Travels with a Wheelchair – Iceland

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Iceland has long been on my bucket list so we were really excited to finally get something booked up with a couple of friends for late February this year.  We arrived on a very windy day with almost white-out conditions and as the front door of the plane opened an icy blast hit us.

Reykjavik Airport met us with a scissor lift from the from right door as the aircraft was parked on a gate with steps from the front left door.  The scissor lift is a portable lift attached to a truck that is driven to the side of the aircraft and is easy to wheel over or walk into.  We were then easily driven over to the terminal building and went easily through immigration and security.

We headed outside to find a taxi and there were plenty in the queue, one of which was a large 4×4 and we headed into the city.

We stayed at the Hilton Reykjavik which is a little way out of town but was very welcoming with a large comfortable disabled room with wooden floors (good for a chair!), a well equipped bathroom with discreet grab rails and a wet room area with seat.

The next day our first trip was into the city.  We took advantage of the free bus pass offered by the hotel and went across to the bus stop.  If you were in a wheelchair without a free-wheel at the front of your chair you might struggle here, as the roads and pavements aren’t particularly well cleared or gritted so your front castors would definitely get stuck.

The buses do have ramps but they need to be manually pulled out and the driver didn’t offer so we did it ourselves or had the help of other passengers.  The bus ride was quick and easy and we headed off into the city to explore.

Reykjavik is hilly and unless you have very good upper body strength you’ll need someone to help push, particularly when there’s snow on the ground.  The city is compact so no need for buses once you get there and we spent several hours wandering, poking into shops, drinking coffee and exploring.

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First port of call was the Hallgrimskirkja, a wonderful cathedral towering over the city on one of the highest points.  It’s accessible to get into and wander around but if you want to take in the views from the top you can only get the lift so far, then it’s about 30+ steps to the top, so we sadly had to give that a miss.

We found many cafes and restaurants in the older area near the harbour weren’t accessible, being up 5 or 6 stairs and with narrow doors but with some perseverance we found a lovely spot for lunch and later, coffee with level access and disabled loo.  In the main part of the city we found accessibility a little better than near the harbour.

After lunch we carried on around town, and checked out the fabulous Solfar Sun Voyager sculpture overlooking the water and the mountains.

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The next day we took the popular Golden Circle day trip with Reykjavik Excursions.  This is the trip that takes in the three popular sites of Gulfloss Waterfall, the Thingvellir National Park and Geysers that erupt before your very eyes.  Pick up from the hotel was straightforward enough – however a word of caution – once you get to the bus terminal to find the main bus for the day it’s a bit of a free for all and we nearly didn’t get on a coach that could take the four of us.  We had emailed the tour operator in advance but that didn’t seem to help our case.

The vehicles used are regular coaches – so no lift and large steps to enter/exit.  There are also no toilet facilities on board.  My husband was able to walk up and down the steps slowly but if you’re fully in a wheelchair you may want to seek help or look for a private tour in a smaller vehicle.

During the day the tour staff were helpful, bringing the wheelchair out from the storage hold and even offering me some boot grippers to wear on the bottom of my shoes to help me hang onto the wheelchair without slipping.

The walk through the tectonic plates at the Thingvellir National Park is about half a mile and does have some steep slopes but we got through pretty easily.  All areas were ramped but covered in snow so again the freewheel came in handy.

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It a desolate, beautiful place.  The snow and the silence made it somewhere to just stand and look.  Not much talking required.

The next stop on the journey was the Geysers and again this was largely accessible (unless you wanted to go higher up into the hills).  We stayed close to the main site and visitor centre, which was all accessible including toilets and gift shop.

The last stop was the astonishing Gulfloss Waterfall.  We could (with some difficulty) get to the topmost viewing area (down some very slippy slopes) but of course couldn’t make it down the dozens of steps to the lower viewing area.  However we could see all we needed to from the top and it was breathtaking.

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The next night we were lucky enough to take another trip with the same tour operator to see the Northern Lights. I won’t share a photo as they’re a bit blurry but what an amazing thing to see.

Next day we headed to the Blue Lagoon on the way back to the airport.  We took a taxi for ease.  I would recommend arriving very early in the day, and take the Premium Package which offers faster check in, a free drink in the walk up bar, a robe and face mask.

There is a disabled changing room – just one.  It’s very well equipped but it is right next to reception with a frosted glass door so you feel a little exposed. To enter and exit the changing room from the lagoon you have to go through the medical bay and into the cafe.  If you’re unlucky you have to wait for someone else to vacate the changing room before you can use it so bear that in mind if you need to get to the airport quickly.

The entry into the water itself from the main entrance is ramped with two handrails.  Once in the water the floor is rocky and uneven, so my husband was held by me all the time. If you’re unable to get into the water yourself they do have a hoist.

The Blue Lagoon is a wonderful place in the cold, it was -5 outside but we were toasty and loving the hot water.  We could’ve spent all day there.

We will definitely go back to Iceland, next time in summer to see the colour and the midnight sun.

One definitely checked off the bucket list.

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