Iceland made for an interesting and fun first stop overseas. Iceland is known as a land of extremes because of its mix of glaciers and volcanos. When I was traveling the US over the summer, I learned that Icelandair will fly into many destinations in Europe from the US with a free multi-day layover in Iceland. So, I’m basically flying from New York to London, with a five day stop in Reykjavik. It’s a great idea, because as a traveler, you get two destinations for the price of one, and Iceland gets your tourists dollars. My trip here started out on a down note due to a lot of rain and trouble meeting people. However, things turned around and I ended up having a great time.
When flying to Reykjavik, you actually arrive in Keflavik International Airport. There’s a 40 minute bus ride into Reykjavik and I only learned of this a few days before arriving, so I was at least ready for it. What did surprise me, however, was the currency conversion from US Dollars to Icelandic Krona. According to google, it’s around 183 ISK to the dollar which is hilariously wrong. It’s actually 120 ISK per dollar, and only 118 at the exchange place in the airport. So instead of the bus costing around $12, it was actually closer to $20.
The bus ride into Reykjavik was very eerie with this sparse landscape of lava fields sprinkled with a few houses. The lava fields have long since cooled and are covered in moss. With the exception of some small mountains on the horizon, it’s actually really flat. I definitely had this sense of “oh wow, where am I and what am I doing here”. After arriving in Reykjavik, the shuttle dropped me off at my hostel. This turned out to be one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in. It’s called the Kex which means biscuit in Icelandic. The place used to be a biscuit factory, and they even had some version of what used to be produced sitting out at breakfast. I would totally stay here again if I come back to Iceland.
I love getting the lower bunk. It’s not like when you’re a kid, and want the top bunk. The lower bunk rules in the hostel. I was in this little nook too and had a window. I’ve found the hostel dorm rooms outside the US to be of mixed genders, but no one seems to mind. There were some French girls in my section.
I was excited to finally be in Europe, but really bummed about the crappy weather. The forecast was nothing but rain until my last day. I couldn’t get into my room in the hostel till 2:00 PM, but I was able to have access to the common room and wifi. They also let me store my big bag, so I wouldn’t have to lug it around all day. My determination to not let the weather get to me, and the fact I had arranged to meet some other travelers from the couchsurfing website got me out the door. A group of about 8 of us were supposed to show at a nearby cafe, but only one guy, Alex, from Austrailia showed. I’m sure the rain kept people away. Alex had been on the road for about the same time as me, and had already been through several stops in Europe that I’m hoping to see as well. We traded some good travel stories and had some laughs over coffee and agreed to try and get the group to meetup again the following night. Afterwards, I spent about an hour walking around in the rain by myself. I was cold and wet after that, so not a fun day, and I was wondering if I should have chosen a shorter stay.
I had been walking around in the rain again that day, and was starting to feel like my trip there was a mistake, but that night things really turned around. I met with a group of other travelers at a place across from the hostel.
There were two American girls, Alex (the Aussie from the day before), Brian from Ireland, and Martin from Iceland. Brian had recommended this place since they had some cheap food options (well, cheap for Iceland). That seemed to seemed to the trick in getting people out. We had an awesome time swapping travel stories and ended up hanging out at Martin’s home for a while before heading out to a bar. My stay in Reykjavik was all uphill after that night. I snapped a photo of this fake NYC subway stop that night. Made me laugh after being in NYC last week…
If you come to Reykjavik, there are a few destinations people say must be done. However, you can’t get to these places without a car or pricey tour. As a budget travler, I really had to be choosy. Everyone talks about the Blue Lagoon, Northern Lights, and Golden Circle, but I’m limiting myself to one. I chose to do the Golden Circle because it was the most bang for the buck… 9500 krona or about $78 for a day long trip into the mainland of Iceland. It’s definitely a budget breaker, and I probably should have found some people to rent a car with. However, the rain had cleared up early that day, and it turned out to be an enjoyable day.
The highlights of the Golden Circle tour include Glossfoss waterfall, Geysir, an old church ground area, and a geothermal power plant. The scenery is amazing, and I was glad I made the trip out there. It just wouldn’t have been the same if I had only stayed in Reykjavik.
On my final full day in Reykjavik, the sun was out, and it was a beautiful day. I was finally able to walk around the whole downtown area and really enjoy Reykjavik without getting wet. I met up with Brian again for coffee (the CS’er from Ireland), and we explored a lot of sites in Reykjavik. Some highlights were the new Harpa concert and convention hall, the Pearl, and coastal views. I’d love to upload those pics, but I’m doing this final write-up from a hostel in London with poor internet service . I’ll try and add them later.
Overall, I once again found that staying for more than just a couple days in a place proved to be a good approach to my travels. If I had stayed for just two days, like a lot of others, I would not have had a good memory of Iceland. It was definitely worth the visit afterall. It has beautiful scenery and a cool little town in Reykjavik. However, it is really expensive, and you have to be careful to not go crazy and let yourself think those Kronas aren’t adding up. The currency conversion error caught me off guard and didn’t help. Brian pointed out I should just use my credit card for all my purchases no matter how small in order to get the best exchange rates. He was right, because I’ve noticed on my credit card statements that recent purchases are getting 125 ISK to the dollar. I’ll probably just have a small amount of the local currency on me going forward. As for the language, it’s true what they say about English in Iceland… everyone speaks it. However, you typically only hear it when it’s being spoken to you. Not all signs are in English and most of the food in grocery stores isn’t either, so there’s a bit of fun in deciphering those things.