Iceland is becoming a popular destination for travelers. Prior to my departure at the end of March, my social media feeds were teeming with selfies in the Blue Lagoon to gorgeous and scenic Icelandic landscapes. If you have a short time in Iceland, you can actually experience a sample of it without much planning. Buy that low priced WOW ticket, pack your WOW sized carry-on (we did notice that passengers were able to bring a regular sized carry-on without the extra fees, however, when flying out of Iceland they are more strict about baggage size requirements), and be ready for a spontaneous time in Reykjavík.
From Keflavík International Airport – after clearing customs there will be two primary bus companies at the exit, Gray Line and Flybus. You can purchase a one way ticket or a roundtrip ticket with a discount. For the budget traveler you can save money by being dropped off at the bus terminal in Reykjavík instead of at your hotel. The bus terminal is about a 15-20 minute walk to the main street downtown. Both Gray Line and Flybus have free wi-fi and usb charging at each seat. Another option is to take the public bus (Strætó) but it will take a longer time for a savings of about only $4 USD one way. You can use the public bus online navigator to visualize and plan your trip.
Our 5 Day / 4 Night Itinerary
Day 1 – Getting Settled and Northern Lights Tour
On our first day we landed around mid-afternoon and hopped on the Flybus to the capital. We checked-in to OK Hotel and got settled after a long 8 hour flight from San Francisco. We noticed that the sky was clear that day, so we went to a tour office near our accommodation to inquire about a Northern Lights tour package. We were given options of going on a large tour bus group or a small bus of 16 people maximum. Following the experiences of my good friend Olivia, we opted for the small bus package with Sterna for a little bit more money as it gave us a more flexible experience that night. The small shuttle picks you up right at your accommodation and runs from about 9pm-2am in search for northern lights. The great thing about going your first night is if you don’t see any lights, you can go again the next night or even the next next day until you see them. Our tour provided tripods for those that did not bring them for picture taking, hot chocolate and baked goods. If you are interested in photos, I would bring a manual camera or phone and opt for the bus ride, because the boat tours will not give you as stable as a platform for your long photo exposures.
Day 2 – Walking Around Downtown
After a long night out chasing northern lights you’ll most likely want to sleep in. We used our second full day to explore all over downtown by foot. You can walk to see the magnificent Hallgrímskirkja church and pay about 900 ISK to enter the tower for a view of the city from above. Play some pinball at Freddi Arcade & Toys in the afternoon for about 1000 ISK per hour or 500 ISK for 20 minutes. Zig-zag through all the streets and shops. Make your way down to the Harpa to check out the architecture and shops inside. Continue walking along the waterfront and you’ll come across the Sun Voyager sculpture.
Another option for your second day is to spend a day venturing out to the Nauthólsvík geothermal beach (about a 10 minute drive from the Harpa). There is also a free city walking tour available.
Day 3 – Golden Circle and Secret Lagoon Tour
On the previous day we booked another day-long tour with Sterna to check out Pingviller National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir and the Secret Lagoon. This is a full day tour with pick-up and drop-off to your hotel. You’ll get about 45 minutes at each of the sights and about 2 hours to soak in the Secret Lagoon. Towels, shower, hair-dryers, shampoo and changing rooms are all available for you at the lagoon. The Secret Lagoon is a great alternative to the Blue Lagoon. If you do decide to go to the Blue Lagoon, book your ticket and time as soon as possible, because they may fill up on your desired date.
Day 4 – Book Another Tour or Check out the Kringlan Shopping Mall
On your last full day, you could book another tour to check our more places such as the South Coast and glaciers. We were so exhausted from our full day on the Golden Circle Tour that we opted to walk to the mall to see what other shops there were other than all the tourist shops on Laugavegur Street. Kringlan Mall has a food court, two markets and various shops to check out. We really liked the Sostrene Grene store, which has great stationary, craft and home goods that make wonderful gifts.
As you walk around downtown and especially in the the neighboring residential areas, you’ll run into many local cats.
Eating Out or Rather In …
Every eatery is rather expensive, including fast food joints. Most meals were about $20-30 USD and a latte on average was about $6 at cafes. A hamburger combo meal at a fast food joint was about $17-20 USD. A donut from Dunkin’ Donuts was about $3.25 USD each. With that said, here were our budget friendly options:
- Before we left, my friend James advised us to look out for the Bonus Store, which is equivalent to a Grocery Outlet in the states and one of the cheapest convenience store chains. Just look for the pig mascot. With that being said, it is worth looking for an accommodation that has a kitchenette for you to make meals yourself. We would make items like ramen, coffee and hard boiled eggs. The store does close early, so make sure you buy what you need if you plan to return back to the city center late.
- Icelandic Hot Dog – They have their unique way of serving hot dogs. Get a hot dog combo and bottled soda deal for about $5 USD near the hot dog vendor by Dunkin’ Donuts on Laugavegur Street.
- Pizza by the Slice at Devitos Pizza – about $6 USD for a slice of pizza.
- Whale meat – DO NOT EAT. Support these whale friendly eateries in Iceland instead.
What to Pack
We were traveling in the last week of March, so our must bring packing list is for this season in particular.
- European 2 -pronged outlet converter and adapter for your charging needs
- Tripod if you plan to take northern lights photos on your own at night. You can actually see the lights in the downtown area and waterfront
- Swimsuit for the lagoons and geothermal pools
- Rain jacket and layers
- Beanie, gloves and scarf! These will keep you warm from the cold wind chill at night
- A thermos/water canteen to boil and refill your own water instead of buying water all the time. You can boil water from tap water and have no problems.
- Fleece lined pants or leggings for extra warmth and comfort
- Warm boots / Waterproof is best
|Note: We are not endorsed for any of the companies recommended in this article. Each tip is basically recommended from personal experience. |