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My Iceland Recommendations

My recent visit to Reykjavik, Iceland, was three nights, and most of three days. So clearly, now I’m an expert in Iceland. Kidding. But I did pick up a few tips on my trip.

  • Rent a car. At first, we thought we should rely on airport transfers, a bus tour, public transit and taxis on our trip. Once I started planning though, I ran into challenges. I couldn’t get the flexibility I wanted to make the most of our short visit, and paying for everything per-person was running into a lot of money. Taxi fares sounded exhorbitant. For example, a minivan from the airport to our lodging would cost $280, one way. Flybus, the airport bus, round trip would have been about $250 for our group. Compared to all that, the price of a three-day rental from Golden Circle Car Rental, $286 + $20 to add a second driver, was affordable. Instead of booking the car directly, I booked it through GuidetoIceland.is, because it was cheaper that way.
    Driving was not too difficult in Iceland, in summer. I would’t have tried it in winter. The only problem — to me — is that they have a lot of roundabouts. But hey, they drive on the right side of the road, and Golden Circle had an automatic transmission available for us. They even gave us a free upgrade when we couldn’t fit five people, our luggage, and my dad’s walker into the car we’d originally selected. In fact, the staff at the small family company Golden Circle was great in every way. They picked us up at the airport to bring us to their off-site facility, and promptly answered my emails both from the US and during the rental.
  • Go straight from the airport to the Blue Lagoon. This most famous of geothermal soaking pools is close to Keflavik Airport, and both are pretty far from Reykjavik. Since most flights from the US come in the morning, and most hotels and rentals don’t let you check in until afternoon, it makes a lot of sense to go there straight from the airport. Our flight landed at 9:30 a.m., and we booked our entry to the Blue Lagoon for 11. You have one hour from your entry time to enter, and then you can stay as long as you want. After getting through immigration (little to no line) and picking up our car, we arrived at 11:30.
  • Bring warm clothes, even in summer. Our trip was going to take us north of the Arctic Circle, but it turns out our day in Reykjavik was the chilliest of our trip. It was about 48 degrees, and it got windy in the afternoon. I was wearing a fleece with a raincoat over it, and I was seriously considering buying an Icelandic sweater or a down vest to supplement it. I did pick up a winter hat in a thrift store for about $5.
  • You don’t need to change any money. I don’t think we even saw anyone paying for anything with cash during our stay. I almost exclusively used Apple Pay. I have a PIN for my credit card, but I never needed it. Their machines might ask for PINs with local credit cards, but not American ones.
  • Yes, the food will be expensive. Just budget for it. You know how Scandinavia is expensive in general? And you know how groceries in Hawaii are expensive, because they have to have most things flown in? Iceland has both of those situations going on. So, dinner for three at the food hall was $100. Six delicious pastries from Braud & Co. were $32.
    Of course you can save a little by going to the grocery store. For $100 at Bonus, we got chicken and broccoli for one meal (with leftovers), cheese and crackers, skyr yogurt and blueberries, a few fizzy drinks, a box of cookies, a birthday cake and milk. Plus two souvenir reusable bags!
    We also packed a few food items so we wouldn’t have to buy them. I threw a zip lock with a few days’ worth of ground coffee into my suitcase, as well as some Clif bars and a few other snacks. But in general, we wanted to try local things, so we didn’t mind paying a bit more. It was only three days, after all. I feel like I spent more time stressing about how expensive the food would be than it really warranted.
  • Bring an eye mask (in summer). It never got dark at night. Our lodging didn’t have black-out shades. Without my mask, I probably wouldn’t have slept.
  • Check out Airbnb and VRBO for lodging. The hotels in Reykjavik were pretty expensive, but our three-bedroom Airbnb was about $260 per night and comfortably lodged five people (with my son sleeping in the living room). It was not luxurious, but it had a good kitchen and a good shower, plus laundry, and even parking. I would stay there again.
  • You only really need one day for Reykjavik. It’s a charming city, but there aren’t a ton of sights. In one day, from about 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., we visited the Settlement Exhibit, lunched at Kaffi Loki to try authentic Icelandic food with a view of Hallgrimskirkja church, took the elevator to the top of Hallgrimskirkja to see the whole city, walked through downtown to the waterfront, and checked out the opera house and the sun voyager sculpture. After that, we dropped off my parents and son at our rental, and Erik and I checked out the Iceland Phallological Museum and Lebowski Bar, both of which I highly recommend if you’re into those kind of things.
    If I had another day, I wouldn’t have minded seeing another museum and checking out a neighborhood geothermal pool. But to be honest, I would probably have rather taken another day trip to see more of the natural wonders outside the city.

    Which brings me to my last tip:
  • Do not miss Thingvellir National Park. We drove the whole Golden Circle, but if we’d only had time to see one sight on it, this would be the one to see. It’s an amazing combination of history and natural splendor. It’s spectacular. And free. The other sights on the Golden Circle — Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir Hot Springs Area — are also cool, but Thingvellir was fascinating.

I can’t wait to go back to Iceland again, so I can see the whole island and hopefully see a puffin. If you have been to Iceland, what are your tips?

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