17 Aug Flatlanders In Iceland – The Family Guide To Planning A Trip To Iceland
At Flatlanders In, our goal is to provide other travelers with guides to visiting destinations around the world in an effort to help others make decisions about their travel destinations. We’re excited to launch our blog with a series of blog posts detailing our recent trip to Iceland.
As this was our first trip to this amazing island, we thought our experiences in both planning and traveling around the country could help others who are considering this as a destination.
Because there is so much content to be covered, we decided to break the trip up into a series of blog posts so we could give the planning process it’s own post, as well as giving each day of the itinerary a full blog post. We’ll also be adding a guide to driving around Iceland (including our recommendations about car rental), as well as a tips and tricks post that we jotted down along the way.
The detailed list of the blog posts in this series is below.
Flatlanders Guide To Iceland Blog Post Index
- The Family Guide To Planning A Trip To Iceland
- Our Iceland Itinerary As A Starting Point For Your Trip
- Day 1 – Reykjavik and the Golden Circle
- Day 2 – Hella to Höfn – Holy Cow!!
- Day 3 – Hofn to Neskaupstadur – Scenic cliff drives along Eastern Iceland
- Day 4 – Neskaupstadur to Akureryi via Husavik – Hikes, Hot Pots, and Harbors
- Day 5 – A day in Akureyri watching whales
- Day 6 – Akureyri to Stykkishólmur – Gravel roads, remote waterfalls, and an amazing hamburger
- Day 7 – Stykkishólmur to Reykjavik – Seal Beach, A stop in Bifrost, and exploring Reykjavik
- Day 8 – A day in Reykjavik exploring the food, culture, and shopping
- Day 9 – Spend the morning in Reykjavik and then head home to Kansas City
- Packing and Preparing For Your Iceland Trip
NOTE: To “watch” the visual story of our trip, you can review all 100 photos in our Iceland 2019 Instagram highlight. The story progresses in the order of the nine-day itinerary as listed above.
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To Start…Should You Consider A Trip To Iceland?
The short answer to this question is…YES!
The longer answer to this question is ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY YES!
The island of Iceland is an experience. I liken it to visiting Hawaii. It’s hard to explain to people what a magical place it is. The scenery is phenomenal. The people are friendly and helpful. The options for getting to and traveling around the island are multiple. The food offers a broad range of options.
It’s just a great place to visit.
How Much Does It Cost To Take A Trip To Iceland?
To be up-front, this is a more expensive trip. I would estimate approximately $1,500 – $2,000 per person if you are going to be staying at moderately-priced hotels or cabins and eating “touristy” fare. It can be done for less, if you are going to camp and obviously can get very expensive if you’re going to stay at high-end hotels.
Keep in mind that when you travel can make a difference, as well. We visited in July/August, which is their peak tourism season, so the $2,000 per person estimate was about right. We also traveled with two teens, so it was better at times to let them have their own hotel room. At other times, we all slept in a cabin that had enough beds for everyone, but no one got their own room.
Other factors that are going to influence the cost of your trip include:
1) How you fly to Iceland and where you fly from – We are located in Kansas and Iceland Air offers a direct flight from Kansas City International to Reykjavik. We also booked our flights almost 6 moths in advance, allowing us to book at good prices.
2) How long you stay and how far you travel – Our trip was a nine day itinerary, and took us around both the Golden Circle and the Ring Road (more about those later). Because this was a road trip around nearly the entire island, we had to budget for car rental and fuel.
3) What you do when you get there – There are sooo many free things to do in Iceland. Hiking mountains, walking beaches, exploring canyons and waterfalls, taking photographs of wildlife, visiting museums and churches, and a host of other options. Other attractions, like the larger mineral baths (aka hotpots), whale watching or puffin tours, and other tourist attractions can cost money.
In our case, about the only thing we really paid for was entrance to a mineral bath and a whale watching tour. Nearly everything else we did was free, with a parking charge or two in a couple of cases.
If you use the $2,000 per person budget as a starting point, I think it will allow you to evaluate where you might be able to cut costs or splurge a bit.
Why Did We Choose Iceland As A Travel Destination?
There were a few reasons that we picked Iceland and all of them came together to culminate in this amazing adventure. For the most part, the factors were:
Our Kids Had Both Expressed Interest In Visiting Iceland
Our kids are older teens and we wanted to go somewhere that would be exciting for them. Our daughter is in college and our son is in high school, so we wanted to choose somewhere that they would remember. We wanted an exciting adventure!
Additionally, both of them had expressed interested in visiting Iceland. Since Iceland Air now offers direct flights from KCI, they have been advertising a lot in the Kansas City area, so the possibility had caught both of their attention.
Fun Iceland Fact: Iceland was originally named “Snowland” by the first visitors but the name was changed to Iceland when the first viable settlers were able to live through the harsh winters.
Trust me…when both of your teenagers agree on something that you also want to do…grab on to that moment 😉
Direct Flights From Kansas City International Made It (Relatively) Cost Effective And Convenient
Being in the middle of the United States has its benefits. Travel to Europe is not one of them.
In order to get to Europe, we usually would have to take a connecting flight to a larger city like Chicago or Newark in order to get to Europe. In the case of Iceland, however, Iceland Air offered a direct, 6.5 hour flight from Kansas City. This was a huge bonus for us, since Deb is not a big fan of flying and the time making connections sometimes fuels her anxiety.
In the case of a direct overnight flight, she could board the plane, go to sleep, and wake up in Iceland. Good theory, worked to perfection.
We Had Friends Who Highly Recommended Iceland As A Family Trip
Because of the Iceland Air direct flight, we have several friends who have made the journey. Some of the words/phrases they used to describe their trips were:
- A photographer’s dream
- Green…just green (which is hard to understand until you go)
- Rustic and friendly
Oddly, every one of these recommendations appealed to us. Especially, the “rustic and friendly” one.
Iceland’s Summer Climate Was Appealing
Deb and I have traveled to a lot of different climates during different seasons. We have done things like experiencing the Yucatan peninsula during the hot and humid Summer. We have also seen blizzards or extreme hail and even tornadoes ruin a vacation.
In other words, we know that climate should play a role in planning our trips. Sometimes we travel despite the predicted weather because the deal is so good and take our chances (we once were on a cruise ship in 30 foot swells), but on expensive trips we definitely take the weather into account.
With Iceland, we knew that the weather during July/August was expected to be in the 50s – 60 degrees F each day, which is a pleasant switch from the 100 degree (85% humidity) of Kansas during the Summer.
Hiking And Exploring Is A Big Part Of What We Like To Do As A Family
We’re not really a lay on the beach kind of family. Don’t get me wrong, we occasionally do it, but we tend to get restless after a couple of hours. Instead, we like to walk, hike, bike, and explore. We like to see new things, meet new people, and try new food.
Because of this, Iceland was really appealing. Hiking glaciers? Exploring coastal harbors? Hiking to the top of a waterfall and then continuing to explore the upper falls? Eating fresh fish and chips right off the boat?
Yep…Iceland offered the things we wanted.
The Balance Of Rural And Urban Was A Great Opportunity
When it comes to our kids, our son is a hiker. He loves to see new things in nature, especially big…bold things. His favorite part of the trip was hiking to the top of the Skógafoss waterfall and then continuing on (past the tour groups) to hike above the falls. The beauty that we discovered by going beyond the main falls was breathtaking.
Our daughter, on the other hand, is more cosmopolitan. She loves to try new foods. She loves to see the cultural aspects of the places we visit. While she enjoys hiking and the outdoor walks, if we can provide her with a destination that provides environmental value, cultural experiences, and educational opportunities, she loves it.
In the case of Iceland, it was the best of both worlds and our itinerary took advantage of it. As you’ll see in our nine day itinerary, we spent time in both Akureyri and Reykjavik – Iceland’s two largest cities. These cities offered our daughter different, yet exciting cosmopolitan and cultural experiences.
Everything in between the cities was more rural, smaller cities and hiking, walking, exploring…just being in nature. This was much more appealing to our son.
How Far In Advance Did We Plan Our Iceland Trip?
As I mentioned previously, the cost of your Iceland trip can be affected by how early you plan, so we started planning the trip in January for our trip in July/August. Once our flights were secured, this gave us exact dates by which Deb could work her planning magic and develop a driving route that allowed us to explore a large part of the island.
Upon reflection of that timing, we agree that we would book our flights this far in advance again. While a lot can happen in six months and things can change, having the dates locked in forced us to plan toward those dates. The other reason it worked well is because hotels during the peak holiday season can fill up quickly.
By booking our hotels early, we were able to get almost all of the hotels and cabins we wanted. The only exception of a hotel that was all booked up turned out to be an amazing blessing in disguise as we discovered one of the coolest locations of our vacation by being forced to book in another location.
If you’re flexible with your budget, you could wait a little longer, but the longer you wait, the less likely you will have options for flights and lodging.
How Long Did It Take To Plan The Iceland Trip?
For the major details like flights, lodging, and car rental it took Deb about three weeks.
Keep in mind, though, that Deb LOVES to plan trips. It’s kind of “her thing”. She enjoys planning the trip nearly as much as she enjoys going on the trip. She reads books, reads other people’s blog posts, reads news articles, consult the weather forecasts, reads maps to find the best routes…she’s amazing!
What this means, though, is that it often takes Deb longer than the average person to plan. Since she looks at every detail and she analyzes what might be better activities for us and for our kids, she spends more time reading and researching.
If you’re not a planner like Deb, you might be less obsessed with the details and be able to get it done more quickly. Deb recommends setting aside a couple of weeks to get everything prepared.
When You Started Planning For Your Iceland Trip, What Resources Did You Use?
Trip planning started when Sean bought Deb two books about Iceland for Christmas. The books he bought were:
- Lonely Planet Iceland Travel Guide
- This was Deb’s favorite planning book because it divided the island up into sections and then she could focus on that specific section and the opportunities in that region when planning our route and activities.
- Eyewitness Travel – Top 10 Iceland
- This was another great planning book that offered the specific benefit of a pullout map. It’s a smaller, more portable book that fit in her small backpack. Because of its portability, it went with her pretty much everywhere and she consulted it multiple times throughout the trip.
- Local travel guides within the larger cities
- When you arrive in the larger cities, like Akureyri or Reykjavik, look for local travel guides in the hotels or restaurants. They can offer you a more local version of experiences, events and businesses that you might to explore.
- Lonely Planet Iceland Travel Guide
The books really kick-started the planning. We had already secured our flights, so the books helped her map out the route, which helped choose our nightly driving destinations, and influenced our lodging choices
Fun Fact About Our Iceland Vacation – Each of us only packed enough clothes for three days. Deb selected an apartment in Akureyri that offered a washer/dryer so we could do a load of laundry in the middle of our trip. This allowed us to travel light, avoid additional checked luggage fees, and still have clean clothes.
The books weren’t Deb’s only planning resources, though. Google was definitely her friend.
By reading blog posts from other travelers and the information that Iceland and the cities provide visitors, we were able to understand what the common tourist attractions and methods of exploring the island were (e.g. ring road and golden circle). A special shout out to Krissy and Ben Harclerode who were in Island during our planning process and shared their stories via Instagram.
Additionally, Krissy wrote a great guide to exploring Iceland after their latest trip and it helped us in our planning.
How Did You Book Your Flights For The Iceland Trip?
As I mentioned earlier, we booked directly through Iceland Air because of their non-stop from Kansas City International airport to Keflavík International Airport. We could have flow other airlines like United or American through Chicago or New Jersey for a bit cheaper, but the value of the direct flight outweighed the cost savings.
If you’re trying to reduce costs, though, look into options with other airlines and compare what would work best for you.
Iceland Air Travel Tip: Iceland Air has a base fare that only allows for one carry on and one personal item that can fit underneath the seat. They do offer the option to pay additional for a checked bag, but if you travel light and follow the lodging process that we did, you can get away without a checked bag.
What Tips Or Observations Do You Have For Flying Iceland Air?
Based on our experience, here are few things we noted about our first experience with Iceland Air:
- Iceland Air is a relatively high-quality airline. We were offered a complimentary bottle of water upon boarding. Each seat had a pillow and blanket and an entertainment system in the headset.
- Free entertainment options were pretty extensive. There were about 25 different free movies and 25 different television shows to watch during the flight, as well as a broad range of music to listen to.
- The plane was a 757, so fairly large with two rows of three across seating. This is a big deal for Deb as she prefers the stability of larger aircraft over smaller ones.
- The legroom was just fine in economy, Sean is 6’1” and was fine with the 6.5 hour flight. If you’re tall, just be sure that you don’t stuff too much underneath the seat in front of you.
- Our flight to Iceland was full, meaning every seat was taken. Despite that, there was plenty of available room in the overhead bins. After take off, if there is room in the bin above you, just put the item that you placed underneath the seat in the overhead bin to free up some room.
- No complimentary snacks are provided by Iceland Air, but they have an onboard menu that includes everything from a bagel with cream cheese to pizza. The food is obviously a little more expensive (a bagel is about $8 and everything is priced is Icelandic Krona), so either bring your own snacks or be prepared to pay for a snack/meal.
- Service of the flight crew was excellent. They were attentive and helpful and really appeared to be “ambassadors” to the country of Iceland.
Iceland Air Travel Tip: This one isn’t really specific to Iceland Air, but it’s worth mentioning in this post. Be sure that your passport isn’t expired or expiring soon. Both Deb and Sean’s passports were set to expire two months after our date of travel. Because of this, we were “flagged” and had to receive special permission to fly into Iceland before we left. Don’t overlook this detail and make sure our passports are valid. The general rule of thumb is to renew your passports so that you don’t travel within 90 days of the expiration date.
How did you book the hotels for the Iceland trip?
One of the tips that Deb read from other previous visitors to Iceland was to book your trip on hotels.com. A lot of the smaller cabins, lodges, and hotels offer reservations through hotels.com, so she took a look and really liked the options.
To add on to that, hotels.com offers a frequent booking program, which means that after you book 10 rooms on the site, you get a voucher for a free night.
Iceland Hotel Booking Tip: One of the good things about hotels.com is you can pay a little extra for the flexible cancellation rooms. This lets you adjust your dates or cancel with some flexibility. The other option is the locked in, non-flexible cancellation rate which costs less per night, but is not flexible.
Since we were booking an eight-night trip with a couple of the nights requiring two hotel rooms, this meant that we would earn a free night through hotels.com just by booking through them.
While we’re big fans of rewards programs like those through Marriott or Hilton, this wasn’t one of the “those” vacations. Instead, we wanted a mix of hotels, apartments, and even some cabins. Hotels.com offered us all of these options, so it was great to book all of our accommodations through one site.
The other thing Deb really liked about Hotels.com is it offers access to two different sets of reviews. There are the reviews that people leave directly on Hotels.com, as well as the reviews that people leave on TripAdvisor.
By having access to both sets of reviews, we were really able to get a sense for how people felt about the property. Trust me, when you are spending this much on vacation lodging, be sure to read the reviews and look at the photos taken by those who stay there.
How Did You Book A Car Rental For The Iceland Trip?
Sean researched the car rentals for our Iceland trip, since he would be the one driving us around. After a few different recommendations, he booked through rentalcars.com and booked the car through a company called Firefly.
Our Volkswagen Polo was just the right size because we packed light for Iceland.
Sean’s going to share his full experience (including the dreaded rock chip in the windshield experience that everyone talks about) in a full blog post, but here are some quick bullet points.
- We booked through Firefly via Rentalcars.com and it worked out great
- Because we were traveling light, we were able to rent a smaller car at a reasonable price
- We booked a Volkswagen Polo, which is a smaller car, really only meant for four people and light luggage (no suitcases). Because we were traveling light, this car worked perfectly for us.
- The Polo got really good fuel mileage, allowing us to save money over renting a larger car
- Firefly appears to rent cars that are a couple of years older. Our Polo was a 2016, so three years old. It was not the newest model year, but that was okay. Mechanically, it performed perfectly and visually it only had a few scratches that I didn’t really care about.
- We rented a five speed manual transmission because Sean is comfortable driving a stick shift. If you aren’t comfortable, be sure to pay a little extra to get an automatic. Iceland has lots of hills and you don’t want to get in an accident because you saved a few bucks.
- We did not get the “gravel insurance” that others recommended and regretted it. BUY THE GRAVEL INSURANCE!!!
- You can read all about our car experience in the upcoming driving guide to Iceland.
What Was Your Itinerary For The Iceland Trip?
As I mentioned earlier, we are writing a blog post for each day of the itinerary that will include details of what we did each day and lots of photos. For those who can’t wait, though, here is a list of the overall driving route we chose and the cities we visited:
- Day 1 in Iceland – Arrive in Reykjavik, get our rental car, and drive the Golden Circle. End in Hella and stay in a hotel for the night
- Day 2 in Iceland – Drive from Hella to Höfn, stopping on the way to see waterfalls, glaciers, and the black beaches where Game of Thrones was filmed. In Höfn, stay at a lovely little cabin on the outskirts of Höfn.
- Day 3 in Iceland – Drive from Höfn to Neskaupstadur where we stayed at the Cliff Hotel. This was a lucky because we discovered Easter Beach, which was one of the best “off the path” finds of the entire trip.
- Day 4 in Iceland – Drive from Neskaupstadur to Húsavík, which is the whale watching capital of Iceland and then continue on to stay in Akureyri. Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest city and we had decided to stay two nights there to recoup from the long car rides, explore the city, and go on a whale watching tour.
- Day 5 in Iceland – Explore Akureyri and go on a whale watching tour.
- Day 6 in Iceland – Drive from Akureyri to Stykkishólmur in the Snaefellsnes peninsula. Stay the night at a Foss Hotel in Stykkishólmur and explore the cute harbor town.
- Day 7 in Iceland – Drive from Stykkishólmur to Seal Beach on the Snaefellsnes peninsula and then continue over to Bifrost. Sean is a big fan of the Thor comic book series and the Bifrost is a part of that mythology so he thought it would be cool. From the Bifrost, we drove to back to Reykjavik for two nights in a Center Hotel.
- Day 8 in Iceland – Explore Reykjavik for the day
- Day 9 in Iceland – Explore Reykjavik and leave for the airport to fly home.
In Hindsight, How Do You Feel About The Plan And The Itinerary?
From Deb – Because of the kids, it might have been better if we had driven less. Maybe skipped the Snaefellsnes peninsula, since that was a long day of driving on bumpy gravel roads. If you are traveling with kids (even teens) be aware touring the Ring Road around Iceland is a LOT of driving and they may get restless.
From Sean – I LOVED the itinerary. I would not drive the gravel roads (the shortest route) to the Snaefellsnes peninsula, but would take the longer way around that is fully paved. With that said, the gravel road did lead us to a beautiful set of waterfalls that we would have missed. As an exploratory trip to Iceland, it was great and this itinerary allowed us to see a lot. I can’t wait to go back and stay longer in towns like Höfn and explore the Northwestern peninsulas (which we skipped this trip).
There you have it…a lot of details about the planning phase of our Iceland trip. We hope our experiences help you in planning your trip to Iceland. If you have questions about our trip or the planning process, be sure to either leave a comment below or reach out to us via our contact form.
See you on the road!