Visit Iceland – and don’t forget your wallet!

Sitting on the couch, somewhere between Alex Trebek and our pre-recorded HouseHunter International shows, my wife said wouldn’t it be great to visit Iceland. Since we’re retired and have no place to be most of the time I said Yes! It would.  So, we started our planning.

Iceland is as serene as it is beautiful

First, we needed tickets. when I started checking, I originally thought we could get tickets on WOW  Airlines for a  really cheap price. But after comparing all the airlines I found that when you add up all the dumb extra charges Icelandair was just about the same price. And when I compared their flyer reviews, Icelandair easily beats out the others. (NO, I am not getting paid by Icelandair.)

$5.00 a cup, No Problem!

Actual Prices to Travel to Iceland

Heading off to visit Iceland, we drove from Medina, New York to Toronto, Canada and parked at a SkyPark lot for 8 days. The parking cost us  $67 bucks.

We flew to Reykjavik on Icelandair. The tickets cost us $866 bucks. We chose to go with no checked bags, just carry-ons. We wanted to see if we could pack everything we needed for a week in just a carry-on.  It turns out that, to visit Iceland with just a carryon, we got along just fine. Plus, there were times when we had to do a little walking and having just a 20 pound carry-on with wheels made it easy.

If you really want to go cheap, WOW Air could have got us there about $100 bucks cheaper, but they are not as dependable, according to other travelers. We didn’t want any problems.

After we arrived in Iceland at Keflavik International Airport we found ourselves still 30 miles from our Airbnb apartment in Reykjavik. So we bought transfer tickets from the airport to downtown Reykjavik.  There are kiosks in the airport for two different bus lines. We traveled on Reykjavik Excursions for our trip from the airport to Downton Reykjavik. We used a Grayline Tours Bus when we traveled back from Reykjavik a week later. Both are excellent. The price is between $23 and $28 one-way. (Ouch!)

You can buy transfer tickets at the airport

In downtown Reykjavik, the streets are too small for the big buses so they have a designated area where buses are not allowed. This meant that we had to be dropped off at a bus stop near our apartment and we had to walk the rest of the way. We were lucky, it wasn’t raining and the walk was only about 300 feet.

Staying in Iceland

We booked an apartment on Airbnb for the week and the location was great. The apartment left us a little wanting though — wanting a coffee maker, a TV, and a good frying pan would have been nice too.  But we were there in REYKJAVIK! From couch potatoes to “world travelers” in just a month. I did see a lot of good deals on hotels while we were there. But, of course, it was too late then.

If you’re going to visit Iceland, I would still recommend Airbnb to anyone. You just have to read all the review that others have put on for their stays to get an idea of what to expect. Being without TV was tough for the first few days.  No Alex, No NCIS, no boxful of noise and twinkling lights to lull us into our nightly trance. Like I said,–it was tough.

This needs to be said. I don’t think anybody travels to Iceland for the food. If you want great food, stay on the plane and go to France or Italy. But if you want to see a beautiful country filled with natural wonders and sights, visit Iceland.

The food in Iceland is the most expensive food I have ever seen. Here in Medina, NY I get a breakfast of two eggs with potatoes, bacon, and toast for $4.99 at Rudy’s Restaurant. Yes, I know its cheap. It’s one of the reasons we retired here. I love a good breakfast. In Reykjavik, we found a nice little restaurant called “Cafe Paris.” The food is good and the staff is friendly. The only problem is that my $4.99 breakfast is $23 bucks!

The food is Delicious

You can buy food in the convenient little markets like 10-11 or Bonus (my favorite). Prepare yourself for the shopping experience of your life. Everything is in Icelandic. I bought Milk three times before I actually got milk. The first pint turned out to be some kind of cultured stuff that actually scared me when I poured it out. It just laid in the sink like a big milky jellyfish. I had to coax it down the drain. It didn’t want to go.

The food in the stores is about twice what we pay here in the US. But, if you can cook and have a little refrigerator you can save a ton of money. We ate a lot of cereal, also Icelandic. They don’t really go much for sweet cereals. The favorite pastry is Kleinas. these are twisted doughnut-like pastries. They taste like Dunkin Donut old-fashioned doughnuts with half the sugar taken out.  They do grow on you after awhile. You should try them — often.

Is it a mirage?

And you can do that with your $4.90 coffee. My wife had a heck of a time just finding a simple cup of American black coffee. They had all kinds of “expresso’s” but a simple cup of black American coffee was like finding a dinosaur. We finally found that if you asked for “filtered coffee” you might just get a cup of coffee that tastes like home.  Don’t think that the “Americana” coffee is it. IT’S NOT.

We ate out at least once a day. We found that pizza is the cheapest thing we could find. We found a great little pizza place on Laugavegur Street that was great.  Dinner for two with a glass of red wine for the wife was only $34 bucks. We also found a great restaurant on Laugavegur called “Solon.” We had the best fish fry I ever ate. Our waiter was actually friendly. I think it’s because he was from Spain. Most Icelanders are sort of distant, maybe shy is a better word. I think that the recent overwhelming influx of tourists coming to visit Iceland is hard for them to process.

So, breakfast for $51 bucks, a pastry, and coffee for lunch for $20 bucks, and finally a nice dinner for between $34 and $70 bucks and it starts to add up.  After the first day, spending $150 bucks on food, I was beginning to reminisce about how cheap it was to sit on my couch and watch Jeopardy. We ate a few meals in our apartment and that helped to keep the prices down.

The best deal in town is the hot dog stands. For around $5 bucks you can get a hot-dog and a drink. Many tourists live exclusively on hot-dogs.

For some unknown reason, Icelanders believe that their Hamburger is the world’s standard in hamburgers. I tried them twice.  It isn’t even close. But, I’ll let them continue to think so. Honestly, Chick-Fil-A would hit the mother load if they opened here. They might have a little trouble staffing the place though. The Icelanders are not a religious people. After studying a little of their history I can sympathize with them. Religion caused them much grief in days past.

Also, just a note about the money. When you visit Iceland you should know they only use Icelandic Kronas in Iceland. The good news is that most credit cards are accepted everywhere, even the hot-dog stands, so you don’t really even need Kronas, maybe just a few for tipping tour guides an such. The exchange rate is about 100 Kronas to 1 Dollar. (2018) We got $40 worth of Kronas at a local bank and that was plenty for us.

Retire to Iceland? I don’t think Iceland would be the place I’d want to retire to, it’s way too expensive for everything. But it’s a great place for a vacation.

Things to do in Iceland

Take a tour. They have really put together a great system for tours and booking tours. You can go on the web and book a tour that will pick you up outside your hotel or guest house and take you on tours to see anything. You can go whale watching, mountain climbing, off-roading for the rich and adventurous and they even have bus tours for old folks like us.

We went on two tours. The first one was the South Coast Adventure. We visited parks and traveled to the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano and Sólheimajökull Glacier. The trip was 11 hours but the time just flew by. Sometimes the scenery is so breath-taking that we forgot to take pictures.

The second tour was the Great Circle Tour. It was better than the first. We saw the geysers and visited the “rift valley” area where the North Atlantic Plate and the European Plate come together. Actually, it’s where they are separating.  According to the guide, one minute we are in North America and the next step we are in Europe.  (So, now I can say I’ve been to Europe) The scenery is just too much for words. You have to see it.

The Blue Lagoon

No story about Iceland can leave out the Blue Lagoon. It is one of Iceland’s famous experiences. All the folks say that if you’re going to visit Iceland you just have to do it. Imagine a huge lagoon full of piping hot water and hundreds of tourists, fresh from showering naked under the watchful eye of the Iceland Shower Police, floating around and spending wads of money on towels, drinks, mud-masks, food and . . . oh well, you get the picture. To be honest, we skipped it altogether. I have a shower at home and its free. (and nobody’s watching to see if I’ve properly cleaned my . . .) The whole experience for the two of us would have totaled over $200 bucks. Somehow it lost the magic for me.

Climb a Glacier in Iceland

You can actually climb on glaciers. Yep. If looking at it isn’t enough you can book an adventure tour with Glacier Guides and climb right up on it. They supply all the necessary climbing gear and protective helmets. Don’t worry about being too heavy to climb. You’ll be about $200 bucks lighter before you start up.

Icelandic Horses

They have their own breed of horse in Iceland.  They’re special in many ways, one being that they are free from many diseases that other horses have. They are really short for horses but, it seems to be a great cultural offense to call them “ponies.” They are, after all, about an inch taller than Shetland ponies. (their ancestors.)

These are but a few of the many things to see and do. And don’t forget the great museums in Reykjavik. You can walk to all of them. I know because we did. The Saga Museum was my favorite.

I could go on for hours telling you about our trip, but Iceland must be seen and experienced.

It should be on your bucket list.

This is the actual spot where the two continents divide.
Glacier sneaking up on the unsuspecting tourist
Fishing used to be #1. Now tourism is.
View of Reykjavik from atop the Hallgrimskirkja, It’s the tallest church in Reykjavik.
The Hallgrimskirkja Church on the hill behind Suzanne
Inside the Hallgrimskirkja