by Anne Devlin
Being one of the most northerly human settlements on the planet, Iceland is unique in what it has to offer for tourists. From the pitch-black winters to the constant smell of sulphur, Iceland is a land of extremes.
This Nordic paradise is an ideal retreat all year round from extreme sports to idyllic spas; there really is something for everyone.
For the UK, the cheapest airline is Iceland Express, now operated under WOW. Flying to Keflavík Airport from Edinburgh, London Gatwick and London Stanstead, these little purple planes will get you to Iceland for around £140 return.
Icelandair are also an option, flying from a wider variety of airports including Glasgow. The flight itself is an easy hop, at around 2 and a half hours. Keflavík is a clean, modern and passenger friendly airport with lots to offer by way of food and duty free shopping.
If you are buying anything in Iceland worth over 6000 Icelandic Króna – that’s around £32 – you can also claim your tax back with receipts at the airport before your return flight. The main airport is about an hours drive from Reykjavík, so looking at your transport options is a must.
Renting your own car is a big plus if you’re planning on leaving the capital of Reykjavík. It isn’t necessarily cheap but with public transport being minimal in Iceland, it is almost a necessity.
Several main roads serve most of the main tourist attractions and you can pick up your rental car directly from the airport, solving the expensive problem of getting into Reykjavík. Sadcars tend to be the cheapest and you can book online in advance: http://sadcars.com
Where to Stay
The 101 district of Reykjavík is the most central part of the city and probably one of the most populous on the whole island. Iceland’s entire population is at around 300, 000 so it’s not weird to regularly see people waving at each other on the street.
Laugavegur is the main street with several hotels and guesthouses. I’d recommend using airbnb; most of the properties are very modern and done in an authentic Nordic style…basically classy Ikea.
What to do
While it’s expensive, you cannot visit Iceland and not experience The Blue Lagoon. It isn’t just a tourist trap; it’s as beautiful as everyone says. The unique volcanic hot spring is a geothermal spa in the beautiful Icelandic countryside. The complex is very modern but as expected, pretty pricy.
Basic entrance tickets start at €40 and I would 100% recommend booking several days in advance. The €55 comfort entrance is the best value as you get one free drink in the lagoon (including alcohol) and a skin care pack. However, free facial scrubs do surround the edge of the lagoon.
If you bring your own flip flops and bathrobe, you don’t need to invest in a more expensive package since all the robes will likely get wet or mixed up outside the lagoon anyway.
Other sites of Iceland include Gullfloss waterfall and the original Geyser: both very accessible by car. Iceland is also known for its Icelandic horses, which have their own unique type of canter; trekking tours are readily available to book throughout the island.
As for those pesky Northern Lights, it is down to luck whether you’ll catch a glimpse. You can pay for tours but you might just be best keeping an eye out online for the best viewing time: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/
The Harpa exhibition centre is the talking point of Reykjavík, only built in 2011 after some recession related turmoil. It is more than worth a visit however, especially for its “How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes” comedy show for tourists.
The Icelandic people are renowned for liking a drink or two. The nightlife is known for being expensive but it is generally similar prices to parts of the UK. Try the Viking Lager, it’s affordable, lovely and you can pretend to be a Viking.
After I left Iceland, I already wanted to return. It is a small treasure of exciting and unique attractions from glaciers to a penis museum. Everyone speaks fantastic English and the island is very tourist friendly. However, its original charm has not been lost.
The heights of summer or winter are the most magical times to visit, whether you are after extreme colds and snowy landscapes or endless summer nights.