Tips and tricks for traveling in Iceland

I’ve been to Iceland twice now, and wandered around pretty much all of Reykjavik (not that that’s hard, but…). I’ve also talked to quite a few fellow travelers at the hostel I was staying in the last time I went so I think I’m fairly qualified to give a few pointers.

  1. Do not take the tours. They’re expensive, you’re traveling with a butt-load of other people, and you’re stuck on their schedule. If you want to see the fantastic, natural beauty that is Iceland, rent a car. You’ll thank me later.
  2. Use the IRCA app. The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration has an app that tells you all about road conditions. It’s highly accurate. If the app says it’s dangerous, don’t go driving there. The last thing you need is to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, and wait the hours it will take for someone to rescue you; that is if you manage to call an emergency number of some sort. Iceland outside of Reykjavik is isolated.
  3. Book your bus tickets with a return trip. If you don’t rent a car at the airport, book both your bus tickets at the same time. This trick saved me a few dollars.
  4. Don’t book all your nights in Reykjavik. If you’re renting a car, and traveling around the island, it’ll take you a few days (even if you didn’t stop for anything). So it’s a good idea to book a couple places around the island. Even if you just want to run around the south side and get to the diamond or black beaches, you’ll probably need to get a place in Vik.
  5. Book your Icelandic Sagas tickets in advance. I was like “I’m in Reykjavik. I should go see this Icelandic Sagas play thing I keep seeing adds for.” Then I discovered they were booked until after I was going to leave. That was probably the biggest disappointment of my whole trip. The rest of it was pretty awesome though so it didn’t get me too bummed.
  6. Do not go to the Blue Lagoon. If you want hot springs, there are more than you can count outside Reykjavik for free (well, minus gas). Or if you don’t want to leave town, go to any of the ones listed here, and it will be way cheaper and almost just as good. I have some friends that went to the Blue Lagoon, and said it was worth it. I think that was their coping mechanism for watching their bank account drop like a rock.
  7. Make your way to the Perlan. The Perlan (pearl in English) is an amazing structure. Even if you don’t go to the ice cave in the basement or eat at the restaurant on the top floor, you should at least hit up the balcony and take every panoramic shot your camera can hold. The whole city’s visible for free.
  8. Do not pay for the tower in Hallgrímskirkja. This is the church that’s visible from everywhere in town. Do go there and have a look around, but do not pay to go up the tower. If you want a fantastic view of Reykjavik, see #7 above.
  9. Visit some museums. I’ve reviewed a few of them in my ‘A few Icelandic museum reviews’ post. There are a bunch more, though, that I’m sure are also quite good.
  10. Buy your groceries at Bónus. I thought I’d be clever once and go to a non-chain, local grocery store thinking it’d be cheaper. It was actually the opposite. Plus, Bónus has a larger selection than the similar sized grocery stores. $0.35 packets of ramen noodles were a serious budget saver.
  11. Keep your eyes peeled for grocery deals. Once when I was grocery shopping, I saw one of the employees stocking bananas; and everyone was grabbing them. Soon, only the expensive bananas were left. Another time, I found $1 instant oatmeal cups (trust me, this is actually a fantastic deal for Iceland). A few days later, they were all gone. I totally should have grabbed more.
  12. Check out the graffiti. There’s graffiti all over the city, but there’s this one tunnel that goes under 49 at Langahlíð that’s covered wall to wall. I’m pretty sure most tourists don’t know it’s there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few locals didn’t either.
  13. The Aurora Borealis. If you’re there in winter, you should definitely try to see this. Drive out during the end of the day to one of the hot springs in the middle of nowhere. Soak yourself at night while waiting for the lights. That way if you don’t see them (which is a strong possibility), at least you got to enjoy a hot spring and the trip wasn’t a complete waste.

Hopefully, this has been helpful, and can save you at least a little money. While the airfare might be cheap, the country as a whole is anything but.

A few Icelandic museum reviews

Reykjavik is home to a lot of museums. They generally tend to be smaller than what we think of as museums in the US. By virtue of their size, though, they can cover far more topics than the mega-museums to which most of my readers are probably accustomed. I didn’t get anywhere close to seeing them all, but I’ll certainly tell you about the ones I did make it to.

Þjóðminjasafnið (The National Museum of Iceland)

This is possibly the most broad museum in the city. It covers pretty much all the settled history of Iceland. There are three floors with the exhibits on floors 2 and 3, and the gift shop and a cafe on the ground floor. As you ascend and progress further into the museum, you travel later in time.

The second floor starts with the initial settlement, and talks about how the Vikings got there and how they lived. This is around 700AD-ish. When you get to around 1000 AD, a lot of religious artifacts come in as that’s when Iceland was ‘converted’ to Christianity…sort of. Christianity in Iceland was a bit different than mainland Europe; especially in the early days. The thing I got the most excited about on the floor was an old bible written in Icelandic. The German girls I was with claimed they could understand some of the words in case there was any doubt Icelandic’s a Germanic language.

The third floor starts around 1600 AD. There are a lot of agrarian items before it transitions into the Medieval Period, and on into the present. My favorite part of this floor was the sweet looking contraptions used for telling dates and times; they look like a series of dials with words and numbers on them. I know, I’m weird….

Entry is normally 2000 ISK (Icelandic Krona) or roughly $20 (at this time). I’ll let you decide for yourself if it’s worth it. I thought it was, but some of the friends with me preferred the natural museums.

Landnámssýnigin (The Settlement Exhibition)

This exhibit is all about the early settlement of Iceland. They discovered an old longhouse, and excavated it. Then, they constructed a building over the top of it so people can walk around the outside, and look at the actual building…or at least what’s left of it. The wall around the outside is full of artifacts pulled from the longhouse and other areas. All of them are from about the settlement time estimated to be around 750 AD.

At 1650 ISK (about $16.50), I really liked this museum. Not only was it cheaper than the National Museum of Iceland, I’m also a bigger fan of the style and content.

Perlan (The Pearl)

This is one of the most fascinating buildings in Reykjavik. It’s situated on a hill overlooking the city with its glass dome. A spotlight can be seen circling around the sky from miles away at night. When you get close, you can see the outside illuminated by all kinds of colored lighting.

On the top floor, is a restaurant and gift shop. So if you’d like a fancy meal with a spectacular view, this could be your place. Or if you’re cheap like me, you can wander up to the 3rd-ish floor, and walk onto the balcony that circles the place for free! The whole city can be seen, and there are some truly spectacular photos to be taken…unless you’re me, and have GoPro issues…. I really need to get that sorted.

In the basement, there’s the only man-made ice cave in Iceland. It’ll run you 2900 ISK (roughly $29) to run through the maze-like tunnels. If you go when it’s warm, bring cold weather gear as they only provide coats which won’t provide adequate chill protection on their own.

Once you exit the caves, you arrive in a room with a gamified museum. There are senors that detect where you’re pointing so you can ‘tell’ the display what you’d like to know about. There’s also a lot of information about glaciers, and how much they’re melting. One even disappeared a couple years ago.

It’s a bit pricey, but you’re effectively getting 2 museums in one. In my opinion, it’s totally worth it.

Whales of Iceland

This museum also runs 2900 ISK (about $29). Or if you’re traveling with kids, you can get 2 adults and 2 kids in for 5800 ISK (the same price as 2 adults)! If you have kids with you, this is a must-see. There are giant whale figures hanging from the ceiling that you can take pictures with. There’s a play area that looks like whale bones for the little rascals. If you’re extra clever, you can trade off kid watching and reading the signs.

Even if you don’t have kids though, it’s pretty interesting if you’re into sea life. I enjoyed being dwarfed by the blue whale. Those things are massive.


There have to be at least a dozen other museums in the city. Hopefully, this has at least been somewhat helpful. And remember, museums are cheaper than the guided tours!

Stay tuned for my next post where I talk about some traveling hacks for this (currently) icy paradise.

Sleep? What’s That?

OK, there’s no way I’m going to be able to concentrate until I mention that I lost my GoPro cable!  Which means I have until its battery runs out, then it’s worthless. Oh, and no pics for the blog as the cable was my method of transfer to the computer…. This isn’t nearly as bad as having all my stuff stolen, but it’s still pretty upsetting. Now that that’s out of the way….

I made it to Iceland…and didn’t get much sleep. It started with me catching an Uber to an early morning Greyhound to Chicago. Because it was so early, my night-owl self couldn’t sleep while I had some semblance of a bed (and by that I mean a bunch of comforters over a carpeted floor). I think I got 2 hours of sleep on the bus, but that was it for that day..or anyone really counting?

Then, another Uber to the airport, and I was finally getting somewhere. This is also when I discovered budget airlines (or at least WOW) don’t start checking bags until a few hours before a flight. Fortunately for me, I only had a carry-on, and was able to go right through security after online check-in.

Travel hack: when traveling with a budget airline that will charge you for anything more than a small, personal item, you’re left with the choice of a checked bag or a carry-on as you’ll be charged for either. The advantage of a checked bag is that you can fit a lot more into it, and not have to worry about carting something through your whole trip. The down side is not being able to get past bag check-in (the very first step) until a few hours before the plane boards.

The advantage of a carry-on is that you can get through security as early as you like (well, really only as early as they’ll let you do an online check-in). Then with all that extra time, you can hit up a plush lounge. You did remember to get access to lounges before you left right? I know I didn’t, and I’m regretting not putting in for an AmEx card. That would have been awesome!

Anyway, the flight got delayed, but that’s no big deal. We did get to briefly see the Northern Lights on the way over though…for like 5 minutes. I’ll probably get a better view at some point while I’m here.

And before you ask, I only got 2…maybe 3 hours of sleep on the flight. So I left early Monday morning, and now it’s Tuesday evening, and I’m running on 5 hours of sleep tops. How I’m not passed out in my bunk right now, I may never know….

But the plane was purple! And there were jokes written all over the walls, and stewardess call-buttons…. I have to give it to WOW, they sure know how to class up an airplane.

When we arrived Reykjavik as a balmy -1 C (30 F), and snowing. Things did not improve on the bus from Keflavik to Reykjavik, or after arrival. In fact, I caught a shitload of snow, and wind in the face while I tracked across the city a few times trying to wait until the hostel’s check-in time arrived. I’m just glad I decided to keep some layers for the cold, because I was nice and toasty…well, except for my face…. In my face? I don’t think I’m doing this joke right….

Well, I’m certainly learning a lot on this trip. Maybe…just maybe you guys can manage to avoid them now that they’re out on the internet.

Next blog: no pictures! But I’ll probably have a few tales of me running around Reykjavik screwing even more things up. I can hardly wait.