Nowhere in the world has captured my heart quite like Iceland did. With stunning scenery in every direction, an endless list of things to experience, and quirky architecture to boot, it has long been on my bucket-list. So with all of this in mind, I got my act together and booked flights to finally fulfill one of my lifelong dreams…Yay! I had heard that Iceland was pretty expensive, but thought; “I live in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world – I’ll be fine”. That was… misjudged. Seriously, I have never seen prices like those in Iceland (not even on the Amalfi Coast!) – they are nothing like the supermarket chain would suggest. However, despite the crippling effect on my bank account, it was worth every single penny. Check out my tips and tricks to try and conquer the country without leaving yourself bankrupt!
Iceland is really growing its tourism industry at the moment, so flights there are very cheap. You shouldn’t pay more than £150 return from London (on the higher end of the spectrum), and those flying to Europe from America can normally get a free 3-day stopover if flying with IcelandAir, so keep your eye out for a deal.
If you aren’t hiring a car to travel around the island, I recommend booking a bus transfer from the airport to your hotel in advance, as I would hate to even imagine what a taxi would cost, and the country has little to no public transport – Flybus do a return ticket for £41 per person, and can be booked here.
Where to stay:
I stayed at Kex Hostel, in Reykjavik and it’s one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. It’s located in an old Kex Biscuit factory, so is absolutely huge. They have a large kitchen with everything you would need to cook yourself meals, plus they have shelves where you can leave anything you don’t eat for other poor travellers (being one of the aforementioned poor travellers, this was an absolute godsend). They have the same system for toiletries in their many communal showers and toilets. The location is perfect – a 2 minute walk to the main high-street, and also really near to a relatively reasonably priced supermarket. Unless you have a seriously well-endowed wallet, I’d recommend a hostel that has a kitchen as restaurants are almost completely out of the question. Reykjavik is pretty small and walkable, so location doesn’t matter too much as long as you are near the city centre.
What to do:
There is so much to do and experience in Iceland, I think I could have easily spent a month there and still not got bored. I only stayed in Reykjavik and took day trips out from the city, so I missed a lot of Iceland’s breath-taking scenery (reason #77437 why I need to go back ASAP), but a lot of people hire cars or camper-vans, and drive around the whole island.
- Go snorkelling or diving between two continental plates!
Yes – you read that correctly – in Iceland’s national park, there is a ravine that you can dive or snorkel in, and at one point, you can touch both North America and Europe’s plates at the same time. I went in the middle of winter when the water was around 2 degrees, and I quite honestly don’t think I have EVER been so cold in my life. Once out of the water, I soon defrosted with a hot chocolate, so don’t worry too much about being cold – This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I cannot recommend it enough. Seriously. Go. Do it now… Now!
- Blue Lagoon
An Instagram staple for any traveller in Iceland, and it’s not surprising – the Blue Lagoon is absolutely gorgeous. Keeping in line with the theme for the trip, it was bloody expensive, but I would live there if I could. Entry is an eye-watering £49 for the basic package, which goes higher if you decide to include extras like more face-masks and slippers. If you don’t have a car, you can pay for a shuttle bus from Reykjavik which is another £31 (as you can see, it adds up pretty quickly). However, once you have wiped away the tears from parting with so much cash, get ready for some serious relaxation. I’ve read that there are other hot spring pools you can also visit, but I LOVED Blue Lagoon. Tips: You need to book a time-slot in advance, and while you must arrive at a certain time, you are free to stay as long as you like, so book an early slot to make the most of your visit. Get tickets here.
- Hunt the Northern Lights
If you visit during the winter months (April to September), you have a pretty good chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Most companies that offer Northern Lights tours will let you return each night until you successfully see them. We just chose the cheapest tour company we could find, which was with Isango at £38 each for a three hour tour. Tips: Remember to call up and check the morning before your trip to see if the tour is still running – if there are bad conditions, they will not run the tour and you can try another day. For this reason I would recommend trying to see the Northern Lights as early into your trip as possible, so that you can have the maximum number of tries to see them!
- Visit Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon
I didn’t get to see this in person, but it is firmly on my list for next time I visit. The lagoon has a beach with black sand, and ice-boulders that glisten in the light to look just like diamonds. Could you ask for anything else from a beach?
- Take a horse-back trek around the gorgeous Icelandic scenery
Iceland is famous for its special breed of pony, which can’t be found in any other part of the world. Join Eld Hestar for a selection of horseback tours outside Reykjavik ranging from £55 to £161 depending on the length and location.
- Re-enact Game of Thrones
Iceland’s unique landscapes were the shooting locations for many scenes in Game of Thrones, and Grey Line Tours offer a trip around all of them, with added commentary and inside information to boot! What better excuse to don an Ikea rug and join the Night’s Watch?!
- Try a Kexland Adventure
If you aren’t staying at the Kex Hostel, it’s still worth considering taking some of their trips, as they offer some truly epic-looking adventures; heli-skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, paragliding, whale safari, glacier climbing and snowmobiling to name but a few… If anyone fancies buying me tickets to ALL of these activities, I will be your best friend forever! Check out all of the amazing options here.
- Visit Hallgrímskirkja
Sitting proudly on a hill gazing above Reykjavik, the tallest church in Iceland is truly a formidable sight. Its modern stepped outline stands in bold contrast to the lower buildings around it, yet inside you are greeted with an incredible feeling of light and space. Hallgrímskirkja is an astonishing building, and definitely worth a visit if you are in the area!
- Take a trip to the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is the holy grail of Icelandic sight-seeing – it includes Þingvellir National Park (where the two tectonic plates meet, and also the site of the first Icelandic parliament), the spouting Geysir, and Gullfoss (the beautiful waterfall, which freezes over in the winter!). You can easily drive around these three sights in one day, and almost every tour operator in Iceland offers this route, so shop around to find a cheap one!
Where to drink:
Due to a serious lack of funds, we didn’t end up going out drinking much, so I don’t have any recommendations for amazing cocktail bars (crazy, I know). However, this is where staying at a hostel really comes into its own – we drank the bottle of rum we picked up at the duty free in the shared kitchen, and made friends with a whole bunch of lovely people – we then set out to Kiki Queer Bar, which is a FANTASTIC fun venue for a dance and one (or two) drinks!
Despite the deceptively cheap flight prices from Europe, it’s really hard to do Iceland on a budget as there isn’t a lot to see and do in the city of Reykjavik, and most of the real adventures require trips and tours out into the countryside. Therefore, my number one tip would be to save where you can on packed lunches and cooking for yourself, but be prepared to spend a fair amount of money, and make sure you really ENJOY yourself. Don’t spend the whole trip worrying about how much you have spent – but equally, account for an extra couple of hundred pounds over your budget to make sure you can still pay rent when you get home.
Have you been to Iceland? Do you have any money-saving tips? What other incredible experiences have you had there?! Would love to hear from you in the comments below!