We just received some great news: Our Iceland guidebook and European Festivals TV special have both been recognized by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation with Lowell Thomas awards. These awards are considered the most prestigious accolades in the field of travel journalism — and I couldn’t be prouder of the team of people who worked together on these two projects.
Our newest guidebook, Rick Steves Iceland, took the gold in the Guidebook category. Here’s what the judges said:
Iceland seems to fascinate almost every traveler alive, maybe because the name seems so forbidding, maybe because of the geographic remoteness. This guidebook explains the attractions of the big city, Reykjavik, with vigor. But the guide also leaves the city to help with explorations of hiking journeys, visits to volcanoes, glaciers, and thermal waters. The offshore islands receive attention, too. This book is thorough and well-organized.
You can pick up a copy of Rick Steves Icelandhere — and Cameron Hewitt, who was instrumental in writing the book, shares some of Iceland’s top travel experiences here.
In the Video Travel Broadcast category, our one-hour public television special Rick Steves’ European Festivals nabbed the silver with this note from the judges:
This host takes what could be a stale topic — European festivals — and, through clever writing and charismatic performance, brings them to life. It’s fun and light-hearted and makes me want to go.
Celebrate! Our one-hour Festivals special is streaming here.
Day 1 Fly in, pick up car at airport, drive to farmhouse hotel or B&B in the middle of the South Coast, within a half-hour drive of ferry to Westman Islands
Day 2 Explore the South Coast
Day 3 Take first ferry to Westman Islands, spend all day there, drive after dinner to Reykjavík
Day 4 Reykjavík
Day 5 Golden Circle, as a 10- or 12-hour day trip from Reykjavík
Day 6 Reykjavík
Day 7 Blue Lagoon spa, on the way to the airport to fly out
BTW, a lot of you have asked about crowds in Iceland. It’s true that Iceland sometimes feels like the land of monetized waterfalls, with the most famous natural wonders attracting hordes of tourists — but I found that the crowds were a fun part of the experience. After struggling with crowds in Italy, France, and Spain, Iceland felt more like a big party that we were all just enjoying together.
It helps that many Iceland sights have made changes in the last few years to accommodate the growing number of visitors. Parking lots have been expanded (and now often come with a fee), and there are several new visitors centers.
And here’s one more way Iceland is addressing the huge influx of tourists: Several farms have transitioned their barns into ranks of simple hotel rooms.
(What about you? Do you have a great Iceland itinerary to share — or do you have any thoughts about how the pint-sized island nation is handling its tourist crowds? Let me know here, on Twitter, or on Facebook.)
While dinner at an average restaurant costs about $50, there are always lots of other good options. It seems people just eat simpler food in Iceland. Cafés, diners, and mini-markets have shelves of salads and sandwiches, and there’s always a hot dog stand nearby (hot dog and a coke: $10).
My go-to lunch spot was a soup bar. For about $20, I could have great soup (and refills), bread, butter, and water. That’s good enough for locals, and it was perfectly good enough for me.
(BTW, Iceland has no tipping culture and taxes are included — so you’ll pay exactly the price you see on the menu.)
I also noticed many people were skirting the high costs of eating and sleeping by going the RV way. I met several people who were driving RVs around the entire island on the 800-mile Ring Road — and they all reported it was a wonderful experience.
What about you? Do you have any tips for cutting costs in Iceland?
Heading to Iceland? For something a little extra, dedicate a day to the Westman Islands, just off the South Coast. When the weather is good, you can take a ferry to Vestmannaeyjar (the only town) on Heimaey (the only inhabited island).
The ferry is cheap and fun ($13 for the 40-minute ride, typically four per day, each way), and from the dock, you can visit all the in-town sights on foot. The 1.5-hour self-guided walk in the Rick Steves Iceland guidebook will give you an excellent overview of Vestmannaeyjar — and a fun, two-hour bus tour of Heimaey includes all the island’s highlights.
This is an offbeat destination — with puffins, windy bluffs, a folk museum, a little mountain that was created by a volcanic eruption in 1973, and a fascinating museum built around a home that was buried in lava. (The eruption destroyed a third of the town, drove away a third of the island’s population, and made the island almost a third bigger.)
The Blue Lagoon spa, steaming in the middle of a vast and remote Icelandic lava field, is an unforgettable experience. But it’s expensive — you’ll pay at least $60, just to get through the door. Is it worth it? Not really. But for many people, it’s part of the Iceland experience.
The Blue Lagoon is a 45-minute drive from Reykjavík, but it’s only about 15 minutes from the international airport — making it well-designed for people coming or going by air. Parking is safe and easy, there are plenty of bus connections, and there’s a handy luggage storage facility on site. Give yourself a couple hours to soak and luxuriate, and don’t arrive without a reservation.
I scheduled my visit at the end of a busy week in Iceland, so I could take advantage of the proximity to the airport and enjoy a relaxing soak right before my long flight home. Still, as I stripped to my bathing suit and put my wallet, car keys, iPhone, and clothing into the locker, I felt a bit nervous. Shutting the door, I walked to the spa thinking how, if anyone broke into my locker and took my stuff, I’d be left nearly naked and stranded in Iceland, my flight taking off without me.
Two hours later, in a very relaxed state, I climbed out of the lagoon, returned to the locker room, and found the door to my locker wide open. It turns out that I had failed to touch my wristband to the sensor to lock the door, and it popped open after I thought I had closed it. But I had nothing to worry about — all my belongings were just sitting there, as I’d left them. And I was on my way.