Is Iceland on your bucket list?
Start saving now – Iceland is not a destination for the low-cost budget travelers.
Do not worry, if you cannot visit Iceland right now. Go to my blog to find the best tips to travel on a budget.
However, there are plenty of affordable places that offer similar scenery. You can consider Alaska or Argentina.
If you are still planning a trip to Iceland, here is my detailed guide to help you make the most of your Iceland vacation.
Iceland History and Culture
A small northern European country, it is mostly known for the history of the Vikings, thralls and Medieval Sagas. Located in the Northern Atlantic Ocean, the capital Reykjavik has become popular after the crash .
I learned that the Norwegians and Scandinavians brought the thralls legends to Iceland in 874 AD.
The legends of thralls dominate Iceland’s culture and history. Those stories define the beliefs and humor of the Icelandic people.
Early September, the temperate is very mild. It averages from 53°F (12°C) to 70°F(21°C). It is a great time to travel to Iceland.
Iceland Hotel Shuttles
From the Keflavik airport, you have a couple of options for hotel transports: Grayline, Flybus and Airport Direct. You can book your airport transfer online, ahead of time or at the airport. Buses leave every 15 minutes, but most pickups are every hour.
The bus ride is about 45 minutes from the airport to the center of the city of Reykjavik.
Renting a car is one way to explore Iceland. You can find the car rentals at the airport: Europcar, Go Car Rental and Go Campers are some options. Budget extra money for the add-ons, like insurance cost.
Pulling on the side of the main road to take pictures is a No! No! It is very dangerous and causes accidents. I know it is tempting to take photos of the stunning landscapes.
I saw many tourists not abiding by this law. Again, #TravelEnjoyyespect – Respect the Iceland’s laws when you are there.
Where to Stay in Iceland
Hostels are your best choice.
They are less expensive than the hotels. Reykjavík City Hostel is in a great location and offers dormitory options. I stayed at the Storm hotel located in Reykjavik. It is not far from the main street, Laugavegur, only a 5-minute walk. Close to the hotel is the Hlemmur bus station in case you want to get on a local bus to explore Iceland on your own.
The staff is accommodating with tours, transportation, and dining. The rooms are relatively large, and they serve a full American breakfast, including oatmeal and fruits for the health-conscious minded people.
The Keahotels own seven other hotels located in the major cities in Iceland.
The Foss Hotel Reykjavik is another option, located right across from the Storm Hotel. The Skuggi Hotel looks fancy and has a beautiful waterfront view. The Center Hotel is one block from the main center, accessible to restaurants, shopping, and bars.
Need Cash – Money Exchange: Iceland Krona (ISK)
Money is not necessary for Iceland unless you want to take the local buses. Credit cards are the norms. But, make sure you use a card that does not charge exchange rates and each transaction fees. ATMs are widely available, on every street and grocery stores.
Things to do in Iceland: History and Culture
Learning the culture of a country is very essential. I went to see the Icelandic Sagas: The Greatest Hits at the Harpa Concert Hall. It is a two-person theatrical performance about Iceland’s first settlers.
In seventy-five minutes, the actors perform 40 unique stories, highlighting the great sagas and crazy Vikings blood feuds. Wearing elegant costumes for each role and incredible performance, you feel very cultured after seeing this show.
It is very entertaining, and hilarious. The legends can get complicated that you can miss the endings. Pay Attention!
Another show worth seeing is How to Become Icelandic in 60 minutes. In one hour, this famous Icelandic comedian delivers a list of series to become an “authentic” Icelandic. Using visual props, you learn about their attitudes, everyday life and their struggles.
Iceland offers a variety of arts and entertainment. Looking for more cultural experience, go to the Harpa Concert Hall for a guided tour.
The Design Museum & Garoabaer has collections of Icelandic culture from the Vikings era up to the 21st century.
What do to In Iceland
Visit a non-touristy town – Hafnarfjordur
Looking for a quaint place, take a local bus to Hafnarfjordur. Just 30 minutes outside of central Reykjavik, this seaside charming Vikings town is what I needed for some peaceful time away from the .
Surrounded by natural beauty, colorful houses, quaint coffee shops, you will appreciate spending the day in Hafnarfjordur. It is not touristy, and that is what makes it the perfect place to explore. The museums are free and easy to discover on your own.
If you are a vegan and looking for a place to eat, the Bike Cave serves vegan burgers.
The Pallett Coffee shop, feels like being home, serves the best coffee and chai latte.
Explore Iceland Landscapes
Taking a tour to see the Western Parts of Iceland: Private Tours vs. Bus Tours
My Snaefellsness trip was a small and private guided tour. We were only four on the journey. The group tour, The Golden Circle, was relatively large and had more than fifteen people were on the bus.
On the private tour, I did not feel rushed and had the full attention of my guide. He made sure we had an enjoyable experience and saw some the hidden areas.
Operated by EastWest tour company, I got picked up in a super jeep by Finnbori (Aka Fiberboy, Fishboy), my tour guide.
Sadly, these were the names I called Finnbori. By the end of the trip (13 hours later), I finally remember how to pronounce his name.
On the group tour, I felt overwhelmed and a tourist taking pictures of a moment.
The Snaefellsness peninsula considers as the mini Iceland. Jules Verne’s science fiction novel “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” makes it famous.
Snaefellsness means Snae: snow, Fells: Mountains, Ness: Peninsula.
On tour, our guide made frequent stops to the most beautiful sites in Western part of Iceland.
The Snaefellsness peninsula considers as the mini Iceland. Jules Verne’s science fiction novel “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” makes the area famous.
Snaefellsness means Snae: snow, Fells: Mountains, Ness: Peninsula. A 13-hour trip, Snaefellsness is in the western part of Iceland.
On the tour, our guide made frequent stops to the most beautiful sites in Iceland.
1. Borgarnes – popular for its exhibits and displays, depicting Egil’s Saga and other legends in many different languages
2. Berserkjahraun – Named after two berserks who live on each side of the lava fields and murdered, according to famous sagas
3. Grundarfjorour – home to the famous Mt. Kirkjufell.
4. Kirkjufell – a fishing village and famous for whale watching tours.
5. Olafsvik – A small fishing village in the western part of Iceland
6. Hellissandur Rif – a small town of only 155 residents and famous for live theater, the Freezer. The theater has a coffee shop and accommodation for the artists.
7. Saxholl – a crater with a walking trail and once reached the top, a panoramic view of the National Park.
8. Djupalonssandur – a beautiful lava beach with deadly waves.
9. Arnarstapi – coastal walk with beautiful lava fields and a view of the ocean
10. Lysuholl Farm – a small farm full of horses and sheep. At the end of the tour, the owner of the farm cooked us a three-course meal. Each dish was delicious, with fresh ingredients and flavorful.
Get closer to nature on the Golden Circle Tour
On the group tour, I went to the most touristy sites in Iceland. Each site was full of people that I could not even take a great photo shot and enjoy the scenery. Here is a complete list of what you see on the Golden Circle Tour:
Geysir (geyser)– Watch the largest geyser (Strokkur) erupts into the air up to 70 meters. There are around thirty smaller geysers and hot pools in the area, including one, called (‘Little Geysir’).
Pingvellir National Park – One of the most favored tourist destinations in Iceland. Þingvellir is a site full of historical, cultural, and geological significance.
Gullfoss Waterfall – A beautiful waterfall that will make you want coming back to Iceland.
Located in the canyon of Olfusa river in southwest Iceland. And walk down the wide curved staircase to see it closer.
Can’t-Wait to see the Northern Lights
When I tell people about Iceland, the first thing they ask is if I saw the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis).
The tours to see the Aurora Borealis are not cheap. If you are on a tight budget like me, look for them in Reykjavik at no cost.
The tours have no guarantees. They will give you a second chance to see Northern Lights. If you got there, waited two to three hours and still not see them, you are out of luck. You do not get your money back. But, they will chase them for you, but they cannot make them show up.
The Storm Hotel has a patio where I saw the Northern Lights. I was expecting to see many colors. I learned that the Northern Lights in Alaska are the ones with multi-colors. They are spectacular and colorful. But the Northern Lights in Iceland come in one color – dark green.
If the level is 4 or higher, go close to an unlit area near the waterfront, you should be able to see them in Reykjavik.
Still bummed that you did not see the Northern Lights. Go to the Aurora Reykjavik, a multimedia exhibit, to learn about the Northern Lights.
Tour the Reykjavik city
You can tour Reykjavik at your leisure. Use the Hop On – Hop Off bus on a rainy or cold day to visit the museums and cultural venues.
Taste the Best Coffee in Iceland
Coffee shops are on every block, and my favorite coffee shops for relaxing after my self-guided tour is Café Haiti.
Located in the Reykjavik Old Harbour, Café Haiti offers a fusion of Haitian and Icelandic dishes. I am delighted to taste my Haitian coffee in Iceland and meet the woman who owns the café. Who knew there were Haitians in Iceland? Surprisingly, less than 20 Haitians are living there.
Vegan in Iceland – No Problems!
Iceland has many options for vegans. Most of the restaurants have at least one vegan or vegetarian dish. Still, my go-to places are Vinyl and Gardurinn.
Vinyl is strictly vegan and a vinyl record store. It has a very layback environment. I love the vibe. They play techno music in the restaurant all day. And the people are so cool.
A small menu with limited options, all of the dishes look delicious. I had the Thai dish and the sweet potato soups.
Another of my favorite place to eat is Gardurinn, a family-owned vegetarian restaurant. Gardurinn has daily specials. Meals include salads and sides.
Glo that has vegan, vegetarian and raw dishes. Do not skip on the vegan dessert. I had the Tiramisu; the chocolate melts in your mouth.
For healthy snacks to take on your tour, go the Heilsuhusio health store.
There are also plenty of good Non-vegan choices available. Café Paris is the place to be seen, and people watch. The Nat has great salads, fresh smoothies, and delicious breakfast.
Cheap eats: The Noodle Station and the Hot Dog Stand
If you are a techie, some apps that will help make your trip less stressful and more enjoyable.
112 Iceland – A safety app that tracks your location. If you are driving, this is a must-have.
Appening Today – Provides daily updates on events around the city.
Aurora Alerts Northern Lights – Tells you where and when you can see the Northern Lights
Craving – An excellent restaurant guide
Final thoughts on Iceland,
Iceland impressive landscapes of glaciers and mountains, ancient lava fields, and active volcanoes are just amazing and stunning.
To tour or not to tour! I am not a big fan of guided tours. But the tours I highlighted are excellent and very informative. I highly recommend those tours and a 3-5 stay in Iceland should be sufficient. The weather during the Summer in Iceland is unpredictable, here are some packing tips.
After visiting Iceland, I can see why many people add it to their bucket list. It has everything you look for on vacation, beautiful landscapes, culture and history.
If you are planning a trip to Iceland or have been there, I would love to hear from you. Post your comments or questions below.