Traveling to Iceland? These Tips Are For You

Well, full disclosure–these tips are MAINLY for OAT travelers who will be taking the Untamed Iceland trip, BUT some of the information just might be useful to everyone, even those of you who decide to “do it yourself”.

If you opt to arrive early, or you purchase airfare on your own, you will not be met at the airport by an OAT representative.  Not a problem.  It is relatively easy to get from the airport to downtown Reykjavik and to the Hilton Nordica. 

One of the many corrugated iron buildings in Reykjavik

Although you COULD take a taxi, that is an expensive option, especially given that Airport Express (the Gray Line) and Flybus offer convenient and cost effective alternatives. More importantly, you don’t really save a lot of time taking a taxi.  

We chose the Gray Line, which has buses leaving on the hour and the half hour.  Click here for their web site, if you want to purchase your ticket on line.  You can also buy your ticket when you arrive, but why add one more thing to do when you are jet lagged?  If you happen to be delayed and miss your time slot, it is not a problem.  You just get on the next bus.

When you clear customs and enter the arrival hall, look to the far left.  The Gray Line representative will be standing there, wearing a bright orange jacket.  He checks you in, asks where you are staying and directs you to the bus.  (You go out the door, follow the covered walkway ALL the way to the end, where it veers to the left.)  If you miss him, that’s not a problem either–just walk to the bus and you will get checked in there.  When you arrive at the bus terminal in Reykjavik, smaller vans are waiting for you.  The staff moves your luggage to the correct van, and off you go, directly to your lodging.  Our cost was $26 per person and the van dropped us at our hotel within minutes. 

What to Pack
Layers, layers, layers.  Even in the summer, it is cold (and wet) in Iceland.  

Many of the activities (ATV, horseback riding, whale watching) provide “outfits” for you to use.  The blue “jumpsuits” we wore during our ATV ride made us look like we were either auditioning for a Ghostbusters movie, or preparing for a lunar landing.  The best part is they were fleece lined.  

Still, you need to bring along warm clothes that can be layered.  Wool socks are wonderful for keeping your feet warm. 

Walking sticks are a matter of preference. I used mine on a walk behind a waterfall,

Can you see the people walking alongside the falls? Look for  dots.  They are actually colored jackets.

through a volcanic crater, and to the glacier. 

Isn’t this glacier incredible?!

They are especially helpful when you are walking through mud or on slippery surfaces.  (What isn’t obvious from the waterfall shot above is how slippery and uneven the rocks were getting to and from it, but we all did just fine and were glad to have had the experience.)
If I hadn’t brought the walking stick,  I would have been okay.  (If I pack it, then damn it, I’m USING it!)

Comfortable, waterproof hiking boots are critical.  You don’t need the real heavy duty ones.  I was happy with my Merrill boots that are slightly higher than a pair of sneakers.  I wore them every day.

At one time, OAT forum posters had recommended bringing water shoes and towels to the Blue Lagoon.  Both are no longer necessary.  What you DO need is shampoo, unless you are content using the gel that Icelanders use for hair, body, and whatever else you want to wash.  That and conditioner are the only hair products the Blue Lagoon supplies in the locker room.  

blue lagoon
No close ups. I want my friends to STAY my friends. Our hair is gooped up with conditioner and we all have the magic facial going for us.

You should also bring your credit card and leave it in your locker, because you can buy drinks while you are in the water.  You get an wrist bracelet that acts as a key to your locker, your “cash” while in the lagoon, and your way to exit…after making good on any purchases, that is, which is why you need that credit card. I LOVED the Blue Lagoon.  Fun fact: our guide told us the name was inspired by the old Brooke Shield movie.

Debby and Laurence, enjoying Icelandic beer

It is a good idea to keep your rain pants, buff, gloves, and binoculars in a zip lock bag that you either take with you every day, or leave on the bus.  The bus is big enough for everyone to have their own seat, which makes travel very pleasant and comfy, and there is plenty of room for your “stuff”. 

We enjoyed a “beer tasting” on the bus.  Surprisingly, given the composition of our group, no one started singing “ninety nine bottles of beer” on the bus.

A bug head net is useful.  I wore mine over a baseball cap, which kept the net off my face, and the net kept the bugs out of my eyes and mouth.  I wish I’d kept the net with me, in my pocket, because those bugs had a way of showing up unexpectedly, sometimes when I’d left the net on the bus.

There is something you DON’T need to bring.  All of the hotels have hair dryers.  Normally, I bring my own because I hate dryers attached to the wall (and all except the Hilton had the wall-attached dryers).  Given the weather in Iceland, it is a mistake to be concerned about hair.  Between the rain and the wind, your hair is going to go wild anyway.

Yes, it is expensive.  Take a look at what $58.80 will get you: two cups of soup, two baguettes, no drinks.  (It is very wise to carry a refillable water bottle).

As you can tell from the cutlery and the tray, this was not a chi-chi restaurant.  Nope.  This was purchased at a gas station/rest area/gift shop/snack bar.

I must admit, though, the soup was absolutely delicious, and I’m a picky eater.  No fermented shark for ME.

We were on our own for dinner the second night of our stay in Stykkisholmur.  Because we’re a group of friends traveling together, we all chose the same restaurant, Narfeyrarstofa, for the variety on the menu–not just fish entrees, they also had hamburgers.  The food was excellent.  Check out the way the scallops were presented — on a board!

Mike and I chose the same thing: lamb, which was absolutely delicious, and a glass of red wine.  Our total (just got our credit card bill) was $105, which I thought was reasonable for what we got.  But then, I’m used to New York/New Jersey food prices.

We had another “on our own” night in Akureyri and once again, found an excellent restaurant.  Strykid is on the 4th floor of a building, facing the water, so the view is every bit as wonderful as the food.   For about $74 per person, we got a three course dinner–delicious cauliflower soup, chicken breast and chocolate cake.  No food photos.  We were too busy laughing and talking to pull out our cameras, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Odds and Ends
My iPhone 7 took great photos when the light was tricky or when it was rainy or misty.  Unlike my Panasonic Lumix, it didn’t fog up or get raindrops on the lens. The top two photos were taken on a rainy day with my iPhone; the bottom one with my Lumix.  Of course, the iPhone doesn’t have a powerful zoom, and photos get pixilated when you enlarge them too much.  Still, I was glad I had it with me.  

It was raining during ALL of the above photos.

Hold on to your coins.  Many of the rest rooms charge 200 kroner (about $2.00). You need to insert the coins into a turnstile to access the rest room, so you can’t do what we did when we were poor college students in Boston–hold the door open for your friends.  There ARE machines where you can insert your credit card to get change at most places, but if you buy anything using Icelandic kroners, you are probably going to end up with change, and this is a good way to use it.

Trolls welcome you to the center of Akureyri

The hotel in Akureyri is at the top of a hill, but the hill is walkable if you are in reasonably good shape.  You just take your time, maybe stop off to check out the botanical garden before continuing up.  The other options are a taxi, which will cost about $26 for the .6 mile between the hotel and the center of town ( according to my fitbit) OR a free bus – number 6- which runs every hour and only travels in one direction.  For the trip back to the hotel, the bus takes the scenic route.  I missed that experience, choosing to walk up and down, but others rode the bus, and reported that it takes about 20 minutes to get back to the Icelandair Hotel.  

Horseback riding was a fantastic optional event.  We were picked up at the hotel and transported to the horse farm, which is located in a very scenic area.  The cost for transportation, an hour’s ride, and the necessary gear (Helmets, gloves, and if desired, snazzy orange or green jackets) was $90.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t take photos while we were riding, but the views were breathtaking.  The horses were very used to inexperienced riders, so there were no mishaps AND the horses are closer to the ground, which helps with mounting and dismounting.

For the flight from Akureyri to Reykjavik you might want to keep your good camera handy. Mine was packed away, so I used my iPhone to take this shot of the scenery.   My Lumix would have been a better choice.   It is a short flight, and is a great way to see the interesting topography of the countryside.

Be sure to check out Air Iceland Connect’s seat pocket.  They put a little journal in each row so travelers can add comments.  I particularly enjoyed this one.

On our departure day, most of us had flights leaving around 5 PM, so we had time to spend in Reykjavik.  What a difference it makes when you aren’t jet lagged.  We all went off in different directions.  Some took in a concert at the Harpa, others enjoyed an art museum.  Four of us took a cab to the Volcano House (2600 kroners each way) where we saw two films that chronicled Iceland’s last two big eruptions.  The films last about an hour and are very well done.

After that we walked around the town, successfully completing our quest for a Christmas store.  To me, these cute ornaments are the perfect gift–unique, representative of the country, small enough to pack and something that I know the recipients will use.  Now I’m wishing that I bought more.

For those that want to stay close to the hotel, there is a sculpture garden within two blocks, and the botanical garden is only slightly further away.  The night before, after our farewell dinner, four of us took advantage of good weather and long daylight to walk to both places.  We were still out after 10 PM, hoping to catch a sunset.  (I gave up).

Overall, this was a very interesting trip, with fascinating landscapes, and lots of memorable experiences.  The best part, for me, however, was being with an incredible group of fun people.

If you would like a day to day account of the OAT Iceland trip, including great photos,  I suggest you check out this blog by my friend, Nancy.  

Happy travels!

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I am intensely curious, with a spirit of adventure that is tempered by my very strong aversion to anything with potential to cause pain. I love travel, photography, reading, gardening, yoga, music and propelling myself through space (biking, dancing, walking, dancing while walking). I've never considered a lack of proficiency in any of the previous activities to be a hindrance, counting on abundant enthusiasm to make up for my shortcomings.

8 thoughts on “Traveling to Iceland? These Tips Are For You”

  1. Loved your report! If we travel to Iceland, it won’t be with a tour (more than likely) and I found a lot of great hints and tips! Thanks Shelley! And I ALWAYS take a water bottle with me on all my trips – it’s a great way to stay hydrated and save $$ at restaurants. I’ve pulled it out more than once in a restaurant that doesn’t serve tap water (only the fancy stuff that costs an arm and a leg!)


  2. I’m glad the post was helpful.

    This trip was special because almost the entire group was composed of my friends. I was the only one that knew everyone (except one friend of a friend, who I was meeting for the first time).

    What was really gratifying to me was the people that I think are pretty terrific all felt the same way about each other. That doesn’t always happen.

    There are people that don’t do tours, and people that only do tours. I enjoy both modes of travel, and will be doing a bit of both on our upcoming trip in September.


  3. Great post Shelley! Looks like you had an exciting time. Iceland is on our list and your post has a lot of good feedback.


      1. I’ll be more in retirement mode in a few months when my wife, Mary Ivy retires. We’ll look to do a lot more traveling then. I agree, Wayne does have a lot of experience with Iceland and would be a great resource.


  4. Planning a trip to Iceland is so much easier with your post and tips. This post is probably one of the most useful guides for there I’ve read! Is Iceland a good road trip destination?


    1. Thanks so much. I’m glad you found the information useful. We didn’t drive while we were in Iceland, so I can’t comment on the cost of rental cars or gas. There wasn’t much traffic, once you left Reykjavik and there aren’t many roads, so as long as you stick to the main highway, it might be hard to get lost. I defer to others that have experience driving to comment about the road trip aspects.


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