Ok, so I guess this post is a little (maybe a lot) different from what I normally post. But after writing this up for a friend, I thought it might be helpful for other people who had questions about Iceland and wanted a firsthand perspective from someone’s who’s about to leave. Feel free to share this with anyone heading to Iceland soon, it has somehow ended being the hotspot of 2016, and after spending a week here, I can definitely see why!
For your reference, 1 CAD generally equals about 100kr so you can just take 2 zeros off the ticket price. Currently, 1 USD is about 125kr, so if you have some USD saved up, it’s probably better to use those here. 1 Euro is a little more than USD, about 140-150kr.
Normal meals are generally $20-30 USD, nice dinners can be more pricey, and cost you anywhere between $40-100 USD. Taxis are extremely expensive here, but popular when people are heading home after going out on weekends. Tours can be anywhere between $60ish all the way to +$400 for things like paragliding and helicopter rides to the glacier. Overall, you definitely have to budget extra for your trip, Iceland is expensive if you want the full experience and want to go on guided tours. For my week, I budgeted about $1200 (my flight was only $300 CAD, about $260 USD). I probably used about $800 overall. However, it’s worth it to not think about budget if you can! Do things that you want to do and explore this amazing country! Since you’re already here, you may as well have the adventure of a lifetime 🙂
1. How to get around:
If you’re just staying in Reykjavik, you can get around by foot. You can walk from one side of the city to the other in basically 30 min max, and everything that you’d want to visit is within walking distance including all the museums, the church, the restaurants, the harbor etc. If you want, you can also take a taxi, but they’re extremely expensive (think around 50 dollars for 10-15 min). Otherwise, you can rent a bike from Reykjavik bikes which is on the pier, nearby Elding Adventures, which is one of the biggest whale and puffin watching companies. I would say one day in the city is more than enough, since there’s not really that much to do there other than eat, visit museums and party.
2. Where to stay
I stayed at Loft Hostel my first 2 nights, which is literally right downtown. It probably has the most convenient location out of all the hostels since it’s extremely central, and close by all the bars and clubs. It’s also on their main street Laugevagur, and you can walk to either direction from the hostel to hit different sites. I would definitely recommend it, but it might be booked up for some of the dates since it’s really popular. I spent about $125 on 2 nights in a 8-person bedroom.
- You could also stay at Kex. It’s a little bit out of the way (about 15 min to Laugevagur) but a lot of young people stay there and it’s supposedly the “party hostel.” We never visited, but you could check it out online!
- Another option is Airbnb. I stayed in one for 3 nights once my friends got to Iceland it was really great! It was clean, close to city center (not as close as Loft though), and a lot cheaper – it was $90 for 4 nights for a 3-person bedroom.
3. Things to do Definitely do the tours if you don’t plan on renting a car! I HIGHLY recommend renting a car and doing the routes yourself because you can stop and hike and see different sites that aren’t on the tour rout. You also get more time to take pictures and go off road etc. If not, here are some must do tours:
- 1. Golden Circle + Snorkeling (or scuba diving) in Silfra (whole day tour) This was AMAZING – we all agreed that this was an incredible day, and the snorkeling was so fun. You get to swim between 2 tectonic plates and the water is incredibly clear! This tour also includes Gullfoss waterfall, geysir (world famous geysers), Kerid (the giant crater filled with water in my profile picture), some of the best ice cream in Iceland and their national park: pingeveller park.
2. River rafting (whole day) I didn’t go on this because I’m going in Geneva as part of my program, but I heard it was really incredible. You get to see a ton of nature, and you get to jump off a cliff into the water. Heard really really great things about this tour.
3. Southern Tour (whole day) I didn’t get a chance to do this because I left today, but my other 2 friends are doing this route. I’ve again heard really really good things about it, and it’s a must do if you have time.
4. Blue Lagoon (a few hours) Ok, you actually have to do this. Me and my friends went on Sunday night at 10pm, and it was nice and quiet, but incredibly relaxing and beautiful. It was also really fun because we hung out with some new friends (try and go with friends, it makes it a lot more fun). I would recommend the standard ticket. You have to prebook your ticket to the Blue Lagoon though, but I would recommend going to the tourist center and having them book the ticket and the hotel transfer for you. They don’t charge commission since they’re government operated.
5. Snaefellsnes Peninsula (the ae in Snaefellsnes is actually a letter in their alphabet so make sure to type it in right to your GPS)
We also went North and Northeast/west on our first day driving. Highly recommend this, you get to see a lot of change in scenery and there are hiking routes along this route as well. I would take a tour if you don’t have a car. You could probably combine it with horseback riding along a volcano. HIGHLY recommend horse back riding on the Icelandic horse, they’re super unique and they actually have a different pace than other horses called the “tolt.” It’s like the trot but way more comfortable and the horses are extremely calm and used to tourists.
6. Paragliding I actually booked this, but I wasn’t able to go because of weather. If you can spare around 300 dollars, this is definitely worth it. I’m planning on going the next time I’m in a Scandinavian country because you get to see EVERYTHING from high above. It’s also more active than a helicopter.
7. Glacier walk Also by recommendation, I heard this is fantastic. We actually encountered the glacier on our drive, but we could climb it because a) it’s dangerous for cars to go up there and b) we didn’t have proper hiking gear.
8. Whale watching We bumped into this woman who saw 16 whales on her tour, including Minke, gray and some other type. I’ve been whale watching a lot in Vancouver, so it’s not something that really appealed to me, but it’s definitely a huge tourist attraction!
4. Where to Eat OMG THE FOOD HERE IS AMAZING!! THE SEAFOOD IS SO GOOD. The food here can get pretty expensive if you eat out all the time though, so what I did was made my own breakfast and lunch, then bought a nice dinner the 2 nights I was here alone. When my friends got here, we did the same thing, but packed things we could take on the road.
– there’s a really great bakery that’s covered by graffiti on the outside. It’s the best bakery in Reykjavik and it supplies a lot of the restaurants. They sell bread (you have to try the Icelandic rye bread), cinnamon buns, cookies and other baked goods. They often sell out though, so go in the morning or early afternoon if you want a good selection! It’s also not very expensive, so what I did was buy bread and some Icelandic butter (which is really really good because of all their cows) and bought some smoked salmon from the grocery store (go to Bonus, it’s the cheapest, smoked salmon was about $4 for 100g) and made my own breakfast and lunches.
– Cafe Loki: they’re really well known for their rye bread ice cream. Definitely try it! I got the platter II, which was 2 pieces of rye with fish spread on top and bread ice cream. Loved it! It was about $20.
– Lobster soup: There’s this really small restaurant on the pier that sells really good lobster soup and fish/seafood skewers. The scallop skewer was probably one of the best and freshest I’ve ever had and it was less than $20 for like 6 huge ones.
– Fish market: if you have spare budget, definitely go to this place! It’s pretty pricey, but it’s said to be the best restaurant in Reykjavik (probably Iceland?). Your dinner will be about $60-80, but delicious. You have to make a reservation though because it gets really really busy for dinner.
– hot dogs: ok, I think this is overrated. I’m pescatarian but my friends got them and said they were meh for a lot of money
– ice cream: Icelanders LOVE ice cream, there’s a really good organic, nitrogen made ice cream place called Valdis. It’s right downtown so you can go after dinner.
– Fish and More: went here for dinner and got their fish stew. SO GOOD, and it was only like $20. Highly recommend as well!
My only regret is not getting an actual lobster here. I heard they’re super delicious and fresh.
If you want to be more social and meet people, you can also go to the hostels for lunch and eat their soup and bread. Loft has this, and it’s pretty cheap in comparison to other food options.
5. GO OUT – the nightlife is definitely one of the highlights 🙂
You have to go out in Reykjavik. It’s literally light out until the wee hours of the morning and then some, so basically you have light 24/7. It’s crazy, people party until 6/8am here. Unfortunately I’m not that crazy so I mostly stayed out until 5:30/6, but literally the sun never sets. Definitely pregame a lot though, because drinks are insanely expensive. On the flip side, there are 5 million happy hours with great deals, so download this app: Appy hour (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/reykjavik-appy-hour/id536126333?mt=8), and it’ll tell you what times, where and what deals each place has. Things close earlier on Weekdays though (1am, 2am max) so make sure you go out on Friday and Saturday!
Overall, I LOVED this country. It’s so beautiful and amazing and fun, and the people are incredibly welcoming and friendly. We’ve gotten everything from free beers after the Eurocup game to free shrimp skewers, to having park rangers drive us to our destination because we were late and parked too far. You’re going to love this place, super excited for you!! But definitely plan out your trip beforehand because there’s a ton to do, as long as you’re prepared. Also, plan out your routes if you’re driving at all, because on certain routes there are literally no gas stops and no people.
If you read this and have any questions or want more details about what we did on our trip, feel free to email me: ada.gu@medportal, and I’m happy to answer any questions!Here are some resources that we used, or might be helpful:1. Self driving tours (don’t waste money on buying “self-drive tours” – plan it yourself!)– Snaefellsnes Peninsula: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2015/04/drive-it-yourself-the-snaefellsnes-peninsula/– Akureyri and the north of Iceland: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2016/02/finding-winter-wonderland-akureyri-and-the-north-of-iceland-in-winter/– Golden Circle: http://expertvagabond.com/golden-circle-iceland/– South Coast Adventure: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2015/01/drive-it-yourself-a-south-coast-adventure/2. Guided Tours– Reykjavik Excursions (probably the largest company offering tours, they’ll have everything you’re looking for, but they might be more expensive so do your research first!): https://www.re.is/day-tours/?gclid=CMmW1tHVz80CFYTGGwodxagFUw– Extreme Iceland (have a lot of very active tours, similar to Reykjavik Excursions): https://www.extremeiceland.is/en/activity-tours-iceland– Iceland Travel (didn’t use them at all, might be good to check out prices though): https://www.icelandtravel.is/day-tours/#/?rows=15&q=&sort=sort_i%20desc– Grayline Tour (also a very big company in Iceland, compare prices): http://grayline.is/tours/3. Snorkeling (book ahead!)– Dive (wouldn’t recommend it because their tours are huge, >10 people, choose a smaller company where you’ll get a more intimate experience): https://www.dive.is/diving-snorkeling-tours/snorkeling-day-tours/silfra-snorkeling-day-tour/– Arctic Adventures (almost booked with them, about 3000kr more than the tour we ended up booking though, sometimes you get discounts if you book online): https://www.adventures.is/iceland/day-tours/snorkeling-and-diving/– Adventure Vikings (LOVED them, we booked with them, and our tour only had us 3 and 3 other people. By far the smallest group and also the cheapest at 48,100kr for 3 people): http://adventurebox.is/tours/snorkeling/