Iceland…. It leaves you spellbound as you wander from place to place, your eyes feasting on the majestic vistas. “How could such a tiny island have such a diverse and beautiful landscape?” you think to yourself. It is the land of sheep, northern lights, volcanoes with unpronounceable names and extortionate prices.
Iceland has always been on my ‘Bucket list’ of places to see and it certainly kept its side of the bargain. It is such a beautiful country filled with warm and welcoming people. The landscape here is like nothing else in the world. It is simply magical! Everyone told me Iceland would blow my mind. It did, and I can tell you it will do the same for you too.
SOME USEFUL INFORMATION
ℹ️ Travel: Keflavik International airport is the main hub in the country and several airlines fly into here from Europe and North America. Reykjavik (the Capital city) is about 45 minutes drive from Keflavik airport. There is no train service into Reykjavik. You either have to pay an extortionate price for a cab, rent your own car, or like I did, book a coach transfer that will either drop you off at BSI bus terminal about 15 minutes walk from Reykjavik city centre, or you will be dropped of at designated stops in various parts of the city closest to your hotel.
The two main companies are ‘Gray Line’ and ‘Reykjavik Excursions’. They both provide airport transfers in addition to organised tours of the country. I booked the airport transfers with ‘Reykjavik Excursions’ that will drop you off at BSI bus terminal. The walk was a very easy 15 minutes; navigating the streets to the hotel I was staying at that was on the Main High Street – Laugavegur.
ℹ️ Currency: The Icelandic Kroner (Kr)
ℹ️ Credit Cards and Banks: ATMs are common place in almost every shopping street. Every retailer accepts Visa, Mastercard and American Express.
ℹ️ Weather: Depending on where you stay in the country will determine the weather. The coast lends itself to milder temperatures whereas further inland the temperatures are often cooler.
Cold season: From December to February, temperatures are usually around freezing.
Warm season: Between June and August, the Summer temperatures are still comfortable with temperatures floating around the Early/Mid Teens C’s.
ℹ️ Accommodation: I stayed at a 3* Guest house called Hotel Fron on Laugavegur Street. The location is superb! Right in the heart of the city and the shopping areas. The hotel also offers a light breakfast in its rate.
WHAT CAN REYKJAVIK OFFER?
Reykjavik is the Capital city of Iceland and is home to around 122,000 people. In comparison to other Capital cities of the world Reykjavik is extremely small and can be navigated within a few hours. The city is located on the coast and boasts a beautiful harbour and promenade walks.
Reykjavik is awash of thriving cafes, high-energy clubs, friendly pubs, and a brightly coloured old town with rows of wooden and iron cladded houses all clustered together.
The main street is named Laugavegur and is one long road lined with all matter of shops, restaurants and bars. BE WARNED: Iceland is not cheap. Be prepared to pay almost GB£26 (US$36) for a burger, or GB£13.50 (US$18) for soup! The vast majority of visitors will head to the nearest grocery store and purchase food and drink at significantly lower prices. Always be observant of ‘Happy Hours’. Some will offer ‘buy one: get one free’ on drinks, others will offer food at discounted prices, especially down towards the area of ‘Austurstraeri’ (found at one end end of Laugavegur Street) where you will find typical Irish, British and American bars. Nonetheless, Happy Hour prices are still very expensive but it does soften the blow.
There are three places for food to watch out for. After rigorously meandering the streets of Reykjavik these were the most reasonably priced places.
Located next to a car park on Skólavörðustígur Street. Its a fast food place but does offer the cheapest burger and fries around… even though it does cost over GB£20!
These grocery stores are peppered generously throughout the city. Its the best place for snacks and breads. On day trips around the island I made sandwiches for lunch. Its the cheapest way to eat if you have facilities in your hotel.
Located on the main high street – Laugavegur Street. This restaurant only serves two types of soup (choice of meat or vegetable) and is served in hollowed out soda bread. Extremely filling. All soup is Kr1800 (GB£12/US$17)
Believe me, this is one of the cheapest places to eat for an evening meal. Ensure you dine fairly early. The venue is not big and queues of people wait outside for a table to become vacant.
Some Day-to-Day Handy Tips for Iceland
As Iceland is so expensive here are some handy tips that I adopted that may help you to keep expenditure to a minimum.
💷 Shop in a grocery store named ‘Bonus’ They are a plenty. I used these for creating lunchtime sandwiches, snacks, pastries and bottled water.
💷 If you want to buy alcohol purchase bottles of spirits in the arrivals hall at Keflavik airport. The prices are extremely reasonable. I carried a hip flask with me into bars and just purchased sodas then tipped the contents (Vodka) into them.
💷 Bring with you an empty water bottle and fill it from the tap or numerous water fountains. Bottled water will set you back almost KR400 (GB£3.00) Water from the tap in Iceland is completely safe to drink.
💷 If you can, find a hotel that includes breakfast in the price. This will save you a fortunate having to ‘shop around’ for the best breakfast deals.
💷 Always pre-book your excursions beforehand. Again, being organised will save your wallet in the long-term.
Aside of prices the city has a few points of interest. The city is small where you can visit all the points of interest within a few hours. I started down by the harbour and navigated my way inland towards the Hallgrimur church, finally window shopping on the high street.
SOME NEIGHBOURING POINTS OF INTEREST
THE SUN VOYAGER (SOLFAR)
Head towards the seafront and you will discover this metal Viking ship sculpture. It creates a stunning photograph with the mountains as the backdrop.
CHURCH OF HALLGRIMUR
You will definitely know where to find this. The church towers over the city. Designed to resemble the basalt lava that flows in Iceland made of tall, thin white beams. Even though the exterior is striking, make sure you visit the inside as well – there is an Alexander Stirling Calder sculpture of the famous explorer Leif Eriksson and an observatory at the top where you can get breathtaking views of Reykjavik.
HARPA CONFERENCE CENTRE
Harpa is a concert hall and conference centre located on the seafront near the harbour. The building features a distinctive coloured glass facade. Inside are various open rooms, a grand foyer and a small cafe and gift shop.
THE CITY OF REYKJAVIK ITSELF
The main areas of Laugavegur Street and Hverfisgata Street are architecturally beautiful. All wooden or Iron clad buildings painted in bright colours. Have your camera ready. The buildings are really quite beautiful.
THE BLUE LAGOON
Iceland’s most famous geothermal pool is the country’s top tourist attraction. It might be crowded and expensive, but there is nothing like it in the world. This huge, milky blue spa is fed by mineral-rich heated seawater from the nearby geothermal plant. Add the silvery towers of the plant, rolling clouds of steam, and people covered in white mud. Admission starts at KR5,200 (GB£35) during the low season and KR6,400 (GB£50) during the peak season.
Once again, some handy tips for the Blue Lagoon. Always buy the basic package. This is literally just the admission fee and access to a locker to store your belongings. There are other packages offering towels, bath robes, face packs etc. Do not bother! Face packs are free at one of the pool booths. Bath robes are only used really to walk the 10ft or so distance from the exit door of the building to the pool. Before you can enter the pool everyone MUST shower. There are a couple of private showers but the shower room is communal.
There is a bar that serves beer and wine but again it is overpriced.
THE GOLDEN CIRCLE TOUR
During the summer months, hiking in the highlands of Iceland becomes a popular pastime. If you want a truly breathtaking experience, stand at the rift zone on the edge of the North American Plate and look towards the rift at the Eurasian Plate – talk about a riveting experience! Other stops include Kerið volcano crater, Hveragerði greenhouse village, Skálholt church, and the Nesjavellir or Hellisheiði geothermal power plant. This tour lasts around 6-8 hours. I booked this excursion through Gray Line Tours.
“Foss” means waterfall in Icelandic, and you’ll find a lot of waterfalls throughout the country. Iceland is overflowing with these natural beauties! Dettifoss, located in the north, is the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
Gullfoss can be found in the Golden Circle and is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. Located in a canyon which forms three step terraces, the river Hvítá plunges from a height of 105 foot (32m) to create this majestic force of nature. There are no rails – just natural surroundings. Gullfoss is strongest in summer and is a must see when in Iceland.
Due to the volcanic activities underneath the surface, a lot of geysers, underground springs, and thermal pools are scattered all around the country. To see a powerful hot stream shooting from the ground is definitely exciting. Strokkur, in the southwest of Iceland, beside the Hvítá River, is a popular fountain geyser. Many geysers are found in Haukadalur in the south of the country.
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
Seeing them in person is one of the most awe inspiring things anyone could witnessed. The lights are best admired in the remote places, further from the city’s bright lights. The best time to catch them is from mid September to mid April. The Northern Lights usually tend to be very active for two to three nights, then will become less active for a few more.
If you have never been to Iceland then it is a guaranteed ‘Bucket List’ destination. You just have to see the landscape and feel the power of the Natural Earth in all its majesty. Once you get past the expense of the country then it really is lovely.
My stay in Iceland was three days that gave me enough time to do what I wanted to get from the trip, However, if you can afford it then give yourself maybe another two days to explore the Ice Glaciers or go Whale watching. Either way, I doubt you will leave this land with any bad memories.