Visiting Iceland: Where to Stay

[This is part of a series of posts on a trip to Iceland by our family of 5.]

Finding a hotel may be different in high season but I doubt it.  Most of the country is rural and there are not typical hotels everywhere you might expect them.  Pretty quickly we decided to go with either youth hostels or self-catered cottages.  If you are driving around the country, the youth hostel association can be a great option.  They are in major locations and can get you a discount on a car rental.  You can get private rooms as well, which can be nice for a family.

Sunset over mountains near Grundarfjordur, view from Halsabol cabin.

Sunset over mountains near Grundarfjordur, view from Halsabol cabin, March 2013

We decided to stay in a more concentrated area and places where hostels weren’t always the most convenient.  We found two cottages using the Bungalo service.  They include farm houses and the ever-present tourist cottages you’ll see everywhere.

Our first stop was halfway between Selfoss and Vik on the southeast coast and enabled us to get to Jokulsarlon.  It was on a farm with a lovely clear view to the ocean, miles away.  It was also right beside the Eyjafjallsjokull volcano and close to many lovely waterfalls.  We stayed there two nights before moving further north to Grundarfjordur.  These cottages are reached by driving through the town, out the other side, and into a valley between two steep mountains.  While both were nice, the second was exceptional and the owner had included small things – like a music player with iPod and auxiliary jacks in case you wanted to play your own music – to make it comfortable for travelers.

Cathedral Mountain behind the Halsabol cottages outside Grundarfjordur.  There are birds everywhere and kittiwakes and ravens nest in abundance around the area.  We saw an arctic fox in the field in the morning.

Cathedral Mountain behind the Halsabol cottages outside Grundarfjordur. There are birds everywhere and kittiwakes and ravens nest in abundance around the area. We saw an arctic fox in the field in the morning.

These sites provide a variety of amenities – microwaves, stoves, hot tubs, Internet – but nearly all will charge for sheets.  You can either hire them (send an e-mail in advance, it is not set up with a Bungalo reservation) or you can bring your own.  We brought our own sleep sacks, which  you can buy or make.  The sleeping bag liners and travel sheets online seem quite pricey unless you’ll be using them frequently.  You might want to investigate your bricks-and-mortar camping store, as I recall getting ours far cheaper in a store than the ones I can see priced online.  We had four “boughten” sheets and two homemade ones.

If you make your own, you can use any sheet.  Fold a sheet in half and sew the foot and one side 2/3s of the way up.  This makes the sleeping bag.  You fold the top 1/3 in half so that the top 1/6th is underneath and you sew up the open side.  This creates a pocket for a pillow to slide in.  It’ll save you $7-8 per person per location (unless they charge per night).

Our last nights we stayed in Reykjavik and it was easiest to use a major travel service for this reservation.  We reserved a self-catered apartment for 3 nights using Expedia and it worked out fine.  When we arrived, they had overbooked and had found us a place just around the corner at another site.  The Einholt Apartments was our intended stop but we stayed at the Downtown Reykjavik Apartments.  There were many similar lodgings in the same block or two.  I’d definitely recommend the area, just off the main shopping strip and an easy walk to the harbor or the museums in the city.  There is a grocery store just around the corner and a Bonus about 3 blocks further towards the city centre.

Our budget was about $100 a night and every location – both the remote cottages and the apartment in Reykjavik – were within that budget.  You can pay more but you don’t need to.  This was off-season so it may not be the same when the weather warms up.

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