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☻ Iceland. It Really is Like Mars Up There. ☺

Reykjavík, Iceland
20 Kudos
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[UPDATE] I wanted to add to this info as I read another user's story about a rental car company charging $1500 for damage to a rental vehicle. I have read a lot of reports coming from customers who come back to drop of the rental car and then the rental company finds damage and charges the customer. Always buy insurance. Always. Always. ALWAYS. I have read some stories before I was renting a car in Iceland of people who got calls from the rental place saying they found scratches or damage but it wasn't until after they'd *left* Iceland. Sometimes many months after. Some had collections agencies called on them. It's hard to know if this is a scam or not. Some people try and take a rental on "F-roads" (offroad gravel usually requiring 4X4) and damage the car on the big stones in the road. My only advice is to take a millions pictures of the car (top to bottom) before they had the keys to you or before you leave the rental lot. Maybe even in front of the rental employee so they cannot make any false claims against you later and they see you're assessing damage with photo proof. I used Faircar when I was there and, luckily, didn't get any call about scratches or damage that magically appeared after I'd left Iceland. YMMV. Do your research on the companies! [/UPDATE] Gosh, a couple decades ago, Iceland was on no one's travel radar. Now that you can book a cheap (to the tune of $400, round trip) flight, everyone and their uncle is going. Or are they? One thing that rightfully scares people away from Iceland are Icelandic prices. I am here to tell you that yes, they are as scary as you've been told or heard. I think only Oslo is more expensive. Fear not cheapskates and uber budget travelers with families (like me!), I have some advice for you on how to do Iceland and not break the bank (or have to take out a second mortgage). Iceland used to be more expensive than it is now. Are you shocked? Shortly after the housing market crash, exchange rates got a little more favorable. A little. Exchange rates back a couple decades ago used to be 70-90 ISK to a dollar. Considering a decent burger and fries with drink can run around $25-30 at today's exchange rates, you should thank your lucky stars the exchange rates are in the 110's lately. If you managed to visit Iceland in 2015 when rates were 130-140 ISK to USD, you were ballin'. I'm not kidding. Iceland is a very northerly island so, of course, everything has to be imported. After all, there's only about 1-2% of farmable land on the whole island and that land can't grow the kinds of crops we're used to. So, what to do? Import, import, import. Iceland doesn't really have much choice. Thankfully there's fish a plenty so that is always a lower priced food source. What about booze? Well, with all that natural spring and glacier water, there is beer. But if you think you've had an expensive bottle of something? HA! I laugh in your general direction. Here's a pro-tip from me to you: Keep empty space in your suitcase for your trip to Iceland. You're going to need it as you fill up on duty free booze at the airport. A six pack of average craft beer at a Vínbúð (the ONLY place where you can buy booze in Iceland)? Wait for it, wait for it, get you defibrillator ready....about $35. Yeah, they have the equivalent to Schlitz there too and it's not that much cheaper. As a drinker of beer, I was licking the inside of the bottles after that sticker shock. But don't let it scare you away from trekking all the way there and enjoying yourself. What will cost you anything in Iceland comes in this order: gas, booze, food. Most everything else you can do for free. Seriously! I am here to tell you from experience that my family of 4 did Reykjavik for under $1000 for an 8 night stay. Ok, that doesn't include the AirBNB cost and car rental price. But gas, grocery shopping, eating out twice and some shopping came in at just $1000. The Golden Circle can be done for free. In fact, it is free. Geyser, Þingvellir National Park and Gulfoss are all free attractions. You just have to get there. What's the rub? You need a car. Car rental is pricey to the tune of $700 for week-long rental in summer. So much cheaper off season. Gas prices? Better keep the defibrillator handy. It was around $10 a gallon when I was there in July 2017. I can't imagine what it is today. $12-15 a gallon? 1/3 of my budget was gas alone. You better believe I used the heck out of the cruise control. But, since the roads don't allow you to go super fast, you get decent gas mileage actually. To see anything cool in Iceland, you NEED a card. And driving there is like driving here. WATCH OUT FOR THAT SHEEP! Like I said, no problem! The Golden Circle is a must. You have to do it. But some other off the beaten path stuff lies to the south by Vik. The famous Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach! It's...wow. Just...wow. There's nothing like it. Just stay away from the shore and watch out for Sneaker Waves. You've been warned. If you want to save your beer money for a killer pizza + craft beer experience while on your way to the black sand beach, stop at Ölverk Pizza & Brewery in Hveragerði for the most mind meltingly good pizza + beer. I recommend the cranberry sauce + brie pizza. Still on your way to the black sand beach? You'll pass Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Another big wow of a place. Bring a cheap dollar store poncho on the trip just for this one. They sell ponchos there for the low, low price of $20. One nice thing about Seljalandsfoss is that you can go behind the waterfall. A MUST! And it's FREE! Still on your way to the black sand beach? You will pass Mýrdalsjökull. Stop and lick a glacier! It's FREE! Bring some syrup and make your own snowcones! Fun for the whole family. Ignore the signs of life threatening peril and calving glaciers. If my 2 year old daughter walked the mile+ to the glacier from the parking lot yelling YOLO *and* licked the glacier, so can you. Don't wimp out. Lick a glacier before they're all gone. My AirBNB was in the Kopavogur area and here's a pro-tip from me: Don't bother staying anywhere downtown. Downtown is basically two blocks long but worth a visit to Eldur og Ís for sure. Oh and the Sun Voyager sculpture is worth a photo-op. Stay where there's a Bonus nearby. It's a grocery store and your best friend. AirBNB a place with a kitchen and make lunches for your trips. Eat breakfast / cook your dinners at home. Trust me. No, seriously. Icelandic prices. Have I scared you yet? Another cool place that's worth checking out and wandering through is Heiðmörk nature reserve. This place is like Mars. Complete with red volcanic rock and that otherworldly wasteland look. Very chic. Pull in, park at the little parking lot cubbies and just wander around. It's HUGE and interesting as all get out. Another place that was nice for my kids was Húsdýragarðurinn park. Nice place to run around, see some animals, ride some rides and ride a real Icelandic horse. Bucket list stuff people! It's a small petting zoo type place with lots for kids to do and for parents to just chill out. We did Blue Lagoon but it's more geared toward adults I feel. Go to a local pool for the real hot bath experience and save your money. Lastly, stop in Selfoss on your way to the black sand beach and grab a Pylsa at Pylsuvagninn. And, if you're really bored in Selfoss, stop at Bobby Fischer's grave and museum. Pro-tip: Skip the puffins tour unless you have a giant telephoto lens or binoculars. Iceland has been the best trip I have ever taken thus far. I plan to go back again some day soon and explore the eastern part of the island.
Story Details

Culture and experiences

Reykjavík Art Museum Kjarvalsstaðir
Yep, there's an Art museum here too. Small but if that's you thing, check it out.

Entertainment

Epal Harpa
The famed Harpa opera house is not only the most famous venue in Reykjavik, it's also a beautiful piece of architecture.

For kids

Fjölskyldugarðurinn
Cute little park, green space and play ground with some rides, play structures, bumper boats and food.
Húsdýragarðurinn Park & Zoo
Small petting zoo type place that the kiddos would enjoy. Has some Icelandic animals and Icelandic horse rides.
SmáraTívolí
Small indoor amusement park for the kiddos. It's part of the Smáralind shopping mall.

Points of interest

The Settlement Exhibition
When digging up the earth in the downtown area, the workers unearthed an old Viking settlement. It is well preserved in this museum.
Þjóðminjasafn Íslands / National Museum of Iceland
A small museum with history of Iceland. They even have some of Björk's stuff there.
Reykjavik Airport Terminal
This small local airport has flights to other parts of Europe or within Iceland itself.
Laugardalslaug
This is the largest public swimming pool in town. Has slides, Olympic size pool and other amenities.
Reykjavik City Botanic Garden
A small botanical garden and green space with many native species of plants and some trees. Yeah, Iceland basically has not native trees in the city proper.
Saga Museum
Small museum of Iceland's history and Viking past. You can dress up in Viking style clothing.
Hallgrimskirkja
Probably one of Reyjavik's most iconic buildings that happens to be a church. Looks like a rocket ship.
Sun Voyager
A really cool sculpture of a Viking boat created in 1990s by Jón Gunnar Árnason. Great for a photo-op

Restaurants

Eldur og Ís - Ice cream and crepes
Like Eskimos eating ice cream, those Icelander have some dang good ice cream. Stop in at this great place for a yummy treat. Super creamy and good.
Prikið ehf.
Probably one of the most well know eateries in the downtown area. You can get a genuine Icelandic breakfast here.
Icelandic Street Food
Don't listen to what others have said, this place rocks. Good bang for the buck since Icelandic food prices are crazy expensive.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
This is the most famous hotdog (Pylsa) stand in the city. You can find them elsewhere too.
Bryggjan Brugghús
Tucked away in the old harbor area is one of the only Brew pubs in the downtown area. Just don't be shocked by the prices. Iceland is expensive.
Perlan
Not just a place where Reykjavik gathers it's copious geothermal water and dishes it out to the city, it's also the highest point in Reykjavik. Happens to have a restaurant as well.

Shopping

Vínbúðin
Vínbúðin is the only place where you can buy beer, wine or other alcohol. It's fairly controlled and expensive in Iceland so buy it at the airport as it's a lot cheaper.
Bónus
Bónus is your friend. It's the local grocery store chain with most of what you'll need except alcohol. Booze can only be bought at a Vínbúðin.
Laugavegur
This is Reykjavik's most famous street with all kinds of shops, places to eat and window shop.

Special activities

Sundlaugin í Kópavogi (Kópavogslaug)
Nice local geothermal swimming pool. My sons went there with some neighbors we met. He had a blast.

On The Map

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