Is Iceland The Most Romantic Vacation Destination In The World?

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For all of you expats in a long distance relationship with a partner back in Europe, Iceland might be the most perfect, romantic half way meet up on earth!

Iceland is only a few hours from the U.S. east coast, even less from much of Europe, and boasts some of the most rugged, unspoiled yet accessible terrain in the hemisphere. Throw in whale watching, a capital city seemingly designed for exploring on foot, and a fascinating culture, and you have something special to share together. After my own recent visit, I’ve got some great tips to ensure a terrific vacation. And don’t forget, Iceland features a number of Game of Thrones locations as well!

Getting There, and There

Is Iceland Your Next Vacation? Image Source: Visit Iceland

One of the great things about Iceland is how accessible it is.

Flights from the east coast of the U.S. take only about five hours. You can get to Iceland from places like Amsterdam in about three. Best of all, if you fly Icelandair, a stopover of up to seven days is free, meaning you can book a trip from New York to Madrid, with a few days in Iceland along the way, at no extra charge. Keep in mind that your return trip will also require a change of planes in Iceland, and the free stopover is only available on one leg, the to- or the from- journey.

All flights go in and out of Keflavik (the old NATO base featured in Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising), not Reykjavik Airport, which handles domestic flights only. Keflavik airport is a bit smaller than it might be for as much traffic as it handles, so expect some delays when arriving and especially departing. When people tell you that arriving three hours ahead of your flight is a safe bet, believe them. Passport and Customs is quick and efficient, however, and the whole place has WiFi, some shops, and a few restaurants to ease any waiting.

Onward to Reykjavik

Is Iceland Your Next Vacation? Image Source: Wunderscape travel

Your first big decision is how to get into Reykjavik city, the capitol and place where almost everyone’s Iceland vacation begins.

First choice for many is one of two bus lines, Grayline and Flybus. They both charge about the same for the 45-minute trip, and both run near 24/7 during the tourist season. The big difference is that each company services a different series of stops once inside Reykjavik city. It is very important to research which one stops closest to your hotel or guesthouse, as listed on their websites. In most cases, the big airport bus will bring you into Reykjavik to transfer to a mini-van to the hotels. Baggage is handled efficiently and nobody expects tips.

Is Iceland Your Next Vacation? Image Source: Adventurous travels

For smaller places or AirBnB, be sure to ask the owner in advance which company and which stop is best. The bus drivers are unlikely to know. Don’t be that person who was on my bus with only her AirBnB address trying to convince the bus driver to follow her iPhone’s turn-by-turn directions. He didn’t; she may still be wandering the streets of town looking for her rental.

Taxis from the airport to town can run well over US$100.

The other option to consider is renting a car at the airport. You may want to have the car for exploring (see below) anyway, and the drive into town is fairly easy and well-marked. Be sure to figure in local insurance costs in the price, as whatever you have at home is very unlikely to cover you abroad. Gas runs about $4 a gallon. On the other hand, you’ll start off by saving the airport bus fares for two round-trips.

Where to Stay

There are four basic options.

For each option, it’s location, location, location. Unless you have a rental car, or get good at navigating the limited public bus system, moving from a location out of town to somewhere less out of town (such as Reykjavik city center) is hard, trending toward pretty impossible for a visitor. Another issue is to make sure to book ahead of time during the summer season when even small places fill up.

Hotels are the most expensive. Inside Reykjavik, they are centrally located and have all the amenities you expect. You get your own shower and toilet, no sharing necessary. You have maximum privacy and room service on call. The Hilton is the biggest and has conference and catering facilities if that is part of your trip.

Is Iceland Your Next Vacation? Image Source: Boston Magazine

Guesthouses are the most popular places to stay. Iceland has a limited major tourist season, and so it makes no sense to have hotel capacity that will sit empty most of the year. The gap is taken up by guesthouses, smaller places open only when the crowds are around. That said, a guesthouse is not a guesthouse. It pays to do your research. The best (and most expensive) are closer in style to B+Bs, quaint, cozy and nice, with personal touches.

The most common are converted private apartments, with clean, private rooms and shared showers and toilet facilities. Often times you only are sharing with three or four other couples, and Iceland’s fanatic cleanliness ensures the place is clean. Breakfast is included or a small extra charge, and can range from buffet style to a fridge full of food for a serve-yourself meal. Many places have cooking facilities you can use as you see fit, great for those with special dietary needs.

IIs Iceland Your Next Vacation? Image Source: Guest House Brenna

The semi-communal style is a great way to meet other travelers and pick up information, and you might even make some new friends. Watch for guesthouses that are really more like European-style hostels, unless that’s your preference and you enjoy staying up all night listening to Euro-bros relieve themselves of the boatloads of beer they drank earlier. One clue is that hostel-like places offer shared sleeping areas while most guesthouses do not.

AirBnb’s are all over Iceland, and can represent great value. Just watch that location business, as some are located far from transportation networks.

Camping is not an option inside Reykjavik, but very much something to consider if you are exploring the rest of Iceland. Keep in mind the weather can change hourly, some parts of Iceland are at elevation, and it can get cold even in mid-July. Not an option for first-timers, though you can rent cozy trailers that soften the blow. Might be romantic, might drive you both running in opposite directions.

Is Iceland Your Next Vacation? Image Source: Drifter Alley

Remember during summer Iceland approaches daylight 20 hours a day. An eye mask to help you sleep at night is a great investment.

Iceland is very LGBTQ friendly (same-sex marriage has been legal since 2010.) Same-sex couples at the two guesthouses we stayed at all said they encountered no issues and felt welcome everywhere. Tourist information aimed specifically at same-sex couples is easily found.

So there are your logistics for Iceland: easy to get too, lots of options on places to stay. Now, for what to do once you’ve unpacked and settled in, hit the link for Part II…

Part II: Is Iceland The Most Romantic Vacation Destination In The World?- Part 2

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