You may have seen my MFE for Iceland Airwaves, but I feel as though the remaining half of my non-Airwaves related journey was worth it’s own post.
If you have ever thought about traveling to Iceland, I cannot express more enthusiastically that you should go. Everything about that place is beautiful, in the most crushingly serene way. The people are beautiful and kind, the food is delicious (albeit expensive), and the scenery will take your breath away.
Almost everyone I know had their list of “must-see” places in the world, and Iceland was near the top of my list, so I am beyond ecstatic to have gone. Before my return flight even boarded, I was thinking of when and how I wanted to return.
So this post is a basic “to-do” travel guide & tips to the most beautiful place on earth.
For some reason, there’s a common misconception that Iceland is this crazy, far-off land that’s totally inaccessible. That could not be more untrue. Iceland Air is your cheapest way to fly, without a doubt. With a direct flight from Toronto-Keflavik (about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik) you’re looking at a just over a 5 hour flight for around $550-750 for the flight. They also do an amazing promotion where you can get a 7-day stopover without charge when flying elsewhere in Europe. Definitely something worth exploring next time you hop over the pond!
The most popular way to stay seems to be the Air BnB route, or in something like where we stayed, an apartment-style hotel. We stayed at Reykjavik4you Apartments and I could not be happier. Centrally located, we were right in the downtown core, about 30 seconds from the main shopping strip, Hallgrimskirkja (pictured below), and most of the cities most popular bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
For three of us, we had a one-bedroom apartment that included two beds, a sofa bed, full kitchen and living area. One of the best parts of this place was that all of the linens (including slippers, bathrobes) were included, along with cooking utensils and even some basics (coffee, tea, spices). I would highly recommend staying somewhere you can cook yourself, unless you’re Oprah-rich and can afford the ridiculousness that seems to be going out for a meal in Reykjavik, which I’ll go into next. The apartment cost 960 Euros, so about $445 CDN each for EIGHT nights. It’s actually ridiculous how inexpensive that is.
From the airport, there are so many services available if you want to immediately book a tour (the Blue Lagoon is only about a 5-10 minute drive from the airport), or just book your shuttle to the city. It costs about $25-40 for a round trip ticket to/from your hotel and is absolutely cheaper than a cab.
Because of its location, nearly everything consumed in Iceland (food-wise) is imported. I had experienced something similar to this when I visited Alaska/the Yukon nearly two years ago, but Iceland seemed to knock those prices out of the park.
On average, you’re looking at spending about $20-30 on a low-end meal in Reykjavik. I don’t mean low-end in the sense of poor taste or shoddy location, but you’re certainly not getting the finest dining experience. We mostly ate at pubs (The Icelandic Bar, pictured above was amazing, and half of their things came in jars!), although we did have one of the most delicious meals of our life at Tapas Barinn, which was well-priced and a great atmosphere. The girls I was traveling with were more adventurous than I–they had the opportunity to eat so many of the Icelandic delicacies, and thankfully not in huge portions. Who would have thought Puffin would taste like fish? And whale like over-done beef? Crazy!
Although food was expensive, I seriously ate some of the most delicious food ever, but don’t expect a lot of fresh vegetables, or things without fish in some form. There are a lot of pretty crazy “Icelandic” dishes that you can get readily: puffin, minke whale, langoustine (those tiny little lobsters), and the infamous Icelandic hotdog (also the cheapest thing you buy for only about $3).
SIDEBAR: Icelandic hot dogs, specifically from the stand featured above, are the tastiest things EVER. Topped with a homemade ketchup, remoulade, mustard, and fried/raw onions…so good.
Reykjavik is a surprisingly tiny city. With a population of only 112,000, it’s barely a blip when compared to most major city centres in the world. You can walk from one side to the other in about half an hour, and you need to. It’s a very walkable city, and other than the fact that you risk getting lost because pronouncing street names is nearly impossible, you can find your way around pretty easily. Laugavegur street is one of the best streets to explore. Filled to the brim with Icelandic designers, you will not find a North American/European chain store in the entire city. It’s almost vehemently independent. There’s a ton of vintage, music and craft shoppes along the strip (if you’re a knitter/crocheter, Iceland is your dream for cheap, beautiful wool).
Outside of taking in the sights, Iceland is the outdoor-adventurer’s wet dream. If you can dream it, you can do it. Scuba diving, snorkeling, glacier hikes, “Super Jeep” tours, caving…you name it. While we were there, we did three of these:
- The Blue Lagoon
I won’t go into detail here, as I wrote about it in my last post, but this is definitely an affordable must-see. And it will make your hair so voluminous it’s ridiculous!
- Horseback Riding in the Lava Fields
Have you ever SEEN an Icelandic horse? Holy shit those things are cute.
I basically re-enacted this scene upon seeing them at the stables: Lil’ Sebastian on Parks & Rec
We booked our horseback riding tour through a new company, Islenski Hesturinn but one that comes highly recommended. We were picked up and dropped-off at our hotel, given a history of the horse, instructions on how to ride, and then taken for an hour through the lava fields just outside of Reykjavik. All for only approximately $70 CDN. So, so worth doing this. But I would recommend checking the weather before you go–the day we went it was quite windy and there was intermittent hail, so that was a bit unpleasant, but the scenery alone was amazing.
- Flight to the Arctic Circle
Although we were presented with a myriad of options in terms of tours, we went off the beaten path by flying into Ísafjörður, located just in the tip of the Arctic Circle. I have never in my life seen anything as beautiful and perfect as I did the morning we flew in. Landing at sunrise in the middle of a mountain range on a fjord that had just been covered in two feet of snow in the middle of October. We spent our last full day in Iceland cruising around the fjord’s (we rented a car), and exploring one of Iceland’s truly hidden treasures.
With a population of only 4,000, we were hilariously in one of Iceland’s “major” cities. It surprisingly had a lot of cute restaurants (we had the best pulled pork sandwich EVER there?), some adorable shops, and just the nicest people. It was truly breathtaking to drive around and be virtually alone. It was one of those experiences that really makes you look at yourself, and “check yourself”–seriously. It’s just stunning. Words don’t even describe, so here are some photos to do my work for me.
So seriously, if Iceland is on your list of “must-see’s”–move it up. If it isn’t on your list, put it on, because you will not regret this magical place.