Iceland has been at the top of places to visit for the last two years. Since WOW Air introduced less expensive alternatives to visiting Iceland, the travel blogosphere has been flooded with tales and amazing photos of Iceland trips. Of course, we had to get in on the action before it was too late.
After suffering a severe economic collapse in 2008, Iceland has put itself back on the map in terms of its economy. Tourism has played a big role in this recovery along with all the austerity measures, capital controls, etc that the government put into place. Iceland hosted 1.8 million visitors last year alone and plans to see another 2.3 million this year. For a country with 330,000 people, that’s nearly seven times the locals in transitory population!
Once it was decided that our goal was Iceland this summer, I researched various airlines for award tickets but the picture was pretty dismal. We also wished to travel with two other families. After several days of studying airline prices, in late January, the JJ family decided to book an eleven day trip to Iceland – and Norway. Only one of the two families was able to join us on this trip eventually.
Icelandair is the main airline of Iceland and offers a free seven-day stopover in Iceland en route to other destinations. We took advantage of this option en route to Oslo, Norway, which is only a 3 hour trip from Reykjavík. Icelandair also offers free baggage check in for each passenger which was invaluable on this trip. Not surprisingly, most flights leave from the Atlantic seaboard cities and the Pacific Northwest with a smattering of flights from Denver, Chicago and Minneapolis. We chose to depart from Boston as it had the most reasonable times and prices for us.
To get to Boston and back, we used a combination of American and Southwest miles that our families had accumulated, helping to scale back the costs of the trip.
June is the start of summer in Iceland and mid June to August is heavy tourist season. We decided to leave right after start of summer vacation, which meant lighter crowds and prolonged daylight. In fact, we never saw the sun truly set and it remained light outside all night long.
Since we had a total of five full days in Iceland, we chose to explore the southern and eastern part of the island. Driving in Iceland is similar to the US and most roads are well paved. Camper vans, tourist buses, hitchhiking are all various options to get around. We chose to drive and booked car rentals via Sixt. We downloaded Google maps ahead of time to use offline.
I have read that Iceland is the third most windiest place on Earth, and the first two are not inhabited. This was, indeed, true on our trip. There are few trees on the island and the wind chill is quite intense making for a cold walk even on a warm sunny day. We took layers of clothing, but I did not pack any gloves or ear muffs that would have helped tremendously. We took good waterproof shoes, rain jackets, and wind resistant jackets. It was hilarious walking through the DFW airport sporting jeans and heavy jackets in the heat of summer! I really liked this blog post and this one for packing essentials and other tips.
Credit cards are widely used in Iceland, so we carried only a small amount of Icelandic Krona. Stay and travel in Iceland is not cheap. I had been collecting Club Carlson points for a couple of years in hopes of making it to Reykjavík one day. We redeemed those points for our stay in Reykjavik for three nights. The other two nights were paid stays that were in the range of $400 per night around the Vik area. Accommodations were limited here, so we chose a hostel room instead of a B and B.
To save costs, we carried plenty of snacks for kids and adults and refillable bottles for water. We also took a small electric rice cooker along with pasta/ sauce, rice and noodles and got creative with our cooking. Having bags of cereal/ Nutella for breakfast also helped.
As far as Norway, we decided to spend the first and last days sightseeing in Oslo and do the Norway in a Nutshell tour for the remaining two days in between. This meant travel across some of the most beautiful, picturesque parts of Norway and a stay at Bergen, the old Norwegian capital. The weather in Norway is much warmer than in Reykjavík. Food and gas prices are also much more reasonable in Norway than in Iceland. We used Choice Hotel points to book rooms. All hotels in Norway have a maximum three person occupancy, so we had to book three rooms per night.
Because of the extensive travel in Norway, we did not plan on cooking any meals, choosing to eat heavy breakfasts at the hotels and then finding reasonable places for the other meals.
As with Iceland, credit cards are widely accepted in Norway. English is well spoken in both countries so we didn’t have to worry about learning the language. We had an interesting time learning to pronounce Icelandic names and that remains a work in progress. Icelandic language has Indo-European roots and has remained insular since the first settlers, allowing few outside influences to change or corrupt it. What the current generation of Icelandic kids read is the very same language used by their ancestors that settled the land originally! How wonderful to have that connection!
All our research showed that both countries have options for vegetarians and our trip validated that. Now that all the basics have been covered, I hope you will stick with the JJ family as we explore Iceland and Norway, with our friends, over the next few days.