I was in Iceland last week and it was my second time visiting the country. It was just as good as the first, except with better weather! Iceland is a very accessible and easy destination, so if you are thinking about heading to Iceland, let me save you some time, and spell the basics out for you, so here are a few things to know and prepare for if you are planning your first visit to Iceland:
Iceland is expensive.
Iceland is, well, and island, so almost everything is imported. This creates higher prices due to import taxes and availability. When I couch surfed in 2012, my host even asked my friend and I to purchase some outdoor equipment for him in the U.S. because the cost would be that much cheaper than compared to buying in Iceland.
Although Iceland’s economy tanked a few years ago, they are almost fully recovered and part of that, in is because of the huge influx of tourism to the tiny island. The currency in Iceland is ISK – Icelandic Krone. 1 USD = about 128 ISK. I use the XE currency converter app when I travel so that I can figure out the cost in USD of items on the go.
Just how expensive it it? Here are some prices for what you can expect to pay for various items:
Coffee: $5 /650 ISK
Americano: $7 / 900 ISK
Beer: $4.50 / 600 ISK
Wine: $10 / 1200 ISK
A meal by yourself: $30 / 3200 ISK
Roundtrip Flybus fare to/from KEF to the city center:
Night in hostel: $20 / 2500 ISK
Night in a hotel: $70 / 8900 ISK
Postcards: $1 / 125 ISK
Postage: $1 or more per stamp for a postcard, depending on where you are sending it.
Iceland is one of the safest places I have visited.
Traveling around Europe as a single female has not scared me yet, but then again, the first leg of my trip is trekking through all of Scandinavia. With that being said, Iceland is one of the safest places a solo-traveler (male or female), can visit.
I walked back to my hostel after dark (sorry, Mom), would be in the common room ate 3am working, roamed around the entire city alone, by foot, and never felt that I was in danger ONCE.
At this point in my trip, I have also been to Bergen, Norway, and I still felt safer in Iceland. That’s not to say Bergen is dangerous at all, but I felt safer in Iceland. Possibly because it was much more touristy than Bergen. Regardless, ladies – pay attention to that intuition!
An Icelandair stopover is worth it.
Icelandair has a great deal for folks flying between Europe and the U.S. You can book a stopover in Iceland for up to 10-days at no extra cost to you. You simply choose the stopover option on their website when booking, and go from there. This is an amazing value and a great way to add an extra destination to your trip.
Go to the Blue Lagoon – right before or after your flight at Keflavik Airport.
I know this now, because I made the mistake of going to the Blue Lagoon the day before I left Iceland. This required me to book extra return bus fare.
The Flybus service to and from KEF has the option to be drop-offed at the Blue Lagoon, which is included in your fare. Going to the Blue Lagoon on your way to or from the airport will save you money!
The Blue Lagoon is a special place – the water comes from, wait for it, wastewater from a geothermal plant nearby. It is warm and you can also use the “mud,” that is produced to put on your face. I tried it out and it definitely made my skin feel great – although I’m still battling travel acne!
You will need to shower after you swim, because it dries out your hair and skin. I also had to wash my swimsuit.
A note to the modest Westerners: you will see lots of naked people. I saw lots of lady butts and boobs. The showers do not have curtains, but there are changing rooms. Just know that – so you aren’t shocked.
Walking or biking will save you money — and give you some exercise!
You can walk the entire city of Reykjavik, which is what I did during this trip. In 2012, because of the frigid weather, my travel partner and I used taxis and buses. The bus system is good and inexpensive, but taxis are quite pricey (you can expect to pay about $30 for a 10-minute ride form the city center to the southern or northern part of Reykjavik.
Traveling solo (or not)? Stay at a hostel!
If you are traveling alone, you have many options for accommodation. The cheapest is obviously couchsurfing.com however I prefer using Couchsurfing if I am traveling with someone.
Airbnb and hostels are the next best thing. If I am feeling lie I need to decompress (hi, I’m an introvert!) I will book an Airbnb or a hotel. However, I really enjoy hostel-life because you meet other travelers and many hostels have events that make your stay extra-fun.
Oh, and it’s cheap. Most hostels are equipped with kitchens, so you can save a TON of money by cooking for yourself. I ate at a restaurant every day in Iceland – which is why I overspent. In Norway, I cooked myself dinner and am doing the same in Sweden. I will splurge for one nice meal out though – you have to try the local cuisine when traveling!
Don’t worry about learning Icelandic – everyone speaks English!
In Reykjavik you will have no issues with a language barrier. Outside of Reykjavik, I am not sure. I would expect there to be a little bit of an issue, but not if you are going on one of the adventure tours, like the Golden Circle or glacier walk.
Go on at least ONE adventure tour!
Ideally, I would rather rent a car and take myself on an adventure tour. However, it is INCREDIBLY pricey to rent a car.
My budget for this trip did not include an adventure tour. If I end up on a stopover in Iceland on my way back, I will do the scuba diving in Silfra!
In 2012, I went on the Golden Circle excursion – it was AMAZING and COLD. I wish I could have done it again this trip, because everything is still green and unfrozen.
Most of the excursions can be booked at your hotel or hostel, or beforehand at re.is.
GO TO SEA BARON.
If you are vegetarian, this is not for you. Just skip this item. Also skip #10.
But if you aren’t… you must go to Sægreifinn, or “Sea Baron,” for the lobster soup, fresh bread, and a freshly-caught grilled fish skewer. You will not be dissapointed.
Get a hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu.
In English, Bæjarins Beztu literally means, “The best hot dog.”
I don’t know what they put on that thing, but it is so good. It costs about $2 USD, so it’s well-worth the walk to the hot dog stand outside the city centre.
I would say this is probably the advice I would give to anyone heading to Iceland for the first time. It is a wonderful country, and too accessible to miss, especially if you are heading to or form Europe!