Oh, Iceland. Where the water smells like sulphur but you don’t. Or do you just become immune to it?
Flights: alright, here’s the thing about budget airlines: pay a lower price and lower your expectations. While many major airlines fly into KEF, if you’re like me and love a good cheap flight you will have to give something else up (i.e. perks and amenities). I booked a $172 direct round trip flight between Baltimore and Reykjavik with WOW Air, a low-cost carrier that has really cute bright pink/purple planes. How did I find such a price? Email alerts directly from them – they had an amazing sale and I pulled the trigger immediately after seeing one of those emails. However, that only includes one personal item (aka a backpack). I also picked my seats there and back for an extra $20 because why not splurge? Carry-ons and checked bags were upwards of $50 each way, and in the flight you even have to pay for the water. Which brings me to:
Packing: one Friday through Monday trip, one backpack – it makes sense. Knowing this was going to be a quick and intense trip I brought food and a water bottle for the flight so I didn’t have to buy anything else. In my backpack, I comfortably fit 3 different outfits (layers layers layers and matching items (alright, black)), pjs, wool socks because the weather forecast was COLD, a bathing suit for the Blue Lagoon, phone charger, international adaptor, iPad, sunglasses, a scarf/gloves/beanie hat and a pair of Vans. Yes, I was proud of myself. My bag was not overstuffed and it carried absolutely everything I needed – no waste, no worries. I traveled with two jackets on and wore my weatherproof boots since you’re pretty much outside the whole time you’re there, which also helped keep the bulk to a minimum.
Transportation: I’m all for helping local businesses and stuff but damn me, do not take taxis in Reykjavik unless you like paying for stuff with parts of your liver. There’s different bus companies that you can buy tickets for that transfer you into the city (about 45 minutes from KEF airport) for about $25 each way that pick up and drop off at multiple hotels/hostels BUT in my humble opinion and if you’re not coming in during the wee hours of the morning take the city bus (graceful screaming yellow). It still runs you at about $22 each way and you have to transfer once, but there’s no going around in circles waiting for a shit ton of other people. Plus, you get to hang out with the locals (kind of).
Also, I recommend renting a car as 95% of the cool excursions offered by tourism companies are doable on your own without the $100 per person charge and having to wait for 30 other people to load and unload the bus every time you stop, plus getting to decide which ones you actually want to see. There are a LOT of tourists in Iceland and you will run into them 24/7 so might as well do most of the adventuring on your own to avoid lines. Unless you are by yourself, all those tours are just not worth the price when compared to a car rental and its advantages because trust me, the country is already expensive enough (more on that later)
Stay: initially I had a hostel booked (KEX Hostel which has amazing reviews everywhere) but when my friend and sister decided to hop on the trip we went for an AirBnB instead which I thought was a great decision. While hostels are great for making friends and hanging out with other people, if you’re in a group that’s coming in and leaving on different dates it’s hard to be in the same room so we got a place near City Hall on Sudurgata, two blocks away from a grocery store, 23482373 restaurants and bars and about a 12 minute walk from the Main Street in Reykjavik. It was perfectly located and around the same price as the hostel would’ve been. The city isn’t huge but I do recommend staying within that main area so you’re near bus stops and within walking distance of most things.
Food: oh, boy. Did I already say be prepared to spend some money? The local currency is the Krona and $1 is roughly 100KR. While it is awesome to carry a $500 bill on you be aware that it maybe buys you a coffee or a chocolate bar. Most meals at restaurants are around 1200-2500KR ($12-$25) and I hope you like seafood as that’s always available. This actually sounds kinda like DC so far… Except I didn’t get to try whale or a reindeer burger mostly because it felt wrong but it was interesting to see those on the menu. We bought croissants and breakfast sandwiches and yogurt at the store for breakfast everyday and those were much more reasonable options at 400-500KR each ($4-$5). Other than the price, though, I thought Icelandic food was very tasty specially when compared to most European food. We went to a place called the Fish Market one of the nights, which is an upscale seafood restaurant, and while a salmon entree was $52 it was worth every cent for both the price and the experience so make sure to splurge a little, too.
Icelandic water is delicious and I drank it straight from the tap the whole time. The shower and faucet water smells a lot like sulphur but it didn’t necessarily bother me – just now, on the flight back home, I can somewhat tell there’s a faint smell on my hair…