Oh my gosh! Iceland has always been on my bucket list, but honestly never thought it would happen. There are so many places to see in the world and Iceland I had read is quite expensive. Expensive has just never been a part of how we travel. BUT, an opportunity popped up to go on a whirlwind 4 day on the ground in Iceland trip with some budget conscious family, so we decided to jump. It was amazingly beautiful and I would love to go back one day, 4 days is just not nearly enough. We learned a lot in our 4 days and want to share with you tips for visiting Iceland.
I will share with you some of the things we did that were free and those that cost. Plus, where we stayed, ate and things we did that did cost money,
The Cost Of Food In Iceland
I had heard that food was terrible in Iceland and that it is very expensive. Yes, it is VERY expensive, but terrible, not at all! We had some of the most amazing food, rivaling foods we have eaten all over the world. Our first meal after getting off the plane was at a little local joint. We had a hamburger, a small individual pizza, and 1 beer at the cost of $51.18. That meal was ok, but believe me when I tell you it just got better from there.
One way we now know you can save on dining out is to share your meals. Everywhere we went the portions were very large. A couple could easily share an appetizer and a meal and feel quite satisfied.
Iceland’s Blue Lagoon
There were 2 things I wanted to really do and see in Iceland. One was to see the Northern Lights and the other was to go to the Blue Lagoon. We came very close to flying all that way to Iceland and NOT being able to see the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is extremely popular and is busy all the time. You MUST book a reservation at the Blue Lagoon in advance. The further the better.
You really want to see the lagoon in the daylight in order to really see just how beautiful it is. The milky blue water is just exquisite. At least that is what I can tell from pictures. We barely got in at all, only being able to book a reservation at 9 PM at night, the night before we left!
We still had an amazing time, but I was truly disappointed that as a photographer I was not able to photograph this beautiful place. Don’t be disappointed, book the Blue Lagoon right after you book your flight. If you fly WOW Airlines from Los Angeles and most people do fly WOW, you will arrive in Iceland at about 11:30 AM. The Blue Lagoon is not far from the airport, so to avoid having to backtrack, go straight to the Blue Lagoon. I would imagine that time frame is what gets booked right away.
The Northern Lights
As I mentioned this was another priority for me, but it’s kind of a crapshoot. You will be entirely at the hands of nature. Iceland’s weather can change quickly and it’s green in Iceland for a very good reason. They get a lot of precipitation. On a cloudy night, you will not be able to see anything.
The best time to see the Northern Lights is between mid-September and March, maybe a little into April. That’s when daylight hours are the shortest. That’s dead of winter too and it’s gonna be very cold, travel can be somewhat limited due to extreme weather & road conditions.
So you need to try to determine what you want most out of Iceland. We were in Iceland on Sept. 12 and had 3 beautiful clear but very chilly nights.
If Northern Lights are important to you, chose a location for accommodations out of the city where there will be less artificial light pollution. We stayed in a very tiny town called Hella. Very minimal, rustic and tiny cabins, but all we really did was to sleep there and watch the gorgeous Northern Lights as they reflected off the slow-moving river.
Accommodations In Iceland
There is nothing that is inexpensive in Iceland. A place to stay is going to cost you more than you might have intended. Having been to Thailand, Cambodia and much of Europe, I can tell you that what you will get in Iceland for the money is not much.
Our first night in Reykjavik we stayed in a little studio apartment they called it, barely big enough to fit 2 small single beds side by side. It had a sink a small cooktop, a few utensils, and a private bath. It was the most minimal place we have ever stayed in, including the hostel in Barcelona. There was a great little coffee shop across the street with some really nice breakfast offerings. The cost in US was $160 a night.
Our second and third night we stayed in Hella in a tiny 2 bedroom very rustic cabin found on AirBNB. It had bunk beds made of raw wood, it had a small cooktop, sink, and refrigerator. A small dinette and private bathroom with an extremely small shower. The real plus to this place for us, in particular, was the view of the river or pond, not sure, we weren’t there long enough to explore. This place cost us $147 a night for two. I would stay there again without a doubt. This is where we saw the Northern Lights.
Our final night was a hostel close to the airport and not too far from the Blue Lagoon. This place was a hostel in the sense of what I thought of, just short of sharing a room with bunk beds and strangers. We did have the tiniest room we’ve ever stayed in. Just a bed, two tiny night stands, a single chair, a mirror and just enough floor space for our single suitcase and to squeeze by each other. If you noticed, I didn’t mention a bathroom. That would be because there wasn’t one and we had to share! It was down the hall from our room. Community area right outside our door, we did have one of those…..a door I mean Honestly, it wasn’t too bad, very clean and pretty cute actually. That cost us $80 for the night. Really nice hotel across the street with a very nice restaurant.
We would stay in all of these again. Just not used to paying that kind of money for so little. We generally don’t pay much more than $70 – $125 a night and that would get us something very nice. In places like Thailand, we’re talking a gorgeous 4.5-star hotel or 2 bedroom apartment in Europe. But we were in Iceland.
If we ever get to go to Iceland again, good chance we would go the camper route. Campers start at about $130 a night and you don’t have to pay for a rent a car.
Be Prepared For Weather
I don’t think it ever gets hot in Iceland. Average temperatures in July are about 50-55 degrees and a very warm day in the summer it might get into the mid-70s. Weather can change quickly and nights can be much cooler. Just keep in mind Iceland is very far north and not that for from Greenland which is snow covered almost always.
In mid-September, we only wore pants and often with leggings under them. We had sweaters, down jackets and raincoats. Stuff to layer. We did see a few people wearing shorts during the day. So check weather predictions and be prepared with clothing options. If you go in winter, it’s gonna be freezing. It was less than 40 degrees in September at night.
Iceland Is Incredible
It was worth every penny to see Iceland and be slightly less comfortable than we usually are when traveling. As adventurous baby boomers, we would do it over again in a heartbeat. Iceland is a kind of beauty that you just don’t see that often.
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