Random thoughts about Iceland over the past week, hopefully they’ll be useful for anyone thinking of travelling here!
– Everybody speaks English very well. And the locals seem pretty friendly. It’s pretty safe to walk around at night.
– Downtown Reykjavik is very walkable. You can probably walk anywhere within 30 mins of where ever you live. Our hostel isn’t near the main street, but we can walk there in 20 mins.
– The international airport is 40 mins away from Reykjavik. There is no public transportation, just shuttle or taxi or rental car. You can book a shuttle when you get to the airport lobby, they leave 40 mins after your flight lands, so you want to get out and get your luggage ASAP.
– We’ve never had to use cash at stores or eateries, we’ve used credit cards the entire time. The only time we’ve had to use cash was to tip our tour guides.
– It’s really cold and rainy in September. Bring waterproof shoes, jacket, and pants. And wear layers. People here like wearing woolen knits.
– It can be really intimidating when you go into a store and you see price tags like 1980 ISK (Icelandic Krona) for a roast chicken (totally making that up). I don’t know what the conversion rate is, but (BAD MATH ALERT!) I generally just truncate the last 2 digits and guess how much it costs in US dollars. For example, think of 1980 ISK as $19.80, and currently the krona is weaker than the dollar. So your roast chicken can’t cost more than $19.80.
– Also, if you see a price like 5.000 ISK, it doesn’t mean 5 krona, that decimal is just a separator for hundreds. Just think of it as a comma, like 5,000. So it’s really around $50.00.
– Tours are really expensive, but might be the best way to see more of the country and get out of Reykjavik. Renting a car is ok, just remember you need insurance (especially weather-related ones), and gas is at least $8/gal.
– Do NOT book your Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights tours in advance. Book them on the day you want to go, after 6pm. Because these tours are so popular (one company has a fleet of 10 buses each carrying 50 people), you will not have difficulty finding a spot. Also, the companies may decide to cancel the tour for that night if the weather forecast is bad, and 6pm is usually when they make their decisions. So it is best to call companies at 6pm and ask if there is a tour that night, before you pay for a ticket! Almost all companies also have a policy where if you don’t see it, you can rebook it again for free, as long as they don’t cancel it that night. We booked ours months in advance, didn’t see anything the night we went, and had the tour cancelled for the rest of the week due to bad weather. Waste of money, blahhh.
– You can pretty much book any tour 1 or 2 days in advance. There are really so many companies to choose from, and no shortage of seats. We’ve booked our tours after 9pm the night before, and haven’t had any major problems getting stuff done. The Golden Circle is the most popular one. The Blue Lagoon “tour” is also very popular, but is really a shuttle bus to a (fancy and luxurious but awesome-sounding) spa.
– Museums, stores, and attractions can close early during the winter (like 5-6 pm) but have longer hours in summer.
– Food in Iceland can be very expensive (1500 ISK for a drive-thru burger & fries). But if you wanna eat like how they did in the old days, you can go to the supermarket and get flatbread, cheese, and some type of preserved fishmeat (lox, sild, etc). There’s something about Icelandic flatbread where a single slice has a mega-crap-ton of protein. We’re actually pretty full after a single serving of flatbread (looks like a pita pocket) with jelly and some cheese spread. Also, skyr is a type of yogurt that has high protein too that is made in Iceland. We’ve been eating from the same stash over the past few days.
– “Takk” means “thank you”.