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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.