Iceland is a breathtaking beautiful Nordic Island country with amazing natural wilderness. With it's population of 332,529 (2016, Wikipedia) 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), this is absolutely one of the most relaxing country to travel to.
Since there was an opportunity to travel to London in March 2016, I had decided to check out the Northern Light for this once in a life time trip. It was a tough decision on which country to chase the Northern Light: Norway, Finland, Sweden, Scotland, Iceland etc, but I chose Iceland since a few of my friends came back with Aurora Light experience every night during their holiday.
Airport and transfer
There were two Airport Shuttle Bus companies in Keflavik International Airport (Reykjavic, Iceland): Grayline & Flybus. The price difference was just ISK100 per person, I just chose Flybus simply for the shorter queue since the bus was leaving soon and I didn't want to wait for 30 mins for the next available bus. You can order online to pre-book it, alternatively just buy the ticket on arrival like me.
For convenience purpose, I purchased the return ticket with the door to door service - dropped me off right in front of the hotel. The shuttle bus provides drop off at hotel, hostels, apartments and guesthouses or bus stop if that's closer to your holiday rental location.
The shuttle bus companies stated that there was wifi services on the bus, unfortunately the service was so poor that I couldn't log on at all.
Renting a car or going with Tours?
This is a very popular question that many travelers raised and yet some prefer renting a car while some prefer tours. Ultimately, it depends on your driving experience and also your knowledge towards the local destination.
If I were to visit Iceland during summer and Aurora Light was not my priority, I would definitely rent a car for this trip. Below were my reasons of going with some individual tours (i.e. Aurora Chasing Night Tour, Golden Circle Day tour and over night tours).
1. Winter & Weather Condition
It was snowing during our visit and it wasn't easy to drive in snow with it's slippery road and strong snow condition. Even with the experienced local driver, she was driving very carefully while snowing with strong wind condition.
2. Get tired
It is definitely okay to drive for the whole day to anywhere you want to go/ take turn to drive but it is tiring to drive for long hours. Don't get me wrong, road trip was fun too but given a short holiday - it wasn't a bad idea to let the expert drive while we could rest warmly in the vehicle. We had a whole day visiting many places and yet all the travelers in the bus was taking naps along the way and still looked tired. Imagine if you have a jet lag?
Our priority was Aurora Borealis/ Northern light, what is the best way to chase the light? Let the expert do the job, they had the walkie talkie radio frequencies to communicate with each other in order to find the clearer spot for Aurora Light. We have friends who rented a car and drove around for 7 nights to chase the Northern Light by themselves, they ended up with no luck for the trip (could have driven the wrong direction). For us, the driver took photo of every travelers with the amazing northern light! We had time to enjoy the magnificent view with plenty of time to take photos, learn photography skill with the local and even made some new friends from different countries.
4. Possible Car Break Down
We saw some cars broke down along the road during our tours, it was such a pity. Once the car breakdown, it takes time to call for the assistance/ file paperwork/ car replacement etc.
5. Save time
During the tour, our drivers explained the destination information throughout the day so that we understand the culture and history to enjoy the maximum experience. Sometimes they dropped us off in one location and picked us up from the other end of the walk, parking was never an issue to us. Given limited time frame, we were quite happy to save time on these to enjoy the convenience.
Having said that, I'm sure those experienced and knowledgeable drivers would love to travel by cars.
Iceland has small population hence walking in the town was fun, like you will never bump into someone. It was absolutely relaxing to breath in icy fresh air, drinking Icelandic water while overlooking those snow mountains right in front of me.
Icelandic Seafood & Lamb
From my research, the famous exotic Icelandic food are:
- Kæstur hákarl: Treated Shark which has been prepared by a fermentation process (buried underground for 6-12 weeks) and then hung to dry for 4-5 months.
- Svið: smoked sheep's head
- Sheep's head jelly
- Puffin: Friendly Seabird
- Skyr: Icelandic Yogurt
Well, I am happy with just Icelandic Plokkfiskur - Fish Stew! It is a dish with boiled fresh cod mashed with potatoes and roux-based white sauce served with Icelandic rye bread slices and butter. Oh my, normal seafood just right for me..... I really couldn't bring myself to trying the sheep's head, not a chance!
How much things cost
You may wonder how much do things generally cost in Iceland, below are just some personal rough indication:
Entre/ Appetizer/ Soup/ Dessert/ Beer: Start from ISK 800 +
Main Course/ Hot Meal: Start from 1,800 +
Taxi: Approx 10mins or 6km ~ ISK 2,650 - ISK 3,450
These are just indication, for example my favourate Fish Stew costed ISK 2,200 and Pizza could cost ISK 2,000 - ISK 3,000 so this is just for reference.
Credit Card/ Cash
Iceland is a place where credit cards work most of the time, we only carried small amount of cash during the trip and used credit card to pay for most items. You may want to check with your credit card company for the transaction fees if they are not in favor of foreign transaction.
Icelandic Horse (Nordic Horse)
When I saw those cute little Icelandic horse during my road trip, I sent those photos to family and friends but they all had the same question: "Oh, the donkeys were so adorable!"
Hm... They were Icelandic horses ~ Gentle, short and hairy... Most importantly, they were friendly!
Back to thousand years ago, the Vikings arrived in Iceland with their small Nordic horses. Until today, the breed remains pure due to the breed isolation. According to the Icelandic law, horses are not allowed to import into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return.
Wanna keep yourself warm? Bring along some heat packs!
Since I chose to visit during Winter, there was no doubt that my fingers were in pain when I took my gloves off to take photos. How cold was that? Well, my fully-charged mobile phone's battery went down to zero after I took it out for a few minutes to take some photos! So yup, it was BLOODY COLD!
I was glad to have found those disposable heat pack online and bought dozen of those before my departure, it kept me warm (warmed up to 50 degree and last for 8 - 14 hours each pack) throughout that trip. Those heat pack were from Korean or Japan and were sold like around $1 each.
Iceland, a beautiful Nordic Island Nation that shows the Ice world with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, lava field and a popular location for Aurora Borealis / Northern Light.