I don’t really do reviews, not of companies, but I want to talk a bit about Grayline.
(I need to add that this is not sponsored, although if you’re reading this, Grayline…)
When I first went to Iceland in 2011, believing pretty much that the ground would split open inches from your feet on every step you took if you left Reykjavik, it was Grayline I used to get around, although they were operating as Iceland Excursions back then.
They are one of the two biggest tour operators in Iceland – them and Reykjavik Excursions. Those are the coaches you’ll see in every car park at every tourist sight in the south and west of the country. I don’t remember why I chose Grayline over RE – was is that the airport shuttle bus was cheaper? Was it that they were the only one that dropped off at my hotel? I can’t remember. I’ve used RE a few times since then but mostly only if I wanted to do a tour that Grayline didn’t do.
When my travel pillow fell off my suitcase and got left in the hold of the airport bus, Grayline got it back to me, with my name attached to it, on the very next coach back from the airport. It took me longer to pop into their office to collect it than it did for them to get it there. I’ve always kind of regarded Grayline as that local emergency contact – if I need help, I’ll run screaming to them rather than to the British Embassy. In fact, it’s only just now that I’ve looked up where the British Embassy actually is (and discovered it’s a few doors down from a guesthouse I stayed in once; I’ve walked past it half a dozen times).
The service feels less personal now than it did in 2011, I admit. The company has grown so much. But then the tourism industry has just exploded; of course Grayline’s bigger. There’s no way I’d be one of a dozen on an expedition truck doing the Golden Circle these days. Now the Golden Circle is a fully-loaded 60-something seater coach on quiet days, multiple coaches on busy days. But the guides still talk the entire day – eight hours of facts, figures, dates, numbers, myths, legends, stories and everything else they know about anything. I am not joking when I say I sit in the truck/coach/minibus and take half a dozen pages of notes. I am also not joking when I say that my favourite person in Iceland is a particular Grayline tour guide.
Of course, they’re not experts in everything so they team up with the folks that are. As well as sightseeing, they offer adventurous activities, from paragliding to caving to snowmobiling to glacier hiking to horseriding who knows what else and for those, they deliver you to a company that specialises in that activity. I mean, you can go direct to those companies if you prefer but Glacier Guides in Skaftafell don’t offer a pick-up in Reykjavik, two hundred miles away.
The only major thing they don’t do is trips round the entire island. For that you need RE’s Iceland On Your Own bus passports, a degree of independence, an ability to read a bus timetable and a little planning and preparation. But Grayline will take you to Skaftafell and Landmannalaugar and Akureyri. Grayline do guided tours. RE do guided tours and general transport. And RE win on wifi – they had it before Grayline and it remains more reliable. Once Grayline won on being more conveniently located, in an office right next to Harpa while RE were out at the BSI station. But now Grayline have grown and they have a new office/bus station out in the suburbs which you can walk to but you’re really much better off depending on the pickups.
Have I made sense? Have I sold Grayline to you? I know I haven’t, I’m too tired to be coherent. It’s ten to midnight and this has been the sort of chaotic week that’s made me wonder several times if I’m actually going to collapse from exhaustion. Let me just say that I am very fond of Grayline and I will do my best to choose it over any other tour operator in Iceland.