Iceland Travel Guide: 7 Things-to-Do & 5 Travel Takeaways from my vacation in Reykjavik

Iceland_Landscape_Houses_HR-17Photo: Cassandra McD.

We travelled to Iceland in May and I’ve been meaning to share some of the highlights and low-points of the trip with you, so here you go! (WARNING: This is a long post so grab your coffee, settle in and enjoy!)

The Outdoors for the Not-so-Outdoorsy: Stepping Outside my Comfort Zone

First things first, I’m not at all an outdoorsy person! I mean, I think I went camping once, in maybe 6th grade – I’ve blocked it out of my memory so I’m not even sure that really happened! So, this trip to Iceland, with the vast landscapes, waterfalls, sheep and spots where scenes from Game of Thrones was filmed (ok, so I was totally looking forward to that part), was going to be well outta my comfort zone, for realz. But, that’s what this year is about, finding small ways to step outside my comfort zone and get comfortable with discomfort.

Iceland_Landscape_mountains_HR-6Photo: Cassandra McD.

I didn’t anticipate what awaited me on this trip. What awaited me you might ask? White Walkers!!! Kidding! But honestly, there might have well been when we found ourselves on a mountain in a snowstorm and visibility was zero. We couldn’t see who, or what was coming along the trail.

Iceland_Hiking_Snow_DeePhoto Credit: Jerome Clark

Something to keep in mind is that Iceland weather is truly unpredictable, even during their summertime. Pack appropriately with options of layers for warmth and protection from the elements!

Where we stayed

20Photo: Jerome Clark

My cousin was in-charge of the accommodations. To save costs we stayed at an AirBnB in the City Centre and bought groceries at a local supermarket called Bonus. We were told by a local, it’s where the locals’ shop and better bang for your buck than other places. Also, a burger and fries at a restaurant could easily cost about $30 CAN so buying a sandwich at the supermarket was our better option!

Where we ate

Well, given that prices were exorbitant for everything in Iceland we bought groceries at the local grocery store. We did visit a Thai restaurant and had pizza! Well, because we love pizza and burgers and fries!

Photos by Cassandra McD. and Jerome Clark

What we did

Because there were three of us we had planned ahead of time that each person would provide a list of three things they wanted to do while in Iceland and then we would narrow the list down based on costs and time.

Luckily for me I travel with some awesome family members who, like me, are fairly easy-going and we didn’t have any issues selecting things to do that we could all enjoy as a group (well, ok, I was not too keen on the horseback riding – I was terrified of that tour but I was out-numbered on that so I decided to feel the fear and do it anyways!“)

The tours we took were well run. We did a Citywalk tour, GoEcco hiking tour and Ishetar Icelandic horseback riding tour. When we weren’t touring we spent some time walking around Reykjavík, checking out shops and a couple museums.

The weather served up some real doozies and stole the show in terms of vacation memories. Even the locals remarked that the wonky weather was unusual for May. We experienced rain, strong winds gusts that made an umbrella useless, then came periods of hail and snow all within minutes and daily throughout the entire trip.

Although the weather made for limited exploring we agreed we would have loved to do more walking around the city for sure.

Here is the list of most of the activities we did during our 5 days in Iceland (links to websites included to learn more about each activity):

  1. Blue Lagoon Iceland Geothermal Spa
Iceland_blueLagoon_02

Photo: Blue Lagoon, Jerome Clark

  • Liked: Shuttlebus straight from the airport and return trip that dropped us off minutes away from our accommodations. Place to store luggage and opportunity for some cool photos.
  • Didn’t Like: The facilities were not well heated. It was freaking freezing outdoors but when you were inside, it was not that warm. It’s also pricey.

2. City Walk Reykjavik – Walking Tour 

  • Liked: The tour was 2-hours and “free” but you could make a contribution at the end of the tour if you choose to. It was a great way to meet fellow travellers (met another Canadian),  learn about the Iceland history and about Reykjavik.
  • Didn’t Like: Nothing bad to say about this tour at all. It was a great way to start our trip and to get insider tips on where to eat, shop, or what other things to do on your trip. The fact that it was two-hours and free was awesome as we got to set our own budget for donations.

 

  • Liked: Our Guide – he clearly had a passion for the environment and was very knowledgeable. The hike was an easy one to do for non-outdoorsy types like us!
  • Didn’t like: the snow-storm that rolled in and left us covered in snow and with frozen fingers and toes. Thumbs down!

 

Icelandic_Horse_ishetar

  • Liked: That they had rain gear that you could put on. Also, I got to ride an Icelandic horse for about an hour ( I’d never been on a horse before so this was quite the experience)
  • Didn’t like: We picked the wrong tour. Although this was presented as something even for people who had never been on a horse, I felt the group was too big and the instructions to minimal for our liking and with our nerves, well, we probably should have done more research and signed up for the Meet the Horse tour.
    • I had never been on a horse, close to a horse or even knew how to fix the straps on my helmet. So, when I was put in a line then handed the reins with a massive beast attached and told to “Go!” I was a bit shocked and very uncomfortable. This was followed by a not-so-cooperative horse that I ended up exchanging for another!
    • This experience deserves a post of its own so to keep this short, I survived but I think next time doing the Meet and Greet with the horses might have been more appropriate.

 

Iceland_REykjavik_Perlan_HR

  • Liked: The architecture and The staff. We had the best chat with the staff there about Canada and a random conversation about Trapped – an Iceland drama I watched on Netflix. Don’t ask!
  • Didn’t Like: The weather ruined the views from the observation deck. We braved it for a few minutes but hurried back into the warmth of the indoors.

Photos: Cassandra McD.

  • Liked: It was free to simply walk around and admire the stunning architecture. The gift shop had some cool merch as well. It was worth a quick tour even if we were not seeing a show or buying any merch.
  • Bonus: There is a free bus that takes you from the Harpa to the Pearl.

 

Photos: Cassandra McD.

  • Liked: You were able to get some cool shots of the exterior, interior and panoramic views of the city.
  • Didn’t Like: That I took me basically the entire trip to feel comfortable pronouncing the name and knowing full well that I still ain’t saying it right!

5 Travel Takeaways: 

  1. Location, location, location – the AirBnB my cousin booked was a prime location and given the weather was so awful, it was nice to be able to walk a short distance to do grocery shopping.
  2. Timing is everything…sort of – Apparently July and August would have been a much better time to visit. It’s their summer and the most likely time to get decent weather.
  3. Thermal underwear is a lifesaver – Pack extra layers, including socks and thermal underwear! Also, if you happen to bring pjs, they also make for a good added layer of warmth.
  4. Waterproof things, one of the best inventions ever! Buy some. A pair of waterproof hiking boots,  waterproof outer layer shell jacket and phone carrying case to slip your phone in.
  5. Having a positive attitude is the best carry-on. The weather sucked but we were able to find lots of laugh about and have wonderful conversations with people we met during our stay. We had bad weather but made good memories!

Lastly, what I loved about Iceland

My favourite thing about the trip was the people! Hands-down. Everyone was really friendly and helpful.
My suggestions for those of you who more city travellers and non-outdoorsy but who want to get a little outside your comfort zone and stretch yourself a little bit without going all into a full-on camping and outdoor adventure, then Iceland is a great option to consider.
One thing we wished we had the opportunity to do but didn’t because of the weather was renting a car and doing a day trip. Tours can add up so renting a car would have been a great option to see a bit more. That being said, I would love to go back and experience Iceland in better weather! Perhaps a stop-over may be in my future!
Cheers,
Cassandra

 

 

 

 

 

About cassandra mcd.

Style loving introvert, a student of life and lover of all things brunch! Hello, French Toast! Oh yeah, I'm also Instagram obsessed! Just learning to practice gratitude and self-love and hoping to inspire other badass babes who are also searching for happiness!
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