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Top Things to do in Iceland

Iceland

Chase the Northern Lights, swim in the Blue Lagoon and marvel at Gullfoss Waterfall – there are so many things to do in Iceland – here are my favourites.

 

Icelanders are so proud of their country, and so they should be. You get the feeling you are somewhere pure, with the cleanest air and the purest water, which you can drink straight from the tap. You can hike the glaciers, discover countless waterfalls, bathe in a geothermal lagoon – even their swimming pools are outdoor! Driving through the countryside you are constantly awestruck by the landscape. The Icelandic horses in wide open snowy fields, was just one of those awesome moments.

We travelled with direct from Dublin and after a pleasant two hours and fifteen minutes, we landed in Reykjavik. The view from the plane sparked excitement, with blue skies and snow capped mountains, the adventure was about to begin.

The first thing we noticed was that there was a duty free shop in arrivals. People had trolleys full of beer and wine – it was the strangest sight! Apparently most hotel rooms have a fridge in place of a mini bar. Hotels encourage people to bring alcohol with them to their rooms, as they understand that tourists find the cost of living expensive in Iceland. Needless to say we didn’t want to go against tradition so we bought a bottle of wine (€18) and a six pack of beer €10). Reykjavik is about a 40 minute drive from the airport, so I would advise you to pre book transfers as it is €25 one way or €39 return for the airport coach and this could make numerous stops before arriving at your hotel.

 

Nice view of #Iceland from @wowair 👌Just landed, snowing and sunny – just perfect #travel #travelblogger #wowair

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Where to stay in Iceland

We stayed at the Grand Hotel. Although 20 minutes walk to the centre of Reykjavik, I would highly recommend it. The rooms were modern and spacious, the staff extremely friendly and the buffet breakfast was excellent. The lounge bar has a great food menu and we ate there on two occasions. They have the usual fish and chips, burgers and pasta options and all are very reasonably priced – well, by Icelandic standards anyway!

They also have a happy hour from 5pm – 7pm each day where drinks are half price. This meant a meal for four with drinks was €100 – not the exorbitant prices we had been warned about before we left. In general, a pint of beer or glass of wine is €10 and a pizza, pasta, steak sandwich is about €20. Snacks are expensive though so I would recommend bringing some with you, especially if you are planning tours. It was €20 for a Panini at the Blue Lagoon….

things to do in Iceland

Things to do in Iceland – See the Northern Lights

Unfortunately our Northern Lights tour was cancelled on our first evening due to bad weather. We were in Iceland for four nights and tours were cancelled for three of them. The good news is that you can reschedule your tour for another night but if you are only staying a few days, you may find it difficult to get availability.

Luckily we had booked with an agent, Obeo Travel, who were excellent. With one phone call, they rearranged our tour for the following evening. Meanwhile there were many disappointed travellers who had come specifically to see the Northern Lights and were going to go home disappointed. I can’t stress how important it was to have someone at the end of the phone to call when tours were cancelled.

TOP TIP: Make sure you book the Northern Lights tour for the beginning of your holiday so you can rearrange if necessary.

Speaking of the Northern Lights… we saw them!! We were so lucky as there was only one night available for us. We took the coach tour and I would highly recommend it. Many opt for the boat tour but if you have rough seas, which is common in wintertime, it could get messy…

We ‘hunted’ the Northern Lights, even the driver didn’t know where we were going when we boarded the bus. There was a snow storm and visibility was poor so I must confess I was not very optimistic. After an hours drive, we arrived at what seemed like the middle of the country, although I have no idea where exactly we were. We parked along with two other coaches and off we went. We wandered far enough into the fields to get the best photo opportunity and waited patiently. The kids were happily building snowmen when all of a sudden they appeared. Initially they were quite faint but just as we thought the spectacle was over, out came the aurora borealis again. The second time they danced through the night sky. It was all a bit surreal, it was midnight and we were buzzing, I genuinely didn’t expect to see them. It was a great experience and another one ticked off the bucket list!

TOP TIP: Make sure you bring a tripod and a good camera capable of long exposures to get clear pictures.

Things to do in Iceland – The Blue Lagoon

A similar experience happened when we got to the Blue Lagoon. There were snow showers all morning so I was beginning to think the 40 minute drive from Reykjavik was going to be a waste of time. I remembered Ziggy’s advice ‘go inside have a cup of coffee and come back out again’. It was incredible, we arrived at the Blue Lagoon and the sun came out! We had a magical experience bathing in the roasting hot baths with snow all around us. The kids loved it too, and even bought a non alcoholic cocktail at the swim up bar!

We stayed there for hours and only that we had planned to drive to Gullfoss Waterfall afterwards, we would have stayed even longer! Although you book an allotted time, once you are there you can stay in as long as you like. Like everything in Iceland, it is extremely well organised. I have a dedicated blog post for tips on visiting the Blue Lagoon, which is one of the top things to do in Iceland, check that out before you visit.

Things to do in Iceland – The Golden Circle Tour

While we had two magical experiences, unfortunately the weather (the worst snow storms since 1932) hampered the rest of our visit. Rough seas, sick tummies and no whales meant our whale watching trip was a disaster. We drove the Golden Circle but only heard Gullfoss waterfall – seeing it was impossible. We did manage to get to see the famous Strokkur Geysir, which duly erupted for us, in fact it does so every few minutes, so regardless of weather, you are guaranteed to see it!

“If the weather is bad, Icelanders go inside, have a cup of coffee and come back out again”. Just one of the memorable quotes from Ziggy our driver!

things to do in Iceland

 

Things to do in Iceland – Reykjavik

We ventured into Reykjavik one evening and ate in a lovely Italian restaurant, Italia. Pizzas and pastas were great and not ridiculously expensive either. We had a quick roam around the city which I instantly liked, but unfortunately time was against us. One noticeable difference I found compared to other capital cities was the lack of honky tonk disco bars. As the majority of people are visiting Iceland to see the sights, the scenery and the culture, there is not the typical tacky tourist trails on show. The city had an authentic vibe to it and I wished I could have explored it some more. We did have time for a quick walk around it’s famous church and then a pit stop for home made ice cream in Eldur & Is – honestly it was the best ice cream I have ever had!

things to do in Iceland

Icelanders have coped with a devastating financial crisis, numerous volcanic eruptions and a colossal influx of tourists. Tourism is now their number one industry and there is virtually no unemployment. Icelanders appear to adapt well to any change in circumstance and their happy, positive attitude is palpable. There were lots of coaches hunting the Northern Lights and touring the Golden Circle, yet I have seen longer queues to get into the NEXT sale. Considering Iceland’s tiny population of only 330,000 people, it is extraordinary how everything runs so smoothly.

There is something remarkable about Iceland and it is definitely a country I want to go back to. There are so many things to do in Iceland. I want to do a glacier hike, go husky sledding and see Gullfoss Waterfall (again) with a rainbow over it next time! I also want to visit in the summer time when you have 24 hours daylight, a unique experience I am sure.

Iceland I will definitely be back…

 

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Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery
 
 
 
 
 
Featured

Top Holiday Destinations in 2017

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Dublin airport has just celebrated it’s best ever year in 2016 and there are lots of new routes announced from Dublin, Cork and Shannon. It seems Irish airports are set for another bumper year.  So where are the top holiday destinations in 2017?

It looks like firm favourites, Spain and Portugal will remain the most popular short haul holiday destinations. Every other month we are hearing about new routes to the USA so American holidays will probably be the next biggest crowd pleaser. Short break enthusiasts will welcome the 9 weekly flights to Iceland and if you haven’t visited Athens or Amsterdam yet, 2017 might well be the year to do it. Cruise holidays are gearing up for another year of growth and the 14 weekly flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as the new daily Qatar airways service from Dublin to Doha, ensures long haul holidays will be easily accessible. Here are my picks for holiday hot spots in 2017!

Spain

Ireland’s favourite holiday destination never disappoints. Culture vultures or party animals enjoy the numerous choices for city breaks and beach holidays. Why not combine both though? The Costa Dorada looks like it could be the big winner this year. There are flights from Dublin, Shannon, Cork and Knock serving Reus, Girona or Barcelona and Sunway and Falcon Holidays both offer package deals to Salou and Cambrils. The combination of the iconic city of Barcelona and the opening of Ferrari World at the already popular Port Aventura theme park, make it an ideal choice for all the family.

Top holiday destinations in 2017

Portugal

Another Irish favourite, the Algarve has almost fifty flights per week from Irish airports, in the peak Summer months. Aer Lingus have added a new service to Porto, and Lisbon is already a popular city break destination. It looks like lots Irish holiday makers will be flocking to Portugal in their droves in 2017.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Algarve

Italy

Lakes, mountains, cities and beaches, Italy has something to offer all holiday makers. Lake Garda is becoming more and more popular with families as there are numerous self catering and camping options. The Amalfi Coast is always a popular honeymoon destination and the islands will attract couples looking for an upmarket holiday. Sunway have introduced a direct flight to Sardinia for 2017 which should keep the beach enthusiasts happy, and the growing trend for authentic experiences will ensure that Irish numbers to the region of Puglia should continue to grow.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Sardinia

Greece

Always great value for money and appealing to the masses, the Greek islands should have many Irish visitors in 2017. There are direct flights to Zakynthos, Corfu, Crete, Rhodes and Kos with Falcon Holidays and flights to Athens with Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Aegean airlines. This should ensure Athens will be a popular city break destination but also allow easier access to the sought after islands of Santorini and Mykonos.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Santorini

USA

Flights to the States have grown to unprecedented levels. New routes to from Aer Lingus to Hartford and Miami and extra flights to Los Angeles, Orlando and New York, should translate into a bumper year for Irish tourists to the USA. The addition of low cost flights with Norwegian Air from Cork to Boston and New York, as well as WOW air flights via Iceland, should ensure lots of good deals for Irish holidaymakers. San Francisco is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the iconic ‘summer of love’ with a year of events and festivals in 2017. And would you believe Elvis is dead 40 years this year… sure makes me feel old! Why not pay tribute to the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ by visiting Memphis during ‘Elvis Week’, between 11th and 19th August. See American Sky for details.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Universal Studios

Mexico

Mexico is one of our most popular long haul destinations. Falcon Holidays are offering direct flights from Dublin for those looking for a two week holiday in the summer months. Many choose to fly via America and combine with a city break in New York or Vegas. I think Mexico will continue to be as popular with Irish holidaymakers in 2017.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Mexico

Iceland

WOW air introduced flights to Reykjavik in 2015 which proved to be a resounding success. People chased the Northern lights and swam in the Blue Lagoon, with lots of positive reviews. So much so that WOW have decided to increase flights from Dublin and add on a service from Cork. It looks like Iceland will remain popular in 2017 for weekend breaks and as a holiday destination.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Chase the Northern Lights in Iceland

Cruises

One of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry is set for another bumper year. The competition has never been greater. Most major cruise lines have dedicated Irish websites now and many travel agents and tour operators have dedicated cruise departments. Free all inclusive drinks packages, half price kids offers and even free flights, will I am sure, entice Irish holidaymakers to cruise in 2017. New destinations like Cuba will make it easier for visitors to visit Havana without paying the increasing accommodation costs. River cruises are also proving popular for discerning clients. For those who don’t want to fly there are even cruises operating directly from Ireland in 2017.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
American cruise lines are now docking in Cuba.

Croatia

For those looking for somewhere a little different but still close to home, Croatia will be a top choice. The stunning city of Dubrovnik has always been a favourite but now there are flights to Split and Pula with Aer Lingus, as well as Zadar with RyanairFalcon Holidays have also announced package holidays to Croatia and specialists Croatia Tours continue to offer a wide choice of package holidays to the region.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Dubrovnik

Middle East and beyond

With two direct daily flights to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi and now a new daily service to Doha with Qatar airlines, getting to Asia, Africa and Australia has never been easier. No lengthy lay overs in Heathrow and prices should reduce too!

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Dubai

South Africa

Ethiopian airlines‘ Dreamliner aircraft made many news reports when they offered cheap direct flights from Dublin to Los Angeles this year. They have now added extra connections from their hub in Addis Ababa to South Africa. This means that flights from Dublin to Cape Town should be easily accessible and hopefully well priced too.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
South African safari

They are my thoughts on the top holiday destinations in 2017 but please comment below if you have any more to add 🙂

 

Sarah

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