Travel: Win flights to IcelandBy Hilary Scott
May 01, 2012
Iceland certainly gets your pulse racing.
The volcanic earth, the snow-capped mountains, the stunning glaciers, the geysers, the hot thermal pools... gulp, the price of everything!
Iceland is not cheap even if you are used to pushing the boat out on holiday.
Which is actually a shame and may hurt this majestic country because, after fishing, tourism is Iceland’s next biggest revenue stream.
If you want to see this unique country then you have to expect to fork out for most things.
Accommodation, fortunately, is medium-priced for Europe which, of course, is a huge chunk of anyone’s holiday budget. The Radisson Blu 1919 in the centre of Reykjavik couldn’t have been better and is a reasonable price – an historical building but with ultra modern rooms, all the facilities you’d expect and really friendly and helpful staff.
Our full cooked breakfast there came in at £14, cheaper than many UK hotels. And the flights, certainly with Iceland Express which flies from Gatwick (we noted a fast check-in, really helpful staff willing to tell us where the locals go in Reykjavik and good in-flight service) and Stansted, are cheap too.
So with careful budgeting you could be canny. But with a meal for two coming in at around £100 with just a beer or two on the bill, I’d make a plan before you leave having Googled the places to eat out.
If you love fish though Reykjavik has some of the best you’ll taste. It’s a fresh as you’ll get too – from sweet lobster to the salmon-like arctic char and langoustines that are plump and so moreish. Puffin and whale, well... they are an acquired taste. And house wine comes in at £50-£60 a bottle in a restaurant, beer is £11 for a pint of Stella and, oddly, £7 for a half pint.
Most of the restaurants serve top-notch, high-end food but we (and our bank managers) liked the more casual Geysir bistro in the town square, run by two lovely ladies, where the food is fresh and organic and not particularly traditional; though you can get a fish soup or chowder and Iceland’s trademark meat, lamb or mutton.
And try the hot dog stand near the harbour for the locals’ favourite, a hot dog with cooked onions, crispy fried onions, remoulade, ketchup and mustard for about £1.50.
But really you’re not in Iceland for the food – you’re there for the scenery and the experience.
One the tourism sites say not to miss is the Blue Lagoon, the geothermal spa and the country’s top attraction.
It’s about £50 for entrance including your bus fare there and that gets you a towel, locker and entrance to the lagoon – you pay extra for robes and entrance to other areas of the spa. It is an experience to be in a freezing snowstorm as we were on the day and then plunge yourself into the 39°C water and use the silica mud that’s dotted around in buckets. There’s a ‘swim-up’ bar which serves beer and the people enjoying it the most were the 18-30s who treat the experience as party-time.
Do read up on what sort of entrance fee you want to pay before you get there as the lack of information and helpful staff inside the spa means the queues to pay are long (and even if you’ve bought a ticket from a booth in town or online, you strangely still have to queue and exchange it for entrance).
The Northern Lights experience of course is a highlight – we booked through Iceland Excursions and had a fabulous guide who did her best.
This is the best time for 50 years to see them, the recent solar activity on the sun meant an even better show. But that blanket of cloud over Iceland while we were there filled with rain and snow refused to budge and despite a six-hour drive, returning at 1.30am, we didn’t see a peep.
The good thing about the excursion is that you can return night after night for free till you see the lights – unfortunately we had booked on our last night so learn from our mistake and book early in your holiday.
And the weather kyboshed the whale watching trip too – and this was one I was looking forward to having experienced it once before off Cape Cod in the US
So we went shopping – well, window shopping.
If you can afford Icelandic wool jumpers (like Fair Isle) they are gorgeous and you can find all kinds of styles in the main Reykjavik shopping street. You can also buy volcanic jewellery fashioned in silver or gold, soft leather shoes and boots and proper hiking and mountaineering gear.
Prices start at £130 for kids’ jumpers and for fashionable women’s knitwear you’re looking at little change from £200.
So Rejkavikers are fond of their flea market held in the Tolhus by the harbour, where you can buy second-hand and vintage clothes and it’s well worth a visit.
The Icelandic people are pleasant though not over-familiar – maybe it’s the weather which changes almost by the minute (though the constant is the cold). But it will certainly make you happy if you like winter sports and there are tons of outdoor pursuits from dog sledding to hiking and geyser trips.
Further north there are smaller spas which look more exclusive than the Blue Lagoon. And we found a small hut on wheels, a mobile restaurant which parks by some spectacular scenery like waterfalls and geysers and where you can enjoy a romantic meal.
Iceland is certainly unique – and a once-in-a-lifetime trip. We loaded up with Reyka vodka at the airport, Iceland’s famous hand crafted vodka which was one of the few bargains we found (£12 – it’s about £40 back in the UK). The vodka’s slogan is “When you live on the edge of the Arctic Circle you need to know how to have fun”. And Iceland certainly provides that.
Hilary travelled with Iceland Express, the low-cost airline (see competition for details).
She stayed at the Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel in Reykjavik.
Prices for one night in a standard double room at the Radisson Blu 1919 start at 127€ in winter (room only), with breakfast 144€ (sgl) 161€ (dbl). Bookings can be made at www.radissonblu.com Tel: +354 599 1000
A three-hour whale watching tour with Elding costs £40 per person. Bookings can be made at www.elding.is Tel: +354 555 3565
A Northern Lights tour with Iceland Excursions costs £25 per person. Bookings can be made at: www.grayline.is Tel: +354 540 1313
Entry to the Blue Lagoon costs £25 per person. Further details at www.bluelagoon.com
Win flights to Iceland
We have teamed up with low-fare airline Iceland Express to offer one lucky reader and a guest the chance to experience the magic of the land of fire and ice in 2012.
Visit the capital city of Reykjavík for a memorable city break or travel further afield to see spouting geysers, black-sand beaches, the meeting point of tectonic plates and thundering waterfalls. Whatever your desire from a holiday this year, Iceland can fulfil it.
The winner will scoop two return tickets to Reykjavík from London Gatwick, including all taxes.
Iceland Express is Iceland’s low-fare airline. During the summer, the low-cost carrier connects the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík with London, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Warsaw, Billund, Berlin, Frankfurt, Basel, Bologna, Paris, Barcelona and Alicante.
The airline, which launched in 2003, operates six weekly flights between London Gatwick and Reykjavík, a twice-weekly service to Reykjavík from London Stansted and flights from Edinburgh to Reykjavík on Mondays and Thursdays.
Iceland Express offers a healthy onboard menu, has no length-of-stay restrictions and easy online booking.
Iceland Express also offers a 25 per cent discount for children under 12. Prices include a 20kg bag in the hold, a 10kg piece of cabin luggage, a check-in service, taxes, surcharges. For reservations go to www.icelandexpress.com or call (0118) 321 8384.
To enter answer this and send with your name, address and phone to email@example.com by Friday, May 4 putting Iceland Express in the subject line. Q When did Iceland Express launch?