I recently traveled to Iceland and wanted to share some tips and tops that I learned. A few things about Iceland. It’s easy to get to from the U.S. (short flight), full of natural beauty and VERY expensive! I’ll touch on each of these topics below.
Iceland is Expensive
Let’s put this out there right away. Iceland is expensive. While it’s not expensive to travel there from the U.S., and I also found the tours to be quite reasonable, hotels, food and souvenirs are very expensive.
However, knowing this going in will help you develop a game plan. There are less expensive options.
- Hot dogs are everywhere… and you can get them for about $5 USD.
- Sharing is caring! My friend and I shared a pizza (it was tiny), an order of rice balls (arrancini) and two glasses of wine. Total came to about $70 USD. Definitely not a bargain, but better than the high end restaurants.
- Food trucks – I checked out Don’s Donuts and the Lobster Hut. While those of you from New England may not be impressed with the Lobster Hut (ummm… it’s not lobster!) it was a tasty sandwich. It was also about $15 for the small one. The donuts were $8 for a mini six pack, so I’d recommend heading down the street to Dunkin Donuts for a better deal (yep they have them there!).
- Noodles – There’s lots of noodle bars. An entree is about $22 USD for a relatively large portion.
- BYO! – There are convenience stores (10-11) and discount grocery stores (Bonus) that you can pick up fixings and make your own dinner. I had a PB&J one night. And while the “normal” bread wasn’t quite what I was used to and the peanut butter a little bland, it did the trick!
- Get a hotel that includes breakfast – our hotel, the fabulous Canopy by Hilton – had an equally fabulous breakfast. It was great to start the day well fortified (and free!)
I used points to stay at the Canopy, and estimate I saved about $1700. It honestly helped make Iceland a possibility on this trip.
The Icelandic Krona is the currency and 100 krona is equal to about $1. It’s a relatively easy conversion, but also easy to get confused with all those 000s. As of July 2017, 5000 ISK = approximately $50 USD.
Getting to Reykjavik
A taxi from the airport to Reykjavik will probably run you about $160-$200 USD. If you are 3 or less people, it makes sense to use the airport’s buses. Operated by either Gray Line (which we used) or FlyBus, the buses take you to/from the airport via a bus terminal. For an extra $5 or so they drop you off at the bus stop nearest your hotel (ours was right outside). It’s about 45 minutes to the airport from the bus terminal and about an extra half hour for the pick up. When you land at KEF, there are staffed kiosks to pay for the buses after you pick up your luggage. It was a simple process and they have everything quite well organized. Just make sure you say that you’d like hotel pick-up/drop-off. If you buy a round trip ticket at the airport it’s slightly cheaper. I paid about $46 round trip.
No need for Icelandic cash!
This was the first country I’ve visited where I didn’t take out any of their cash. They prefer cards, and I find it a bit easier too. The only difficulty was tipping our tour guide, but he didn’t seem to mind having to exchange money.
Everyone Speaks English
I was greeted in English everywhere (guess I don’t look Icelandic?). Honestly, the English there was better than many places in the UK. It was very welcoming, although I did throw in a takk (thank you) a couple times.
There are lots of Americans
Since it’s so easy (and cheap) to get to Iceland from the U.S., we met a lot of Americans. This is a good and a bad thing. While Americans are generally pretty friendly and it’s nice to see folks from back home, they can also be terrible, complaining travelers. We got a taste of that on our first tour when two couples (who didn’t know each other before the tour), kept complaining to each other. You’re on vacation in Iceland… seriously. How bad can it be?
They make Touring Easy
I have to say, they know how to do tourism here. With only 330,000 residents and 2 million tourists a year, you need to be organized. We took two great tours. One of the Golden Circle – a must-do in Iceland and the other of the Southern Coast – another must do if you ask me! It was efficient, organized and most importantly amazing. I highly recommend booking smaller group tours. It makes such a difference in what you can visit and allows you to feel less “herded.” This is why you visit places, so don’t skimp here. It’s well worth the extra dollars.
If you are interested in renting a car, it appears that it would also be easy. While we didn’t tour the whole island, the areas we did tour were on good roads with easy access. As the free hotel meant we were based in Reykjavik the whole time, it didn’t make sense for us to rent a car.
To Blue Lagoon or not Blue Lagoon
If you look up Iceland, the first thing you’ll probably see is the Blue Lagoon. It’s a (not-so-natural) hot spring that is a milky blue color and attracts ooohs and ahhs. It’s one of the first things people will tell you to visit when they hear you’re going to Iceland. We didn’t go.
Don’t get me wrong, we were interested in going, but once we realized what was involved (both time and cost), we decided against it. I’m not so sure I missed out on that much because I’ll bet it has more crowds than I’d be comfortable with.
That being said, if you’d like to visit the Blue Lagoon, book well in advance. We looked several weeks out and the only entrance time was at 7:00 a.m. This would mean we’d have to get up at like 5:00 a.m. for a bus… that wasn’t exactly enticing to me. I’d also recommend booking your admission with the transportation. A) I think it’s a bit cheaper and B) I think it’s a bit easier. They also recommend doing it to or from the airport as it’s between the airport and Reykjavik. If you want spa treatments, those need to be booked very early as well. If you make it to the Blue Lagoon, let me know what you think and if I should go next time.
How to Dress
Layers… lots of them. I think we went through three seasons in one day. When the sun was out, it was glorious. When the wind started whipping, it was freezing. Bring a hat, gloves, scarf waterproof coat (even if it’s not raining, you’ve got waterfalls), an extra pair of socks (for when you fall into glacier rivers), a warm jacket and layer up. I’d also recommend fleece lined water resistant pants. I had a Uniqlo heat tech shirt under my shirt and it was a great, thin layer (Thanks for the idea Erin!). I put all of these things in a day pack, which I left on our bus, and took them on and off as needed. Even if you don’t use them, it’s better to have it than not.
I had heard mixed things about Reykjavik, with the most popular complaint that it was boring. I have to say that I really enjoyed the city. Maybe it helped that I came in with low expectations, but the city was clean, easy to navigate (no more than a 20 minute walk anywhere), had some beautiful views and a lovely old town. The food was good, the people were nice and there was some great street art.
Art, art, everywhere
They love any form of art and culture here. From music – they still play and sell records – to books and awesome graffiti art, there’s lots of culture here. There was also lots of Billy Joel music, so I was quite happy!
They have Cats!
I know this may not excite all of you, but as a crazy cat lady, this makes me very happy. Now, I was told there would be tons of cats and I only saw like four or five, but still… cats!
Let me know if you have any other questions about Iceland. And if you’ve been to Iceland, please add any tips that you have… especially to save a few Krona.