5 to Survive: Iceland

Iceland seems to be on sale in 2016. I’ve seen deals from all over the East Coast and budget carriers, such as WOW Air and JetBlue, fly into KEF (Reykjavik) regularly. If you’re not interested in spending more than 24 hours in the country both Icelandair and WOW Air offer stopovers  en route to destinations in Europe. KLM offers layovers as well as direct flights.

My friends and I were able to snag round trip tickets to Reykjavik for $396 from JFK in March. We were excited at the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights and viewing all the sights along the Golden Circle. If you plan to visit the country be sure to take check out the top 5 tips below.

  1. Rent a car if you will not be traveling solo. Iceland has so much to see and do. If you’d like to optimize your time and stretch your dollars consider renting a car. Make sure to specify what type of transmission (manual or automatic) you’d like, opt for 4 wheel drive, and request a GPS if you will not have cellphone data. I suggest this only if you’ll be traveling with a group since it can be pricey to rent a car by yourself and tours may be more feasible. An international driver’s license is not needed.
  2. Check out AirBnb for lodging. Hotels are limited in Reykjavik. If searching for accommodations online most of the results that come up are for apartment rentals. My friends and I were intent on booking a place for less than $100/night per person so we browsed AirBnb. It was my first time using the site, but I was quickly able to find a gorgeous, affordable apartment in a prime location downtown. The host was extremely responsive and free parking was easy to locate upon arrival. We were less than a 15 minute drive from Harpa and walking distance from shops and restaurants.
    Reyjavik Apartment
    A picture of our AirBnb in downtown Reykjavik                                                      (Credit to: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6234882)
  3. Drive the Golden Circle early in the day. If you have rented a car and will be driving the Golden Circle head out as early in the morning as you can. My friends and I made the mistake of heading to the route in the afternoon. While we were able to view all of the sights, the journey back to Reykjavik was extremely treacherous. The roads were not well lit, snow was falling rapidly, and there are several points without guardrails along the way. We made it back safely (obviously, since I’m writing this) but we all agreed that we would’ve much preferred a return trip in the daytime.
  4. Iceland is a nature lover’s dream, but a foodie’s nightmare. If you are interested in scuba diving, hiking, lava caving, or going whale watching, you’ll be able to do all of that and more in Iceland. One of my top motivations for traveling is to experience new cultures; specifically through trying the local foods. Some traditional Icelandic foods are Minke whale, Skyr (a soft cheese similar to yogurt), pylsur (hot dogs), puffin, kjotsupa (lamb stew), and fermented shark. Food in Iceland is expensive. Typically there’s a correlation between price and quality, but that was not the case in this country. If you are visiting the country in hopes of having the best meal of your life, lower your expectations then lower them even more. The one good meal I had while in Iceland however was at Grillmarkadurinn. I had a whale slider, puffin slider, and lobster slider with a side of some of the best french fries I’ve ever tasted.
  5. Visit the Blue Lagoon on your way to or from KEF and buy tickets in advance. One of Iceland’s most visited attractions is the geothermal spa called The Blue Lagoon. Several articles I read prior to my trip made the spa seem extremely touristy and overrated, however my friends and I were happy we went. The Blue Lagoon is approximately 20 minutes from KEF and 40 minutes from Reykjavik. I’d recommend going as soon as you land in Iceland if you have an early morning arrival. My friends and I bought our tickets online in advance (make sure to have them printed or readily available on your phone for entry.). The spa is large, but starts to get crowded by tourists brought by bus on tours around 1PM. Bring some flip flops with you as the ground is freezing outside and the walk to the lagoon is short but significant. Also be mindful that if your hair gets wet the sulfur and silica in the lagoon will make it hard to straighten or style your hair for awhile afterwards.

Bonus tips

  • Check out the bars and clubs on Laugavegur and Bankastraeti. The area surrounding these streets comes alive at night. There’s no need for heels or typical American clubbing clothing as staying warm is more of a priority than being fashionable. We did not have to pay a cover charge at any of the clubs we went to and the locals seemed eager to learn American dances.
  • Electrical outlets correspond to the European option on converters. Be sure to bring an outlet converter with this compatibility.
  • Purchase alcohol at the airport upon arrival. The cost of food and alcohol in Iceland in notoriously expensive. If you’d like to drink while on vacation without feelings like you’re drinking your savings, purchase alcohol at the airport. It is significantly cheaper than you’ll find it anywhere else.

More pics of Iceland available here.

If you have any further questions or need help planning your trip to Reyjkavik send me an email here. If you’ve gotten the chance to visit this beautiful country share your tips below in the comment section.

 

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