyzzyBee and I will be honeymooning in Iceland, probably in June, as we found out that the buses don't run until then. We will be there for a week to 10 days. Special snowflake details: (1) We don't drive, so we won't be hiring a car. Much information assumes we are doing that. (2) We are on our honeymoon, so we don't want to go on a week-long trip with other people!

What we are looking for is recommendations on ...
-- birdwatching trips
-- saga sites trips - I want the in-depth stuff, not just a fleeting summary. Studied the stuff at university for 3 years
-- apartments in Reykjavik that one can rent for a week to 10 days. I have dietary requirements that might not be too easy to deal with, so having the option to self-cater is important for us

Not so massively interested in bouncing across the interior in a macho way and running up glaciers, though a trip through at a more sedate pace and a spot of walking would be nice.

I know there are guidebooks, but I've found personal experience of the good tour operators etc to be invaluable. Thanks in advance!

Also special bonus snowflake question Mr LB gets quite bad SAD September-end February, involving heavy use of a light box. What's going to happen in the land of the midnight sun? Will he go all weird? Anyone have direct experience of this? We're going to Finland, too, so it'll be 2 ish weeks of all the light, all the time ...
posted by LyzzyBee to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
We used Reykjavik excursions and Iceland coach. They both have extended day trips that can drop you off and let you explore for the day. Iceland is very accommodating to bus trips and your own pace. Have you tried VRBO for apartment rentals. Type VRBO and Iceland and see what comes up. We found food was a very expensive commodity in Iceland but we were traveling as a family.
posted by lasamana at 1:46 AM on December 6, 2013

We stayed at Central Apartments about a year or so ago. Our apartment was not too fancy, but clean, with kitchen facilities and very reasonably priced,. The location is great for the Reykjavik attractions, and most of the excursions do pickups nearby.
posted by Jakey at 2:09 AM on December 6, 2013

Just to your snowflake question: The hostel I stayed in in Reykjavik had blackout curtains, which made all the difference (I was also there in June). It's something to ask about, especially in a private apartment - I don't know how common they are.

I didn't want to drive either, and also used Reykjavik excursions to get out of the city. I did the Golden Circle, which was awesome but maybe too brief for your interests/purposes, and a trip to the Blue Lagoon, which I also recommend. For the Golden Circle, take the earliest one, and IIIRC our tour went backwards around the circle, which meant sites were way less crowded.

Dunno what you're intending to spend, but I bet you could hire a private driver/tour guide to take you exactly where you want to go and for however long.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:32 AM on December 6, 2013

Try airbnb for accommodation as well. Last summer I stayed in a sweet one-bedroom apartment in a quiet residential area that was within easy walking distance of downtown Reykjavik, found through airbnb.
posted by lulu68 at 6:45 AM on December 6, 2013

Head out to the hot springs at Hveragerði.
posted by at at 7:13 AM on December 6, 2013

I got a recommendation from AskMe for Apartment K, and we ended up staying in one of their apartments. It was great, very centrally located, and had blackout curtains.

At least as of 2009, it was hard to get laundry done in Reykjavik. There are no public laundromats, and our apartment didn't have on-site washer and dryer. There are laundry companies of the type where you drop your laundry off and they do it for you, but they are only open during 9-5 business hours on weekdays. Plan accordingly.

Don't miss the Blue Lagoon. Yes, it's touristy, but it's amazing.
posted by matildaben at 10:31 AM on December 6, 2013

For historical sightseeing within Reykjavik, you may enjoy Árbæjarsafn (city museum with actual examples of earlier housing). It's further down the southern coast, but Skógar has a good folk museum.

Most historical sites will be a little ways outside the city. Not having a car shouldn't be a liability in the summer, but you'll probably want to make a plan ahead of time based on bus schedules. Icelandair does regular local flights. That may be practical, depending on what you want to see.

I didn't visit any, but my recollection from reading guidebooks is that there aren't a lot of saga sites that have gotten the full museum treatment. Much of that sightseeing is only denoted by a road sign with a symbol like the Mac "command" key. Which doesn't mean it's hidden, but you may only get some brief signage about what took place there. There aren't lot of places where you can spend a half-day on a semi-packaged museum-tour-type experience. The country is a small place and generally quiet/low-key. Most of what I found to do was taking in the landscape, but that's plenty.

I enjoyed my time outside Reykjavik much more than my time in. It's a magical country, and you get much more of that in non-urban spaces (though Reykjavik is so small, its urbanity is mostly relative). It sounds like your interest is more in what you'd find outside the city. My recommendation would be to get a guidebook, figure out your preferred destinations, and structure the trip around them. If you commit to using Reykjavik as a home base, you may end up spending lots of time going back and forth between the places you actually want to see.
posted by rhymes with carrots at 8:18 AM on December 7, 2013

My touring of Iceland was by car, but as long as you don't stray too far from the ring road, bus should get you all over. My impression was that the main drawback was in accessing hikes and other activities where there might not be enough time between the first bus dropoff and the last pickup. Definitely check the bus company schedules carefully; my guidebook (the French Guide du Routard; I was coming to Iceland via France and England) mentioned that the routes are shuffled between companies every few years.

If you're interested in Egil's Saga, a visit to Borgarnes, with its Settlement Center, might be worthwhile. And obviously visiting Þingvellir on the Golden Circle tour, or by itself, given the importance of the Alþingi in the sagas.

Outside of the towns, there aren't necessarily many options for eating; sometimes the only option is the guesthouse/hotel restaurant. Despite its small size, Borgarnes had a decent Filipino restaurant, which was the best and cheapest food I had in Iceland. If you stay outside of Reykjavik and maybe one or two other places like Akureyri, check in advance about whether your dietary needs can be met.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:53 PM on December 7, 2013

Thanks for all the suggestions so far. Anyone know about the SAD stuff from experience? I'm fine, can sleep in any conditions ...

As for diet, I'm planning on taking stuff with me so I can coast through anywhere that can't meet my dietary requirements. Better look up the Icelandic for saturated fat and cholesterol!
posted by LyzzyBee at 3:19 AM on December 8, 2013

My experience of being in Iceland and Norway in the summer is that the long days make it easy to stay up late and get up early while still feeling energetic. It might be a good idea to bring a sleep mask. Tempur-Pedic makes a very good one, by far the best I've ever used. It molds to your face, the way that their foam beds mold to your body. Highly recommended.

Before planning to bring lots of food, check with the Icelandic embassy about restrictions. The duty-free food allowance is 3 kilograms (that page lists general restrictions, but if there's anything you plan to rely on, it's best to check).
posted by brianogilvie at 11:11 AM on December 9, 2013

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