I fidget restlessly at work, staring at the clock as if willing it to expedite the time. I’m 3 hours away from knocking off another bucket list item – visit Iceland. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m salivating with enthusiasm at the prospect of waking up in a country that relatively few have ventured. One thing’s for certain- this Scandinavian jewel was worlds apart from my tropical upbringing. Good, Bad or In-Between, I will have my Icelandic experience – Travel Daddy style!
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front):
MAYBE I’LL RETURN; YOU SHOULD GO AT LEAST ONCE; IT IS WORTH THE EXPERIENCE!
3 W’s (Where/When/Why):
I booked my tickets 6 weeks out on Kayak, but the flight prices remained stable approaching the date. The 2 main bargains were WOW Air, and Icelandair- both offering relatively cheap flights. As in anything transit related, you get what you pay for. I chose the latter. Aside from the 1 complimentary drink, don’t expect free snacks or refreshments or the honoring of pre-booked seats. Both ways I had to wrestle with the ticket agent for my unwilling seat change. I booked aisle but somehow ended up in the center. You can score tickets around mid-$400’s, but that didn’t include baggage fees, and any other bells and whistles. My flight time was roughly 5 hours. I saw WOW flights delayed and/or cancelled when I was leaving few days later. This might be a common occurrence based on weather patterns that far north.
$248.00 + Taxes & fees $223.41 = Total ticket price: $471.41 Baggage Fees: $69 + $73 (I think I opted on return to pay in ISK, hence the conversion difference) = $142
Total Airfare Cost = $613.41
I opted to stay at CenterHotel Arnarhvoll Reykjavik, based on its proximity to the central downtown area. It had a rather convenient location across the street from Bus Stop 5, which is literally a walk across the street and an established pick-up spot for most tours. So I’ll be frank, don’t expect top notch accommodation; most Express Inns have nicer rooms at half the price. However, with a 4-day itinerary – it’s all about location, location, location!
My Deluxe Single (Base Room) cost me $814 for 3 nights = $271.33 per Night
This will very much depend on a number of key factors: time of year, where you’re staying, where you plan on exploring, etc. I recommend staying in Reykjavík your first time, where public transport is both modern and reliable. The buses were amazing and almost always on time. Everyone speaks English (who I met), and the price is… well, it’s Iceland (no third-world rates). To give you context, my fare from Keflavik airport to the Reykjavík (with hotel connection) cost 3340 ISK per person = approx. $31 U.S. Now multiply that times 2 for round trip and that’s $62… imagine a family of 3-4- yikes! Oh, and that’s the base level by the way- there are substantially more expensive and luxurious modes of transport if you’ve got the dough to burn. I used Airport Direct to go to and from, and had a very pleasant, hassle-free experience both ways.
The further you stay or explore away from the heart of the capital, is the more you may want to consider driving a rental. The cheapest (reputable) one I could find was just over $110 U.S. per day, but definitely worth considering if you’re trying to go off the beaten path on your terms. With that said, it leads me to my most important caveat: Iceland’s weather patterns.
Do me a solid: type in ‘Iceland safety’ in Google or any search engine, and read any of the top results. While Iceland may be one of the safest places in Europe and the World, with relatively low violent crime rates, the erratic nature of Iceland’s natural landscape affected by fast changing weather patterns can be a recipe for disaster. Common sense MUST prevail when engaging in ANY off-the-beaten path activities.
A mistake or error in sound judgement- go hiking solo even during the “summer” inadequately prepared, step over the roped off area next to a massive waterfall for that perfect selfie, or driving in remote areas in a vehicle not designed to deal with the harsh fury of an Icelandic blizzard- have proven fatal to unfortunate tourists in recent years. As usual I recommend doing a Weather Forecast print out for the duration of your vaykay.
Here’s the link to the one for Reykjavík …You’re welcome!
Keep your wits about you like any place. Even as a man-of-color in a very Nordic and homogenous society like Iceland, I felt very safe. The place is small enough that most people probably know someone who knows someone, which mitigates the inclination to act a fool. However, just my luck that one tough-guy wannabe, tried to pick a fight with me on my last night- and a slow Sunday at that! I went to one of the few bars open after my Negroni experience (see Activities) and everyone I encountered were amazing, friendly and just drinking off the afternoon chill, except for THAT guy.
After an eternity of his fellow citizenry fruitlessly pleading with him to leave the humble-friendly tourist alone, I realized that my efforts to avoid a criminal or legal consequence just made this guy feel more emboldened. I finally took my stand when he unwittingly tried to follow me out the bar with his hands in his pockets. Nope…No stabbing the Travel Daddy today bud!
I tell you this in detail not in pride, as an underlying theme in all my travels, that there are legitimate killjoys EVERYWHERE on the planet– even a super chill and SAFE place like Iceland.
Am I Safe Factor: 9/10 (could have been 10, you asshole!)
This was arguably the surprising highlight of the trip. Admittedly, I expected the bland staple and meat combo that’s synonymous with Scandinavian culture. From Day 1, I was treated to a wide variety of quality cuisine. Whether it’s eating breakfast at Café Paris, treating yourself to some amazing cocktails and small plates at Apotek, or fine dining at Nostra restaurant (ask for Mike-hands down best server I’ve had in Iceland), Reykjavík is the place to safely expand your culinary taste buds if your pockets allow it.
To give you my actual food/restaurant costs, I retrieved my bank statement for that time period and copied actual amounts debited. Keep in mind, I often cut corners in other avenues of travel, since I spare no expense to get the best culinary experience possible; it is possible to spend less daily on subsistence and still have a pleasant dining experience.
Total Meals = $569.62 = Subsistence rate of $142.40 per day.
ACTIVITIES… SO MUCH ACTIVITIES ! :
So you’ve got roughly 4-5 days including travel time to make the most of this vacay. The trick is to find the sweet spot between activity and chillax. Have you ever gone somewhere and did so much that you were more tired the day you left your vacation? Exactly.
With that said, there’s so much outdoorsy stuff to do in Iceland that I narrowed it down to 3 essentials – all structured must-see activities, where maybe I’ll knock out 2 birds with one stone. Let’s see how I fared…
DAY 1: WAKE UP REYKJAVIK BAR CRAWL
I flew in at an awkward time on a Friday, which saw me arrive too early for early check-in, and too late to sign up for any tours available. Couple that with the time change and my jet lag, it was apparent that after I had an amazing brunch at Café Paris, I needed to get some shut eye before I ventured out. What better way to make use of the nearly 24 HOUR SUNLIGHT than to join one of the highest rated guided tours in Iceland. Boy, did they not disappoint!
You can check out my review here on Trip Advisor.
Cost: 14.900 ISK = $137.49 U.S.
DAY 2: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
This is probably the most popular tour offered by Reykjavik Excursions, offering a great balance between driving to location and time spent at each destination. The duration of the tour from pickup to drop off is 6-7 hours, and they offer pickups at 1030 and 1230 DAILY.
Still, reeling from the night before, I woke up to quite colorfully dressed participants in a run/walk charity event that passed right by my hotel.
Once I had my fill of snaps, I stumbled across the street to Bus Stop 5 where the driver was both prompt and courteous. The highlight of the experience was the tour guide, who was a college professor in a former life. He had a dry sense of humor and seemed very knowledgeable on all aspects of the tour. The weather was less than ideal, the bus ride full but comfortable, and the landscape interesting.
I had never seen a Geyser in person and was amazed at the force and height of the water when it finally exploded upwards.
The waterfall at Gullfoss was quite majestic, and gave me a great appreciation of nature’s uncompromising power.
By the time the 3rd leg arrived, I was cold, wet and tired enough to snap a few pics and head back to the bus. The Thingvellir National Park might be interesting to some historians and geologists, but for me it was one of those “ok, I’ve been here for half an hour… time to go” type places.
I wouldn’t recommend this tour for young children (age 7 & below), because they’d be bored and cranky… at least mine would.
Cost: 6.890 ISK = $62.16 U.S.
DAY 3: THE BLUE LAGOON
After another night out of fine dining at Nostra, and bar/nightclub hopping, I caught minimal shut-eye to make my 1430 pickup to the globally known BLUE LAGOON- the geothermal hot spring with a dedicated spa, restaurant and amenities built around it. I reserved the Premium option weeks before hand, and opted to reserve dining at LAVA, the upscale restaurant fashioned from a carved out mini-volcano interior- it was quite the experience! The food was great (and pricy) but the view incomparable, as you had a direct view of the lagoon.
I can speak more about the lagoon, but there’s really nothing additional I can say that you can’t find anywhere else. In my opinion it’s a BID (Before I Die) item. The water’s warmth contrasting the chilly atmosphere makes it even more relaxing. It is also eerily quiet, where people speak in almost hushed tone so as not to disrupt the collective ambiance. The swim-up bar may also be a factor in the sip and soak experience. My premium package came with 2 clay masks apparently loaded with anti-oxidative properties, and a complimentary drink. You’re at the famed Blue Lagoon in Iceland … so, why not?
THE LAST HOORAH
By the time night arrived (bright as day), I was full and rested, but restless, so I opted to stroll around downtown and hit the pubs still open on a Sunday. I stumbled upon a Negroni competition at and had fun people watching. It was a fashionable crowd with good music.
I then made my way over to another popular bar along the strip where I had THAT incident I spoke about earlier. Moving on, I ran into Mike (my Nostra server) at an after-hours speakeasy where we drank beer with locals. We even got invited back to a house party by complete strangers, who just wanted to hang out! It further confirmed that despite that anomaly of a man, Icelandic folks were some of the most chill and down-to-earth people I’d met. They treated me respect and kindness.
Cost: 18.490 ISK = $166.80 U.S.
DAY 4: CITY WALKIN’ & EXPLORIN’
I used all my remaining time before my shuttle arrived to grab one more breakfast at Café Paris and scrounge around for souvenirs. Iceland has this great tax incentive whereby you save your receipt in purchasing memorabilia and redeem an exit tax refund at a special line in the Airport. My bank statement showed a $60 refund, so I capitalized on the tax free purchase of rare Icelandic Schnapps in the airport duty free section.
In summary, Iceland was a good experience but somewhat costly- especially if you’re not trying to cut costs. I’ve listed my total pocket bleed for my 4 day trip, so you can see for yourself.
So fellow travelers – save up, and Go When You Can!
Flight + Lodging + Getting Around + Meals + Activities =
$613.41 + $814.00 + $62 + $569.62 + $366.45 = $2425.48 = $606.37/day!