It seems international travel to Iceland has soared in the past few years. Perhaps it’s because IcelandAir offers a 7-day stop over for no additional airline cost, and because it’s conveniently located between Europe and The States/Canada. Or maybe, people have just started to realize how cool this little country actually is.
Depending on how long you stay, and if you choose to rent a car there are heaps of things to do and some amazing things to see. If you’re only staying for a short time, and don’t want to leave Reykjavik for more than a day trip, don’t worry this article has got you covered!
Getting to Reykjavik
When you fly into Reykjavik you’re actually flying into Keflavik, which is about a 40-minute drive from the city. Your best bet is to get one of the airport shuttles. There are a few different ones, which you can pre-book, don’t worry though, if you forget there are stalls in the airport selling tickets. You can either chose to be dropped off in the city or directly to your hostel. Tickets will knock you back about 2,400-2,800 ISK or 28 AUD, it may be a little more if you get dropped off directly to where you’re staying. As you may have noticed, those prices are a bit more expensive than most places. So I’m just going to lay this on the table. Iceland is expensive, not that it’s terrible, but unless you are a complete budget traveller expect to spend a bit more than you anticipated.
Staying in the city
Reykjavik has heaps of different hotels and hostels to choose from. I stayed at Loft Hostel. It’s close to the downtown area, and about a 5-minute walk from Hallgrímskirkja, the unbelievably tall, amazingly beautiful and imposing church meant to resemble basalt lava flows.
I really liked Loft. I usually have a few stipulations about hostels when I travel, the first is that I prefer to stay in female only rooms, which they had, and the second is included breakfast, which they did not. While looking up places to stay I found most hostels in Reykjavik did not have included breakfasts, so if you’re the type to get hungry right when you wake up, either bring some snacks with you, or head to the grocery store once you get there.
The staff was friendly and very helpful. Most Icelandic people speak English so there was no language barrier to worry about. The staff will also book tours for you if you find something outside or within the city you’d like to see or do.
Loft also had a bar and kitchen, which did sell breakfast if you were feeling too lazy to go out and get something. There was also a common room with free wifi (you had it in the rooms as well) heaps of space, books, and a balcony which had some great views.
Things to do
Whenever I go to a new city I always like to go on a walking tour to acquaint myself with the surroundings and learn some history from locals. I found CityWalk Reykjavik online, but was surprised to find out you had to book, despite the tour being free. I decided to meet them and ask if I could join, luckily there were a few people who did not show up and I was able to take their place. The walk lasted about 2 hours going all over the centre of the city. Marteinn, our tour guide, was great; charismatic, funny and a local with a degree in history so you knew he knew what he was talking about. At the end you pay him whatever you want to give. Overall it was a great tour, and cost me less than $10. I highly recommend going on one of the CityWalk tours, but remember book online ahead of time!
Hallgrímskirkja is another must do. It’s easy to get to and one of the iconic symbols of Reykjavik, despite it being less than 100 years old. There is a lift that goes to the top, from there the entire city and harbour is laid out before you.
As a self-proclaimed history nerd I obviously had to go to one of the museums in the city. I opted for the National Museum, just a 15-minute walk from the downtown area. The museum covers exhibits and objects from the settlement to the present day and costs 1500 ISK, around 16 AUD. I was there for a few hours, and since Icelandic history isn’t taught that fully on a global scale I thought the price was well worth it. For those who want to check out more there’s also the Maritime Museum, The Settlement Exhibition, or the Penis Museum, but maybe don’t show those photos to your grandparents.
Depending on the time of year you’re there and the weather conditions you may get a chance to see the Northern Lights. There are a few different tours you can go on, or you can rent a car and try your luck. I went through Elding. Elding is a harbour tour company that offers whale and puffin watching, sea angling, and of course the northern lights tour. The tour lasts about 2 hours, goes throughout the harbour, and includes a brief introduction on the science behind the lights. They also give you super warm and comfy overalls; seriously I could’ve worn these in Antarctica and been comfortable.
The peak season for seeing the Northern Lights is from around October-March, but I was able to catch them in mid September. Seeing the Northern Lights has always been on my bucket list, and this was definitely my favourite part of the entire trip.
Before you leave Reykjavik, I definitely recommend booking to go to Blue Lagoon Spa. You can choose to get there on your own, but I opted to book it along with my airport transfer, and since it’s not too far from the airport I think I made the right choice. They also have a luggage room to leave your bags for a small fee. When you book there are a few different packages you can choose from. I recommend Comfort because they give you a towel, and the last thing you want before flying is to have a soaking wet towel in your bag. The spa is great, it’s quite the tourist attraction so there will be people there, but it’s big enough that it never feels crowded. One word of warning though, DO NOT put your hair underneath the water. I made that mistake and my hair for the next few days was super knotty and felt tough and kind of gross. Luckily I remembered the wonders of leave in conditioner and it finally went away. I highly recommend going to the Blue Lagoon, but seriously do not dunk your hair in the water!
Things to eat
What would any travel article be without recommending places to eat? Because Iceland is an island there is a lot of seafood, which I don’t eat. Luckily I found out about Icelandic Meat Soup, which is basically chunks of lamb and heaps of vegetables, and it’s really tasty. If you want to get this, the one place I recommend is Icelandic Bar. The food was great and the staff is friendly.
For cheaper food, and for those who like hotdogs, definitely go to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. I have no idea how to pronounce it; I just called it the hotdog place. Seriously this place is amazing. One hotdog is about 400ISK or 4.42 AUD, you can get the typical ketchup or mustard but you’ll be missing out if you don’t get ‘one with everything’ which has onions, fried onions, ketchup, sweet mustard and this amazing remoulade. Seriously go there, you’ll want to go back everyday…not like I did or anything…
Overall I really enjoyed my time in Reykjavik. It’s a small city, but there’s a lot to do! Whether it’s the start or end to your journey Reykjavik is one place you shouldn’t miss out on!