Iceland Tour Advice?

Discussion in 'Europe' started by abdulai, Apr 11, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. abdulai
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    abdulai Silver Member

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    I'm going to Reykjavik for four days in June--the plan is to spend the first two days (including the arrival day) around the city and then use the next two days to explore the area. As I will be solo it looks like it will be cheaper and easier to do the tour thing instead of renting a car. A few questions:

    1. The Golden Circle tour appears to be obligatory. There are a million different operators that do similar tours--does anyone have a specific recommendation, or a company to avoid?

    1a. Iceland Excursions does an afternoon tour that hits the main Golden Circle sights. The midday pickup would be advantageous so I can enjoy the early sunrise late sunset the previous night. The full day tours include some extra sights along the way--is there anything outside of Þingvellir/Gulfoss/Geysir that I'll really regret not seeing if I take the shorter tour?

    2. I'd like to do a more outdoorsy tour on the other day. Iceland Mountain Guides does some neat-looking tours--Hot Springs and Lava Caves (5-6 hours) and a Walk Through Ice and Fire tour (11-12 hours). Both go to the same hot springs and then the Ice and Fire tour goes to a glacier while the lava caves tour goes to...lava caves. Anyone have experience with this tour operator or the specific sights? Is the glacier worth the extra time in the van?

    2a. Is there another tour I should consider? Should I save money and just take a bus somewhere for a day hike?
     
  2. sobore
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    sobore Gold Member

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    The archetypical lobster soup is in Reykjavik, exactly where you’d expect to find it: near the water, at a place called Saegreifinn, a sort of fish shack owned by a retired fisherman named Kjartan Halldorsson
    Article Here: http://travel.nytimes.com/2006/11/12/travel/12bite.html

    It may not be the best time of year for it, but you may want to inquire about viewing the Northern Lights.
    There may be some sort of tour available.
     
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  3. chollie
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    chollie Silver Member

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    My opinion:
    1a - go for the afternoon tour. The extra sights/sites aren't that important.

    2 - I would go on the second (Ice and Fire) tour. Caves are fine, but you can see caves other places. There is (relatively speaking) little change from year to year in this caves. The glacier tour takes you on a route that will give good views of the changes caused by Eyjafjalljokul. Yes, you see glaciers as well as caves in other places, but not too often you get to see a evidence of a recently VERY active volcano in a glacier environment. I'd go for this one.

    There are so many tours! I would focus on tours that you think will offer you something you are very unlikely/unable to see somewhere else. A whale-watching boat is great, but there are other places to go on whale-watching boats. Caves - well, there are other equally spectacular caves. But hot springs, bubbling mud pools, recently active volcanoes in glacier fields - there are fewer places you can see those kind of sights.

    You might also just browse pictures and if you see something that looks really good, there's almost sure to be a tour or bus ride to get you there.
     
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  4. Oiuyt
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    Oiuyt Silver Member

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    My wife and I are also planning to be in Reykjavik in early June for ~4 days and would appreciate any additional suggestions.

    So far we've been looking at the Golden Circle afternoon tour mentioned above, hitting the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport the day we leave (flight home departs 5:00pm), and spending a day or more on our own wandering the city. Based on this thread, I think the lobster soup will get added to that list.

    That still leaves a couple of days open. If people have more ideas we'd appreciate it.
     
  5. RichardInSF
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    RichardInSF Silver Member

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    I haven't been in any Icelandic lava caves, but I have been in lava caves in Oregon and Hawaii. They aren't very interesting. They are just tubes. Stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations don't occur in them, only in limestone caves.
     
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  6. abdulai
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    abdulai Silver Member

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    Thanks for the advice everyone. I've booked the Golden Circle afternoon tour...still thinking about the other one. Glacier is in the lead at the moment but commitment makes me nervous!
     
  7. Oiuyt
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    Oiuyt Silver Member

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    *bump*

    It's been about a month and we're a couple of weeks out from our trip. Any additional suggestions?
     
  8. yaychemistry

    yaychemistry Silver Member

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    Don't forget the blue lagoon geothermal spa. It's halfway between KEF and Reykjavik. I think the airport bus even stops there. It's definitely worth a visit for a couple hours just to soak in the warm water.

    Continuing the warm water theme, I highly recommend staying one night at Hotel Glymur in Hvalfjordur (the whale fjord). It's got great outdoor hot tubs overlooking the fjord. It's a bit pricey, but worth it (check out the hilarious video). On the way there you can drive through a tunnel underneath the fjord. And its close to the waterfall Glymur which you can hike to. When I went we met some Finns in the hot tubs who were in town for a waste management conference - quite an interesting conversation.

    Two days outside of Reykjavik probably doesn't leave much time, but if you were to return, the Westfjords are absolutely beautiful (but take the ferry from Stykkisholmur, you get to skip the boring driving and get right to the real scenic parts). If you visit in the summer then drive out to the Latrabjarg cliffs - the western tip of iceland... there you'll find the nesting grounds of thousands of puffins and out Sliceland the "Westest Pizza in Europe." The two main fjords on the western half of the Westfjords region are amazingly scenic if you don't mind driving on unpaved cliffside roads with no guardrail. There are some tour companies that run busses up there, but I don't recall their names... only the dread when squeezing past them on the outside of those cliff roads.

    Stykkisholumur itself is a neat town about half a days drive from Reykjavik where you can schedule whale watching tours (we didn't go, but heard it was the best place in western iceland to see whales). Also, near Stykkisholmur is the "farm/ranch" Bjarnhofn where Hakarl (the fermented/rotten Greenland shark) is prepared and you can sample it. It was featured by Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern on their respective shows (and was a large part of my inspiration to visit Iceland).

    If you are alone, the tours are probably a good idea, but if you have travel buddies then renting a car can be great if only for the freedom. Plus you get a much better experience at some of the tourist stops when there aren't busloads of people there. If you rent a car, I had trouble getting the self service gas station pumps to work with my US-based credit card. I was able to purchase a pre-paid card at one of the convenient stores (attached to the gas station).

    I could go on and on, but yeah... I want to go back because I barely feel like I scratched the surface!
     
  9. abdulai
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    abdulai Silver Member

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    After realizing I'd be getting up at 4:30 the next morning to catch the flybus, I decided to do the shorter Hot Springs and Lava Caves tour and was quite happy with it. Lava cave itself is not that exciting but the barren lava field landscape is cool. Hot Springs part was great. I'm sure the Hot Springs/Glacier tour would also be great, but a very long day. Guide said that they've had to postpone their trips to some glaciers because of the recent volcano eruption.

    Afternoon Golden Circle tour was fine, I wouldn't have wanted the all-day version. Not a great ratio of bus time versus seeing stuff time although of course you are seeing stuff from the bus.

    DL's JFK-KEF flight was full, and the return close to full. KEF is a bit of a mess, and if you are taking the flybus the 10:50 departure is awkward--people at the hotel were adamant that I needed to be there at least 3 hours before the flight, and therefore needed the 5:30 bus as the next one left at 7:30. Got to the airport at 6:55, check-in opened at 7:50, less than ten people in line. We made up for that at the passport control, where the line grew to several hundred people before it opened.
     
  10. Muerl
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    Muerl Gold Member

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    I am going to bump this because I am heading to Iceland Thursday for a 5 day trip ( Thursday RedEye Tuesday 5pm return)

    We have a rental car and a hotel room.

    Thinking about doing http://www.daytours.is/Tour/activit...rs/AH72_into_the_blue_-_snorkeling/Iceland.is and then doing to golden tour by car.

    Also spending 1 day wondering around Reykjavik, and definitly visiting this : http://www.lonelyplanet.com/iceland/reykjavik/sights/museum/vikin-maritime-museum

    Anyone else have thoughts or suggestions?

    I would add the Blue Lagoon either on arrival or on departure.
     
  11. iolaire
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    iolaire Gold Member

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    Last summer we spent 3 nights in Reykjavik without doing a tour - but I'd recommend against it since you miss out not seeing a lot of the countryside (assuming you are ready to spend 18 hours on a bus).

    What we did enjoy was utilizing the Reykjavik Welcome Card, primarily for free bus rides and
    * visits to the city thermal pools (if you are familiar with EU baths it might be common, but we enjoyed it quite a bit, the largest pool complex was impressive)
    * The ferry to Viðey Island
    * And surprisingly for me the visit to the Reykjavik Art Museum - Kjarvalsstadir - Jóhannes S. Kjarval's paintings were very cool
    * The Reykjavík Maritime Museum - Víkin

    Our best meal was at Cafe Haiti, where we had some great pan fried red snapper (of some name), it was cooked perfectly with a nice pan seared crust - it was so much better than the "famous" fried fish place.
     
  12. TravelBear

    TravelBear Gold Member

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    If you are not squeamish or easily offended the Phallological Museum of Iceland was a fun hour or so. We did a whale watching tour using the Elding company. The Blue Lagoon was nice even though it is all tourists.
     
  13. Muerl
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    Muerl Gold Member

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    Thank you for the tips! I think we will do a bit of a self paced tour in the car given that I am sure my Wife will not site well for 18 hour on a bus.

    Phallological Museum of Iceland sounds like a fun bit of time :)
    We are originally from Maine, so a whale watching tour has little appeal to us. Despite the Tourist I am sure the Blue Lagoon will be nice.
     
  14. TravelBear

    TravelBear Gold Member

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    The Phallological museum is in Reykjavik even though some sources say it is in Akureyri.

    Oh the church Hallgrímskirkja offers great 360 degree views of the whole city. And the Harpa should have a nice light display for evening walks.

    Can I go with you? I really enjoyed Iceland. It's very laid back. Just my style.
     
  15. Muerl
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    Muerl Gold Member

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    Iceland actually amazed me for the reasonable cost of the ticket. I just booked a weekend a month later to CVG and it only cost $90 more to fly to Iceland :(
     
  16. colt245

    colt245 Silver Member

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    Be careful with the northern lights - there's all kinds of excursions available but only a very small chance of actually seeing them. If you do your research and find a tour guide that knows their stuff your more likely to go at the right time to see them. Unmissable.
     
  17. Muerl
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    Muerl Gold Member

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    It was the wrong time to see them definitely when I was there.

    So for the record, since we were a pair, we just rented a car and drove. We got a small set of highlights of places worth seeing and had a wonderful time.

    We spend our first and last day in and around Reykjavik, the first day exploring and we visited the Vikin Museum which was more or less all about fishing, though the coast guard boat tour was awesome, climbed around the bowel of a ship for the first time :)

    The middle 3 We drove all around. The first day we drove as far south as Vik stopping along the way to climb up to waterfalls and see volcanos. Word of advice : "Foss" is Icelandic for waterfall. If there is a sign, its worth stopping for usually. The drive contained a lot of "Pull over and look at amazing batman"

    We had lunch in Vik took pictures of the beach and then drove back west. Stopped at the Cliffs on the ocean and then the real treat of the day was driving about 4km up a dirt track to Solheimajokull (jokull is Glacier) and being able to actually walk up to and on a Glacier.

    The second day we drove North. Taking the long way around the Fjord, seeing some amazing views and a viking farmhouse ruin. From there we drove on to West Iceland as far as Snaefellsjoekul which we attempted to hike up to but only got as far as Sönghellir which was a cave with 150 years of names carved into it.

    Ate lunch at an amazing boutique hotel, Hótel Búðir, on the recommendation of a friend's Aunt who grew up in the country.

    The next day we did our own Golden Circle, the only thing we did guided was snorkeling in thingveller which was peaceful and relaxing. Also there was cliff jumping. We drove from there to Geysir and to Gullfoss. The latter two are huge turist traps, but are amazing. Stopped at Kerið a volcanic craiter on the way home which was cool as well.

    The last day we slept in, and then went and bought gifts and some serious wool outwear for our selves.

    There will hopefully soon be some pictures up on our blog, http://blog.mattloveslauren.com/

    We traveled the the 10th-14th of May, which was the last weekend of "Winter" which ment everything was less expensive. I would recommend shoulder season as Iceland is pricey enough as is. Also, there was still snow, but only at the higher elevations.

    If anyone has other iceland questions, I am happy to answer.
     

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