So following on from my initial Iceland budget guide post , here starts my actual Iceland road-trip!
Iceland really IS in an incredible country, believe the hype – by far one of my most favourite places I have ever travelled.
We started out with a very early flight from London Luton, arriving in Reykjavik mid-morning. This was actually ideal because despite being tired it meant we had almost a full day at our disposal before our holiday started properly, so today was mainly about getting our bearings in Reykjavik, stocking up ready for the next day and getting hella drunk in the evening (as seems to be becoming my holiday first-night tradition).
Reykjavik Keflavik airport
As you land in Reykjavik you will probably notice the landscape is unlike anything you have ever really seen before – you enter over barren flatlands of dull green and brown almost entirely devoid of trees and houses. This is far from being the most scenic part of Iceland (if anything you enter over some of the most uninspiring landscape to be seen by Iceland standards), but it still gives you a taste of what is still to come, and be seen over the next few days – definitely worth trying to grab a window-seat.
As you depart the plane you will most likely be hit by a strong smell of sulphur – get used to it, being a huge geothermal rock sulphur is everywhere in Iceland, you won’t even smell it come 2 days down the line.
The next thing you will probably notice is how nice Reykjavik airport is compared to other airports you may have visited – I’m not trying to claim the place is palatial, but a large amount of sculpture, clean layout and friendly staff make getting through passports a much nicer experience than Stanstead for example.
Airport admin out of the way, we grabbed our hire car and set out to explore Reykjavik. As seems to be the way with most airports, Reykjavik Keflavik airport isn’t actually located IN Reykjavik, but around 45 minutes – 1 hours drive outside. Luckily its a pretty easy route – you turn right out of the airport and pretty much just keep on going.
Airport out of the way, we finally hit Reykjavik itself. Reykjavik is TINY, well at least by capital city standards it is. The most Northern capital in Europe, Reykjavik would probably only be handed town status in the UK.
If I’m being entirely honest, by day I didn’t really fall in love with Reykjavik as a city. Despite being framed by dramatic mountains and its very own stretch of the sea, I found it as a destination extremely functional. The general architecture isn’t particularly amazing (especially compared to other Scandi cities such as Bergen and Stockholm) again coming across as functional – think concrete boxes rather than fabulous.
Most places of interest in Reykjavik are located on the main streets right in the centre. Reykjavik is famous for its coffee shops and galleries of which there are plenty (alongside lots of tourist shops selling the likes of fur hats and mugs) but hey, I didn’t come to Iceland to drink coffee!
The main place of interest in Reykjavik is definitely the magnificent modernist church Hallgrimskirkja –
This huge hulking mound of stylised concrete is visually stunning, and really makes an impression considering its rather bland surrounding buildings. A statue of Viking Leifur Eiriksson (the first Viking to discover America I believe) stands proudly outside.
Being a bit of a geek for huge imposing buildings, I love this brooding grey rocket-shaped mass, and the symmetrical concrete pillars leading up to the churches main body are something of an OCD sufferers wet dream –
Inside everything gets a lot calmer, with the interior being surprisingly tranquil compared to the buildings prickly exterior, this is until you turn around and see the enormous organ based above the main entrance. Somewhere between a samurai sword collection and a transformer, it looks more like a weapon than a musical instrument – I loved it!
You can go to the top of Hallgrimskirkja’s 75m tower, buying a ticket from the gift shop (although nobody seemed to be enforcing this). You get a great view of the City and the surrounding mountains and sea (also see picture at the top of this post) –
The other main tourist draw of the city during daylight ours is the extremely unique Icelandic Phallological Museum.
Essentially (I believe) the worlds only museum dedicated entirely to male genitalia, its a fun little mooch around, but don’t expect too much. The museum isn’t really much bigger than one room, and to be honest it made me learn that human’s aside, most preserved animal penises kiiiiiinda look the same –
So Reykjavik is cute, but don’t expect too much. Its certainly not really comparable to most other capital cities worldwide, however compared to what was to come during our Iceland adventure, it certainly retrospectively felt like an enormous metropolis.
As I mentioned in my previous post we used this day to go to (what became) our favourite Icelandic supermarket BONUS to stock up on food for the days to come. There is one right in the City Centre, as well as pretty much where ever there is a significant human population, and the produce was good quality, and comparable price-wise to Tesco supermarket in the UK.
We then left the city centre to find our home for the next few days that we found through accommodation website airbnb. I cannot sing the praises of airbnb enough. I’m yet to find a city that it doesn’t cover, and aside from a smelly Parisian apartment a couple of years back I’m yet to have a bad experience, its really changed how I travel (ie. a lot more often and a lot cheaper).
We rented a 2 bedroom apartment in the Reykjavik old-town suburb which is about a 15 minute walk from the centre (5 minutes by car), which also happened to be right on the sea front. For the first night – and not realising what was still to come – this was highly exciting for us, we probably swore it was the most beautiful view we had ever seen several times (only to disregard that statement entirely once the day after happened). Here’s me looking like a dork by our little stretch of coast line –
We then ate some dinner I cooked up and proceeded to get VERY drunk and overexcited on account of arriving in Iceland. Reykjavik was nice, but it was absolutely nothing compared to what was to come on day 2….
Being a life-long Bjork fan, Iceland as a country has always intrigued me – more than intrigued me, it has always been top of my list of countries to visit – a pilgrimage if you will to the land of the spiritual leader of my 13 year old self. However, until recently actually getting to Iceland hasn’t been the easiest if you are intending to do so on the cheap. It has only been the last year or so that Easyjet have started flying regularly to Reykjavik from London, and these budget flights were the breakthrough I needed to finally fulfil my destiny of finally visiting one of the craziest places on our planet – Iceland, homeland of Bjork.
As I mentioned, I was intending to visit Iceland on a budget, and contrary to what other people may tell you it is actually perfectly possible to do so providing you are sensible and use a bit of initiative (quick budget guide to Iceland list forthcoming alert) :
BUDGET GUIDE TO ICELAND CHECKLIST :
– First of all, do not fall for groupon, or Iceland-tourism-board-advertised Reykjavik breaks for £300+. Whilst not a rip-off, these are usually 3 nights tours including accommodation of their choice, not yours. These trips usually involve a lot of coach tours as you get ferried around on the familiar tourist trail. Great if you are past the age of really wanting mass exploration, but you are really missing the best of what Iceland has to offer if you aren’t.
– Instead use a website such as Skyscanner to book your flights in advance cheaply (ours were £95.00 return with luggage), any time from mid-March to late-September are good! Just remember in the Winter months the country has a lot less daylight (and warmth) which could impact your trip considerably so probably aren’t the best times to be booking a holiday.
– Use a website such as AirBnB to book your accommodation! Not only is this so much cheaper than staying in a hotel, its much likely to be a lot bigger, nicer, convenient and cheaper. With AirBnB you can rent out a whole house or apartment opposed to a room which is much better value for money (and usually nicer), and also means you get your own kitchen so you can prepare your own food, instead of having to eat out 3 times a day – instant massive saving on your trip.
– Finally, go with somebody that can drive so you can hire a car. Not only does this give you absolute freedom to explore, its much cheaper than seeing the country via a coach tour. With a car you will see a lot more, and you can do it on your own time. You won’t have to deal with a bunch of other people you have no interest in, and you will probably have a much better trip as a result.
Following the above, for the amount of money a 3-night £300 Reykjavik package tour would have cost us, we managed to book a 5 night/6 day trip, stay in a beautiful huge house next to the sea in Reykjavik (with a kitchen!) and rented a car (2X drive) to get us around the country – really not bad going I do not think (sounding smug right).
One of the first things I would suggest you do once you have landed, is do a supermarket run. Not perhaps what you are desperate to do the minute you land in this land of insanity, but you will probably be glad you have done once you discover Reykjavik restaurant prices. My favourite was the supermarket called BONUS – recognisable by its huge yellow sign with what seems to be a drunk piggy-bank on it. These are all over populated area’s of Iceland (including one in Reykjavik city centre) and seemed to match UK supermarket prices pretty closely to me. My best tip is their amazing packs of dense rye and spelt breads – great with some cheese and tomato for a picnic lunch, and cousin-of-yoghurt SKYR which is massive in Iceland. Essentially really thick yoghurt, it is really delicious and packs a whopping amount of protein per pot/drink. I was absolutely addicted during my time there! Buy and cook your own food, save a fortune.
Budget guide out the way, details of our actual road trip to follow in my next post…