What to see in Iceland (and doing my best not to go broke)

Ah, Scandinavia.

I’ve been dying to go and the only thing that was holding me back was the dollars. Oh, boy. I mean I’ve been to Switzerland, but I stayed with a friend and basically just chilled out the whole time.

If I was going to Iceland, I wanted to do everything. Eat well. See the sights. Chase the Northern Lights.

And I did all those things.

We booked most of the tours, as well as our accommodation (we stayed at Fron Hotel), via our agent at Flight Centre. Usually I book most of our things, but I thought it’d just be easier this way, what with the discounts, ease of mind. It included airport transfers also which helped. (Everything was with Garyline Iceland FYI.)

Iceland was also a lot colder than I expected. I mean I’d been to the Atacama Desert and that was cold. But this was another level. I had a beanie, scarf, two layers of gloves, thermals, a down jacket and a coat and it didn’t seem to help. I had to go and buy a fur-hooded coat and let me tell you, these things are not cheap. Thankfully I found a relatively cheap one (yep $250 is cheap at these shops). Another thing I recommend investing in is a balaclava because the wind is going to ruin your life – especially at night.

These are some of the activities we did while in Reykjavik:

Blue Lagoon

An absolute must! We went straight from the airport (they have luggage storage on site). Oh it is absolutely gorgeous and absolutely relaxing. We went in the evening as our flight didn’t land til about 3pm, but if you can, I recommend going earlier in the day so you can appreciate the spectacle. At night, it’s hard to see anything past all the steam.

There’s a bar with drinks and a bar with face masks for you to enjoy during the dip.

Free Walking Tour

I think walking tours are the best ways to explore a new city; to make an impression. Get all your tips on your first day – what to see, where to go, what to eat – whilst learning all about the history from the locals. We went with CityWalk, which is the highest rated one on TripAdvisor. I knew that Iceland was the most equal, most fair city in the world but there was so much I didn’t know – it was eye-opening. One of the tips given to us on the day was that the Hallgrimskirkja clock tower, besides being quite a vision itself, is a great vantage point. Just check it:

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Northern Lights

Duh.

The odds were in our favour but the tour guide did disclaim that the lights aren’t always prevalent and if so, we could try again another night free of charge.

But one hour into our six-hour tour … bam! There they are!

I think I was so excited that I totally forgot how cold it was and I dropped to the icy ground to stabalise my camera and did my best to capture the beauty. It was odd in that you couldn’t see the Northern Lights clearly unless you photograph it. It was sort of like a slight fog in the sky but once you snapped those frames, they’re green.

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South Coast & Jokulsarlon

This two-day tour consists of travelling “from Reykjavik along the south shore to the exceptional Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon at the edge of Vatnajokukll glacier”.

The tour consisted of my partner and I, as well as two other couples. Great that we didn’t spend too long at places and that there were other people to talk to (as well as take photos for us!).

Not since South America had I seen scenery so stunning.

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Justwhen we thought it couldn’t get any better, just as the sun was about to set, the sky turned into this gorgeous pastel pink hue. I think I must’ve taken about 2000 photos in those five minutes.

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Note, that even though the cost of accommodation (at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon) is included, dinner is not (though the ridiculously good buffet breakfast the next morning is). Don’t skimp at the dinner – order three courses like we did because you’ve got to make the most of your time there, right?

The next day we saw a lot of seals(!) while exploring Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, which was just so blue and icy. Check out those slabs of ice at Diamond Beach! (Real name: Jokulsarlon beach, and that’s washed-up icebergs.) There’s a lot of black sand – equally at Reynisdrangar also where we went afterwards.

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Golden Circle

Not as amazing as the previous tour, but that’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable or any good (all relative, ya know?). I guess it was just more breezy and overcast this day. But in the end, it all adds to the mood.

“The Golden Circle Classic Tour takes you from Reykjavik city to Thingvellir National Park”, reads our itinerary. Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO listed park and “home to Iceland’s largest natural lake and the place where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia split and drift apart”.

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Oh, right. How to save money. How misleading of me.

Look, to be honest, everything is quite expensive but it’s all about where you can sacrifice/skimp, amirite? Most of the time, while travelling, that’s breakfast for me. Just a yoghurt from the supermarket will do. So a lot of the mornings I ate the Icelandic yoghurt Skyr.

Another recommendation, and this is actually a well-known Reykjavik establishment, is to eat at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. It’s been called “the world’s most successful hotdog stand” by Forbes. It’s not exactly a mind-blowingly delicious hot dog, but it is good. And it’s cheap.

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Other food places I’d recommend while in Reykjavik:

Eldur og Ís, Skólavörðustígur 2

A great place to stop, catch your breath, and warm up. They have a variety of hot chocolates on offer, from Tolberone to Nutella. They also do crepes.

Noodle Station, Laugavegur 103

Another super cheap institution. Flavourful Asian soup that’s no-fuss. Just noodles and protein.

Ostabúðin, Skólavörðustígur 8

Of course, the city is by the water so its seafood is pristine. I had the whale steak and the seafood soup. Whale is kind of like chewy steak IMO. I’m one of those travellers that likes to sample local cuisine when in that country and as much as I’m against the practice, I wanted to try a teeny amount. And the soup was just ridiculously good. Perfect to warm up with; so hearty.

Sæta Svínið Gastropub, Hafnarstræti

A gastropub that actually serves strange dishes. Like avocado fries? I mean I was seriously a bit like “hmm” when I read it on the menu, but look, like all the things we ate at the restaurant and in Iceland in general, it was delicious. Other dishes we ordered: caramelised popcorn and lobster tail.

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