I’ll be honest…….Iceland really wasn’t on my bucket list. In fact, it wasn’t even on my radar. Now that I have spent a few days there, I am more than glad my family and I managed to squeeze it into our 2019 family vacation. We went mid June (last month) and the temperatures were nice and a tad chilly — a true respite from the typical Texas heat.
My family and I prefer to live among the locals for the most part so we rented an apartment in Reykjavik city center but outside of the touristy areas. We found a one bedroom ground floor apartment with a sofa bed that suited us nicely with a kitchenette and washer. The nearest bus stop was a couple of blocks away so the shuttle from the airport was very convenient.
What I Learned
Iceland is known for quality of life, gender equality, and is one of the highest ranked countries in the world for education and health care. It is known as “The Land of Fire and Ice” because of it has some of the largest glaciers in Europe as well as very active volcanoes.
SHORT NIGHTS: The first thing I learned is that there is very little night time darkness in Iceland. Sure I had heard that about Iceland before but we found that we had 3 - 4 hours of night time. The sun set between 11:30 p.m. and midnight and the the sun rose 3:30-ish a.m. Thank goodness for black out drapes because it would have been a real struggle for me. I had a mask just in case I needed it but the drapes were enough. I figure that the people of Iceland must be unbelievably productive with so much day light and such nice summer time weather.
NORTHERN LIGHTS season is September/October - March. As a travel agent, I learned this a long time ago and I get questions about it from clients pretty regularly. I plan on taking a Northern Lights trip sometime but I won’t lie: the cold weather has me scared. Remember, I am from Texas so I don’t really know what cold is and I am not exactly trying to find out. There are more than enough hotel options to see the Northern Lights however you will want to get away from the lights of the capital city to get the best experience.
YOU WON’T GO HUNGRY: For those of you who are wondering, there is plenty of food of all kinds and types in Iceland. Our daughter (the family nickname for her is Peanut) is a picky eater and has some food allergies so food is always a concern for us. We found some good coffee and pastries at Emilie and the Cool Kids on our walk through city center, and we saw plenty of restaurants along the way offering burgers, pasta, and pizza. You will even find the Chuck Norris Cafe as you stroll about.
ISK to USD During our trip, the currency conversion was roughly 1 IIcelandic króna to 0.0079 USD (or $1 USD = 126.16 ISK). Our apartment was about $150 USD per night but we found it to be worth the money for the space, privacy, and convenience of having a kitchen and a washer. Dinner out for the three of us typically ran about $60 which was in line with what we expected and, to be honest, about what we spend at home for dinner out.
Having an apartment helps us save money because we buy groceries for breakfast and snacks, and we keep our food budget for having nice dinners. While Scandinavia tends to have a heftier price tag with regard to travel, I did not experience that as much as I expected (although my husband will disagree). The airport shuttle was a little steep but, being 30+ miles from our apartment, we figured it was justified.
There’s plenty to see and do in Reykjavik. If you don’t want to venture out of Reykjavik city center, there is still plenty to do and see. We enjoyed walking about photographing some of the historic buildings and beautiful architecture. The Harpa Concert Hall is beautiful to see and has a nice gift shop.
Hallgrímskirkja is a beautiful Evangelical - Lutheran church that stands stoically almost as if it guards over the city. It appears imposing yet has a tranquil beauty that cannot be captured on camera. It is something you must see if you go to Iceland.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT ICELAND
The people are so friendly and helpful. I can honestly say that Icelanders were the friendliest people we have met on our travels. No matter where we went, we felt very welcomed and they were very agreeable to answer any questions we had. I felt as though they really seemed to want to share their culture with us.
The landscape is stunning. If you know anything about Iceland, this won’t be a surprise to you at all. From the mountains to the glaciers to the geysers to the volcanoes…….there is so much to see, to take in, and to appreciate in Iceland. We went to Gulfoss and the roar of the waterfall is absolutely overwhelming. Even my kiddo (who is not an outdoorsy type) walked all the way up and took photos with me.
On our Golden Circle tour, we visited the Great Geysir. I loved the ride out there because I could see steam coming up out of the ground in various spots. I was seeing the rawness of nature in a way that I don’t see at home. They Great Geysir is believed to exist since the 13th century as a result of earthquake activity. When we visited, dozens of people had cameras poised and trained on it in anticipation of its eruption. The whole experience was invigorating for me…..a city girl from Texas who has observed nature from her laptop.
As visitors, we always exhibit friendly and respectful behavior no matter where we go. I encourage you to please, please, please do the same ESPECIALLY when touring their beautiful landscapes and national parks. They are diligent in respecting Mother Nature and I hope everyone will do the same.
Please adhere to their rules and abide by whatever ropes, fences, or barriers are in place. When visiting the Geysir I saw a few people flirting with the idea of violating a barrier but they resisted. This is for your safety as well as to prevent you from becoming a jerk.
After spending 3 nights in Iceland here are my recommendations:
spend more than 3 nights in Iceland;
absolutely book a Golden Circle tour;
rent a car if you have time to venture out from Reykjavik;
go off the beaten path and check out more than what is on the tours;
spend a few nights in Reykjavik but spend also check out other cities, especially along the coastline; and
be brave and try some local food!
I hope this helps you if you are considering a trip to Iceland. No matter where you escape to this summer, please do your homework so you have the best experience possible. Check back for more articles about the other countries we visited as well as reviews of our accommodations.
Make this beautiful day count!