Benelux, Paris & Iceland Trip Planning and Booking

I had my eye on Iceland since I first read about it. It looked like a perfect destination for us. We love snow, cold weather, road trips, waterfalls and natural beauty. After my Iceland Trip Planning, I was satisfied with 10 days in Iceland. I had 10 more days to add anywhere in Europe. I chose Amsterdam as it was the Tulip season. Visiting the tulips field has been on our bucket list for almost 10 years. Then added Belgium to this trip, mainly for eating waffles and chocolates. Afterwards, I came across Luxembourg. It is one of the smallest countries and was a perfect fit for this trip. We’ve been to Paris before and wasn’t on our radar to re-visit. However, it was convenient to fly to Iceland from Paris. So added 2 days mainly to visit the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles, which we missed last time around.

Panoramic View of Iceland

Index

Benelux, Paris & Iceland Trip Planning and Booking
10 days in Benelux: An Epic Itinerary and Trip Report
Vegetarian Food in Amsterdam: What we ate in 3 days – Coming Soon
Vegetarian Food in Belgium: What we ate in 5 days – Coming Soon
2 Days in Paris: Trip Report & Our Misadventures – Coming Soon
10 days in Iceland: An Ultimate Itinerary & Trip Report – Coming Soon
Accommodation and Vegetarian Food in Iceland – Coming Soon

Itinerary in Brief

Benelux and Paris

6th May – Amsterdam – land at 8 am – rest
7th May – Amsterdam – Day trip to Keukenhof and drive along the tulip fields
8th May – Amsterdam – Explore the city
9th May – Amsterdam to Ghent by train – Explore Ghent
10th May – Ghent – Day trip to Bruges
11th May – Ghent – Rent a car and drive to Brussels
12th May – Brussels – Day trip to Alkmaar for cheese market and then explore Volendam and Kinderdijk
13th May – Brussels – Explore the city
14th May – Drive from Brussels – Namur – Dinant – Luxembourg City – Paris
15th May – Paris – Explore the city
16th May – Paris – Visit Palace of Versailles and 10 pm flight to Iceland (Keflavik Airport)

Iceland

17th May – Drive from Keflavik – Golden Circle – Hella
18th May – Hella – Westman Island – Vik
19th May – Vik – Hofn
20th May – Hofn – East Fjords
21st May – East Fjords – Husavik – Myvatn
22nd May – Myvatn – Explore surroundings
23rd May – Myvatn – Troll Peninsula – Vatnsnes Peninsula – Hvammstangi
24th May – Hvammstangi to Isafjordur (West Fjords)
25th May – Isafjordur to Patreksfjordur (West Fjords)
26th May – Patreksfjordur (West Fjords) to Hella, Snaefellsnes
27th May – Snaefellsnes – Reykjavik – Keflavik airport

Things I would suggest to do differently:

1) Add a night in Luxembourg City.
2) If short on time, skip Westman Island.
3) I would recommend skipping Patreksfjordur and from Isafjordur, drive straight to the ferry port and take the evening ferry to Snaefellsnes.

Flights

3 months in advance, we booked all our flights. I researched quite a bit. The entire multi-city option for this trip was extremely costly. I think the best way is to book India – Europe multi-city flight, flying into 1 country and out by the other. Then book flights from Europe to Iceland. Some cheap airlines are flying from Europe to Iceland, so by splitting the flight, it may work out better cost-wise. We eventually booked:

Multi-City Flight on KLM
Mumbai to Amsterdam
Reykjavik – Paris (5 hrs layover) – Mumbai
The total came to Rs. 55,700 per person

We booked Paris to Reykjavik on a separate ticket.
The total came to Rs. 8500, including 1 piece of luggage which we bought along with the ticket.

So total came to around Rs. 65,000 for the flights. You can get it for cheaper if you can get India – Europe return ticket for Rs. 35,000 which is realistic.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Iceland is from May to August, when the cold is bearable, coupled with almost 24 hours of daylight. If you are after northern lights, the season runs from September until April, but Feb – March and Sept-Oct around equinoxes are considered the best months to see them.

I researched on Iceland and settled for May. May is slightly off-season, less touristy and less expensive. Many hotels offered off-season rates till 30th May, which we could take advantage of. Note that many hotels had off-season prices only till 15th May. Rates on 16th May became double. So it pays to do a bit of research on hotels you wish to stay in and plan the dates accordingly. The only drawback of May is that it is cooler when compared to June – August, and some mountain roads aren’t open yet. So if you plan to visit the highlands, visit in July- August.

For Amsterdam, I would recommend visiting in the tulip season. It runs from late March to early May. Before booking, check the Kuenkohof website for exact dates. Kuenkohof maintains its flower for the entire season. However, tulip fields around Kuenkohof or the north of Amsterdam last only for a short period. It can be early or late depending on the weather. When we visited in early May, that year tulips were early. So I read everywhere that the season is over and there aren’t any tulip fields left. Still, we drove to the North of Amsterdam and were blown by so many tulips fields which we came across. There might be some which were already harvested. Still, we saw quite a few of them.

Kuenkohof in Amsterdam

Must visit Amsterdam during the Tulip season!

Currency

Currency research is an essential part of Iceland Trip Planning. We bought a travel Forex card loaded with Euros. We went to Benelux before Iceland, so we drew all the cash from the Forex card. In Iceland, we exchanged all the Euro (cash) to ISK. So we got a rate of 1 ISK to 0.64 INR, whereas on Google/XE it was 0.65 INR. Another option is to take cash in Euro and exchange it in Iceland.

To avoid all this hassle, it is best to use a credit card. Credit card is accepted everywhere. Best is to put all your expenses on the Citi Prestige/Citi Premier Miles card. Citi Prestige card is best for transferring points to Air Miles and redeeming it for flights.

Visa

Schengen Visa is required for visiting Iceland and Benelux. You need to pre-book a slot and apply in person as bio-metrics (Fingerprint and photo) is compulsory. You can find all the information on the VFS website. No need to pay and apply through an agent. I don’t understand why so many people still use an agent for visa applications. You have to do all the work like gathering all documents, filling forms etc. You will have to go to the centre as well for bio-metrics. All the agent does is collect your passport.

Buying Clothes for Iceland

In Mumbai, I found only 3 shops selling good winter wear stuff, Kosha, Woolmart and Decathlon.

To enjoy an Iceland Holiday, most important, is to buy a good jacket. It is an essential part of Iceland Trip Planning. Make sure it is waterproof, windproof, and snowproof. Dad bought one from Kosha and the rest of us bought it from Woolmart. They were real saviour and did an excellent job in Iceland. Iceland is too windy that car doors can blow off. But after wearing just one jacket, we didn’t feel any wind. They were that good.

Each of us picked thermals from a different store. Mom like the one bought from Decathlon, whereas Kapil was happy with the Woolmart ones. Dad and I didn’t use thermals and were comfortable with just one jacket. We also bought 100% merino wool socks, gloves and caps which are essential in keeping you warm and cosy.

Buy Waterproof, Windproof and Snowproof Jacket for Iceland Trip Planning

This jacket was a great saviour and worked as a raincoat too!

Car Booking

Car Booking for Benelux

As always, I checked prices on websites of big companies – Avis, Hertz, Europcar, Thrifty and Sixt. Since we rented in Brussels and returned in France, choices were limited and prices varied widely. Europcar offered the best price, and I booked it online. It also offered free cancellation and unlimited kilometres. We paid a hefty one-way drop off fee, but then we saved on train tickets for four of us. After calculations, it was coming out to be similar, so for convenience, we just rented a car instead of taking trains. I landed up booking a smaller car and had a tough time fitting all our luggage in the boot. 

It was all good until we reached Paris. We reached Paris after the longest day of our trip. After dropping the luggage at our hotel, we searched for the car drop off place for hours, only to find it closed. At the time of the pickup, they confirmed that it is open 24/7. Left with no choice, we went back to the hotel and paid the parking charges for the night. We also paid a taxi driver who helped us search for the place. We didn’t fill the fuel because finding a petrol pump is tough in Paris. Petrol Pumps are located in the basement. We returned the car the next day, and they charged us for an extra day and fuel and penalty for not filling it up. On complaining about our troubles and costs we paid because of their misinformation, they refunded the same.

Car Booking for Iceland

I had a booking with Hertz, but at the last minute, I changed it to Blue Car Rental because rates were similar and they provided free insurance. For 11 days we rented a Toyota RAV 4 4wd for which we paid 123422 ISK including 1 extra driver and all the insurance except sand and ash insurance. They were very prompt in replying to e-mails and helped us with everything like which car would be better for us, does it have a reverse camera, etc.

On arrival, we just followed boards and took a free shuttle to their office. For all car rental companies, you have to use the shuttle except some which were at the airport. The shuttle dropped us right in front of their office.

They explained to us everything like car insurance doesn’t cover under damaged to the car, damage to the door due to the wind and so on. Basically, it is good only if there is a head-on collision. Also, they explained the basic road rules. It was almost a new brand car, spacious yet not too big, and all our luggage fitted with ease. It was so perfect that Kapil wanted to buy one.

On return, he had a quick walk around the car and signed off. We always prefer a big company, as in our experience they haven’t yet made any fuss for minor scratches and have almost all new cars. We faced a nightmare renting from a small company in Seychelles. But Blue Car Rental turned out to be an excellent choice and our experience with them was one of the best. Also, one advantage of them is that we could select the exact car we wanted.

Car Rental in Benelux

Small Car for our road-trip in Benelux

Car Rental - Iceland Trip Planning

We loved driving Toyota RAV4 in Iceland

GPS

We have a GPS which we bought in Greece. We fed in all the coordinates into it beforehand. It is better to buy a GPS pre-installed with maps and feed all the places beforehand. You can buy it on Amazon. If maps are not pre-installed, you can download maps onto them. Buying a GPS is cheaper than renting one from a car rental company. Furthermore, it saves precious holiday time if all the destinations are pre-fed. Make sure to feed co-ordinates of the place as English names differ from Icelandic names. Most of the time, English names are not there in GPS. For getting coordinates, use this site or take it from Google Map.  This saved us around Rs. 10,000.

Obviously, you can use google maps on the phone, but we prefer the good old GPS.

GPS for Iceland Trip Planning

GPS is quintessential for our road trips.

Tips and Rules for Driving in Iceland

  • First and foremost, you are required by law to keep the car’s headlight on even DURING THE DAY.
  • All passengers are required by law to wear seat belts at all times.
  • Speed limits, unless otherwise mentioned, are 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads, and 90 km/h on paved roads. In urban areas, the limits can be lower than the regular limit, ranging between 30-50 km/h.
  • Each day check road and weather conditions here before heading out.
  • Driving off-road is illegal by law and considered a very serious offence.
  • The majority of petrol stations in Iceland are self-service and most likely they only accept credit cards. Choose the exact amount of money in Icelandic Krona you want to spend filling up your petrol.
  • ALWAYS fill up when you are near a petrol station.
  • Parking is straightforward while driving in Iceland, and only the central area of Reykjavík is a bit busier.
  • Don’t speed! The driving conditions may differ from what you’re used to, with narrow roads, no shoulders, and adverse weather conditions. Also, speed cameras tend to be where you least expect them and you can incur heavy fines.
  • Call 112 if you have an emergency.
  • While driving in Iceland it’s inevitable to get your car dirty and there’s no way around it. Something useful to know is that many gas stations offer free basic car washing facilities where you can clean your own car.

Driving rules in Belgium

When we were driving from Brussels to Alkmaar, driving on motorways was fast and quite comfortable for Kapil. Only unusual thing was that the left lane is kept free for overtaking vehicles. So if it is a 3 lane road, people drive only in 2 lanes and keep the left one free. For us coming from Mumbai where people fight for every inch of space on the road, this was the ultimate luxury.

Driving rules

  • All passengers must wear a seat belt.
  • Speed on motorways is 120 Km/hr and on other roads is 70 Km/hr.
  • Unless otherwise indicated by the appropriate sign, vehicles must observe a minimum speed limit of 70 km/h on motorways, except when traffic is congested or conditions are dangerous. Vehicles that cannot reach a speed of 70 km/h on straight level stretches must not use motorways.
  • When overtaking a cyclist or moped rider, there should be a distance of at least 1m between them and the overtaking vehicle.
  • Priority must be given to all vehicles coming from the right, except where the driver coming from the right is driving the wrong way in a one-way street. However, vehicles on rails (trams) always have priority over all other users.
  • In built-up areas, a driver must slow down or stop for bus drivers who have indicated that they intend driving away from the bus stop.
  • When approaching a pedestrian crossing where traffic is not controlled by traffic lights or by a traffic officer, drivers must slow down and give way to pedestrians already on the crossing or who are about to step on it.
  • Headlights must be used in tunnels, even during the day.
  • Warning signals must be as brief as possible. An audible warning should not be given unless there is no other way of avoiding an accident. Outside built-up areas, audible warning devices may be used as a warning to road users of the intention to overtake. Between nightfall and dawn, except in the case of imminent danger, audible warning signals should be replaced by flashing headlights.
  • Any vehicle standing must have its engine switched off, unless absolutely necessary.
  • Paid parking is regulated by parking meters or automatic parking machines.

Fines

The police may impose on-the-spot fines to visitors who infringe traffic regulations. There are four categories of road traffic offences –
1st Level: Not wearing a seat belt, parking offence not causing danger and driving in a bus lane.
2nd Level: Using a hand-held mobile phone when driving and parking offence causing a danger to others.
3rd Level: Infringement of passing rules, not stopping at a red traffic light and overtaking when prohibited.
4th Level: Dangerous overtaking, in a bend or near the top of a hill, crossing a railway crossing when prohibited by lights and reversing or doing a U-turn on a motorway.

Hotel Bookings

It is better to book hotels ASAP. Suddenly, tourism has increased in Iceland because of Game of Thrones, but they don’t have so many hotels. All the places had one or two 3/4 star hotels. I’d booked 3 months in advance and got pretty much what I wanted. We were travelling in May, which is a relative shoulder season. In June, July, August, the situation is worse.

Most of the hotels we stayed at had a similar feel. Decent size room, small bathroom, outstanding service, many had hot tubs and breakfast was included. On one of the nights, we stayed at a cottage in East Fjords. It was the best part of our trip. I would recommend searching for cottages with a hot tub and fantastic views at a few places during your Iceland Trip Planning.

For Benelux, we chose branded hotels at each place. Amsterdam hotels are costly, but you can stay slightly off city-centre to get a good hotel at a reasonable price. Or if you have points (Marriott, IHG, Hilton), this will be a good place to redeem them. In Belgium, hotels were cheaper than in Amsterdam and had a lot of options to choose from.

You can book hotels here or can email me at [email protected] and I can try to get you some discounts.

Cottage in Iceland

Our Lovely cottage with hot pool overlooking mountains 🙂

Activity Booking

We like to plan and book everything beforehand, as it saves our precious holiday time.

We booked the following –

1) Fridheimar Farm – It is a tomato farm. I just e-mailed them and reserved a table.

2) Westman Ferry – We booked the return car ferry on this site. They advised pre-booking as we had a car.

3) Whale Watching and Puffin Tour by North Sailing – North sailing is one of the reputed companies. They didn’t ask for prepayments and were flexible with time changes if we were late.

4) Blue Lagoon – Book this as soon as the plan is fixed. They don’t allow walk-in customers and slots get filled fast. If you book a slot at 7 pm, they allow you to enter till 8 pm and can stay as long as you wish till the closing time. We chose a comfort package as we needed towels, but if you can carry your own towels, the standard package will be cheaper. The non-alcoholic drink was like 940 ISK and the alcoholic was like 1600 ISK. The Algae mask was 450 ISK, but we didn’t like it much. Free mud mask was better.

5) Train from Amsterdam to Ghent – Book trains ASAP, many times you get a better price for advance booking.

That’s it on our Benelux and Iceland Trip Planning. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. 

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Planning a trip to Iceland and Benelux?

Check out all the other posts in this series:

10 days in Benelux: An Epic Itinerary and Trip Report
Vegetarian Food in Amsterdam: What we ate in 3 days – Coming Soon
Vegetarian Food in Belgium: What we ate in 5 days – Coming Soon
2 Days in Paris: Trip Report & Our Misadventures – Coming Soon
10 days in Iceland: An Ultimate Itinerary & Trip Report – Coming Soon
Accommodation and Vegetarian Food in Iceland – Coming Soon

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored or a free trip – We have paid for all our Holiday expenses but I spend a lot of time researching for the best deals and at times get a discount as I run a travel business as well. However, this post contains some (not all) affiliate links. Any purchase made through the links will help support this blog at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!

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