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Weekend In Iceland: Reykjavik & Beyond

A huge thanks to my sister Georgina for this magical review…

Sometimes you just need a little time away from the Mayhems.

We managed to score three nights away from the kiddies in early October, and headed to Iceland for a long weekend.

Iceland - George & Chris

Planning the trip

Flights were booked to Keflavik airport (Reykjavik) direct with Easyjet, and car hire through www.rentalcars.com. I looked at travel agent sites to get an idea for our itinerary, and then used Tripadvisor and a few online articles to find our hotels. We considered renting an apartment through airbnb. This would have been ideal if we had taken the kids with us, but as it was just the two of us we opted for the convenience of hotel stays. We planned one night in Reykjavik (at Hotel Borg), and two nights in the countryside (at Hotel Ranga), to maximise our chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

Getting there

It took 2.5 hours to fly to Reykjavik from London, and I have to admit that it was a breeze flying without the little ones in tow! Keflavik airport is bigger than I had expected, but it was quiet, and we didn’t have to wait long for our luggage or car rental.

Exploring Reykjavik

We drove straight to the city, although many tourists stop at the Blue Lagoon as it is right by the airport. Google Maps got us to our hotel in less than an hour. We knew in advance that the hotel didn’t have its own car park, so once we arrived in the small town centre we just went round the one way system until we found one of the many small car parks.

Hotel Borg was a gem for the price. Great location, lovely art deco design, comfortable rooms, and friendly staff. I had been a bit worried by reviews on Tripadvisor saying that it was noisy but we didn’t notice any problems. We had a great afternoon and evening exploring the city, with a delicious dinner at Fish Company, a lovely breakfast at the Laundromat Café, and incredible hot chocolate at Slipbarinn.

Driving the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is the popular route taken by visitors to Iceland’s tourist hotspots. We didn’t particularly want to get stuck behind coachloads of tourists, but we didn’t want to miss the main sites, so we thought that we would give it a go. We had a great day driving through Thingvellir National Park, seeing the waterfall at Gullfoss and the geyser at … Geysir.

Iceland - geyser

The roads were very easy to drive and the main sites were well signposted.

Iceland Driving

The waterfall at Gullfoss was a bit underwhelming (especially compared with what we saw the following day) but we really enjoyed Thingvellir and Geysir. We had intended to visit a thermal bath too, but the ones we passed on our route weren’t quite what we had had in mind. Fontana Spa and the Secret Lagoon were both recommended online, but the former looked like a very clinical, overdeveloped spa, and the latter looked like an overpriced outdoor pool for locals. Maybe we missed something, but we were too busy enjoying the amazing scenery to be bothered about it!

Stargazing and seeing the elusive Northern Lights

After a few hours driving around and sightseeing we were very pleased to arrive at our home for the next two nights. Hotel Ranga looks and feels like a big, cosy, log cabin. We were warmly welcomed, and signed up to the Northern Lights wakeup call. It felt incredibly luxurious to know that we could simply go to bed and await a call if the Northern Lights appeared, rather than having to go out on some kind of all night superjeep adventure. We settled in and enjoyed happy hour in the bar, the outdoor hot tub, and some lovely food, but the skies were cloudy and we slept through peacefully until the morning.

Iceland - Rainbow

The next day we set out towards Vik, on the southern shore of Iceland, passing some spectacular waterfalls at Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. These were an absolute highlight of the trip – take waterproof/walking shoes to get round to the back of the falls, and watch out for the weather-hardened fisherman at the base of Seljalandsfoss. We had a great, simple lunch at Gamla Fjosio and then drove on to see the black sand beach at Vik, although we could have happily ended our day after the waterfalls.

We returned to Hotel Ranga with our fingers crossed, and we were not disappointed. Halfway through dinner the manager (who came and spoke to every guest, every single evening) came in to inform us that the Lights were showing in the skies, and that the kitchen would wait for us while we went out to see them.   All of the guests poured outside and watched as the light danced overhead.

Iceland - northern lights 2

We returned to dinner and went back outside to see the Lights and also to learn about the stars. We stumbled through the darkness to the hotel’s stargazing hut. Once there, we were given a vivid tour of the night sky by the hotel’s resident astronomer. He answered all of our questions and even took some great photos of us to keep as a memento.

Iceland Northern Lights

What made the trip stand out to us?

Iceland felt like an incredibly different, ‘exotic’ destination, within a relatively short flight time from London. The people were very friendly, everyone spoke English, the food was delicious and the sites were spectacular. The weather was cold, but not freezing, and the main sites were very easy to navigate. The only main downside was the cost. The hotels, car hire and flights were not unreasonable, but food and drink felt significantly more expensive than you would normally expect on a weekend away.

Would we return with the kids?

Iceland is a very child-friendly destination. The people are very friendly and I saw highchairs in most of the restaurants we ate in. We saw a number of families with children at the main tourist sites, and a few families with young children at Hotel Ranga. I’d probably wait until our kids (currently aged 2 and 4) are a bit older, so that they could enjoy some of the walks and sites a bit more. Until then, we’ll just have to see if we can sneak away again without them ….

 Iceland - view

1 comment

  1. george

    You have collected nice pictures of your trip.

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