I wrote this for one of my Quora friends who is headed to Iceland this summer.
Her question was: What are some interesting places to stay at and visit, in and around Reykjavik? I think I want to visit Iceland with my husband for my 60th birthday in August 2016. Where should we go, what should we do, where should we stay?
I thought with the new deals out on airfare, this might come in handy for someone else too. Hope you enjoy!
I didn’t have a chance to stay in any hotels while I was in Iceland but if I were to go back to Reykjavik for a week, for a birthday celebration, here’s what I’d do.
First stop is Tourist Information Centre. In Iceland these are amazing. Seriously. Well stocked, with extremely knowledgable and friendly staff. They can tell you exactly what is going on that week and you can buy a 72 hour bus pass for about $40pp if you’re not going to get a car. I do recommend a car though and at about $20/day plus gas you can’t beat it.
The Marina Hotel. It’s on the water, in the middle of town, and has a great spa. The Hilton and Radisson are there too, but it’s always fun to enjoy local hospitality.
Let me just preface this by saying that food in Iceland isn’t cheap. It’s high quality and consistently prepared well, but you will spend a decent chunk of your expenses on food unless you plan to cook at home and even then the least expensive grocery store, Bónus, is more similar in pricing to Zupan’s than to Wally World.
Lamb and fish are the standard proteins. You’ll have lots. Wish I would have had Jonas’ hot dog suggestion before – next time!
Dill Restaurant – for the birthday dinner. Seven course with wine is about $100pp. Rumored to be the best and we hemmed and hawed about whether to go last time. Next time it is a must.
Budget friendly lunch option at Icelandic Fish & Chips. They’ve got great reviews and a snack will run under $10 while a meal under $20.
This falls under both do and eat – Salteldhus – it’s a cooking class where you’ll learn to make Icelandic food, get the recipes, drink some wine, and then reap the rewards of your work. Again, around $100pp.
Delicacies you should try if you’re adventurous:
pickled ram testicles
thunder bread (at a hot spring)
Yummy, wretched, fine, and overrated are my respective reviews. I didn’t try horse or sheep’s head, but can’t see why not. If you like yougurty stuff, Skyr is good – get the Icelandic blueberry one.
Also worth noting: the water in Iceland from the tap is better than any bottled water in a store. My boyfriend got chided by the guy in the supermarket for wasting his money buying bottled water. He finally gave in and drank the water. This is no small miracle, so please do drink the water.
And on that note, be very very very careful about the hot water in the tap. Lots of homes have geothermal heating and that same hot water is also coming out of the tap, so it is HOT. Like fire. I burnt my hands once washing them. And then again when I forgot. Be careful.
If you start to miss American food, you won’t find McDonald’s (the building is there it’s now a local burger chain called Metro). You will however be slightly (or in my case where I hadn’t been to the US in more than a year extremely) delighted to find they have both Taco Bell and KFC!
Walk around the city since you’re centrally located. Tons of coffee shops and other knick knack stores. If the weather isn’t so great one day Kringlan Mall is a good way to kill a few hours and get your souvenir shopping done. It was apocalyptic when we were there. Imagine Mall 205 at 10 am all day long. Strange, but fun. There’s also a bank inside that exchanges money at a decent rate if you need it.
Animal lovers check out Iceland Horse Park to get up close and learn about Iceland’s native horses. They’re gorgeous and you can even ride one to a local hot spring for about $150pp and 30 minutes from the city.
The Golden Circle. A tour is easy, but if you can rent a car I think you’ll have a better time. Driving is easy in the cities and even when it’s snowing, people are conscientious on roads.
Frozen Gulfoss (it’ll be nice and lush in August)
Strokkur Bubbling Earth Cauldron aka the geysir.
After Gulfoss, you’ll likely eat at Gullfoss Kaffi unless you pack a lunch. While you’re there, look for some of the most amazingly soft rabbit fur you’ve ever encountered in your life. The put the $100 hat or $500 vest back on the shelf and back away slowly. The viking gear is fun to play with too.
One of the many heavenly halos.
Brian and our friend Guðmundur as vikings. One of them is the real deal. I’ll let you decide who.
If you still have some more time and don’t get seasick, a whale watching excursion would be amazing. My friend Víðir Björnsson pilots a boat in the Akureyri fjords and his photos and videos are stunning! It was January when we were there so we didn’t get a chance to go, but this is at the top of my list for next time.
If you end up with a car and the weather is good, it’s a five hour drive to Akureyri. There are also four flights a day between cities that run around $100pp if purchased in advance.
Ring Road on the way to Akureyri.
View of the fjords from my bedroom window.
As far as the hot springs go, Blue Lagoon is the most luxurious and well visited. The most basic visitor’s package runs about $30pp but the one you want with a reserved table, bathrobe, slippers, and wine is about $70pp. For an extra $160, I’d stay there for the night (on the way to or from the airport since it’s only about 15 miles away).
Because The Blue Lagoon is the most visited, it’s also the most crowded. I’ve been told if you’re there when they first open it’s a surreal experience. I personally didn’t visit this hot spring, but I visited a couple others and it’s a really fun experience. Watch out for the boiling rivers!
Also, right before you go to the airport, I’d check out Leif the Lucky’s Bridge between continents. There’s not a whole lot to do, but it’s cool to be able to see what it actually looks like when two continents meet (or met, as they’re moving away from each other quite slowly now).
Europe to the left and North America to the right. I’m technically in neither. Or both.
Now that WOW air has $100 flights to Iceland (LAX and SFO on the west coast), you can use even more of your travel budget to actually do stuff! I know you’ll have an absolutely amazing time! Bon voyage!