This will be quite a lengthy blogpost than usual so please bear with us! Going to Iceland was surprisingly easy but hard to navigate around. Giving you all the tips we can from getting a visa, what to do, where to stay and even tips on how to survive a trip there! :)
On applying for a tourist Schengen visa:
– For you to enter Iceland, you would need a Schengen Visa. We were advised by our travel agent that it would be harder to make Iceland our point of entry to the Schengen area so we made it Paris, hence the last-minute visit. It’s trickier because Iceland doesn’t have an embassy here and you have to pass by Norway so the process time would take longer and the people they give visas to are limited.
– You can also opt to make France your way to get one and here are tips on how to or London if you haven’t been (find out how we got ours in 24 hours) but if you have already been there, you can choose from any of these :) Personally, it’s better to have another point of entry and make this a place you haven’t been to so you can hit two birds with one stone!
Hotels we stayed in:
– A lot of people make the mistake of booking a hotel in the main city, Reykjavik, and travel back and forth to places. Some travel to the main bus stop and take those to go to tourist places while others drive for 4-6 hours a day just to get back to their hotel in the capital. Franco booked all of ours and after thorough research, he found out that it’s better to just make stops in the cities along the way and sleep in hotels that are nearest to our next destination. We picked the best ones we could find, meaning they’re quite pricey. Every cent was worth it though because towns and spots are so far apart that coming is a smart decision. I swear, you spend almost 70% of your day in the car, travelling from one place to the other that it gets so tiring! Especially for the one driving. If you want to opt for cheaper hotels, check the towns these hotels are in and they may have options that fit your budget :)
Reyjavik: Canopy Hilton. It’s probably the most artsy Hilton hotel there is and you’ll just love the interiors and the whole vibe of the place! Service is great too :)
Vik: Icelandair. It’s the best hotel in the area and for the price we paid, it wasn’t worth it. The interiors were very plain, the restaurant is crazy expensive (there were only 3 in that town) and the staff weren’t helpful with anything at all. They were the kind of people who would make you feel bad for checking in. We asked for suggestions about what to do around the area and they just gave us this “wtf” look! lol The free breakfast was complete and good though but still didn’t make up for the bad service the hotel had.
Öræfi: Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. It’s hard to beat Canopy Hilton with interiors and service but Fosshotel comes to a very close second. What made this our favorite though was the Northern Lights experience we had here plus the good food they had in the restaurant both for dinner and breakfast. That’s hard to find in Iceland, by the way.
Keflavik: Northern Lights Inn. A budget hotel that honestly looks like a mental hospital. We had no choice though as the hotel we initially wanted to stay in was fully booked. However, given that a room costs only 100 euros a night, (already cheap in Iceland unless you stay in hostels), it had hot water, free breakfast, water, coffee & tea all day and the staff were really helpful!
How we got there:
We flew from Paris to Reyjavik via Wow Air (it’s a budget airline of Iceland) and went back to London from Reykjavik using British Airways.
What to wear in Iceland during winter:
It was not as cold as how we expected it to be especially with the country being named Iceland! lol The range of the temperature during the time we were there was only from 7 to 2 degrees in celsius. Here’s how we survived the cold! :)
– We bought heat tech leggings, long sleeves and gloves from Uniqlo while we got our winter socks from Marks and Spencer. We had 4 layers on top, 2 layers on the bottom, 2 pairs of socks and 1 pair of gloves on. That’s without our winter jacket yet.
– A winter bubble jacket. We got ours from LIGHT IN THE BOX and the coats we got from high street brands did nothing compared to how these coats we’re wearing in the blog post warmed us up! The fact that it had a hood and it was waterproof made our lives so much easier.
– Buy snow/winter hiking boats. While ours didn’t have spikes on them, the soles were waterproof so made it easier for us to hike and climb as some of the spots you will go to will need you to do this. Not only did the boots warm us up but helped us survive all the walking too! :)
We only went to the South side of Iceland but we met some tour guides that told us to see the most beautiful parts of the country, you have to go to the most northern part. It would’ve been so hard for Franco though since he drove the whole time! haha We stayed for 6 days but we know people who went and travelled all over from 10 days to two weeks. In our opinion, 6-8 days will be enough, just make sure to research well and do all activities that suit your taste. Here’s our itinerary:
Skaftafell National Park
The Blue Lagoon
You will mostly see these four in Iceland: Mountains, Glaciers, Waterfalls and Beaches. These are about 1 to 5 hours away from each other so we picked the best that we could see in the south. Unfortunately, it was raining for two days during our stay there so we didn’t get to see the Black Beach where a scene from Game of Thrones was shot :( I was really looking forward to that so hopefully you will see it when you go! :) If you’re wondering why we didn’t make a trip to the very touristy Golden Circle, we wanted to take pictures and see beyond of what it already usually seen online.
1. If the main reason you’re going to Iceland is to see the Aurora Borealis, go during winter it is more visible from November till Feb.
2. However, note that its pure luck to see the Northern Lights. It’s not every night, even during winter, that she’ll appear on the sky. We saw it twice while we have friends who were lucky to see them everyday yet there are stories we heard that they didn’t get to see it at all. Once it gets cloudy, it’s not visible anymore.
3. It’s best to see the Northern Lights when you’re farther from the city or anywhere where the sky is black. It can be scary to go out and hunt for it sometimes but the country only has 300,000 inhabitants and a close to 0% crime rate so what will scare you are your thoughts of White Walkers walking around! lol On our last night, we wanted to see it for the third time around and the concierge in the hotel said that we will have to drive about 20 minutes away from Keflavik to see it. As we drove further away from the city, it got darker and darker. Like always, there was no one else on the road… just us, the headlights of our car and the paranoid thoughts we had in our head. Well, guess what we did 5 minutes into it? we drove back to the hotel. hahahaha!
4. FOOD IS VERY EXPENSIVE. A meal from a gasoline station or a pit stop will cost you around 1,500 pesos and that’s fried food, some fries and a drink. While a proper meal in the cities you will stop in will cost you at an average of 3,500 pesos a meal. No drink yet just water. Plus the food’s kind of bland. Lucky you, if the hotel you’ll be staying in has a place to cook! If do get the chance, buy groceries in the nearest place you can and cook.
5. We would suggest to drive around Iceland instead of taking a tour. It turns out almost 100,000 pesos cheaper and it’s at your own pace and time. Plus you get to pick your own hotel.
6. Stay an extra 2 or three days in Reykjavik. It’s such a charming town and you get to try their exotic Icelandic food which we didn’t get to. If you’re not an animal advocate or love to try different meats from around the world, they serve Puffin and shark meat. Again, don’t worry, we didn’t do it! We heard their hotdogs are pretty special too.
7. Book weeks in advance for The Blue Lagoon so you’ll get to choose the time you want to go to. We booked two days before Iceland and we got a slot at 8 am! 8 am in Iceland is like 4:30 am in Manila so imagine, we were already in the lagoon at that time! hahaha
8. During the winter time, there is only 4 hours of daylight, that’s from 11 am till 3 pm, so it’s best to plan and leave your hotel about 2-3 hours before sunrise.
9. The most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen was here. We suggest waiting for it somewhere beautiful so that your pictures will look 100x better.
10. Don’t forget to bring a tripod. It’s impossible to take photos of The Northern Lights without this! Also, use the timer of your camera :) We just watched tutorials on YouTube and it’s best to practice before hand.
11. Use this site to know the predictions of seeing Aurora: Northern Lights Forecast.
12. Make friends with other travellers. It takes a lot to go to Iceland so you will meet the some of the most passionate ones here.
13. NO ATM MACHINES OR CURRENCY EXCHANGE ALONG THE WAY ONCE YOU’VE LEFT REYKJAVIK. Bring all the cash you need but if you opt to pay with your credit card, almost all establishments accept it. We put this last so you’ll remember it ;)
Hope you’ll have your Icelandic adventure soon! It’s worth it, I promise! :)
Coats from LIGHT IN THE BOX, Pants and Heat Tech from Uniqlo, Shoes from Amazon