My husband and I are grateful to have just completed our second trip to Iceland (Our first visit was in 2016 for our honeymoon). We initially stopped there because of the $99 WOW Air flights to get us over to Europe, but we came back because we loved it so much! If you’re planning a visit soon or just considering adding Iceland to your bucket list, read on for tips and also check out this guide for road trip specific suggestions!
Where To Stay
Don’t book a hotel or Airbnb near the airport – the taxi cost will flatten your wallet, as we found out. Instead, opt for the Flybus that is always waiting at the airport to take you on the 45 minute drive to Reykjavik (includes free Wifi). If you buy tickets for it on the plane (WOW Air), you can save $10. There is also a bus called Airport Direct that is cheaper, but it didn’t seem to run as frequently.
Generally we like to venture off the beaten path on our trips, but were advised against renting a car here as the driving can be so treacherous (not to mention expensive to rent), so we opted for the 3 guided tours below instead and loved all of them.
Whale Watching with Puffin Cruise – Special Tours Iceland
- If you have more than one day in Iceland, try to book your whale-watching tour on your first day so if your tour gets cancelled due to bad weather (very common – happened to us) or if you don’t see any whales, you’ll still get another chance to go before you leave
South Shore Adventure including Skogafoss and Vik’s black sand beach (Reynisfjara) – Arctic Adventures
Getting to walk behind the waterfalls was a highlight for me, as was the black sand beach. Just watch out for the sneaker waves and don’t turn your back to the ocean.
Glacier, Waterfalls and Lava Caving – Extreme Iceland
You will get to see Þingvellir National Park – This is where you get to walk between 2 continents. We had a lot of fun riding in the Super Jeep on the glacier, exploring the caves and listening to our guide, Thor 😀
What To Wear
The local saying goes “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” We saw how true this was as we encountered hurricane force winds (not exaggerating – it knocked some in our tour down on the ground), rain, sleet, snow, and then bright sunny days all within 5-10 minutes of each other.
Pack your warmest coat and be sure to bring thick socks, gloves, a hat, and thermals (It was colder here in May than it was when we came in October). Cold weather in the US is nothing compared to the cold and wind in Iceland – we came vastly unprepared the first time!! I’d recommend a rain-resistant coat with a thick hood rather than trying to lug an umbrella with you everywhere. Waterproof boots are also really helpful to have. As you can see in the video, the weather is no joke!
What To Eat And Drink
Iceland has no shortage of good restaurants, but your jaw will drop when you look at the price of food and drinks (about $20 for a sub sandwich) so just be prepared and budget accordingly. I recommend shopping at Bonus (the local grocery store) and saving some money by preparing your own meals if you’re at a hostel or Airbnb. Be sure to try the Skyr (yogurt). It’s creamy, high in protein and deliciously fat-free!
- Food We Enjoyed in Reykjavik:
- Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – Hot dog stand where Bill Clinton ate. Their hot dogs are lamb based and have crunchy fried onions on them. Yummy!
- Glo – Lots of healthy options here – vegan friendly and they even had kombucha!
- Sægreifinn – The BEST Lobster Soup. Perfect way to warm up after being out in the windy and cold harbor.
- Joe and the Juice – originated in Copehagen, but they have wonderful cold pressed juices and their panini sandwiches are tasty too.
- Food We Enjoyed in Reykjavik:
What To See/Do in Reykjavik
Local Pool – This is not your average swimming pool. Be sure to visit one while you’re there. Each city has at least one (Reyjavik had 3 or 4, but we chose this one) They are about half the cost of the Blue Lagoon and have awesome geothermal pools and saunas to enjoy. Also a great way to mingle with locals and have a more authentic experience – we saw no tourists here (YAY!) You can also rent towels and swimsuits there if you don’t have your own. Note: You will have to shower completely naked before they allow you in the pool – the strict hygiene is needed due to the low chlorine content of the water. They don’t allow pictures inside, but you can see how cool it is on their website.
Sun Voyager Sculpture – It’s beautiful and on clear days you’ll have a great view of Mount Esja in the background
Street Art – it’s all over downtown, and so creative. Be sure to take a Star Wars selfie in the quirky Cafe Babalu!
Blue Lagoon – Yes, it’s very touristy and locals mostly avoid it, but it was well worth it. Be sure to make reservations in advance, as they book up quickly. You probably won’t be able to get a same day reservation. If you’re looking for something different, try their in-water massages. It was so nice to float during a massage! Note: this is not in Reykjavik, so you’ll have to take the bus to get there (it’s closer to the airport)
Hallgrímskirkja Church – make sure to go inside and also climb to the top if you dare!
Embrace The Culture
- Icelandic people are very friendly, and most speak English as they’re required to learn it in school. Still, it goes a long way if you make an effort to learn some of their basic words and phrases though, like “Takk” (Thanks)
- The water smells like rotten eggs (sulfur content). You’ll get used to it. It smells bad but actually tastes really good if you can believe that, so no need to buy bottled water.
- Don’t expect to see the Northern Lights. We didn’t see them either time we went, and we were told they can be quite difficult to spot unless you’re there in December or January. Don’t have high expectations, that way if you DO see them, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
- Don’t call them ponies! They are horses (though tiny), and the locals will be offended if you call them ponies.
- No real need to exchange money here. You can use your credit card everywhere.
- Be ready for extremes. In May, they only have 1 hour of darkness, and in Winter, it gets dark quite early.
- If you’re there on Saturday or Sunday, visit the flea market! We really enjoyed interacting and bargaining there.
So what do you think, is an Icelandic adventure in your future? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, let me know if you have any questions and I’ll be glad to answer any that I can.
The Planking Traveler