No, really, what can we expect and what should we do in Iceland?
July 21, 2014 8:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm visiting Iceland with my husband, his parents, my sister in law, and her husband. We're excited but my husband and I are wondering what we can actually expect and what we should do while we're there.

Our travel group includes my husband and I (early 30s), his sister and her husband (late 20s), and their parents (early 60s). All of us are relatively healthy for our age but, to repeat, his parents are in their early 60s. We have traveled together before and are psyched but I'm trying to get a sense for what we should actually do while we're there.

We are very interested in doing a glacier walk like this. I'm inclined to plan on renting boots so that's one less thing I have to pack - is that a mistake? Also, it sounds like they discourage wearing jeans for that hike because you can get wet. Should I buy water-repellent pants? I thought I could maybe get some nylon pants and wear leggings under them. Also, some of the TripAdvisor reviews suggest that the hike is not as easy as the website describes - is it okay to do with two 60+ year old folks who are not athletic?

We are also planning to do a volcano tour and visit the Blue Lagoon. My sister in law, for some reason, is really excited about the idea of going horseback riding in Reykjavik. Is that something to be excited about? My husband and I aren't into horseback riding. Otherwise, what should we see and do? We will be staying in Reykjavik so ideas in the city would also be helpful.

Finally, I'm interested in running the 10K in Reykjavik on Saturday, August 21. I am a little concerned that I might not be able to get back to the hotel and shower before we have to check out. Are there other ideas for where I could get a shower before hopping on a plane? I'll survive without one but I don't know about my fellow passengers.
posted by kat518 to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I went horseback riding, not in the city itself, but outside the city in place where the field was all volcanic rock. It was horseback riding. I had excpected more of a sort of "tour" kind of thing where they would explain the geology or something like that, but they really didn't. They just took us around on a horse. It was fine, but not noteably different from horseback riding elsewhere.

You should do the Golden Circle tour, I think it's called. Also, make sure you get a version that visits the power plant. It sounds like visiting a power plant would be boring, but it's actually super interesting.

Finally, in Reykjavik, be sure to eat at Tapas Barin. I always recommend this, and it seems odd to recommed a tapas place in Iceland, I know, but you would get some interesting Icelandic food there that it's hard to find elsewhere. I had something like that Icelandic Feast advertised on the front page. Mine came with monkfish (aka angler fish) which was delicious with a very firm texture. There was, in the feast I ordered, some meat (beef?) that I ate commonly enough that I asked if I could make a substitution and they let me, so I got to have kangaroo meat, too (not from Iceland, I know). All the foods were deliciously prepared, so it wasn't just a "here's a wierd meat" gimmick. Seriously, you must eat here.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:02 AM on July 21, 2014

Stop at the Blue Lagoon on your way back to the airport, post 10K - you have to shower before you go in the lagoon regardless, and especially if you're returning to the US, it's very common to get an airport transfer that stops off at the Blue Lagoon on the way back to the airport (if you're coming from Europe it might not work out, just because of the way flights are timed). And you might as well just ask the hotel - I have found Reykjavik hotels SUPER accomodating about early check-ins/late checkouts, but I have only traveled in the spring/winter, so it might be different in the warmer months.
posted by mskyle at 9:07 AM on July 21, 2014

Oh, one more thing about the Blue Lagoon: They say not to get your hair wet because it's bad for your hair. This is true and it is not "bad for your hair" in the same way, say, not rinsig out chlorine is bad for your hair. I got my hair completely wet and for days afterwards, anytime I touched it there was a crinkly noise as I could hear and feel all my hair breaking. It was dry and awful and ugly and unbearable and no amount of conditioner made any difference at all.

Several days later, in London, my cousin's wife took pity on my and introduced me to "hair mayonnaise" a magical substance that restored my hair completely after a mere hour of soaking. So, my recommendation is that you get your hair wet (cause nobody likes swimming with a must-keep-hair-dry restriction) but be sure to buy some hair mayonnaise before you leave and take it with you.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:12 AM on July 21, 2014

If your sister-in-law wants to go horseback riding, she absolutely must go horseback riding. You have to let her do this - even if she and her husband go off and do it on their own. Icelandic horses are amazing and they tolt, which is a gait other horse breeds can't do. For someone who wants to horseback ride, it will be as exciting as walking on a glacier to others. A rare experience. I recommend Islenski Hesturinn - I've ridden a lot, and I really liked their stable.

Icelandic horses are sweet and isolated - no horses are allowed to be imported to Iceland, and if one leaves, it can never return. This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime chance. For me, I have seen glaciers and volcanoes and hot springs elsewhere in the world, and riding an Icelandic horse in Iceland was a trip highlight.

For your other question, I'd recommend two tours - the Golden Circle and a tour that goes to Jökulsárlón. Both are completely doable for the parents. Both leave from Reykjavik. The Iceland National Museum is also very good.
posted by umwhat at 9:27 AM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! Not to threadsit but if you could share a link to hair mayonnaise, that'd be super. Is it something I can get in the U.S. beforehand or can I get it at the Blue Lagoon?

I'm not going to stop my sister in law from horseback riding. We're a pretty laid-back group and I expect that there will be time for folks to do their own thing. I was more interested in knowing if my husband and I, as people who are not at all interested in horses, would be missing out if we skipped horseback riding.
posted by kat518 at 9:32 AM on July 21, 2014

The natives get a good-natured crazy on during the very long summer days. They won't hurt you, but they are a bit brusque by most standards.

And don't talk about Vikings. That word you must delete from memory before you go. DO NOT TELL ANYONE THAT THEIR COUNTRY WAS FOUNDED BY VIKINGS. Different places are in denial about different things. Accept it and move on.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:33 AM on July 21, 2014

We enjoyed the Blue Lagoon and I did not require hair mayonnaise, your mileage may vary but if you're able to put your hair up or it's short, you absolutely don't need to get your hair wet there. It's like a big hot tub, not meant for underwater swimming.

I'm not a big horse person and I enjoyed the horseback riding even though it was misty and moisty and quite chilly. I went riding out in the hills in southeast Iceland. The scenery was lovely and it's a way to see more faster than you would if you were walking. It can make you sore if you go for too long but I would recommend it - it seems like the thing to do when you are there.

Definitely eat the Icelandic food. It's better than you would think. I would agree with going to Blue Lagoon on the way back to the airport and showering there.

I think renting boots is fine but don't try to buy boots or other clothing there unless you must, it's incredibly expensive. Bring warmer clothing than you think you need. I went in October, so obviously the weather is different, but I saw the temps would be in the 40s and just brought my standard winter wear - I *absolutely* needed waterproof outer everything and multiple layers and my warmest winter stuff that I normally would have used for extremely cold winter temps/skiing.

Not sure what your financial situation is, but I would consider renting a vehicle to drive the Golden Circle and to go out for your glacier walk. It's expensive and the gas is very expensive, but it's SO much nicer to go to the waterfalls etc. when you're not getting off a tour bus with a hundred other people (and keep in mind you are traveling in high season, there will be many other tour buses going at the same time to the same places), it's a different experience and you can go at your own pace. I did a glacier walk on Eyjafjallajokull with the mega-4x4 or whatever they call these giant Jeep things that take you up onto the glacier. That was also expensive but we absolutely loved it, one of the best things we did. We did not find it hard to walk on the glacier at all, or to require any athleticism, but then again with our tour we drove up to the top of the glacier and just got out and walked around up there, whereas your tour says you have hours walking on the ice. I think your older group members might want to consider doing something else during that time. There are plenty of other sights to see in that area (only if you have a vehicle, though), but there is no place to sit down on the glacier if you decide you don't want to walk anymore. My parents in their 60s are more fit than I am so I don't have a great frame of reference. My in laws generally can't handle walks more than a mile, even going that far is hard for them.

Enjoy! We LOVED Iceland and now that we have been once we are actually dying to go back and see the northern half of the island!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:51 AM on July 21, 2014

The Spousal Unit and I went to Iceland as part of our honeymoon. The vast majority of our time was spent driving around looking at the beautiful waterfalls and scenery. The good thing is, most of the southern part of the country can be driven to and from in a day.

There are a large number of waterfalls that can be seen from car, or from a very accessible location. The elders in your group should have no problem getting to see a fair share of the sights.

I honestly have no clue about the hiking aspect however. We went up one hiking trail that was marked the "normal" trail. There was an easier trail that was meant to be wheelchair accessible and easier, however it was much longer because it took a winding trail up the mountain.

I absolutely recommend The Blue Lagoon, It is very close to the Airport (and subsequently Reykjavik) and has shower facilities.

The country is absolutely BEAUTIFUL and I could probably spend days just looking at stuff from the Ring Road.
posted by Twain Device at 10:21 AM on July 21, 2014

My one piece of advice is pack for extremely windy conditions. If you look at the temperatures online, add a constant and very stiff wind to that. If you're spending time outside, you'll want a woolly hat that won't blow off, a wind-proof outer layer, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:31 AM on July 21, 2014

Hair Mayonnaise. A word of warning: This product is intended primarily for black hair. I am white. It did restore my hair to its former condition after a dip in the blue lagoon. However, on a later occasion, when my hair was kind of dry in a regular-old dry hair way, I bought some and attempted to use it. My hair was greasy and goopy and heavy for some time after that. Apparently it's a little too strong for white hair that is not in serious blue-lagoon distress.

You can just choose not to get your hair wet. Lots of people do. It's true that it's not a pool. However, the advantages to wetting your hair: Float on your back. What a lovely place to just float on your back for half an hour. Second, reach down to the floor and pick up some of the sand. It's like cornstarch. You pick up a clump, bring it to the surface and realize what you thought was a clump is actually liquid. Close your hand again and it's a clump. Reaching down to pick it up will likely wet your hair.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:48 AM on July 21, 2014

My co-worker went there and she said she saw a sup of soup for $12. Just normal soup.

So yeah, prepare to pay out the nose for things.
posted by Fister Roboto at 11:11 AM on July 21, 2014

1.) Be prepared to have THE BEST FISH AND CHIPS OF YOUR LIFE.

2.) Skip the Blue Lagoon and go to one of the local hot pots instead. Ask your hotel front desk person or go to one of the local health clubs/gyms. It's awesome.

3.) I was surpised that most Icelandic people take their language in stride and don't even expect you to make an attempt at speaking Icelandic. They have almost a comical view on it like..."How may I help you?...Um...Yeah, no, don't even try. Lol."

4.) Iceland is no longer part of the EU and vehemently is on the defense about that entire debacle. Tread carefully if you talk about this topic.

5.) They airport is no where near the city center, so be prepared to pay for a bus and to pay out the nose. Everything is expensive because...shipping things to Iceland is expensive. That and the entire debacle (see #4) caused their monetary system to crash with the ousting of the Euro.

6.) Nightlife is pretty crazy. Like, breaking bottles in the street at 4am on a Wednesday crazy. Beer was only allowed in Iceland in the past decade or so becuase they WERE ADDING VODKA TO NON-ALCOHOLIC BEER TO MAKE IT ALCOHOLIC. Seriously, it's a hilariously backwards place.

7.) Be prepared to eat dangerously. We ate Puffin, Minke Whale, Reindeer...all delicious.

OMG HAVE FUN. It's SUCH a cool place!!
posted by floweredfish at 12:24 PM on July 21, 2014

Flybus from Keflavik to Reykjavik is about US$17, bit more if byou wanbt a hotel drop off. If you prefer car hire then the major renters operate our of Keflavik. Bear in mind yhgat some roads will render your insurance invalid if you are not in a 4wd, ie roads around glaciers, might be worth checking with the car hire company when you rent.

I would say go to the blue lagoon but also try the local swimming places too. Many of the small towns and villages have a little pool and other things and it's a cheap way to socialise. There is a full size swimming pool plus fun pool, hot pots and more at Laugurdalslaug in Reykjavik. If you do go to the blue lagoon then bear in mind that it is the effluent from a geothermal power station and go and visit the power station visitor centre while you are there.

If you are driving then look out for the kerid volcano crater in the golden circle area. It is a great crater that perfectly fits my idea of what a volcano crater should look like.

Road wise be prepared for some pretty basic roads outside Reykjavik. Even roads marked on the map that look pretty major can be very basic.

In roughly the same area hveragerdi has greenhouses heated geothermally, a local look and facilities, good hiking trails and an earthquake simulator. The fairly nearby nesjavellir geothermal power station also has a visitor centre but requires you call ahead to book.

Iceland has never been in the EU, it continues to be in the EEA.
posted by biffa at 1:33 PM on July 21, 2014

Honeymooned in Iceland a couple months ago. A++++ would visit again.

We took a tour with:

and I heartily recommend - Audur will give you a good locals view.

Going back for the Ring Road sometime. Yah, it's great.
posted by parki at 1:52 PM on July 21, 2014

Rent a car and take off into the wilds for a couple of days.
posted by parki at 1:54 PM on July 21, 2014

« Older Bed sharing with a toddler   |   I want to think about something new! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.