Alex and I were blown away by our short stay in Iceland last month. We spent 5 days there but easily could have spent more. It is possible to see some highlights in a long weekend from London as per the package holidays offered by companies such as Icelandair, but if you have enough time I’d recommend staying as long as you can, enjoying everything Reykjavik has to offer then hiring a car and getting out on the quiet, open roads to explore an almost primordial landscape.
When to go
Spring was a nice time to go because while it was brisk and a little windy it hardly rained and the skies were always blue and sunny. The days were getting quite long but not enough to freak out our body clocks. If you want to see the Northern Lights you need to go in winter, but of course you don’t get much daylight at all then.
We stayed at a super cool hostel called Kex. Kex means “biscuit” in Icelandic and it’s housed in an old biscuit factory. It’s cheap, has a great atmosphere, our bed was super comfy, the shared bathrooms are huge and very clean, they have a restaurant that serves great food (a buffet breakfast as well as other meals and bar drinks), the staff are very friendly and helpful and the location is excellent (everything is in walking distance). Plus the whole place just looks really cool! Interesting things all over the wall, retro furniture…
It wasn’t as expensive as we were expecting – I think other Northern European countries are more expensive at the moment. Food prices were about equivalent to London’s if not a little cheaper – but of course it all depends on where you go. We spent 1100-2000ISK per person on most meals (£5.50 – £10) although I did splash out on a very nice three course meal to celebrate Alex’s birthday one evening. :) In Reykjavik a pint of beer is around 800-900ISK (~£4) in a restaurant/pub or 200ISK (£1) at a supermarket. We didn’t need to spend any money on transport other than our flights and airport transfers because we either walked or were picked up for free by the tour companies we used. Most of our money went towards activities.
Things and places to eat
- Get skyr from supermarket, cafes, etc. It’s technically cheese but it tastes like really thick and creamy yoghurt. Low in fat, super high in protein and you can only get it in Iceland.
- Grab a cheap lunch at “The best hot dog stand in town” (that’s what the name translates into English). 320ISK (£1.60) for one with the lot.
- Saegreifinn – 1100ISK (£5.50) for lobster soup and bread!
- Tasty burgers – 1450ISK (£7) for a burger, fries and coke.
- Fish and chips – about 2000ISK (£10) for fish, fancy chips and skyronnaise (a must).
- 3 Frakkar for a fancy, uniquely Icelandic dinner. Whale, horse, smoked puffin, guillemot and fermented shark are all available. (Booking in advance recommended.)
- Noodle Station. We didn’t get to eat here but it smelled amazing every time we walked past. 1080ISK (£5.50) for pho-style noodle soup.
- Cute cafes: C is for Cookie, Cafe Babalú.
- Icelanders love pizza.
- There’s place called Ís-Land near Kringlan (a shopping centre) that’s supposed to serve amazing icecream, featuring all sorts of weird flavours including beer and whisky!
Stuff we did/saw
- Went on a cycling tour of Reykjavik – a great introduction to a lovely, friendly city.
- Hiked across a glacier. More money than we would normally spend on an activity but it was a fantastic experience.
- Rode Icelandic horses.
- Browsed the Kolaportið flea market.
- Window shopped at cool design shops.
- Admired Hallgrímskirkja, an unusual church. We didn’t go up the tower but I think we should have for an amazing view.
- Visited 871±2 The Settlement Exhibition. Quite interesting, not too expensive and you can see it all in an hour.
- Watched two volcano documentaries at Volcano House. (You could give this a miss if you’re running short on time – it’s interesting but a bit expensive for what it is.)
- Swam and rubbed silica mud on our faces at the Blue Lagoon Thermal Spa. It’s quite near the airport so we did it on our last morning on our way out. (Note that most of the swimming pools in Iceland are filled with geothermal water and are a cheaper and less touristy alternative to the Blue Lagoon.)
Other things you could do if you had more time
- Go puffin watching.
- Go whale watching.
- There are lots of cool museums and art galleries in Reykjavik including the National Museum of Iceland and a Museum of Design and Applied Art a short drive/bus ride from Reykjavik.
- Check out all the cool bars in Reykjavik. We went to one called The Lebowski Bar which serves almost 20 different kinds of white Russian.
- Visit the Glacier Lagoon.
- See the black sand beach at Vik.
- See if you can visit an ice cave at Skaftafell National Park.
- Do the Golden Circle (Þingvellir national park, Gullfoss waterfall and the geothermal geysir). Almost every tourist visiting Iceland does this though, which is exactly why I didn’t want to. Also, I was more interested in seeing a glacier than Þingvellir, and we got to see two big waterfalls on our way back from the hike anyway. Having said that, it would have been cool to see the geysir, and the friends I know that have done the Golden Circle did enjoy it very much, so it’s really up to you!