Whether you’re visiting Iceland to take in the Aurora Borealis or relax by the Blue Lagoon, there sure is plenty to see and do while exploring this tiny, unique country nestled in the northern Atlantic. I’m certainly no expert in Icelandic tourism but, as a relatively seasoned travel bug, I did learn a few things that I wanted to share with anyone planning to visit Iceland.
Pending on your point of embarking, jetlag can be a real beast. Logan International in Boston to Keflavik airport can be a rough ride when your flight takes off at 6pm and lands in Iceland at 4:15am. The perk of a red-eye flight is that you have a solid 5 hours to attempt at napping before time-travel catapults you into the next day. The downside is if you don’t fall asleep, you’re likely going to be wide awake for a solid 40 hours.
If you’re anything like me and can’t sleep on planes, I recommend trying your hardest to plow through the following day and not sleep until 7 – 8pm Iceland time. You’ll want to get yourself on Iceland time as quickly as possible. When we landed, we drove straight to the Blue Lagoon and slept for an hour in the parking lot until the Blue Lagoon opened at 8am. That catnap was enough to survive the day and I slept like a baby the following night.
With the new construction and beautiful hotels popping up, it’s tough not to book a 5-star resort for the duration of your stay. As tempting as a hotel may be, an Airbnb is absolutely the way to go. Not only do you have the luxury of a fully functional apartment, but the cost is significantly less. On that note, always bring your Euro-adapter!
Be sure to use this link if you want to save $40 on your next booking! I can’t even begin to tell you how glad I am we decided to book through Airbnb. The entire city is walkable so I wouldn’t worry too much about being off the ‘main strip’ – we we’re about a 10 minute walk from downtown and thought it was the perfect distance. For reference, we were on the corner of Hofsvallagata and Asvallagata.
3. Grocery Shopping:
I cannot stress enough how expensive food and drinks can be when dining out in Reykjavik. A glass of wine can be close $20 – $30, mixed drinks are easily upwards of $30! Kyle and I chose to dine-out the last evening in the city (mainly to celebrate our engagement) and dinner in total was roughly $250 for two people – borderline insane. I will say, the restaurant we chose was beyond amazing and I highly recommend visiting Grillmarkadurinn if you want to spoil yourself.
Instead of dining out for lunch and dinner every night, we went to a local grocery store and spent about $50 on groceries for the week. I’ll admit, we weren’t the most health-conscious with our lunch/dinner choices but, it beats spending $2000 on food. I figured, we’d do some extra walking to burn off the unwanted pasta calories.
Additionally, take advantage if your duty-free prices before take-off. We purchased a bottle of whiskey and vodka (Ciroc, my fav!), which was plenty to last a week for two people. Purchasing your wines and spirits beforehand can literally save you tons of money.
4. Car Rental:
The car rental service we used was Icerental4x4. I highly recommend looking into a car rental for the majority of your trip – undoubtfully one of the best decisions we made while in Iceland. I didn’t attempt to try out any of the public transportation systems (ie, the Flybus), so I can’t speak to the reliability but I do hear good things. With a car however, you’re free to come and go as you please. Visiting Viik, Gullfoss, Thingvellir National Park, etc., are much easier when you’re not stuffed on a tour bus. My favorite part of the trip was simply just having the freedom to hop in the car and go exploring. Due to the high cost of fuel, I would suggest finding a energy efficient car/jeep.
5. Northern Lights:
If you’re flying at night, I recommend booking your seat on the north facing side of the plane. When booking, I figured if we had a shot of seeing the Northern Lights, it’d be outside our left window. As luck would have it, we got to see the dancing Aurora Borealis for about an hour over Northern Canada/Greenland.
During your stay, I recommend venturing outside of Reykjavik to see the lights first and foremost. You honestly don’t have to go far! Driving 45 minutes to Thingvellir National Park is always an option but, we went out to Seltjarnarnes and found the Grotta lighthouse (which was packed with tourists). We ended up settling down the street at the Seltjarnarnes golf course and it was relatively quiet and had minimal light pollution. I recommend checking the Aurora forecast before going on the Northern Lights hunt – I found this to be incredibly accurate.