Back in January, I made the long-anticipated trip to Iceland. It had been top of my bucket list for years, and I can certainly say that it did not disappoint. I will most definitely be making a trip back, as the five days we had didn’t nearly cut it. It was honestly like no holiday I have ever been on and I cannot recommend it enough. While most people who have been will preach how expensive it is, there are definitely ways to reduce costs and do it on a budget like we did.
Where to Stay?
Money Saving Tip 1: We decided to stay in an Airbnb so we could cook our meals and avoid having to eat out for every meal.
We stayed in a small Airbnb in the centre of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. Located only an hour from the airport. While most of our exploring was outside of the capital, it was good to stay somewhere with some grocery shops close by, roads clear of snow and where most guided tours seem to start. However, being based on the west side of the island it made you feel as though you were driving on the same roads every day. It also made the east side of the island difficult to get to in the 7 hours of sunlight they have per day in the winter. Having said that, we didn’t see half of what we wanted to around the South-West of the island.
In terms of the Airbnb itself, it had cooking facilities, free parking and was within walking distance of the centre of Reykjavik. It was perfect for the two of us. There was also a big couch so you could potentially fit 3 people in the apartment. The host was super accommodating to our late arrival and gave us plenty of recommendations. Link to the apartment here.
Where to Eat?
Iceland is pretty expensive, and being students we opted for the eat-in option every time. I did read a few blogs that gave me the impression that the food wasn’t a must and was pretty overpriced. However, there were a few places Roz Purcell mentioned in her blog post that I wanted to try, but unfortunately, we never made it to them.
What to do?
There are loads of different companies all over Iceland providing similar tours and packages. If you decided against hiring a car (will talk about this further down), you might want to find a company that includes a pick up from your accommodation as part of the price. Shop around to find the best option for you.
Money Saving Tip 2: Most of the activities were quite expensive, however, we booked and paid for them early which was a nice way to spread out the cost. We changed the day of nearly every single one of our activities when we got there due to weather etc. and all of the companies were very understanding. So, you don’t need to have a plan to start booking things and spreading out the cost.
The blue lagoon is as spectacular as you would imagine. The water is a milky blue and keeps you nice and toasty from the winter breeze. As far as I remember you could buy your tickets there on the day (don’t quote me on this), however, I would recommend you booking your tickets online to save time and hassle.
There are a few different packages you can go for. There is the most basic package which is the ‘Comfort’ package, then there is the ‘Premium’ package, and finally the ‘Retreat Spa’ experience. We were gifted a version of the ‘Retreat Spa’ as a Christmas present, and while it was super cool having your own changing room and relaxation area, was it worth the money? Probably not. While it enhanced our experience, we think we would have had just as much fun if we went for the ‘Premium Package’. Having said that, I have never tried either of the other two.
Money Saving Tip 3: The Blue Lagoon ‘LAVA’ restaurant and the little café were extremely overpriced and didn’t look very nice. Bring snacks to avoid this cost.
Blue Lagoon Tip: Girls tie your hair up, the water dries it out. It took me at least 4 washes to get it back to normal. Despite being warned, I had to do it for the Instagram. No regrets.
Northern Lights Tour
The Northern Lights were what first sparked my interest in visiting Iceland. There was no way I was leaving without seeing them. We ended up going with a company called Superjeep, who were recommended to us by a friend. We were collected from our Airbnb in these giant 4×4 vehicles. The drivers were great fun and do their best to find the lights for you. I can not emphasise enough how important layers are for this activity. A lot of your night will be spent standing in a field squinting at the sky. This company give you a guarantee that if you don’t see the lights on your trip they will let you go out again another night for free. For that reason, I would recommend you do this at the start of your trip so you have the time to use your second go if you need it.
Oh, did I mention? WE SAW THEM!!! Thank the lord. I would not have been a happy camper if I left without seeing them. Our driver explained that there are two types, ones that are seen super clearly with the naked eye but don’t come up very well in pictures, or sometimes they are more difficult to see with the naked eye but come up really well in pictures.
The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route around the South of Iceland. It brings you on a loop of some of the best attractions the South has to offer. Such as waterfalls, geysers and volcanos. You need to do this route if you are visiting Iceland, it gives you a nice snapshot of what Iceland has to offer. There are loads of tour buses that can bring you around to all of the attractions. We had a rented car so we just Googled the Golden Circle and where to stop. Due to the awful conditions and lack of daylight, we didn’t get to see everything along it that we wanted to. One of the highlights for me, being the big foodie I am, was Efstidalur II farm. The ice-cream was to dieeeee for.
Snowmobile Tour – ‘Into the Glacier
We went on a snowmobile tour on top of Langjökull glacier and a guided tour into an Ice Cave. We did this with a company called Mountaineers of Iceland. The ice cave was so cool and the tour guide was really educational. I was initially nervous about the ice cave as I am really claustrophobic, but the passages are really big and I didn’t feel nervous at any stage. The snowmobile was cool. It wasn’t a very long trip to the ice cave which was annoying. Although it was cool getting to have a go on the snowmobile, it probably was very overpriced for the amount of time we were on them, saying that you can do the ice cave tour on its own.
Money Saving Tip 4: Get one snowmobile for 2 people, one person can drive on the way there, one person on the way back. Unnecessary getting two.
From our experience, renting a car is a must. It gives you total freedom and the ability to both change your plans based on the weather and to experience the sites without a full tour bus of people. However, if you are going in the winter you would want to be confident driving in severe snow and wintery conditions. We did have a bit of a disaster one day and slipped off the road, it cost 200 euro to be towed out. A four-wheel drive car may have prevented this. All in all, we don’t regret our decision of getting a car.
Pack layers. We went in January and it was freezing. Although the forecast says -3 degrees, don’t believe it. The weather when we were there in January could be compared to the -20 degrees I experienced on my Erasmus in Canada. I wore ski pants and ski boots nearly every day and filled the car full of layers before we went exploring. If you have a long jacket I would recommend bringing it for extra booty warmth.
Money Saving Tip 5: Alcohol is heavily taxed in Iceland, so if you enjoy a glass of wine in the evening I would recommend you buy your alcohol in duty-free on your way over.
Try keep your petrol tank full, a portable phone charger and snacks in your car at all times (especially in the winter). We got stuck in a snow storm for 6 hours. All I’ll say is, thank god for my need to have snacks on hand at all times, it would have been a very long and hangry 6 hours.
I hope you have found some of this information helpful, and I would love you to let me know if you have anything to add or anything you loved about Iceland in the comments below. I will definitely be making a trip back, hopefully in the near future and all recommendations are appreciated.
The Girl on the Go xx