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Monday, 1 February 2016

Travel: Top things to do in Iceland / Reykjavik

Hey All

So this is a post I've been meaning to write for almost a year. A year ago I was in Iceland with C having an amazing time, it will definitely be somewhere with a special place in my heart! Last week I shared what I got up to in Copenhagen so this week I thought I'd share Iceland. I love researching places before I go away and Iceland was definitely a well planned holiday (I had a colour coded spreadsheet!) So I thought I'd share our top Iceland excursions/tips and what we loved doing in Reykjavik. We went for a week as we flew from Bristol and they only flew once a week. We are really glad we did the week as we had so much we wanted to do! I wrote a post on eating and drinking and how to save money as everyone says Iceland is expensive. You can find that post here.

A few recommendations if you go in winter like we did. Take thermals and layers it will be cold. UK hats don't keep you warm enough especially for watching the northern lights, if you've got a wooley hat you'll want one that's also got a thinsulate type lining. We found our hands got the coldest so really good quality gloves are great! I also swore by my waterproof trousers. They were great for the days spent walking around outside and kept me warm and dry. I'd also recommend walking boots as it makes negotiating the snow easier and your feet are kept warm and dry.

Iceland Tours


In iceland there are two main operators, Grayline and Reykjavik Excursions. We booked almost all of ours through Reykjavik Excursions. Both were similar prices. With the tours you get picked up from your hotel on a mini bus and taken to the main bus station where you then join the coaches. The streets are small so the big buses can't easily navigate them. We didn't have any issues with any we booked.


Golden Circle (link to tours)


There are quite a few different options with this tour and lots of adds ons you can do which is great if you are pushed for time whilst you are there or you can do the shorter version of it which we did where you either go in a morning or afternoon. As we had a lot on we opted for the shorter one. The longer one also takes you to a green house for tomatoes where I believe you get tomato soup.


Thingvellir


Is an unusual place due to it's tectonic plate action. Here the plates are pulling apart on the surface so you can be in a no mans land area. It's also where the parliament used to be which you can see in the photo below.


Top things to do in Iceland - Thingvellir

Geysirs

These are amazing to see. The power of them is amazing. And look how blue the water is in the one's that are still. There are quite a few inactive geysirs and one that went up regularly as we were there. Seeing the water bubble as it was preparing was crazy. It's so strange how hot the water is when it's freezing surrounding it!

Top things to do in Iceland - Geysirs

Top things to do in Iceland - Geysirs

Top things to do in Iceland - Geysirs

Gullfoss

Lastly on the Golden Circle tour is the Gulfoss waterfall. This is amazing. This water fall is absolutely massive and drops in two stages. As you can see it was totally snow covered when we were there but from photos it looks amazing in Summer too!

Top things to do in Iceland - Gulfoss

Top things to do in Iceland - Gulfoss

ATV

We did these in combination with the Blue Lagoon trip. With the blue lagoon trip you can add other tours on to it or do it on your way to and from the airport if your short of time ( we did this tour). We absolutely loved these. You get driven out to the centre get kitted out in overalls, gloves, helmets and some waterproofs and jump on a vehicle. We decided to share one but you can pay extra to have your own. You do need a driving licence to drive these as you do go on roads sometimes. You go out with a guide and follow him along lava fields mostly but sometimes you have to cross roads. Theses can really pick up speeds. I terrified C by getting it up to 60km/h and not slowing down particularly well to go around corners!

Top things to do in Iceland - ATV

Top things to do in Iceland - ATV

Blue Lagoon

Now this is a must in my opinion. I was really sceptical to go. I thought it was such a cliche and maybe we should go to a less well know one but C convinced me we should go and I'm so glad he did. We paid extra to upgrade so we got a drink each, towel hire, face masks and some products and I'm really glad we did. The blue lagoon has a great system where you're given a band and on there you can purchase drinks from the swim up bars and then pay on the way out! The milky blue water is amazing. It's so toasty in there. It's totally relaxing and as we went at dusk we got to be in there as it went dark which was great. Top tip for ladies slather your hair in conditioner and try to keep it dry as the water can dry out your hair otherwise!

Top things to do in Iceland - Blue Lagoon

Top things to do in Iceland - Blue Lagoon

Lava Tubing

This was the trip we didn't do with Reykjavik excursions as they didn't offer what we wanted. We paired the Lava Tubing with the Snorkelling and did this tour. We knew we wanted a holiday packed with adventure so Lava Tubing sounded great. As iceland is so volcanic there are loads of empty lava tubes to explore (C would probably tell me I'm wrong with that, he's a geologist but meh!), where we went you did a circle under ground. This was so good. You slid down in to the tubes. They were varying heights, in sections you could stand and other places you were on your stomach going through. We were glad we booked through viator for this as other groups we met in the cave didn't seem to be as well equipped. We were given head torches so our hands were free where other groups were having to carry them. Small things like that I think make a difference!

Top things to do in Iceland - Lava Tubing

Top things to do in Iceland - Lava Tubing

Snorkelling

Now this may seem like a strange one! Snorkelling in Iceland. You get to snorkel over the Mid Atlantic Ridge. It's an amazing experience as you snorkel through glacial water which is crystal clear with perfect vision I believe about 40m deep. Obviously it's not warm as you can see from my suit being frozen but you are put in a basically duvet onsie (over your clothes!) then in a dry suit. Your hands, feet and face get cold as they are in wetsuit type material but it's not too bad! It's worth it for the views. We have a underwater camera but we were worried about dropping it so we left it behind.

Top things to do in Iceland - Snorkelling

Top things to do in Iceland - Snorkelling

Glacier Hike

Our third and final adventure tour was the Glacier Hike. This is the one I really appreciated my waterproof trousers on and the one that scared me the most! We did the Glacier Hike as part of this tour but if you're short of time it's another one which can be combined. This one involves a bit of a drive and we were glad we packed lunch as there wasn't many options. You do stop at a garage/ restaurant type place where you can buy stuff before but we were glad we took stuff.

Top things to do in Iceland - Glacier Hike

This was the trip that gave me an adrenaline rush and kinda scared me. I'm clumsy it's really slippery and parts of it are up and down hill to climb (not to steep but when it's on ice!). Before you head on the glacier you're given crampons, ice picks and harnesses. It takes some getting used to using the crampons efficiently to stamp your feet to get a good grip but it was really good up there and our tour guide was great!

Top things to do in Iceland - Glacier Hike

Top things to do in Iceland - Glacier Hike

Top things to do in Iceland - Glacier Hike

Top things to do in Iceland - Glacier Hike

This is a natural path that has been eroded in the glacier. It was interesting to see the different formations. The grey you see is ash from volcano explosions!

Top things to do in Iceland - Glacier Hike

Skogafoss

We saw these waterfalls on the way back from the glacier hike but they can be found in other excursions. I had really wanted to see these when we were planning. Skogafoss is amazing. We were lucky and were treated to a rainbow across it as well!

Top things to do in Iceland - Skogafoss

I tried to climb to get an icicle and fell ha!

Top things to do in Iceland - Skogafoss


Seljalandsfoss

This was the waterfall I wanted to see the most. Some times through the year you can walk behind it but it was too icy whilst we were there! It's still pretty impressive to see!

Top things to do in Iceland - Seljalandsfoss

Top things to do in Iceland - Seljalandsfoss


Northern Lights

Our final tour was to see the Northern Lights.We chose to do the normal Nothern lights tour (this one), we did this because if you pair it with other options you don't get another chance to see them. If you book on this tour if you don't see them you can rebook on it for free as many times as you like until you see them. Our first night we didn't get to see them so messed around with the cameras and long exposures. This trip you'll get cold on. You basically spend 2-3 hours outside waiting to see if they appear. It's bloody cold! The guys keep checking forecasts and find the best location for the best chance to see them and keep in contact with other buses out searching so they can move to another location if needed.

Top things to do in Iceland - Northern Lights

The second time we went out we went to Thingvellir to try to see them. We waited around 3 hours here as a guide could see what looked to us like a cloud in the sky but he was sure it was them. As our time on the tour was up we still hadn't see anything. As we drove back to Reykjavik the tour guide regularly stopped the bus to see if it was developing.

Top things to do in Iceland - Northern Lights

As we got about 5 miles from Reykjavik we took a short stop and we got to see them. They developed into what you can see below. It's honestly such an amazing experience. I can't put into words how special it is too see them. This is the tour I'd most recommend as I'm sure you could see them yourself but the knowledge of the tour guides definitely increases your chances of seeing them!

Top things to do in Iceland - Northern Lights


Top things to do in Iceland - Northern Lights


Things to See in Reykjavik

Reykajavik is pretty small but great to walk around. It has a main shopping street and a few streets off that. It's really easy to get around and great to explore. We loved the vibe of the city. It felt clean, safe and fun. 

Hallgr√≠mskirkja Church

The Hallgrimskirkja Church is somewhere you have to see. It's such an amazing structure from the outside and gorgeous inside. The design is relatively modern and is apparently based on the basalt lava flows.

Top things to do in Iceland - Hallgrimskirkja Church

Top things to do in Iceland - Hallgrimskirkja Church

You can go up to the top of the church and it opens up so you can get views all over Reykjavik. It really is amazing up there. I love how colourful and non uniform all the buildings are there.

Top things to do in Iceland - Hallgrimskirkja Church


Top things to do in Iceland - Hallgrimskirkja Church

How amazing is the Organ!!

Top things to do in Iceland - Hallgrimskirkja Church

Harpa Iceland Opera House

The opera house/ concert hall is not far from the main shopping street. It's got amazing architecture and is built out of glass hexagonal columns. It gives off amazing light patterns inside if the sun is shining through.

Top things to do in Iceland - Harpa Iceland Opera House
iceland opera house

Top things to do in Iceland - Harpa Iceland Opera House
Iceland opera house

The Sun Voyager Sculpture

This is alongside the harbour and cool to see. Around this area there are also a few museums we went into but I've forgotten the names now!

Top things to do in Iceland - The Sun Voyager
The sun voyager sculpture

Shot of Brenivin

This is the national drink of Iceland. Although C's face doesn't show it he actually enjoyed it. So much so we bought it in the airport! It's made from potatoes and cumin I believe! One to warm you up after a cold day!

Top things to do in Iceland - Brennivin
brennivin shots

Top things to do in Iceland - Brennivin
Shot of brennivin

Shop with slide

Now this is a random one but there is an outdoor clothing shop on the main street that has a slide in! We are probably easily pleased but loved this. More shops should have it. There are also stairs if you aren't big kids like us. The shop also had a moat like fish pond downstairs, how cool!!

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Shop with a slide!!



So there is my whistle-stop tour of Iceland! Have you been? Is it on your list? Any questions just ask?



Love M



xxx


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Monday, 6 April 2015

Travel: Places to Eat and Drink in Reykjavik and How to Save Money

Hey All

I love reading people's travel posts and travel blogs but as I've not been away much, there hasn't been the opportunity to write. With Iceland one thing we heard over and over again was how expensive it was so I thought I'd share some of the places we ate and tips we picked up. Some places were recommendations some places we found by chance.

One thing we did when booking was book an apartment over hotel. We did this so if we got there and it was mega expensive we could save a substantial amount of money and cook in the apartment.

For the days we went on excursions we cooked lunch in the apartment the night before to take with us and also bought in breakfast items. As we knew we were going to do this we took a little tupperware pot with us and a 1kg of pasta. This definitely saved us money. We popped to the local supermarket (find yourself one called Bonus! it's the cheapest one!) and grabbed chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers, cheese and cured meats to make up pasta. Meat like chicken was expensive but we found getting cured meats wasn't much more expensive than the uk and it went further. Things such as veg wasn't much more than the uk. We also grabbed lots of treats like crisp, chocolate and fizzy drinks to take on the coach with us. By doing this we saved loads of money and we weren't disapointed not to eat at the excursion places as most of them were overpriced and it was things like burger and chips. Think of alton tower type prices and level of food.

When we landed in Reykjavik it was about mid day by the time we got to the apartment so after a trip to bonus we went exploring and happened upon our first meal. This is one I don't actually have a photo of. It's on Skolavordustigur which is one street parallel to the main shopping street. They keep things simple, a massive bowl of noodles, veg and meat. I had beef and it was so tender and really tasty. A perfect lunch for a cold day and it worked out about £15 for food and free refill drinks for us both. We really wanted to go back here but decided there were too many other places to try.

Image from this trip advisor review!
DSC_0359DSC_0357The Next place we ate came from a recommendation from my other halfs work colleague, Tapas Barinn which is on Vesturg√∂tu which is on a square not far from the main street. We were told we could get great food including trying the local delacies. My love of a bargain, meant before we went I did some googling and found a vistor guide online that you could download a printable version of and it gives you discount for restuarants so I really recommend printing those pages. Here's a link to the website where you can download it. By doing this we got 10-15% of meals. At Tapas Barinn we ordered two taster menus and shared everything. We were glad we did this as we wanted to try things like whale and puffin but each course was quite big so we were glad we didn't have one each to try. This meals worked out at just under £100 but included 14 courses, dessert, two shots of brennivin, a glass of processo and two beers. For the amazing food we got we were happy to pay it would recommend it to others at a heart beat. We ordered the Icelandic Gourmet Feast and A journey into the Unknown. Here's some of the food we had.

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This is from A journey into the unknown and was a pulled pork burger, Serrano ham, teriyaki salmon and one I can't remember. This menu does change each night.

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This is the puffin. It was a really dark meat with a slightly liver like texture. It came with a blueberry  brennivin compote.

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The mink whale was served rare on  a sweet potato mash.

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The lobster tails were amazing. They were so creamy!

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and one of our desserts!

Also right by Tapas Barinn was an amazing bar called Stofan Cafe. We sat downstairs one evening for a drink and played board games. They had reasonable priced beers and a nice chilled atomosphere. Pints were also served in crystal esque glasses

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Next up is Svarta Kaffi. Another recommendation. This is on the main shopping street Laugavegur. It serves the most amazing soup in a massive bread bowl. They have two different soups on a day. We had a chicken soup which was so tasty and it come in a bowl you can eat. What more can you eat. We really loved the food here. Other people around us had ordered salads which also looked good. This is definitely a great lunch place. With two pints of beer and a tip I think we paid around £20-£25. We liked that the bread that was torn out the middle was left on the side of the board to munch.

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Kofinn Bar on Laugavegar next to Sushibarinn is somewhere we went to a few evenings for drinks. They were reasonably priced. When drinking in bars we choose pints most of the time which were around £5. Here we also sampled some cocktails which I think were about £9. We loved the atmosphere here everyone was friendly and we got chatting to other people. They also do a quiz in english some nights. We did it and it was actually quite good!

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Another bar we really enjoyed was Dillion Whiskey Bar. We loved the music in here and the massive selection of whiskeys. We spent a few evenings drinking in here. It seemed busy most nights we were in there. Dillion had a variety of prices due to the fact there were 101 whiskeys. They also had whiskeys of the month which were up to half price. They had a barrel behind the bar which you can see which is called Floki. It's icelands first whiskeys and in bars Dillion's is one of the few places you can buy it. At just over £15 a shot we splashed out and shared this one!

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Another reastaurnat we loved was Kitchen Eldhus, this is a Nepalese restaurant. The food here was amazing. We shared starters of popadoms and dumplings then had two mains to share. A lamb biryani and an amazing special which was spicy but sweetened with honey. We also shared naan breads and chapaitis. With two large beers and tips the meal cost around £60. All the food tasted amazing, the combinations of flavours were so good and the sweet and spicy mix was perfect. My other half commented on how fresh the ingredients like tomatoes tasted.

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One bakery we loved was Bernhoftsbakari. We went here for breakfast and snacks a few times. We grabbed breakfast and teas and there were seats in the window to eat. We also popped back for cakes. They had amazing cinamons buns the size of your head!! We found it to be reasonably priced and a great selection here.

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Other places to mention were Solon Bistro. We had amazing burger here and went for the full three courses! Primo Restaurente is somewhere we didn't discover until it was too late. We wished we'd gone here as the food looked amazing (a voucher for here is also in the book mentioned at the begining) and vegamot which serves american type food and massive portions! We also enjoyed pancakes and tea in Cafe Paris but the service wasn't great!

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Most places we went we payed around £60 for either a bottle of wine or two beers and two courses. We didn't find it as expensive as we expected sort of London prices. We did also order local when it came to alcohol as we like to drink local beer and I assume this was cheaper.

Have you been to Iceland? Do you do your research before holidays? If you're going and want any advice just ask!

Love M
xxx


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