I am headed to Iceland at the end of July as a solo traveller. I am in grad school and trying to keep things on a budget. I know Iceland is expensive and I have prepared for that, however I have heard some of the expensive tourist things can be done with self drive or there are hidden gems that make up for the touristy destinations.
Since I am travelling alone, I am trying to get a grasp of what my time there will look like. Anyone have suggestions on things to see/how to travel/must dos/what to avoid?
1. Consider couch surfing.
2. Visit the Grótta Lighthouse. Excellent for birdwatching.
3. Go to the visitors center and check out the free walking tours of the city. Some friends did the one called Free Walking Tours Reykavik.
4. Spend some time at the beach. Try Nauthólsvík-great heated swimming area.
5. Go to a hot springs, the Blue Lagoon is a favorite.
6. Go to the Harpa Music Hall for some cultural entertainment.
7. If you like to hike, try Mount Esja.
8. Visit the Reykjavík’s Botanical Gardens and see thousands of plants.
9. Rent a bicycle from Iceland Bike and see the coast.
10. Visit the "Pearl". Super views from here.
11. Visit the Reykjavík Punk Museum, very cool.
12. Have a hot dog at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. The sell 1,000 dogs a day.
13. The National Gallery of Iceland has wonderful artwork.
14. Visit the Saga Museum.
15. See live entertainment at the Drunk Rabbit Irish Pub, the food is fantastic.
16. Check out Yoko Ono's Peace Tower on Videy Island.
17. Avoid staying for only 5 days, change your plane ticket, stay for 2 weeks.
I have done my Iceland travel by myself with a rental car. I had a 8 days trip (arrival on the 1st day late afternoon, 1st and 7th night in Reykjavík and the 5 days on the Ring Road (Vik, Hofn, Egilsstadir, Akureyri, Snaefellsnes Peninsula). I was on a budget and I cooked all the foods and slept in camp sites (camp site costs in average $15/night). My biggest expense was on the rental car which I rented a minivan (~$900 including all insurances) and I slept in the minivan by folding (flat fold) the 2nd and 3rd row seats. It was way better than sleeping in a tent. Overall I spent bare minimum and I slept well, took hot shower everyday, and maintained good condition even with always unpredictable Icelandic weather (you can experience four seasons in one day in Iceland). Good thing about Icelandic travel is there is no entrance fee for all the fantastic natural sites. If you don't sleep in hotels, and cook your own foods, you can travel with fraction of cost. Believe me, I have never had any serious experience on camping before Icelandic trip, but it went extremely well. I rented some of the camping equipment (sleeping bag, air mattress, cooking equipment, etc.) in Iceland. For my Reykjavík nights, I found good Air BnB place for very good price (~$45). All in all, I spent not a lot of money and had one of the most memorable journey in my life. I posted a lot of stories about it, and you may find them useful. Some of the stoy links specifically for driving on the Ring Road are listed below:
Like RJeanR, I would recommend that you consider couchsurfing. My hosts were amazing, and even saved me the expense of a rental car by showing me around (I paid for a tank of gas as a thank you, but they wouldn't hear of more). Not that you'll necessarily get the exact same experience, but there were definitely a number of perks to staying with native Icelanders. Not least was skipping the Blue Lagoon - it's *very* touristy, so if that's not your thing, it's an easy choice. My host and I stopped by, and he talked to one of the employees working there and we got a small behind-the-scenes tour instead of cramming into the lagoon with everybody else. (Meanwhile, pretty much every town has a municipal pool - if you're not skeeved, you can even rent a bathing suit - with hot tubs as well for that feeling of warm water and cool air.)
Otherwise, I would say we should all bow to Botticelli's travel knowledge. Never a bad idea to follow Botticelli's advice!
RJeanR you certainly do a comprehensive list! Iceland is very expensive, as you already know. However is not quite as expensive as most people think. First, public transportation. Public buses run all along the ring road (assuming you want to get outside Reykjavik). They stop at all the small towns along the way, so you can pick and choose what works for you. Second, restaurants are really expensive, but the grocery stores, aren't that bad. Stopping in at a grocery store and picking up the makings for a meal will save a fortune. You should be able to be successful even if you don't have cooking facilities whereever you are staying; cold cuts, bread and a glass of wine work fine for me.... Lastly, look for farm stays with common areas, for sleeping. I haven't done one myself, but I have heard good things about them.
If you are going to stay just in the Reykjavik and Golden Triangle area, get the Reykjavik card. You get access to the local public transportation network, access to public pools, which is almost as good as the Blue Lagoon, and discounts everywhere else.
Good luck. However RJeanR is correct, 5 days isn't enough, take two weeks!
The most expensive thing by far is the food. If you can get to a Bonus get some things you can snack on and cut down to 2 meals per day. In Reykjavik go to Icelandic Street Food. You can refill your $20 plate for free, too, which is a steal there.
Skip the Blue Lagoon. I went for my birthday and I would say it was the most and maybe only disappointing thing I did on the trip. It's like a grade B disneyland affair and is 100% fabricated for tourists. I would have much rather saved the money for a delicious meal. Food is fantastic in Iceland, but falafel is around $15...
I rented a camper van and it was expensive but I loved it. I would absolutely do it again.
Hope that helps!