Reykjavik is very different to any European city I’ve visited. It comes with Nordic charm and brutalist architecture that smells a bit like a distant memory of the Soviet era. I think those of you who have grown up in Eastern Europe would totally see where I am going with this.
The capital of Iceland is a popular tourist destination, so high prices are unavoidable. But here are a few fantastic activities we ended up partaking in that didn’t break the bank, with some of them being super fun and… FREE!
- Weekend Flea Market – Kolaportid. This is a treasure trove of everything you can get around Iceland but for slightly more reasonable prices. We spent a lovely time browsing through the vintage treasures, and stopped at the market’s cafeteria. It’s charmingly old school – but has refillable coffee, so no complaints. Another vintage gem is Sputnik, definitely check it out.
- Kex Hostel. Even if you are not staying at the hostel, have a beer at the bar. Or a burger. It’s a super swanky hipster place; don’t be discouraged by its slightly hidden location, brave it and enter.
- Walking Tour of Reykjavik. This was tons of fun and it was theoretically free. You pay what you can offer at the end of the tour – and it was so good, it would be a shame to leave without donating. I highly recommend it, the tour guides share a lot of information and you learn a thing or two about the history of Iceland.
- Laugardalslaug. We were super lucky that our AirBnB was 2 minutes away from this pool. It was a super cheap experience and fantastic for both starting the day in a healthy way as well as ending it.
- Heading out of Reykjavik. The city is lovely and tons of fun… But it’s important to venture out of it to get that full Iceland experience. Go small and see the Golden Circle or go big and plan a road trip around Ring Road. Hire a car and go, go, go!
You Can’t Leave Reykjavik Without Tried These Foods:
- Local ice cream. Rain, thunder or snow – Icelanders love their ice cream. They associate this sweet treat with coming home, relaxing in the warmth and opening a dreamy tub of the creamy stuff. I see exactly where they are coming from!
- Fish and Chips. I thought I had good fish and chips in my life. How wrong I was. After Iceland, I can say with confidence that I have now indeed had good fish and chips. Really good.
- Traditional Icelandic Lamb Meat Soup. Do you miss that heartiness of grandma’s soup from your childhood? Go down memory lane with this bowl of goodness.
- Skyr. This is not yogurt, this is not curd cheese, it’s in-between. It’s full of protein, fat-free and oh-so delicious. This was my breakfast of choice when in Iceland.
- Icelandic Hot Dogs. These are cheap and cheerful, and super popular among Icelanders and tourists alike.
- Flatkaka bread. Think of it as a musky, sexy older brother of the humble tortilla that you kind of fancy, and are 100% aware that the flavour is a bit on the wild, chargrilled side.
Don’t be surprised if you see these Icelandic delicacies on the menu in Reykjavik:
- Puffin hunting is still allowed in Iceland, and many eat puffin as a delicacy. It has been on the menu for hundreds of years – lest we forget that Iceland is a harsh island where for many centuries living meant surviving.
- While whaling is regulated (the cap is 200 per year which is yet to be reached), whale meat finds its way to Icelandic restaurants rather than home-made dinners.
- Fermented fish. This is the dish that is used to scare the tourists away. You probably heard of fermented shark or any other fish that is a popular traditional Icelandic meal. This probably isn’t the right dish for those sensitive to smell. The odour is very strong and it is what causes the biggest controversy when it comes to fermented fish. The flavour isn’t as strong, by the way.
- Boiled lamb head. Yep. The adventurers go for this one. If you are wondering how it looks like, I can tell you before you pop to Google images – it looks like a boiled lamb head.
- Liquorice. If you are a fan, cool. Ew, I am not.
Have tons of fun in Iceland!
Do You REALLY Need to be NUDE in Geothermal Baths, Blue Lagoon & Public Pools in Iceland?
So you’ve landed in Iceland, feeling pretty smug. You’ve made it to the land of ice and fire! That smugness is wiped out off your face as soon as those Icelandic winds make an appearance (which is the moment you step out of the aircraft). To warm up your bones, you book a trip to the Blue Lagoon, or any lagoon for that matter. But you’ve heard things, awkward things… like Do you REALLY need to be NUDE when enjoying the geothermal baths in Iceland? Oh goodness. Let’s find out:
- The naked truth, or the truth about nakedness. You don’t go topless, bottomless or nude to the public pools or lagoons themselves. All you need to do is take a shower nude, aka in your birthday suit, and not your bathing suit. This is to make sure you are completely clean before you enter the pools/baths, as the water in them is without chlorine. That’s right, the water is completely natural, without a chemical in sight. So the order is as follows: Come in dressed, undress, shower, put a swimsuit on, enjoy the baths, take swimsuit off, shower, put clothes back on. Not that scary, right? I must add, for those who are not body confident, there are slightly secluded showers, all the rest are public. The dressing rooms are separated by gender. It’s worth adding that no one really cares about how you look like with clothes or without clothes in these facilities. Literally, no one. People come here to relax and catch up with friends, and don’t really have time to deal with anyone’s insecurities. Their general advice is getting over it.
- Wait, people talk to you while you are in the pool? It’s a yes. For Icelanders, going to geothermal pools is an equivalent of us going to Starbucks. They catch up with friends, discuss the news, argue, make up, gossip etc while half naked in a 38 degree pool. People chatted to us, told us about their lives (I think they gave me enough info to write their biographies), and joked with us. So while it may be not that relaxing, attending some local geothermal baths was a very cultural experience.
- Is the Blue Lagoon Just a Tourist Trap? I didn’t have the pleasure of going to the Blue Lagoon, as it was actually booked out for the time I was there. We came up with plan B and went to Myvatn instead. At the time, I was quite upset thinking I missed our on something major, so I jumped into reading reviews. Some loved it, some hated it. The fact is that Icelanders seldom go to the Blue Lagoon, only tourists flock to the attraction. The second fact is that it is man-made, so it’s not a natural nature bath. The third fact is that it is very expensive, and the alternatives are just as good – just way cheaper. In the images above, I didn’t have to photoshop anyone out, as there was literally no one there. We rolled up really early to Myvatn nature baths, were the only ones there, and as more people started appearing, we were done. Should you go to the Blue Lagoon? If you can, do. Should I despair if I can’t make it? Nope. I can’t recommend Myvatn enough, especially in the morning to get the same serene experience we did. Plus, it was the perrrrfect photoshoot opp with zero photoshopping people out of the background.
- But it’s COLD outside! Yes, it is cold. This means you will want to hurry into the warm pool to enjoy the soothing warmness of the water. Then you’ll just run back into the changing rooms. It’s not that bad, and doesn’t really take away from the experience. People also asked: Should we wear hats, won’t our heads get cold? Short answer, no. You’ll be fine.
- It stinks? You will notice a smell here and there around the island, and it may become a bit intense if you are going towards the geothermal waters or turn on the hot water on your tap (I especially noticed it in Reykjavik). I can only describe the smell as rotten eggs. I am not going to lie – it ain’t pretty. But as Icelanders would say… Get over it and enjoy the good things.
Are you planning on visiting any public pools, natural baths or the Blue Lagoon in Iceland?
So here we were, in the middle of the Icelandic wilderness. I wouldn’t say that me and my travel companions had a very sheltered upbringing compared to many people, but Iceland definitely took any street-wise smugness we had away, and showed us how bratty and reliant on modern day conveniences we actually were. How did we survive? Using a variety of skills including technology, as well as those that technology killed in us. Having said that, the advice below is not for hardcore camping legends, but for simple travel enthusiasts, who may find themselves lost on a roadtrip with a dead smartphone battery or zero signal. If this level of vanilla sounds like you, read on:
- We graduated from the University of YouTube: How to open a beer bottle with a key? How to pump air into tires? How to pump gas into (insert car model)? All of these valuable life lessons we learned from Youtube, as calling dad resulting in him being annoyed we didn’t just YouTube it.
- We pushed ourselves to step out of our comfort zones: Wet rock climbing with my DSLR around my neck was panic attack inducing for me. That meant my friends just walked slower so that I could catch up in my own time. We were all outside our comfort zones at some point in our journey together, and allowing each other to work through our challenges at our own pace was a very important part of this trip.
- We allowed ourselves to stay in our own comfort zones: I am into outfit photography, and I NEEDED to indulge in milky lagoon waters. I got 100% support from my travel buddies. They were into long nature hikes, I hiked along. They were into using public pools, I swam with. They were into liquorice. I drew the line right there. No, no, no. The moral of the story is acceptance even if it means doing something you wouldn’t normally do.
- We got lost: In a place where Google Maps doesn’t work, getting lost is easy. It was refreshing to use visual memory and logic to find our way back. It seems that this part of the brain we stopped utilising since the rise of tech. Where’s the last place you went to sans Google Maps? Retracing steps, remembering familiar terrains and taking risks started feeling natural after a while. It’s shocking that this wasn’t the case originally, that’s how reliant on technology we have become.
- Rewind and re-plan: A whole array of events can jeopardise your original plans, for example getting lost, taking detours, finding out prices had changed etc. This means that being inflexible and set in your ways simply doesn’t work in Iceland, and you’ll be met with a rude awakening. Mother Nature is quite hardcore in the land of ice and fire. This meant that re-planning and rescheduling in a matter of seconds was a must. For example, we went to Myvatn Lagoon and local mineral baths instead of the Blue Lagoon (as it was completely booked up). It was the best reshuffle in the world: We enjoyed three spa sessions instead of one, had we insisted on the Blue Lagoon. We still spent less. By the way, you can find a post on the common misconceptions when it comes to lagoons in Iceland here.
Do you have any tips to add to these? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve learned from YouTube?
Have you always dreamed about visiting Iceland but felt discouraged by the potential cost? I’m with you. It can be an epically expensive adventure, costing more than a Caribbean break. Having said that, I’ve succeeded in not spending an arm and a leg on my adventure, and I’d like to share my tips for a budget-friendly trip to Iceland.
- Three is the key. Booking a room and dividing the cost by two will always be costlier than dividing it by three. We saved a pretty penny by booking rooms for three. Of course, this wouldn’t be ideal if you were planning a romantic getaway with your partner, but for a friends-only trip, this was perfect!
- Book rooms with inclusive breakfast. As we were driving around the island (Hello Ring Road), some of the farms/b&bs we stayed at were in pretty remote locations. Luckily, we booked rooms with inclusive breakfasts, which meant we didn’t have to pay extra for filling our tummies before hitting the road.
- We popped to the supermarket. We stocked up on pot noodles, dry food and snacks which were perfect as lunches and snacks. When in hotel rooms, we decided that we would have modest supermarket-bought dinners for a few days and allow ourselves to splurge on restaurant-bought food during the rest of the journey. It worked out perfectly and we didn’t feel we missed out on anything. Plus, the skyr we bought was delicious!
- Airport booze buying is a thing. As we exited our aircraft and passed passport control, we noticed that all of the locals diverted into a duty-free shop before exiting. This looked suspicious to my eye and how right I was! In Iceland, you can buy alcohol only in state-owned liquor stores known as Vínbúdin and not in supermarkets (if the alcohol content is greater than 2.25%, which, come on, obviously it would be). To save us the faff and the cost of getting to one of those stores, we stocked up on some bottles (1 wine and a beer six pack) in the duty-free store before leaving the airport. Actually, not drinking too much has also saved us money! To be honest, when you are surrounded by a good crowd, alcohol can become redundant.
- Splitwise. Get this app if you are travelling with friends as it will help you be on top of the spend. You’ll quickly know if you can allow yourself to splurge, or what days to slow down with the spending. It also takes the awkward out of the money-split-talk.
For a week in Iceland, with car hire, flights, hotels, supermarket food, restaurants, some alcohol, most of the fun activities Iceland has to offer, we’ve spent roughly £380 per person, which is a price closer to a week away in Spain rather than the Caribbean. This calculation excludes goodies and souvenirs we bought for ourselves and our loved ones. We travelled in May, in the beginning of Icelandic summer (read, not really summer, still definitely winter).
In part two, I will talk about the five things myself and my travel mates learned being left to our own devices in the Icelandic wilderness. Well, sorta.
For a few years, I have been keeping my eye on the Chateau de Gudanes. It was bought by people who left everything to start a new life in the Provence, South of France. The house, or what was left of it at the time, was a ruin. The Waters family started slowly restoring it – and blogging about it. I remember spending hours just looking at the imagery of what once was beautiful architecture, and still finding it absolutely hypnotic. I was definitely hooked.
I dreamed of visiting the Provence for a very long time – in my head it was where I could definitely wear ridiculously floaty dresses without being judged. And the dream came true. Inspired by the architecture around me as well as a selection of antique shops, I looked like I belonged in the Provence, like I was always meant to be there. If you are keen to catch the Provence bug, it’s worth checking out these Instagram accounts, as I think they best portray that beautiful antique French aesthetic. I can only describe it as looking at a fallen angel, a decaying gargoyle, a broken heart that has not given up on love.
- Chateau de Gudanes – This account makes me want to laugh, cry, gaze, stare, look – I am consistently mesmerised. I wish one day I am able to visit and experience this grand house. I feel if my soul was a building, it would be the Chateau de Gudanes.
- Jamie Beck – This amazingly talented photographer left the concrete jungle for the Provence. By doing so she has been gifting us with incredible content ever since. It’s like looking at paintings in the Louvre, but instead you are just comfortably glancing at your phone, and not queuing to see the Mona Lisa.
- Sharon Santoni – Have you ever had this feeling when you look at something and it makes your heart bloom? That’s what I feel when I look at this account. It’s all about Sharon’s French country home, so living vicariously through her blog and Instagram brings me joy.
- Vicki Archer – interior inspo all day every day.
- French Larkspur – When I have this overwhelming urge to go to a flea market or antique fair but I am stuck at the office/no fairs around, I just look at this account, and immediately feel that my thirst for snapping an antique find has been quenched. At least for a little while.
Do you follow any Instagram accounts that give you Provence nostalgia?