Plan our Iceland vacation!
April 29, 2018 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Mr. Millipede and I (41 M, 36 F) are going to Iceland in late June, arriving the morning of the 22nd and leaving the evening of the 26th. That's all we know so far. Tell us specifically where to stay and how to Iceland.

We would like to get a hotel room in Reykjavik for the entirety of our stay, and do day trips to see things. We are looking for:

1) Specific hotel recommendations. Mr. Millipede does not want to do AirBnb; also, we are not hostel people and we are not camping people.

2) Advice about which sights we can/should we see with our relatively short stay

2a) Advice about how to get to these sites, keeping in mind that we do not drive and will not be renting a car. Do we want a tour package? A pay as you go bus ticket situation (I think I read something about this?)

3) Any other advice. Plan our trip!?
posted by millipede to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (10 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Hi! As it happens I'm up to my ears in the icelandic tourist industry, as I work for the big tourist magazine in Iceland, The Reykjavík Grapevine.

There's a lot of options in iceland, so what you want really depends on budget, what you want to experience, and so on.

The most popular places to visit get quite crowded, they're serviced via bus day trips from reykjavík. The basic is The Golden Circle, which is Geysir, Gullfoss waterfall and Þingvellir national park. I wrote the Gullfoss article. It's more funny than descriptive, probably. It's a big pretty waterfall.

There's tons of other tour options, google a bit and you'll be inundated. Cave tours, secret pools, highland treks and so on.

The hotels in downtown are all quite pricey. I think the fanciest one is Canopy. I've never had a reason to stay in a reykjavík hotel, but I do love the Canopy lobby bars and restaurants.

I do have a bit of a crush on the Ion Adventure Hotel in Nesjavellir. Again, no experience with amenities and I think the prices are staggering but the views and the tranquility are breathtaking. If you'd have a rent-a-car I'd recommend going there for a coffee.

I have a suspicion that the Loft Hostel is the best budget option, and the Kex Hostel is also good in that category.

Public transit outside Reykjavík is not great. If you want to stay somewhere outside Reykjavik, it's best to pick the hotel first and have them help you figure out how to get there.

My favorite spot in Iceland is The Westman Islands.
It has the tightest consolidation of views you'll find anywhere. It's small enough so you can rent bikes and see everything, and there's also a bunch of boat tours. You can get there via bus and boat, or by domestic flight from Reykjavík.

Iceland isn't cheap. The "cheap stuff" is the most expensive, compared to elsewhere, a basic meal starts at 25$, but fine dining meals start at $40. So don't look for price, look for quality. Treat yourself, you'll be happier than if you're bargain hunting. The best deals on food are at the foodhall, Hlemmur Mathöll. Fine dining at almost fast-food prices. But Icelandic fast food prices, so it's still expensive for foreigners, only a bit less so. Nostra is a bit of a steal for super high-end fine dining. Dill is the only Michelin star restaurant in Iceland, but it's booked far in advance, book early if you want to go.

Oh and grab a copy of The Reykjavik Grapevine. We do these "best of" issues since '16, where an independent jury picks out the best of Reykjavik, and the best of Iceland. They're available all over.

Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with any hotels, restaurants or other vendors mentioned. I do work for the Grapevine, as a Graphic designer.
posted by svenni at 1:18 PM on April 29, 2018 [19 favorites]

We stayed at Hlemmur Square hotel, which I don't recall thinking was super expensive. It's a combination hostel and hotel, so there were a lot of younger European travelers around, but the hotel rooms are all separate from the hostel part of the place. The lobby turns into a pretty crowded bar at night, with good local beers on tap.
posted by emelenjr at 1:41 PM on April 29, 2018

In Reykjavik itself, the National Museum of Iceland is worth a visit. The Reykjavik public library sometimes has interesting exhibits, too. If the weather is decent and you enjoy cycling, you can rent bikes (Reykjavik Bike Tours) and either go on an organized tour or just pedal around to see the sights. The Hallgrímskirkja, the main church in Reykjavik, has good views from its tower.

I was there with a vegan friend, so mostly cooked in, but I had an excellent meal at AALTO Bistro in the Nordic House.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:57 PM on April 29, 2018

You must get an Icelandic Hot Dog.
posted by matildaben at 3:16 PM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a place to stay AND eat, I really enjoyed Farmhotel Efstidalur . It's right on the Golden Circle, so you can probably arrange transportation from one of the major sights (less than 10 minutes drive from Geysir if I remember correctly). It's a working farm, and they make their own ice cream from cows that are literally on the other side of a pane of glass from the creamery. The rooms were nice, and there's a geothermal hot tub for guests that was really terrific after a long day of hiking.

The Fridheimar Tomato Farm was a wonderful place to eat. The restaurant is inside a hydroponic tomato growhouse, and it's all very impressive. It's best to get reservations, or to be part of a tour that stops there. Be sure to get the tomato cheesecake!

The Diamond Beach and glacier lagoon tour were both stunning, but it's quite out of the way, probably 6 hours drive from Reykjavik and there's nowhere to stay out there that's not wildly expensive, so I'm not sure if it makes sense for the length of your trip. But there are tour busses that go there from Reykjavik.

The string of Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, and Reynisdrangar Cliffs is a pretty incredible day of waterfalls and views and not that far outside of Reykjavik.

Regrettably, I have no idea how you'll get around without a car. There seems to be a billion tour packages on offer though, but I can't comment on any of them.

General advice that might be helpful:
- Most places keep banker's hours or less. It was shockingly hard to find a coffee shop open before 9am in Reykjavik, and forget about the countryside. Although if you're on a tour bus, they probably account for this.
- A Visa or MasterCard with a chip will be accepted literally everywhere (and is the preferred payment method). You can get cash, but I think I only used mine for toll booths (and they would have accepted card).
- You can get a sim card at the 10-11 convenience store and pop it an an unlocked phone, and it will work everywhere in the country, with tons of data for cheap.
- Food is very expensive, but the Krónan grocery stores have almost reasonable prices on most things. My wife and I had a lot of picnic lunches.
- It's hard to find a liquor store outside of Reykjavik, and many liquor stores have very strange hours. Also, alcohol is wildly expensive, even the stuff they make in Iceland.

Have fun! Iceland was my favorite vacation.
posted by slagheap at 6:52 PM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I went last August on my own for a similar length trip as you, and decided not to rent a car, as I would just be staring at the road instead of the sights. There are tons of tour companies in Iceland, and they will all pick you up and deliver you to some exciting location, or drive you around various exciting locations in a bus. So you will be just fine without a car - but book ahead! June is busy season. Just go to any of the millions of tour sites and pick some excursions that sound good to you. It will be expensive! It will be worth it anyway, like everything in Iceland!

While I do not personally like the idea of bus tours (or any organised tours), I did bus tours anyway, and they allowed me to see a ton of stuff in a short period. I did the Golden Circle the first full day, then did Jokulsarlon the next day (a bucket list item for me, but its a bloody long way, so only if you're very excited by that) - book a ticket on the boat tour, I didn't and I'm an idiot! We did cram in some more waterfalls on the way back too.

I knew that two days of bus trips would be enough for me, so the third day I arranged to go horse riding in the morning, which was fantastic - even if you're a total beginner it will be great. It was relaxing and beautiful to be up close to the scenery, and I loved it. The stables picks you up from the nearest bus stop in Reykjavik. Then I spent the afternoon wandering around Reykjavik, and went to see Hallgrimskirkja and the Icelandic Punk Museum (a random but excellent choice).

On my last day I did the most touristy thing and went to the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport. Its expensive, and yes, there are lots of tourists there, but its still great. It didn't feel too busy, and it was a great experience.

I stayed at the Skuggi Hotel in Reykjavik, and liked that it was walking distance to restaurants and harbor area, as well as being very lovely rooms, with a bar and breakfast.

The downside of bus trips is that you don't have control over your timetable, and it can be annoying to pile out of the bus, and only get 20 minutes to look at a thing of incredible beauty before you have to rush back on again. But I went in with the mindset that this trip was like a tasting menu where I would sample a bunch of stuff in a short time, then go back again for a longer trip.

Also on my list for future visits - some more spas or hot springs. Laugarvatn looked really interesting, but there are SO MANY others, including one called Secret Lagoon, which isn't very secret since tour buses drop off there, but its sure to be quieter than the Blue Lagoon. I would also want to do the tour inside a volcano, which I regret not doing.
posted by Joh at 7:56 PM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

My advice would be to avoid the tours/buses and instead rent a car and drive to the best sites. My partner and I rented a tiny little car and were able to control our own arrivals/departures and still see the geyser field and the amazing Gullfoss waterfall. (We were only in Reykjavik for two nights, so we didn't get to see everything, but with your own car and more days you can certainly make that happen.)

We found affordable lodging at the Storm Hotel ... it's just on the edge of downtown and an easy walk into the heart of the city. The room was comfortable, quiet, and well-appointed and the breakfast was satisfying. By city standards, Reykjavik is still small and very, very walkable. Pull up a map and walk and enjoy!

We also had a great meal at Resto that included a delicious Icelandic lamb and a couple of local brews. Highly recommend, but make a reservation! Also, yes - get an Icelandic hot dog. The most famous purveyor is this place - Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. It's a cart with a sometimes long queue, but that's part of the fun.

Finally, we absolutely LOVED the Blue Lagoon, despite all its commercialized popularity. We splurged for an upgraded package that included robes and champagne and lunch in the restaurant (which we ate in our robes). The lagoon is big and the management does a great job of controlling entries, so it never felt overwhelmingly crowded. It was a completely relaxing, decadent day! (Again, make a reservation!)
posted by tmharris65 at 2:21 AM on April 30, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the answers so far, especially the very specific ones. I'm going to reiterate though that WE DON'T DRIVE, as in, we cannot operate a car and make it go places, so advice to rent a car is extremely unhelpful for us.
posted by millipede at 6:40 AM on April 30, 2018

My apologies for not having read carefully. I saw "Iceland" and started typing away. I certainly did not mean to offend. I stand by everything else I suggested.
posted by tmharris65 at 4:14 PM on May 1, 2018

I stayed in Fosshotel Baron last fall and enjoyed it! I was just there for two nights, but there was free breakfast, they were very accommodating of a 2AM check-in, had airport shuttle drop-off/pickup (oh yeah, book an airport shuttle once you figure out where you're staying!), and was very conveniently located. Best of all, it ended up being cheaper for two people than a double room at Kex Hostel, with a private bathroom to boot.

Kexland is a good portal for tour packages, though it can sometimes take some digging to find out all the details if you're the type to nail down all your plans in excruciating detail (me). I took a Golden Circle tour and really enjoyed it, and although it was expensive, it was probably not more expensive than bumming around downtown for the equivalent amount of time.

Downtownish Reykjavik recommendations (all within walking distance of each other, some closer together than others):
-Micro Bar and Mikeller & Friends if you like beer.
-For food, Prikið and Brauð & Co. were my favorites - the latter had the most perfect cinnamon roll pastry situation, it almost made me cry. The Stofan Cafe was also a nice respite.
-The one-two punch of the Culture House and the National Museum (two for one admission!) were my favorites for museums, though the Punk Museum and Phallological Museum were also fun to pop into.
-Kolaportið is an indoor flea market that's a lot of fun to browse with a great mix of crap and interesting stuff (my favorite mixture!).
posted by quatsch at 6:05 PM on May 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

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