Guide to a Winter Break in Iceland

Iceland on a budget

Travel in December 2nd-5th

Stayed in the Capital: Reykjavik in Idglo Guesthouse

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g189970-d2323653-Reviews-Igdlo_Guesthouse-Reykjavik_Capital_Region.html

Flew from Belfast International to Reflavick airport (Reykjavik) which takes about 2hours 30 mins. Reflavick International is a 50-minute drive to Reykjavik. 

Time Zone: Greenwich Mean Time Zone UTC+00:00 (Same as UK)

Peak seasons: June-August

Currency: Icelandic Krone ISK (pronounced “krona”)

The Krone conversion from sterling is 1 GBP =139ISK, but with the majority of prices in Iceland being over 1,000ISK it can become difficult to calculate the exchange rate constantly. So, 1,000ISK exchanges to £7 or 8 euros. This will be easier to calculate the prices. It is extremely important to note that Iceland is NOT a CHEAP HOLIDAY BREAK! the average monthly wage in 2016 was £3911! That’s nearly £48,000 annual wage and £2702 lowest monthly wage. So when it comes to paying expensive prices the majority who work can afford it.

http://www.tradingeconomics.com/iceland/wages

Language

The official language of Iceland is Icelandic however most people can speak English very well.

Some phrases in Icelandic:

Halló- Hello

Pakka Pér – Thank you

Skál – Cheers

What to wear?

Before I went to Iceland I read the weather was like Ireland, you could have four seasons in a day.They have a saying “if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes”. Since I was going in December, naturally I packed warm clothes, long sleeved tops, a coat, hats, scarf, gloves and jeans. The weather did constantly change when we were there! I would advice waterproof clothing. Some people say bring an umbrella but it was so windy sometimes it wouldn’t be much use.

Getting Around

Originally I looked at bus transfers to get around, from the airport to the hotel or to the Blue Lagoon. These were costing upwards of £25/30euros return for each journey. Which isn’t too bad considering the Blue Lagoon is 50 minutes away from Reykjavik. However, that seemed a lot of money to spend on multiple bus journeys. Especially when you are spending 60 euros for two people just travelling to and from the airport. Leading me to look into renting a car for the four days. The average price for a car was around £100/118euro for a Volkswagen Polo, then add on £40/47euro for complete insurance, and finally add on young drivers fee (20-25-year-olds) which was an extra £7 a day. The car totalled to £165/194euro for four days. The pros outweigh the cons for renting a car, the main pro was the freedom to search for the Northern Lights! When we arrived they tried to make us pay for more add-ons like stone/sand storm cover, GPS, road recovery, WiFi box etc. They forgot to charge us for young drivers (suppose to pay on arrival) and they also suggested we could only rent a car if we had a credit card? Luckily since a prepaid as neither of us owned a credit card! I also pay for 02 Travel which allowed me to use GPS on my phone to get around, it cost around £3/4 a day.

Features of the car:

Heated seats, Aux Port (we forgot the aux cable), good radio stations even on difficult roads it has good signal! All cars in Iceland have winter tires with spikes in the wheels for grit which is interesting to hear when cars drive past.

15354220_10154862886692853_486879769_o
Our Icelandic Rental Car (Rental Cars:) http://www.rentalcars.com/

Tip- Some people have suggested going to the Blue Lagoon from the Airport to reduce travel costs. Unfortunately, that was not possible on my journey because the time slots were all booked.However, we did it on our way home and it was an enjoyable last day to experience such beautiful sites!

iceland-map-journey

Things to do…

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon one of the 25 wonders of the world, originally the lagoon was formed as part of a power plant. Yes, I agree that sounds pretty dangerous! People began to bathe in the lagoon and realised it had great effects on your skin, this has now developed into the Blue Lagoon it is today. It is the single most visited attraction in Iceland, enclosing a spa and even sells merchandise. Before I visited the Blue Lagoon we used the Secret Lagoon… It was the most breathtaking experience, it was cheaper, felt quieter, and more natural than the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon didn’t feel as warm, it was more aesthetically pleasing, bigger and more crowded. They are also completing renovations by creating a hotel beside the Blue Lagoon which was quite loud while we were there. The renovations should be completed by 2017. What I did like about the Blue Lagoon were the wrist bands which you could use to pay for drinks/ food while you were in your swimsuit. You simply paid the total price at the end when you were leaving. With all Blue Lagoon Tickets, you receive a complimentary face mask. It is technically an unlimited number.As there is a stall in the water with a few buckets which you scoop the facemask out and put it on your face. You could constantly go back and no one would say anything. It has made my face really soft!

Warning- Girls with long hair!! The water is so salty and drys out your hair. After 3 showers and lots of conditioner, my hair is starting to feel soft again!!! Try to keep it up. I know it is difficult.

Tip -Book your blue lagoon tickets before you go. We booked ours a week before we went, during an off-peak season, and the majority of time blocks were booked up!

http://www.bluelagoon.com/

The ticket of a standard ticket is 40 euro, the transport on the website is 36euro return.

Northern Lights Centre (Located in Reykjavik)

This is a great centre to visit before you search for the lights. It provides the history of the Aurora Borealis which is great to have a better understanding of what the lights are and why they occur, before seeing them for yourself. Entrance into the centre is 1600ISK which is around £11. I do think whoever owns the centre is laughing all the way to the bank as it is a simple short maze with a few videos and images with facts. The most valuable information came from the girl who worked in the café. Even though we didn’t see the Northern Lights, she was very helpful to guide you on what settings your camera should be on and where to go that day/night to try and see the lights.

More information on the centre: http://www.aurorareykjavik.is/

The Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights)

The lights are visible from September to Mid April, but can often depend on your luck with the weather. To see the Northern Light, you need darkness and clear skies. The Vedur website provides a forecast of cloud cover over Iceland.(** Read the information below the map to understand what it is showing). The forecast only shows three days ahead and constantly updates every few minutes so keep an eye on it if you are hunting the lights! You can find many tours to find the lights. I’ve often heard they are very unorganised, cold (not using heat on the buses) but obviously the local tour guides would know the best places to search. This is why I preferred searching on our own where we could sit in the car with the heat on ect.

Link to cloud forecast: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/

TIP – Even though we have all see the amazing pictures of the Northern Lights, I promise your trip will still be amazing if you don’t manage to catch a glimpse.

Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall)

I’ve never seen a waterfall before so this is something really exciting for me to see! The Golden Waterfall is located 1 hour 35 minutes from Reykjavik

Nightlife

Age Limit: 20

All the bars are located in walking distance with supposedly no entry fees and the bars are open late. There are hardly any ‘clubs’, they are cafés that are turned into dances. The majority of nightlife is located around the main shopping street, Laugavegur. Friday and Saturdays the bars don’t start getting busy until midnight and close at 5am. Sunday-Thursday the bars stay open until 1am. All the bars were filled with Tourist, drinks were around £7 a pint, however during the day many places had happy hours! The cheapest pint we got was around £4.50.

PRE DRINKING

Buy your alcohol at duty-free in your own home airport before getting on the plane! we got a 1lt bottle of vodka for £10 before we flew over. Iceland promotes their duty-free as a very cheap alternative to the shops in the country, mentioning all the locals buy their alcohol/food before they leave the airport. The drink didn’t seem that cheap about 20/25 euro for a litre. So clearly we had a better deal.

Drinking

The water is drinkable, although I’ve read that the water smells strongly of sulphur. Which obviously sounds very off-putting, especially when you are having a shower. I didn’t smell sulphur at all, the entire trip! My boyfriend thinks I’m crazy as he smelt it often, especially when he had a shower.

The People

The Icelandic people have a small population of only 300,000. Although have an extremely interesting family structure that seems miles ahead in terms of progressiveness and anything but conservative. For instance, in 2014 70% of the babies in Iceland were born out of wedlock. In addition, Iceland supposedly has the highest rate of divorce in Europe. I find this divorce fact in multiple articles but I’m finding difficulty backing up with real figures. Possibly these articles mean with only 30% of the country married the highest rate of divorce in terms of total percentage of married people, rather than the number of divorces. It is also suggested to be the most feminist country in the world, to the extent Iceland’s last prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, was not only a female but openly gay as well. While I was there I never noticed any dominate females, apart from a few females driving some big cars and the one thing that really showed equality was the sports on TV. After a big football match between Everton and Man United, they showed women’s handball. Men were generally watching with interest. Something I would never see at home!

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/may/18/iceland

https://guidetoiceland.is/the-northern-lights/how-to-find-the-northern-lights-in-iceland

https://www.thenation.com/article/most-feminist-place-world/

Thingvellir National Park

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