Iceland is SPECTACULAR. The landscapes, the culture. It’s a photographer’s dream and a nature lover’s wonderland. And the capitol city of Reykjavik is full of activity and art and fun to explore.There’s really nothing not to love about this beautiful little northern island country. But it’s also very expensive and the now bustling tourism industry will empty your pockets if you let it. I recently sent some information gleaned from my trip there last January to a friend & thought I’d share.
First, the best informational website I’ve found is http://www.iheartreykjavik.com.
Their Reykjavik City Walking Tour is affordable and fantastic: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/the-tours/our-tours/the-iheart-reykjavik-walking-tour/
Iceland has created quite the tourist industry post-2007 market crash. It’s a pretty busy place. I tried to keep things simple because some of the organized tours are a little over-the-top and expensive.
Language: Icelandic people are 100 percent fluency in English and Icelandic. You won’t need to worry about language issues. It’s also known as one of the most literary-minded places in the world. I saw a bench in Reykjavik where you could download an app and listen to literature being read.
Safety: People still leave their kiddos in buggies while they eat inside the cafes. VERY SAFE. I traveled solo and went out at all times of day & night and had no issues.
Party scene: Downtown Reykjavik is wild at night. Go for a stroll at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night & the bars are just getting going! Bar time on weekends is 5:30 a.m.!
Early morning: I was there in January so I’m not sure if it changes seasonally, but nothing was open early except for this one beautiful little bakery: http://sandholt.is/en/
There are a few more places here: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2015/05/4-places-in-reykjavik-to-get-breakfast-before-8am/
Transportation: I am not typically a bus tour sort of person, but I went in winter and didn’t want to rent a car, so it was a good seasonal option. There are also plenty of jeep tours, etc. Car rentals are widely available, but road conditions can be sketchy. Here’s an adventurous option: Iceland by motorcycle with Bike Viking http://www.rmc.is/en/biking-viking/
Food Cost: EXPENSIVE! I paid $14 for a bowl of so-so lamb soup at an outpost café during a tour to the South Coast. If you want alcohol, buy it at the duty-free shop at the airport and take it to your guesthouse/lodging with you. It’s heavily taxed in Iceland and will set you back a pretty penny ot ten. I had great success saving $$ by shopping at the grocery stores. “Bonus” is the cheapest. Here’s a location map: http://www.bonus.is/verslun/holtagardar/
If do any shopping for gifts or trinkets, etc., there is a duty-free program for tourists. Just ask at the shop and they’ll give you a receipt to take with you to customs when you head home.
Culture: Very European in terms of the fact that people are friendly, but not overly smiley like Americans, haha. I had a wonderful experience. I asked the tour guide for advice on not making locals crazy with American traits. She said to avoid insincere compliments and wipe off that goofy grin. It can come across in other cultures as dense rather than happy. That said, I had no issues other than when I tried to make small talk with a waiter at a restaurant. He was all business. Just be a good human & you’ll do fine.
Lodging: I love guesthouses and don’t mind shared bathrooms and common spaces. I meet more people that way and save money! http://infoiceland.is/guesthouse.html Everything in Iceland is so clean and cozy. I stayed at Loki 101 Guesthouse & it was wonderful.
Cheap Flights: Iceland Air and WOW Air offer affordable flights from the U.S. to Iceland and on to Europe with great stopover options where you can stay for up to a week in Iceland on the way to or from your final destination with no additional charge. WOW Air flies from several major U.S. cities with rates as low as $99 each way to get to Europe. They’ve really democratized European travel, but there’s a catch, of course, with rates like that. The service is good, the planes are safe and clean – but there are no real amenities onboard. I couldn’t afford to travel without deals like that, so I LOVE them. But I’ve learned to travel very light and be totally self-sufficient. I tell myself, “I am backpacking a plane” and I haven’t had any problems. Once in Europe, the inexpensive European airlines are much the same, so if you’re a “regular bloke” like me and can’t fly on star status, you might as well get used it.
- Hidden Hot Springa (avoid the tourist trap that is the Blue Lagoon and look for better options like this):
- Awesome folk museum on South Coast: http://www.south.is/en/services/skogar-museum
- I’d highly recommend an Aurora Borealis tour, but be sure to check the aurora forecast so you don’t waste money: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/
- Great tour combo: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/the-tours/our-tours/walking-tour-and-golden-circle/
- Tour ideas from Lonely Planet: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/iceland/activities