I stayed in Reykjavik for two nights at an Airbnb apartment (review soon) and moved on to Hotel Berg at the port of Keflavik for another two nights. As I went during the Christmas weekend, it was hard to book tours and eat at restaurants as much as I would have liked, yet I, still, managed to have a magical time and will definitely return to Iceland again. If you are considering visiting Reykjavik (Iceland) for the first time, here are just a few things I learnt from my experience and wish to share with you. Let me know if you have any questions, and I’d gladly put you in the right direction.
1. Iceland is expensive
Sadly it’s true. Taxes are high in Iceland and with that comes extortionate prices. Most Scandinavian countries have high prices for the most basic goods, so be prepared to pay 2100 ISK for soup, roughly £14 pounds/ $17. Stay away from taxis and cabs where possible. For a twenty minute ride, you may have to pay up to roughly 8,000-10,000 ISK (£60-75). Don’t even try to get a cab from Reykjavik to Keflavik International Airport. I made that mistake and it cost me 22,000 ISK (roughly £165). Between my partner and I, we managed to enjoy ourselves with 85,000 ISK (£600) for five days, but bear in mind that we booked our accommodation and tours in advance, which put together was roughly £12,500 ISK (£900). So save up!
2. The cheapest way from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik, and back
Take the Flybus which is a regular coach that picks you up from outside the airport and arrives at the BSI Terminal in Reykjavik. It’s only 40-45 minutes long and the trip is rather scenic. There are also regular Flybus coaches driving back to the airport, every half hour. Don’t worry about capacity – the Flybus is quite big. A one-way trip is 2700 ISK (£19-20), which you can buy online in advance, or as you board the coach. I suggest you get an open single or open return, just in case you don’t know what time you may need to get the Flybus but check the website to be on the safe side. For the holiday periods, the scheduled times may differ. https://www.re.is/flybus/
3. The cold tap water is delicious
Save your kronas (ISK) and grab an empty bottle. You can fill it up with clean tap water. It’s so delicious! It doesn’t have that chlorine aftertaste which tap water usually has. This is because Icelandic water gets filtered through natural resources, including lava. If you’re out on a day trip discovering Iceland’s landscape, be sure to taste the water from the lakes, rivers or streams, so long as it is not hot water.
4. The hot water smells funny
The hot water might have a funny smell, but that’s entirely normal. The hot water comes from a different source compared to the cold water. It comes from outside of the city, which is why it doesn’t take long for the hot water to turn really hot, so be careful! The funny smell is the sulfur from the water’s geothermal origins, which is great to shower and bath in. But try not to drink the hot water though. You’re better off boiling the cold water in a pot or kettle.
5. The cheapest place to buy groceries in Reykjavic
It’s not too far from the centre and it is called Bonus. A can of coke is super cheap like 50p/ 70c, and it’s less than a pound for Isey Skyr yogurt. Back in England, it’s £1.50, but practically half the price in Iceland. I was surprised with the various types of bread available. Being in Scandinavia, you should have a taste of their rye bread, which again isn’t more than 50p for five slices, or less than a dollar. Vegetables and fruits aren’t too bad either. The same goes for cheeses and hams which are roughly a dollar per packet. If you’re staying in an apartment with a kitchen, you’re pretty much set.
6. Buy alcohol at the airport
Going back to my point about everything being expensive in Iceland, do yourself a favour and head to the duty-free store once you have passed through security in the airport. Honestly, alcohol is expensive in Iceland. Once you walk out of the airport a glass of wine, a bottle of beer/lager can be 1500 ISK (£11/$13) in a restaurant, and more so for a bottle of wine. With that price alone you can purchase a large bottle of Icelandic vodka or gin in the duty-free store. This would be good for pre-drinking before a night out.
7. Check out the swans in ‘the pond’
Tjörnin pond is famous for its picturesque views of enchanting coloured houses along a large dazzling pond filled with ducks and swans. Many locals come to feed the ducks bread. During the winter period, it is completely frozen and some people are able to walk on the pond. So be sure to take as many photographs as possible when you visit.
8. Book yourself a free City Walk in Reyjkavic
What better way to explore Reykavic with someone who knows the area for no charge. If you can’t be bothered with a guidebook, which gives you too many historical facts, then get yourself booked for a free CityWalk tour which takes place two to three times a day. There are a variety of tours which you may have to pay for including the nightlife (pub crawl) and financial history tours, but I stuck with the general free city tour where we started off at House of Parliament (Alþingi). We walked as far as the Harpa Concert Hall, visited the statue of the first Norse settler of Iceland in 874 AD, Ingólfur Arnarson, and I got to taste the best hot dogs, like ever, at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. (They truly are yummy!) We also went to see the scenic and instagramable Tjörnin pond and stopped over at the cafe Iðnó right in front of it. (It has the friendliest dog.) You can ask any questions to the tour guide. My guide was Sara who is hilarious and entertaining. She is filled with facts and advice on what to do and see in Reykjavic. At the end, you can give them a donation (or tip) on how much you think the tour was worth, and they take credit card payments online too. Remember it is a two-hour tour, so no bathroom breaks in between, but entirely worth it.
9. Book tickets for The Golden Circle Tour
If you’re based in Reykjavik and want to see Iceland’s natural scenery but have limited time, the Golden Circle tour is your best option. If you go during winter, it will be cold (as in temperatures drop to -10 degrees celsius, and beyond) and it is full of snow, but this won’t be a problem in summer. No matter which tour company you choose, they go to the same historical and geological sites in Iceland. Make sure you book this tour before you arrive in Iceland. You will find that it is cheaper to book tours online than booking when you arrive in Iceland.
This tour includes:
Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
1000 years ago it was the centre of the country. This was where laws were established and public executions took place until 1798. Parliament was re-established in Reykjavik thereafter. The National Park is also on top of the line where the North American and Eurasian continental plates meet. They are drifting apart every year at a rate of 2cm (0.78 inches). Some parts of this area were used to film episodes of Game of Thrones: Season 6, mostly beyond-the-wall scenes, which are most definitely obvious, so get your GoPro camera and shoot away.
This was once the largest settlement in Iceland for over 700 years and was a seat of religious power, but a massive earthquake destroyed the site’s cathedral in the late 18th century. When you visit Skálholt, you will enter its present church built in 1963 and see a beautiful mosaic above the altar. You may want to try out the church’s excellent acoustics by singing a song. And don’t forget to walk through the short tunnel at the base of the church and see one of the earlier bishop’s coffin.
Get your video recorder ready! ‘Gushing blowholes’ which got its name ‘geysir’ from the Icelandic language can be found in two locations. The first is said to be the largest which can reach heights of 60 metres, but it doesn’t happen regularly. The second is much more reliable and can be seen every few minutes. It is the Strokkur Geysir, which can reach as far as 20 metres. Don’t touch the water though as it is extremely hot and the main cause for the geyser to erupt. Some tourists have been severely burnt by putting their fingers in the water, and the nearest hospital is miles away. So, please, don’t be tempted.
The view is amazing here! The ‘Golden falls’ is two separate waterfalls which are a short distance apart. It is 32 metres (105 ft) deep and its splashes can be felt immediately, so be sure to be wearing a raincoat to protect you.
10. Wear thermal tops, hats, gloves, scarfs, snow boots and ice-hiking shoes
Speaking only for those that are visiting during the Winter seasons, be sure to layer up, wrap up and wear the right shoes. If you’re thinking of taking an adventure into the cold landscapes, such as going on the Golden Circle tour, you definitely need the right shoes as the land can be icy and slippery. I saw many tourists wearing flat shoes with no outer sole grip holding onto handrails as if their lives depended on it, so be prepared. If you can’t afford shoes then go online and purchase shoe grips and ice cleats, which you can place on top of your trainers. As for keeping warm, this is imperative as the temperatures can drop, fast, in the winter season. Thermal tops, thermal leggings and long johns are a must!
11. GoPro Camera
If you have ever thought about getting a camera for action shots, here is a good enough reason. A day before my flight to Iceland, I bought a GoPro Hero 6 Black and I have no regrets. Think about all those moments you’ll capture of the ice, snow or greenery and vast beautiful scenery? The video and time-lapse functions will be great too if you want to watch the sunrise or sunset. And if you’re into social media, you can download the GoPro app and download everything on your GoPro to your phone within seconds, just make sure your Wi-Fi connection is good.
12. Northern Lights tour
Iceland is famous for Northern Lights, but sometimes it is not possible to see them during your stay. The weather conditions need to be right and even if the Northern Lights are active on the evening you’re there, you have to be at the right location. The best way to check if you have Northern Lights showing in your area is to check the Icelandic Met Office website: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/
Once you know, it is about leaving your apartment or hotel room and looking up into the sky and seeing whether it is viewable for you. This is where hiring a car or getting yourself on a Northern Light tour could be beneficial to you. If you can’t afford to hire a car, or don’t know how to drive, ask your hotel to book a Northern Light tour. Don’t bother booking the tour until you arrive because, again, it depends on the weather. If it is too cloudy in your area, then it is unlikely you will see the Northern Lights, but with a Northern Light tour, they will always try to find a good location to see them. Be sure you do your research as the Northern Light tours don’t run during some seasonal holidays (such as Christmas Eve or Christmas Day).
13. Blue Lagoon
You must have heard about the geothermal spa as it is the most visited attraction in Iceland. It is located on a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula and is 20 minutes away from Keflavik airport. It is roughly 6000 ISK (£50) to go in and enjoy the hot water, but the warm-to-hot water is an experience you’ll never forget. You have to wear conditioner on your hair before you enter the lagoon, which is provided in the showers and you can try out two types of facial masks which are complimentary at the lagoon. It is part of the Blue Lagoon’s beauty product range, which isn’t cheap! I will be writing up about the blue lagoon in another post (coming soon.) Yet you don’t have to be limited to the Blue Lagoon as there are other geothermal pools you can experience such as Mývatn Nature Baths in the northern regions of Iceland. Then there is the oldest and less known lagoon near Flúðir, which is home to a bubbling hot spring right next to it.
These are just a few basic ideas and must-haves which you should know about before you go to Iceland. The Icelanders know how to speak English very well, so you won’t have a problem getting around and asking questions. You can do many things in Iceland which are beyond this post, obviously. The more research you do, the better. So be ready for an adventure, take lots of photographs and be prepared to fork out a bit of cash while you are out there.
For more information on Duty-free at Keflavic International Airport: http://www.dutyfree.is/en
Blue Lagoon – http://www.bluelagoon.com/
Bonus Supermarket – the cheapest store for food, groceries and bread: https://bonus.is/en/
For Hotel Berg – the place I stayed in Keflavic port – https://www.booking.com/hotel/is/berg.en-gb.html
Bæjarins beztu or the best hot dog you will ever taste, in Reykjavík – http://www.bbp.is/
To see whether or not you will be seeing the Northern Lights tonight, here’s the Icelandic Met Website: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/
To get yourself booked on the free citywalk tour: https://citywalk.is/what-to-do-in-iceland/
Transportation to and from the airport: https://www.re.is/flybus/
Golden Circle Tour : This is arranged by Gray Line and you have to be at the Gray Line headquarters in Reykjavik 30 minutes before your tour begins. https://uk.viator.com/tours/Reykjavik/Golden-Circle-Classic-Day-Trip-from-Reykjavik/d905-2970AH12
There are other tour companies that take you to the same places as the one including this one. above: https://www.re.is/day-tours/the-golden-circle/