Iceland first-timer recommendations & practical tips

This post will be the summary of our first Iceland trip lasting 4 days where we did all the first-time tourist things travellers normally do (see Reykjavik, try Icelandic cuisine, do the Golden Circle tour, take another day trip, try to see the northern lights). This post will be full of practical tips & recommendations with no ramblings (follow our day-by-day writeups starting Day 1 here).

Things to see

1. The South Coast (Blogpost)

Our absolute favourite places that we saw on the trip were on our 1 day ice cave express trip run by Goecco for $385 a person. We’ve been to the Alps before so have seen a fair amount of snow but nothing prepared us for the beauty of glacier walking and the glacier lagoon at the edge of the Vatnajökull glacier (Europe’s largest). Plus the raw power of the ocean was on full display at the Reynisfjara black sand beach. You also get to see 2 powerful waterfalls! Highly recommended.

 

Tip: The day trip is intense (16-18 hours long) with no lunch stop so pack a bunch of food with you (tips coming up for what to buy). Also do not book another tour the next day starting before 10 AM because it’ll be hard to wake up for it.

2. Reykjavik Attractions (Blogpost)

Reykjavik is not only the northern most capital city of the world (64° N), it might also be the coolest capital city of the world. We were lucky to see many museums for free on account of being in the city on Museum Night (part of the annual Winter Lights festival) but still missed out on both the Photography Museum & the National Museum (next time!). Our favourite museum was the Kjarvalsstaðir building of the National Art Museum showcasing the work of  Jóhannes S. Kjarval (plus home to some great coffee). On the eccentric side, Iceland is also home to the Penis Museum, a one of a kind place to visit!

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A Kjarval painting

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This exhibition was jaw-dropping

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A whale penis

Tip: We read about the Reykjavik card in alifein2languages’ blogpost today which allows free admission to many museums & unlimited buses for 24 / 48 / 72 hours. The 48 hour pass (4800 ISK) is a great value if you like visiting museums like we do.

One must also visit the Harpa concert hall (one of our favourite buildings in the world), the Hallgrimskirkja and the Sun Voyager sculpture. You should go to the top of the Hallgrim church tower to get a view of the beautiful city like no other (we did not have time). The street art you’ll encounter while walking through Downtown is also pretty cool!

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Hallgrimskirkja at night

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3. The Golden Circle (Blogpost)
We did not enjoy the golden circle tour as much as the South Coast tour just due to the sheer number of people at each of the stops. It does cover some pretty amazing places. We were most surprised by how the Thingvellir National Park was, a geography lesson in real life. We saw 2 big Strokkur eruptions (there is an eruption every 5-12 minutes) which was cool. The highlight was the Secret Lagoon hot springs that we have pre-booked with our trip, it made the day trip worth doing.

Icelandic Food & Drink

Supermarkets

Restaurants are expensive AF in Iceland with a decent meal for 2 easily crossing US $100. As this was a bit too expensive for us, we fell back to getting most of the food from Bonus Supermarkets (as suggested in other blogs). What other blogs don’t tell you is what to buy at Bonus and here is where we can help. Here is a list of our favourite things bought at Bonus (our biggest bill was 6000 ISK, lasted 3 days)

Smoked salmon (the herb rubbed one), Skyr (pear & apple are our favourite flavours, can be found in the dairy section), Flatkokur / Flatkaka (delicious grain flatbread to eat things with), Chocolate covered rice cakes, Dried fish & Rye bread.

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Smoked salmon & Skyr

Restaurant (Sea Baron)

We highly recommend the only restaurant we visited – Sea Baron. Its lobster soup is as good as they claim and their grilled fish sticks are delicious. We also loved eating Minke whale, it tastes like a good steak!

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Minke whale

Ice Cream

The Ice in Iceland might stand for Ice Cream, it is so so good. We tried 3 icecream places, they were all great. Our favourite was the Salted Liquorice icecream from Valdis. The other two were cookie icecream from Eldur & Is & Rye Bread icecream at Cafe Loki. Cafe Loki is also a great place to try fermented shark (Hakarl, we enjoyed the taste, we’re outliers).

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Winner of our icecream sweepstakes

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Fermented shark & local Schnapps @ Cafe Loki

Coffee

No offence to the UK but the coffee is shit here. Iceland on the other hand has excellent coffee albeit quite expensive. We really enjoyed our Cappuccino + Waffle breakfast at Mokka cafe in Downtown Reykjavik, the pioneer of the city’s cafe culture. The Kjarval museum cafe made another cup of mind-blowing Cappuccino.

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Breakfast of champions @ Mokka

 Getting In

We took Wow Air on the way in and EasyJet on the way out for pretty much the same price (£50 per person). Wow Air has some unbelievably cheap fares from the US. These are highly recommended for light packers (as even a cabin bag is chargeable).

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Just before landing at KEF

Once you’re at KEF, you can either rent a car or take the Reykjavik Excursions bus to downtown (3000 ISK) or BSI bus terminal (2500 ISK). But to save money, you can catch the once-an-hour Strateo public transport bus 55 to downtown for only 1760 ISK (pay by card on the bus).

Tip: The Straeto bus leaves a short walk from arrivals through the car park walkway.

Getting around

Reykjavik is an incredibly walkable city and most attractions can be just walked to. We used the buses on Museum Nights as they were free (yaay!) but otherwise just one other time. We took the bus that takes you to the harbour from Downtown and it is infrequent (once in 30 minutes).

A single costs 440 ISK (exact change) with no concept of day ticket. Each single is valid for 75 minutes so ask for an “Exchange Ticket” when you pay for your single to get the transfer ticket.

Miscellaneous

  • Cards are accepted absolutely everywhere! So no need to bring a ton of ISK.
  • Vik has a gas station that has really good Icelandic candy.
  • The airport has excellent food to take home with you (we got lamb, smoked Arctic Char & more Skyr).

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9 thoughts on “Iceland first-timer recommendations & practical tips

  1. pedrol says:

    You saw a lot of Iceland!!! I went there last september and spend more time in Reykjavik and Blue Lagoon. But I feel I still need to return and see some more around the country because it’s an impressive island! PedroL

    Liked by 2 people

    • yodandalek says:

      We too feel we need to return ASAP, there are so many parts of the country we haven’t even seen! But yeah, we’re guilty of packing a lot into our trips mostly because we don’t know when we’ll get to visit next. 🙂 Thanks for dropping by.

      Liked by 1 person

    • yodandalek says:

      Thank you for your kind words partimetravelers 🙂 We’d love to checkout your experience (have been reading other experiences the past few days, looks like we’re the only ones who didn’t see the Northern Lights).

      We hope you have a wonderful Iceland trip!

      Like

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