Currently one of the most popular places on earth to visit, Iceland is enjoying an explosive boom in tourism. Like most people, I did a ton of research on things to do once we arrived, but in retrospect, I wish I’d read some of the things I’m about to share with you now. So without further ado, before you go to Iceland, here’s a few things you should know.
Eating is Crazy Expensive
I see your eye roll on this, everywhere is expensive you’re thinking, but when our very first stop for three pastries and three small coffees rang up over $31, I knew we were in trouble. One day, thinking I was a travel wizard, I pulled into a local mall believing the food court would give my wallet a break. Nope. Two burritos and a quesadilla later, I kissed $63 goodbye and practically wept on the way out. Three six inch subs at Subway set me back just under $30. The worst part of all, I was travelling with teenagers, that require constant watering and feeding. Ouch.
I’m not telling you any of this to scare you off of travel to Iceland, but to prepare yourself in advance and budget, budget, budget. My best advice is to pack granola and protein bars in your luggage. Just having small snacks on hand like this can save big bucks in Iceland. You’ll also want to check out the grocery store, Bonus, the Icelandic equivalent to No Frills, which are easily found around the island. Be sure to bring reusable water bottles as well so you can also avoid that needless expense.
I had no idea hot dogs were a thing in Iceland prior to our arrival, but Icelandic hot dogs are famous and thankfully, affordable. We filled up on these for lunches, and at one in the morning when the 22 hours of daylight was messing with our brains and stomachs.
Finally, Dominos is a bit of a phenomenon in Iceland, and it was the most reasonable meal we had the entire time we were there. My only regret was not finding it sooner. Take advantage of their two for one deal on Tuesday and have pizza for breakfast and dinner for around $40.
Fly WOW air
WOW air came on the scene a couple of years ago as a new low-cost air carrier and they’ve been causing quite a stir ever since, offering affordable flights to Iceland, Europe, and North America.
With WOW you choose the level of service you want to fly – basic, wow, comfy, or premium – according to your travel style and budget. Taking into account my first point, you may want to go with WOW plus, which still allows for a personal item, a carry on, and checked luggage at a significantly cheaper rate than WOW Premium.
If you’re extra tall, you can upgrade for more leg room, and if you’re feeling really bougie than live it up and book Premium for up to 2 checked bags, extra leg room, and meals. I bet you’ll still find that the flight is cheaper than any other carrier to Iceland, meaning more coin for food and excursions when you arrive in Iceland.
Rent an Airbnb
The best part about an Airbnb is the ability to make your own food, and in Iceland, this is huge. In the mornings we went all millennial with our breakfast and ate avocado toast. A loaf of bread, three avocados, and a lemon, lasted us three days and kept breakfast affordable and nutritious. It also gave us the space to pack a lunch for road trips around the island.
Our apartment was centrally located in Reykjavik, with easy parking, and within walking distance to everything we needed in the downtown area. Finally, at $148 an evening, it gave us way more room to spread out than a hotel would have, at a price I could stomach.
Stop at the Duty Free Before you Exit the Airport
If you thought food was expensive in Iceland, wait until you see the price for a glass of wine. Trust me when I say there are two things you’ll want to do once you arrive in Iceland; a) pick up a bottle of your favourite vice at the Duty Free, conveniently located by luggage pickup in the Kevlafik airport and b) when your poison of choice is gone, go on the wagon for a few days. Give your liver and wallet a break.
Rent a Car
I typically take a hard pass when it comes to driving in foreign countries, but I had heard good things about driving in Iceland and decided to make an exception. As a seasoned Canadian driver I wasn’t worried if I was going to run into ice or snow (which we didn’t in July), and I heard that Iceland roads were quiet and easy to drive (they are).
I rented a car through WOW air and loved it. We had a great little economy car with unlimited mileage and it meant if we wanted to go for a drive at midnight to beat the crowds we could.
Drive the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle, comprised of Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss, is a must do. There are tours available but I’m going to push the car angle once again, because you can really avoid the crowds if you go this route. Head out super early in the day before the tours even start (most head out around 9am), or wait until later in the day when the tour buses are heading home.
Another bonus to driving of course, is the ability to stop whenever you feel like it. Along the Golden Circle, you’ll want to do this a lot. There are spectacular views for miles, not to mention the chance to stop and get up close to beautiful Icelandic Horses.
The Blue Lagoon is a Tourist Trap
Just because something is a tourist trap does not mean it’s unworthy of your time. You won’t find a lot of locals hanging out here, but you will definitely meet people from all over the globe and isn’t that part of the fun of travel? It’s also happens to be beautiful place to find your inner zen.
A couple of things to note before you go to the Blue Lagoon. There are swimsuit rentals available, if you don’t really want to have a swimsuit with you your entire trip. If you do bring a swimsuit, make sure you rinse it really well after the Blue Lagoon to get the silica out of it. I failed to do this and when my swimsuit failed to dry after a week, I realized I hadn’t got all the silica out. Listen carefully to what they suggest about putting LOADS of conditioner in your hair before entering the Blue Lagoon, or your hair will be beyond brittle.