Today let’s talk about my favorite island nation, Iceland. I’ve been to Iceland twice now and it is one of my favorite places in the world. It’s a very unique country and one of the few places I still want to go back to (usually after I’ve been somewhere I don’t have the super strong desire to go back only because there’s so many other places to see before I return there). One of the items on my bucket list is to complete the ring road in Iceland (road around the whole island). Anyways, you get it, I love Iceland, now let’s talk about what you should do when you’re there.
I’ve been to Iceland in June and December, so very different times of year. In June, it never gets dark and it has what I would consider classic fall in New England weather. In December, there are about 5-6 hours of light and the weather is pretty classic winter in New England weather (Montreal is actually colder than Iceland, lucky me).
Let’s get something important out of the way before we go any further, Iceland is expensive, like, ridiculously expensive. You might be looking at flights in Reykjavik and you’re thinking “Wow! So cheap! I should go!”
While I completely agree with you, you should go, you should be prepared for how expensive it is. A restaurant on Trip Advisor rated with one money sign ($) on a scale of one to three ($-$$$) will probably set you back about $20 USD. While in Iceland, what my mom and I do is that we mostly eat food we buy and prepare from the grocery store. We like staying in Airbnbs in Iceland so that we have access to a kitchen. Not going to lie, the food I ate while there mostly consisted of bread, Icelandic yogurt (Skyr), eggs, cheese, and bananas. Note to vegetarians (me) and vegans out there: the Icelandic diet has a lot of meat. I try not to eat much dairy, but it was pretty much impossible for me to not eat dairy, not spend too much money, and not go hungry. So, if you’re vegan, come prepared to spend a lot or to have very limited options.
I just got back from Iceland a week ago and I figured I would share my itinerary from my past trip with you guys. Then I’ll share some other must see or do things that I did on my previous trip to Iceland.
Note: this itinerary is structured around us having a rental car. Is Iceland doable without a car? Hell yeah! However, having a car makes life much easier and I would recommend it if you can afford it. Otherwise the tours often offer Reykjavik pickup (for more $$$) or you can find buses around to the different tourist hot spots.
- 4am: Arrive in Iceland, get our rental car, drive to Reykjavik, and go to our Airbnb where we proceeded to take a 5 hour nap.
- 2pm: We went on a Reykjavik “free” walking tour. Highly recommend these tours in any city you go to. Usually the tour is about 2 hours and then the pay of the guide is based on tips (or what you can afford). We went with CityWalk Reykjavik and our tour guide was Johannes. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon, and while not necessary we learned a lot of random facts. We even got to see the 2016 tree of the year!!!
- For dinner we shared a vegetable noodle soup from Noodle Station. This spot is super cheap and one soup is around $10USD.
- To make sure we stayed up late enough to fight off jet lag we drove to a fishing village north of Reykjavik called Akranes. Not super interesting but the view of the mountains on the way there is really nice and it was a good way to kill time.
- Now we come to one of our favorite things about Iceland: THE ICE CREAM. As someone who has traveled somewhat extensively and tried the ice cream every where I go, trust me when I say this is top 3 best in the world and #1 best soft serve in the world. We go to an ice cream shop called Valdis and it is open year round (take note Montreal ice cream shops, it’s never too cold for ice cream). OK, but here’s the actual key: you can tell a society is advanced when they have realized that you can fill an ice cream cone with soft serve and then put hard ice cream on top so your cone is never empty. If you go (you must) you absolutely have to ask for soft serve inside your cone, it is an essential part of the experience. You’ll notice that we ate ice cream nearly everyday, and I would recommend you do so as well. Ice cream here is about $4.50 from the cone pictured below.
- We got up around 8am and made breakfast at home, then we set off for a snowmobiling adventure on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which has the Katla volcano underneath it. This cost about $260 USD per person (sharing a snowmobile) and while it was fun it certainly wasn’t $260 fun. So, I’d recommend skipping this and maybe snowmobiling in a cheaper location. The views were nice, but again it just seemed too expensive for what it was. We went on the Arcanum snowmobiling tour and its about 2 hours and 15 minutes from Reykjavik.
- Afterwards we drove towards Vik as that is where we stayed that night. We made a pit stop at the Reynisfjara Beach during sunset, which was actually by accident but was just beautiful. Highly recommend stopping here if you are in the area.
- That night we stayed in Vik which is a cute beach front town of about 300-400 people. We stayed at the Kosy Vik and I could not recommend it enough. The room was lovely and it came with a breakfast “picnic” (basket of food).
- After enjoying our breakfast picnic, we headed off to the black sand beach in Vik to see the sunrise.
- We then went on a tour with Kaltatrack. It was also around $250 USD per person but this tour was 100% worth it. We met at a meeting spot where we got helmets and crampons and then loaded into a “super jeep” with our tour guide Pessi. We then made the 30-45 minute drive to one of the outpost glaciers where we got the chance to explore some ice caves. Seeing a glacier up close was really special especially as they continue to shrink. Additionally, Pessi was an amazing guide and if you decide to go on this tour you should ask for Pessi!!!
- Afterwards, we drove back to Reykjavik and got back just in time for dinner at Garðurinn. They have a different vegan soup and entree each day. It was OK, but pretty cheap so I would recommend it.
- Ended the day with ice cream, because priorities.
- In the morning we took a walk around Reykjavik, around the water front and by all the consulates.
- In the afternoon, we visited the Arbaer Open Air Muesum which is about 10 minutes outside downtown Reykjavik. We took the tour in English at 1:00pm, which comes with admission. Admission is 1600 ISK for adults and 900 ISK for students (so really not bad for Iceland!!). This was actually a really fun part of our trip as we got to see homes from the late 19th and early 20th century that have been moved to the museum. My favorite part was seeing a turf house, which most Icelanders lived in until the mid 19th century.
- Our afternoon snack was ice cream 🙂
- For dinner we went to a restaurant that has a few locations in Reykjavik. It’s called Glo and they serve vegan food, meat, and raw food so it’s a pretty good location for most dietary restrictions. We got the Mediterranean bowl and the veggie burger and both were delicious. We spent about $40 USD on this meal so it was our “splurge” meal, but it really isn’t considered an expensive place to eat.
- We left Reykjavik around 1PM for our flights. We spent the morning packing and getting snacks for our flights home. Then we got ice cream and drove to the airport.
As you can see, I didn’t mention a bunch of meals. Those meals are the ones we prepared using food from the grocery store. The grocery stores prices are pretty similar to prices we are used to seeing in North America, but this can vary. The cheapest grocery stores are Bonus and Kronan so keep an eye out for those.
In addition, a lot of things that are really worth doing we did not do during this trip because we had done them in our first trip to Iceland. I’d recommend doing your research to figure out what you want to do but here are the things we did:
- Blue Lagoon: this is the classic tourist spot. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal pool but it’s really more a spa. It’s pretty expensive but the water looks really nice. I’ve never been to another geothermal pool in Iceland but from my research it seems like the Secret Lagoon would be a really good choice. You can also visit normal pools within Reykjavik if you cannot leave the city.
- Something we really enjoyed doing was the golden circle tour. It has a lot of different attractions such as a waterfall, geysers, and a national park. A lot of tour companies do golden circle tours but if you have a car it’s really not necessary. Here’s a website that explains the golden circle better than I can.
- We also visited Snaefellsjokull National Park which about a 3 hour drive from Reykjavik. It was a really beautiful drive there and we got to see our first glacier! It was really fun in the summer too because it’s light all day and we got to take a lot of stops to explore Iceland.