Are you planning to visit Iceland? It seems everyone is at the minute!
It’s not nearly as expensive to visit Reykjavik as you might think (I share my costs below). In this post, you’ll find accommodation recommendations for all budgets, as well as my top things to do and tips for the best time in Reykjavik. Happy planning!
Flights to Reykjavik
I flew with easyJet from London Luton (my closest airport) direct to Reykjavik (the capital city of Iceland). I travelled in high season as I wanted to see the Northern Lights. My flights cost £150 return. Not bad at all, eh?
British Airways has just announced they offer direct flights and at the time of writing are offering one-way tickets for a teeny tiny £44 (travelling from London in September 2016). Total bargain.
Accommodation in Reykjavik
I stayed at this apartment. It cost just over £80 each between three of us for a one week stay – that’s near enough a tenner a night each for our own pad. Amazing!
Welcome Apartments is a three-five minute walk to the waterfront with gorgeous mountain views. Walk a minute in the other direction you’ll find yourself on the main street (Laugavegur) where all the cafes, shops and bars are. It’s not the most stylish apartment, but it’s a perfect base.
Our apartment had its own kitchen, living/dining area, bathroom (with shower) and bedroom with twin beds and a sofa bed. We also had a flat-screen TV and DVD player. Downstairs in the secure lobby we had access to a computer (with internet) and a phone to make free local calls.
The free calls were definitely well-used. So many of the activities are weather dependent, so you’ll find that you need to call your booking provider on the day of the experience to confirm it’s going ahead. Save your mobile phone bill and take advantage of the free local calls!
If you’d rather stay somewhere a bit more stylish, but still on a budget I’ve only heard good things about Kex Hostel. It doesn’t look like your typical backpacker hangout and there are private rooms, as well as dorms.
If you’ve got a bit more cash to splash, then 101 Hotel looks great; central, sleek and modern. Rooms start from around £189 per night.
7 Best Things to Do in Reykjavik
You may have heard others telling you to avoid the cliché tourist spots, but I have to disagree (at least when it comes to Reykjavik). Often popular spots are well, just that, because the experience is just so amazing. Everyone wants to see it or do it because it’s so good!
Don’t visit Reykjavik without enjoying these gems (listed in order of greatness just in case you don’t have time for all of them)…
1. The Northern Lights
Otherwise known as Aurora Borealis, this natural phenomenon needs to be seen to be believed. Come night time the sky turns the most incredible shades of pinks, reds and greens, almost dancing right in front of your eyes (you can read more about my experience here). However, the Northern Lights are elusive so you’ll need to be lucky to see them.
There are a few things you can do to give yourself the best possibility though. These are my Northern Lights Tips:
- Get away from any light pollution.
- Schedule a trip to see them with a guide (like I did). You could just give it a go yourself, but the guides are experts and know the best spots (and they have the best stories). I booked my trip through Viator for a mere £26 (prices are now around £30). This meant that someone collected me from my accommodation, took me (and the rest of our small group) to a few remote spots and shared their experiences of the lights. I’d highly recommend it.
- Book this experience for your first night in the city, even if it means you’ll be a little sleepy – you’ll soon wake up if and when you see them! The reason being that they’re weather dependent. If your excursion gets cancelled you’ll be able to reschedule it for the next night and so on until you go home. If you book it for your last night you don’t leave yourself any flexibility.
- Check that your tour company offers the ability and guarantee to rebook your excursion for the next night for free of charge (my one through Viator did and I had to use this option).
2. Blue Lagoon Spa
This is an outdoor geothermal lagoon and a result of the volcanic activity in Iceland. The water is full of minerals that are supposed to work wonders for your skin (though not so much for your hair).
I’m not going to lie, it’s freezing getting from the changing rooms into the water, but once you’re in it’s toasty! There are some really good pointers in this Blue Lagoon Spa Tips post (especially number one).
Address: Nordurljosavegur 9, 240 Grindavík, Iceland
3. The Runtur in Iceland
I had my best night out EVER on the Runtur (you can read all about it here). Basically, on a Friday the locals go out and party hard. Drinking isn’t so popular in the week, but Friday is completely different. The innocent daytime cafes turn into bustling bars at night time.
I’m not a party animal at all, but the time just whizzed past and we had the most incredible fun with the locals.
My top Runtur tips are:
- Don’t go out before midnight and expect to stay out until 5/6am
- Head to Laugavegur (the main street in Reykjavik)
- Follow the crowds, especially the locals or ask for recommendations. In my experience most Icelandics speak great English.
- Stick to whatever drink gets you merry. The drinks can be pricey, so my nemesis, wine, became my best friend.
- Try Icelandic Black Death (aka Brennivín)! It’s quite unique, not just in, erm, taste, but also for the fact it is made from fermented potato pulp, caraway seeds and water from Icelandic volcanoes. You’re supposed to drink it straight from the freezer, but trust me it will warm your chest – Brennivín has a 42% alcohol content..!
4. Golden Circle Tour
The Golden Circle Tour incorporates Thingvellir National Park, the hot springs of Geysir (every few minutes you see a geyser spring to life, with steaming water bubbling out from the ground) and the waterfall of Gulfloss.
Again, I’d recommend experiencing this with a tour guide, booking either a half-day or full day trip. That way you’ll learn the most, get some great pics and not have to worry about driving. I booked my experience through Viator for convenience and affordability. There are loads of options from jeep-safari to snowmobiling, as well as the more conventional coach trip.
5. Street Art in Reykjavik
Go for a wander on and around Laugavegur to spot lots of cool street art. You don’t need a guide.
Even if you’re not religious (like me) it’s still worth paying a visit to this church for an impressive view of the city.
Climb to the top to see the houses framed against the pretty landscape. Hold on to your camera though as the sound of the church bells can make you jump when you’re that close to them!
Address: Hallgrímstorg 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
7. Icelandic Pancakes at Laundromat
Perhaps a little unexpected, but welcomed all the same, I had THE best pancakes at Laundromat in Reykjavik. It’s a super cute diner, dressed in maps and other quirky touches.
The Laundromat serves other food, but the thick, fluffy pancakes are what makes this place so special. So much so, I made this copy recipe. So good!
Address: The Laundromat Café, Austurstræti, Reykjavik. It’s near the Tourist Information office.
How Long Should You Spend in Reykjavik?
Whilst you can visit Reykjavik in a weekend, I’d recommend three days as a minimum and no more than five-seven days. You want to allow a bit of a buffer to have enough time to see the Northern Lights should your first tour get cancelled.
Iceland is such a beautiful country, so if you have more time on your hands hit the road and explore other spots.
When is the Best Time to Go to Reykjavik?
September to mid-April bring darker nights, which means more chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
Also, make sure you include a Friday night so that you get to experience the Runtur.
As you can probably tell from this post, I think that Reykjavik is a magical, amazing city. I really hope you get to visit soon so that you can experience it for yourself.
Let me know how you get on and if you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment. And obviously if you’ve been before and have some other recommendations to share please do add them to this list! X