Even as I edited these photos and looked back on all of the amazing places we visited, I still can’t quite believe that we actually went to Iceland for a week. I’ve said it to everyone I’ve talked to about this wild place, but I’ll say it again, it is truly unreal. It’s unlike any landscape you can imagine and we found ourselves speechless more often than not. We chose to visit Iceland as our Christmas gift to each other in lieu of other gifts. I’ve decided we must make travel a Christmas gift tradition. Way better than stuff. Our inspiration for visiting Iceland was partly the gorgeous photos we saw on Instagram, but also the fact that we have multiple friends who had visited last year with only good things to say, and, of course, the ridiculously inexpensive flights that we couldn’t pass up.
So, I have lots of photos and lots of tips. In order to share them all, I am going to break them down and share a little bit from each day or specific sight we visited. Starting from the very beginning – those crazy cheap flights.
Flying | Wow Air
We flew with Wow Air, an Icelandic airline that is gaining popularity as more people learn of this wonderful, low-cost hidden treasure. However, that low price tag means no frills, strict luggage requirements, and if you want water, you’ll have to pay for it, $3 a bottle, to be exact. An easy way around that is to carry an empty water bottle (I took my Nalgene and Jeremy took his Klean Kanteen), fill it up after you get through security, and carry your own water on the plane with you. I’d also recommend bringing some snacks with you. I wish I had packed a few protein bars. In regards to luggage, we read review after review of people sharing that Wow was super strict about your carry-on bag in terms of size and weight. We chose to each take only a carry-on and a personal item. We made sure that our bags were below the size and weight. However, once we arrived, no one even checked it, but I’d recommend sticking to those guidelines. I think we just got lucky. We did not get to sit next to each other on the flight there or on the flight home. We could’ve paid extra (around $10 per person I think) to arrange that, but it wasn’t a big deal for us. Lastly, Wow only flies out of a few select airports in the U.S. We drove to Washington D.C. and stayed with a friend the evening before our flight and then drove to Baltimore Washington International Airport the next day for our flight. The flight took approximately 6 hours. For both of us to fly round-trip, the flights cost $400. Update: Wow Air no longer exists, sadly.
Arriving in Keflavík
We arrived in Keflavík at 5am and here’s where we wish we would have done things a little differently. Because our flight left at 6pm U.S. time and arrived at 5am Iceland time, and neither of us slept on the plane, we now know that we should’ve stayed in the airport for a bit longer to rest and recharge a little before heading straight out into the dark. During the end of January, the sun rises at 10am and sets around 5:30pm. We picked up our car from Blue Car Rental at 6am. We had a great experience with them and I still miss that little Volkswagen Polo. From there, we set out toward Reykjavík in the pitch black dark on icy roads with no map and no data to google it. We figured we could follow the signs. Not going to lie, it was a bit terrifying, but we managed to at least make it to Reykjavík. We found a gas station, picked up a map and made it into the downtown area. It definitely took us far longer than it should have and it was still very dark when we arrived. Technically, it should’ve taken around forty-five minutes to an hour and I think it ended up taking us around an hour and a half to two hours. Ha!
Tips for Visiting:
Second lesson learned: purchase an Icelandic Sim Card (Símínn) while in the airport and you will arrive at your destination much sooner. We waited a day or two too long and learned that Google Maps exists for a reason, to save you time and frustration. And yes, Google Maps is the one to use in Iceland. Apple Maps doesn’t work as well. Obviously, our cell phone provider has international options, but we found that it was cheaper to buy the Sim Card (2900 Króna or around $26 USD), which had 1GB of data, and that lasted us the entire time.
Upon arriving in Reykjavík, we drove through downtown for a bit and found an open coffee shop. We parked on the street, only to come back to our car a few hours later with a parking ticket on the car. We arrived in the dark and didn’t see any signs for parking so we learned yet another lesson the hard way and that cost us around $14 U.S. Dollars. We had to pay that ticket at a local bank before the week was over. Once the sun came up, we were able to head out and walk around. It was then that we began to realize how incredible this country really was and could breathe a sigh of relief that we hadn’t made a huge mistake in being there. From certain parts of the city you could look across the water to see the snow covered mountains. We walked to Hallgrímskirkja, that incredible church you see in the photos below. A few minutes after arriving inside, a man began to play the gigantic pipe organ. Roaming around the downtown area was fun and my favorite part was admiring all of those cute tin houses.
Where to Stay
We stayed in this Airbnb and we had a great experience with it and with our host, Jóhann. It is located in Reykjavík, but about 15 minutes outside of the downtown area. It was easy to get from there to all of the destinations we wanted to visit and was close to the grocery store we frequented a few times. It is a basement apartment in his home but he keeps to himself unless you need him. Also, Iceland feels so safe. I remember Jóhann telling us how to lock the door and saying, “you really don’t need to because this is Iceland.” Ha! Another tip to keep in mind is that the electrical outlets there are European style and you will need an adapter for your electronics. I purchased this one at Target. There are only two reviews, one is great and one is terrible. Ignore the terrible one. I didn’t have a problem with it. Now, I didn’t ever use the converter part. Apparently, you have to convert items that are over a certain voltage. I didn’t do that so can’t speak from experience, but it charged my phone and camera just fine. I did not take a hair dryer, straightener, or curling iron because I let my hair air dry and never actually fix it, but he did have a hair dryer there.
What to Eat
Coffee Shops: We visited two coffee shops, Kaffitár and Reykjavík Roasters. Both were very good. We each got a breakfast sandwich at Kaffitár and it was light and a little crunchy and Jeremy got a latté. I asked for a cup of water and the lady looked at me like a was a total idiot and then pointed over behind us and said that water was there and it was free. Haha! Just so you know, water in Iceland is free everywhere and it is absolutely delicious. Jeremy said he couldn’t taste the difference. I could. It was amazing. Never buy bottled water in Iceland. The water in our apartment smelled of sulfur but tasted fine.
Restaurants: We only went to one restaurant because a. they are expensive and b. we were out and about until late each night so we ate sandwiches in the car for many of our meals. The one restaurant that we did visit was Icelandic Fish & Chips and it was the most delicious cod and rosemary potatoes that I ever did taste. If you like fish and chips, do yourself a favor and visit this place. You order à la carte style and although we each only ordered the fish and chips and a local beer, it was enough to fill us up.
Grocery Stores: Krónan and Bónus. Krónan is the one we frequented most because it was close to our Airbnb and had a better selection. I think Bónus is a little cheaper but may not have as much of a selection, in terms of food. We purchased the ingredients for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ramen, snacks, a rotisserie chicken, and a coke-a-cola, and I will say that a coke never tasted as good as it did that day. Anyway, when we got to the check-out, we discovered that you bag your own groceries, which is fine, except that we didn’t realize that if you use more than one bag, the extra bags will cost 200 Króna, or about $1.86 each.
Iceland accepts major credit cards just about everywhere. When we went to the bank to pay that parking ticket, we did get some Icelandic Króna just to keep. However, we never needed to spend it anywhere we went. The conversion rate is currently 0.0093 Iceland Króna to 1 U.S. Dollar. I use this conversion calculator and I have the app, which is super helpful. Here’s the thing, Iceland is expensive, but if you are on a budget, you can make it work.
The current price of gas per liter (which is 1/4 of a gallon) in Iceland at this time is approximately 200 Króna. So, that means that it is approximately $7.50 per gallon. Our first time filling up gas we spent 5500 Króna, or about $51 USD. Our second time we spent about 7300 Króna, or about $68 USD. And I think we filled up one more time and that was around 7400 Króna or $69 USD. Total of $188 in gas and we calculated that we drove over 1,700 kilometers – almost 1100 miles. Our rental car came with a discount card to Olís, which is where we got gas each time. I think the discount card only saved us a few dollars, but every little bit counts.