Iceland the home of the Viking, mountains and of course volcanoes. The interest in visiting had been there for many years and there was no longer a reason to delay due to low cost flights. There is a wide range of tourist attractions to suit a variety of people in Iceland. Whether you’re an avid mountain bagger, a photography enthusiast or sampling different cultures, you will find something.
What is the cost of traveling to Iceland?
Fortunately with the surge in budget airlines it is easier and cheaper than ever to visit Iceland. Icelandic air flights to America normally land in Reykjavik for refuelling and passengers have the option to get off and explore. From the UK, Easy Jet offer return flights from around £100 across many major cities. I took up the option of flying from Edinburgh Scotland direct to Reykjavik in Iceland. Flight time is around two hours, making it a good option for those who don’t enjoy long haul flights.
Arrival in Iceland and airport transfers
Arriving in Iceland at Keflavik airport could not have been more efficient. Flight arrival was around noon giving me the rest of the day to explore this new island. I got around using public transport due to the short length of my stay but there is the option of hiring your own car. There are regular transfers by coach from Keflavik straight into the heart of Reykjavik or you can add secondary stops such as the Blue Lagoon. Prices start from 5,500 ISK roughly £35. The coach service is plentiful so you won’t have long to wait to catch a ride.
Iceland’s cost of living
Like many of you after a flight its good to grab and coffee and catch your bearings. The first thing to get my attention in Iceland was the cost of living. I had been semi prepared for the expensive of every day costs as it is well known that Iceland can hit you hard in the pocket.
Nothing however prepared me for the true reality of handing over that first payment and the shock when you do the ISK to GBP conversion. Put simply think of the most expensive price you can imagine paying for any item and then double it. That will give you a good indication of the likely Icelandic price. Make sure to budget for plenty of spending money if you intend on staying for more than a few days.
How to save money during a visit to Iceland
I made all of my bookings for both accommodation and excursions prior to travel. By doing so I helped budget up front costs of most of my time in Iceland and avoiding extra fees or attractions of little interest to me. Booking.com was an excellent resource for my trip planning, allowing me to reserve a room in mid priced hotel for around £150 per night. The cost of booking included breakfast, which proved excellent value for money given the high price of everything else.
The breakfast was a buffet style service providing the ideal opportunity to make a sandwich for lunch. Food was of typical continental European standard so I didn’t find it difficult finding something to enjoy. On all apart from one day I had day trips booked to pick me up from the hotel after breakfast. Instantly the stress of getting around a new city is removed as a mini bus collected me directly outside of my accommodation for a door to door service. I’d recommend this if you are short on time as it maximises the amount of sights you can cram into a single day.
Top tips for a thrifty visit to Iceland
• Plan and book your itinerary prior to travel to maximise your time and costs. Consider hotel pickup on excursions to avoid car hire fees and need to navigate.
• Look for inclusive bed and breakfast offers to save on expensive cost of living and feed you until dinner time.
• Blue Lagoon visits can be included on route from the airport saving you the journey time. Consider visiting the Blue Lagoon either on arrival or just before departure. This will allow you to build the transport cost into the airport transfer.
• Free WIFI is available almost everywhere in Iceland. From coaches and mini buses fitted with their own person WIFI hotspots to your hotel. You won’t need to worry about SIM cards or international calling rates. I was impressed by the combination of modern technology and traditional living.
• Local ISK currency is not required. Well not physically anyway. I didn’t use any cash at all during my trip, none. Iceland has been one of the few countries I’ve visited where everyone accepts either contactless or card payment. Even Japan that I thought would have been completely cashless can’t compare.
•Aim for a 3 or 4 day visit unless you have a long list of sights to tick off. I felt this amount of time was long enough to get a feel of Icelandic culture without leaving me bankrupt. If you do plan on staying longer make sure to budget for the considerable cost involved.
What to visit in Iceland?
My four day trip to Iceland included lots of different sights and activities. If you love looking at waterfalls this is the island for you. The final itinerary included;
• Airport transfer / Blue Lagoon / Dinner in Reykjavik
The Blue Lagoon is a large natural hot spring powered by Iceland’s volcanic rock. The cost of entry is around £70 per person, expensive but I actually felt that the experience was value for money. It is a unique bucket list item you find anywhere else. Price included a drink from the bar, mud mask and visits to the steam room and sauna. I didn’t feel rushed for time during my visit to the Blue Lagoon and you could comfortably spend 3 or 4 hours.
• Coach tour of Southern side of island
Given the short length of my stay I wanted to see as many sights as possible in one day. An organised coach tour allowed me to travel from Reykjavik along the southern tip of Iceland. Along the way I stopped off at several different waterfalls, the famous black sand beach at Reynisfjara and a variety of small towns to see Icelandic architecture.
The comfort of the coach allowed me to follow the route over WIFI. Keep fed and hydrated from the included menu and capture pictures of the amazing scenery as it rolled by. Volcanic mountains to iconic rock formations poking out of the sea like giants long since passed. Costs depend on your intended destination but budget for around £100-150 per day trip.
• Volcano cave tour
For day three I wanted to try something a bit different. Many of the day trips on offer were hugely expensive. A trip on dog sledge or skidoos could cost anything from £3-400, well out of my budget. Instead I opted to go exploring underground in a cave created from a volcanoes magma chamber. I wanted to do an activity that can’t be done anywhere else and volcano caving definitely ticks that box.
All equipment was provided by an experienced caving tour guide. Transport from the hotel to the location was again included in the cost. The experience lasts for around 4 hours and gave me the opportunity to learn more about how volcanoes are formed, see stalagmites close up and hear traditional Icelandic ghost stories. Nothing more terrifying than a creepy story told hundreds of meters underground when you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
• Exploring Reykjavik and transfer to airport
For my last day in Iceland I went on a self guided tour of Reykjavik using google maps. With time running out it became a jogging tour of the city to see the fights before flying out. Reykjavik is an excellent city to jog around. Streets were clean, the air was fresh and the terrain mostly flat. Sights included the harbour area where many goods are imported, iconic church pictured earlier in this blog post and even time for sampling the local food.
Waving good bye to Iceland
My journey to explore Iceland was a memorable one. Filled with unique sights that you would struggle to see anywhere else on the planet. In many ways it reminded me a lot of Scotland, with the cold air and blasting rain. Even in summer time it can be prone to hail or snow storms. I felt right at home amongst the volcanic landscape interspersed with epic waterfalls, geysers and sweeping sandy beaches. Definitely a place to add to your short list for your next adventure.