A week in Iceland for £500?

Letter 58

Not quite. But I did it for £538.

In this letter I will breakdown my spending for a week in Iceland so you can see how it can be a budget location!

FLIGHTS

My boyfriend and I booked flights to Iceland on impulse back in April. The deal was too irresistible! You can read my letter about this: I did something crazy. Booking flights is usually cheapest either very far in advance, or about 6 weeks before. We booked on easyjet, flying from Edinburgh to Keflavik, from Saturday 7th to Saturday 14th January 2017.

Cost: £53

ACCOMMODATION

Hotels and guesthouses are quite expensive in Reykjavik, and we wanted somewhere with the use of a kitchen so that we could cook our own food. I believe you can get in a hostel dorm for around £20-£30 a night, but we wanted a double room as this was a holiday for us. So we chose to go with airbnb. We stayed with a lovely Icelandic woman and her husband in their apartment. It was well located, about a 20 minute walk from Hallgrímskirkja church and close to a mall with a supermarket in it. It was also close to the Bus Hostel, which incidentally looked like a lovely hostel, and we used it as a pick up location for tours.

I would recommend using airbnb as it is huge in Reykjavik and means you can eat at home which is far cheaper! You also get to know a local who will probably be invaluable when finding out about what to do in the area. Icelanders are very friendly!

Cost: £137 (our double room = £39 per night/£19.50 each)

TOURS

This is where the ‘budget’ traveller might skimp out, but we had a number of things we wanted to do in Iceland, and I believe everyone should do. The tours in Iceland are notoriously expensive, but if you can’t drive and hire a car, they are your only option for seeing the country in winter. They are also great for finding out more about the country from a local.

GOLDEN CIRCLE

Cost: 9,500kr = £73.

Company: Your Day Tours

I’ve written a letter describing this tour in detail – so I won’t do the same here. Check it out: The best Golden Circle Tour. This is the one tour I would 100% recommend doing.

NORTHERN LIGHTS

Cost: 6,600kr = £51

Company: Grayline

Check out my letter about this trip and the blue lagoon: Iceland’s night light. Worth doing if you’re here in winter but be prepared to be crammed onto a huge bus amongst many other huge buses.

BLUE LAGOON

Cost: 9,600kr = £74

Company: Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik Excursions

Again; check out my letter where I’ve also described the lagoon: Iceland’s night light. It’s a completely magical experience; a must-do if in Iceland. You book a slot for the lagoon on their website and then you can add on a transfer. On their website it is through Reykjavik Excursions. You can book a transfer separately and as with everything else, there are a lot of companies offering it. You can always expect to pay about the same. The main difference in price occurs in the time of day you choose to bath. Evening is cheaper which is what we chose.

Cost: £198 (for all 3 tours)

SPENDING

When going to Iceland, the exchange rate is typically slightly better at Keflavik airport, so don’t worry about exchanging in advance. We changed up £150 each for the whole week, which equated to 19,500kr. Below I’ll list what we spent it on.

TRANSFERS – 5,000kr (£38)

We did our transfer from the airport with Flybus (or Reykjavik Excursions – same thing in this case). Website here. We bought our tickets at the airport. It was 5,000kr for a return to a hotel in Reykjavik. In hindsight we should have gone for the cheaper return to the bus terminal which was only a 10 minute walk further than the hostel we picked to be dropped off at. A return to the bus terminal is 4,000kr (£31).

ACTIVITIES – 4,100kr (£31.50)

I have written a letter about things to do in Reykjavik here: The colourful capital (Reykjavik Guide). We did the National Museum (750kr – student), Museum of Phallology (1,500kr), Hallgrímskirka Church (900kr) and swimming in Laugardalslaug public pool (950kr).

MEAL OUT – 3,500kr (£27)

We only had one meal out in a restaurant in our entire week. It’s really quite expensive to eat out in Reykjavik so we chose to just splash on one. For £27 I got soup and garlic bread to start followed by a traditional fish dish for my main. To drink? Water. You really don’t get much for your money when you eat out, but it was a great meal! We ate here: Grillhúsið á Tryggvagötu. Very reasonable prices compared to everywhere else, good food, lovely waiting staff and great location. Would recommend highly – and choose fish of the day to get a traditional meal!

OTHER – 6,900kr (£53)

The remaining money mostly went on food shops in Bonus which allowed us to make our own breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. We ate cereal, sandwiches and snacks throughout the day and for dinner has a mix of pizza, pasta and burgers. We ate well everyday and enjoyed cooking for ourselves – saving a fortune! This also bought a couple of postcards, some fries in the town of Geysir, a cup of tea in a beautiful cafe: Babalu (450kr) and a travel adaptor which we cleverly forgot to bring (1,100kr).

Cost: £150

 

So there you have it, a total of £538. Including everything. I hope this letter and breakdown of spending shows you that you can have a wonderful holiday in Iceland for a good price! Of course you can spend more, hundreds more a day I’ll bet, but you can stick to a budget. Iceland is wonderful, please visit!

From Lou

About Me

Iceland’s night light

Letter 57

You can bathe in the warm lagoon steaming under the full moon’s glow, or you can gaze openly to dancing skies of green ribbons. I was lucky enough to do both. I would love you tell you about my experiences with the romantic Blue Lagoon and the illusive Aurora Borealis.

AURORA BOREALIS

I was desperate to see the northern lights. As we were visiting in the deep depths of winter, it would be silly not to go hunting for them right? We chose to take a tour lasting between 3 and 5 hours in the hope of tracking down this mysterious show. We went with the tour company Grayline, which we were quite happy with. It could’ve been better but they are all much the same. We went on a cold, relatively clear night with a good chance of seeing the lights. We got on a coach at 9pm that took us and 63 other passengers (it was huge!) to a dark area home to a small church. Here we waited, with 6 other coaches, for 2 and a half hours with no sign of the lights. We left at about midnight and were told we’d be taken to another area. On the way we spotted the beginnings of the show from the coach, so it pulled over and we all jumped out to get a look.

I honestly can’t describe it – you need to see it for yourself. It’s hard to believe that the sky that I look up at every single day can be so beautiful and dynamic. It’s spellbinding. My photos aren’t great, nothing on professionals, but I wasn’t there for a photo. I stood, frozen, completely entranced by the sky. I hope these blurry photos can only give you a taster.

BLUE LAGOON

This oversized bath of cloudy geothermal water is one of Iceland’s biggest selling points. I was worried it would be too busy, jam-packed with tourists ticking one more thing off their bucket list. It wasn’t. It may be because we went in the evening, but it was beautifully deserted. Floating around in the 40° water, hidden by the steam under the moonlight is honestly one of the best things I have ever experienced. It completely exceeded my expectations and it’s a memory that my boyfriend and I will forever cherish. I took no photos at all at the lagoon because I don’t own a waterproof camera. However, I’m actually really glad. I can just remember it.

Goodnight Iceland,

From Lou

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About Me

Iceland’s light

Letter 56

During our week in Iceland we had some of the most beautiful weather I have ever seen. Sunrises and sunsets last for an hour casting long elegant light across the city and the landscape. These qualities make for stunning photos and in this letter I would like to share some of my favourite photos.

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Dawn at Gullfoss

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The bruised sky illuminating the mountains

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The locals know this as the glacier being on fire

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Very misty

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The lake in Thingvellir

 

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The sun setting over the mountains

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Once again, the glacier is on fire

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Sun through the trees

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Sunset on the frozen lake

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Silhouette of a dog on a bridge

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One of the most stunning sunsets, taken from Hallgrimskirkja

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Sunrise in the frozen botanical garden

I enjoy photography very much, especially at sunrise and sunset. I hope you have enjoyed these photos, I think they show the beauty of Iceland’s unique light. It’s a very special country.

From Lou

About Me

The colourful capital (Reykjavik Guide)

Letter 55

I spent a week staying with a lovely Icelandic woman in downtown Reykjavik and explored this fascinating city. In this letter I want to tell you about the things we did in the most northern capital of the world – and explain to you why it should be on your bucket list!

We had 7 days in the city and only did a couple of tours out into the country, so we got to do a lot. In fact, I would say there isn’t much left in the city that I would want to do in the future. There is, however, a lot of Iceland I need to return and explore.

Hallgrímskirkja

Everyone has heard of this church I believe. It’s 73m tall, and the tallest in Iceland. This makes it a great marker as you can see it from most areas of the city – you can’t get lost if you head for the church. It costs 900kr (£7) to go up to the top in the lift – but our ticket was never checked so we went up another 2 times without paying. I’m sure a lot of people just don’t pay. The view from the top is breathtaking and you can see for miles across the colourful rooftops, the harbour and towards the mountains. It’s wonderful, and very worth a visit. You’ll probably pass the church about fifty times a day so you may as well go in. It also has a room right before the top observation area which has heating so it’s a good place to thaw out.

Website here.

Skólavörðustígur and Laugavegur

These are the two main streets of downtown Reykjavik and together point towards the ‘centre’ – if there really is one. Skólavörðustígur heads north west from the church. As we visited just after the festive period, these streets were lined with beautiful Christmas lights and were completely stunning. There are lots of small touristy shops, winter clothes stores and cafes, restaurants and bars aplenty. This is where all the action happens.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum

This is a strange one – so lets get it out of the way. This is Reykjavik’s famous penis museum, the only one in the world. My boyfriend and I took a visit because he just couldn’t come to Iceland and not go and see it. It was actually pretty fun. Totally weird, quite gross and probably shouldn’t be on your list of must-do things in Iceland, but pretty fun. It’s basically a large collection of Icelandic penises. They range from mice to whales and everything in between. There are also fun penis-themed objects like telephones and lamps. If you want to take a look at hundreds of penises for an hour or two, head to Laugavegur and pay your 1,500kr (£11.50) and have fun!

Website here.

The Harbour

This area is really stunning and feels very Icelandic. On a cold winter’s evening after the sun has just set it feels positively Baltic. Looking over the north Atlanic Ocean towards mountains in the distance is something you just can’t experience in many places. This, amongst many things, is what makes Reykjavik so unique. There are lots of fish restaurants here as well as museums and galleries, so the area has a lot to offer. I’ll list some of these below. Just wrap up if you’re heading here in winter.

Kolaportið Flea Market

This is Reykjavik’s favourite flea market and is used by locals and tourists alike. It is situated on the harbour, near Harpa which is a garish concert hall. It’s only a few minutes walk from the main streets. From the outside it doesn’t look like much, and you would pass it if you didn’t know it was there, but inside it’s alive. There are hundreds of stalls selling everything from vintage clothing to Icelandic comics; music sheets to star wars merchandise. Then there’s a huge food market with all of the local delicacies – including fermented shark (which I didn’t go near so don’t ask). There’s even a small cafe with quick and easy meals like the classic lamb soup which is a favourite in Iceland. It’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays so make sure you pay a visit if you’re there over the weekend!!

Volcano House

This is a geology exhibition paired with a small cinema showing documentaries about Iceland’s volcanic activity which also has a cafe-restaurant. We only went in to look at the exhibition, which is completely free, but I would’ve quite liked to have watched one of the films. You can read about the volcanoes, touch different rocks from around the country and also feel ash from recent eruptions. It’s a really good place to visit and it’s right on the harbour in a corner building opposite the famous fish and chip restaurant.

Website here.

Tjörnin Lake

This lake is situated in central Reykjavik, west of the church. It sits within a beautiful park which we sat and ate lunch in at -4°, dreaming about barbecues in summer time. We saw the lake as water and ice and both were beautiful. It’s surrounded by lovely colourful houses and a few sculptures. You can even watch the small planes come in to Reykjavik’s airport or the birds flying in from the south. It’s a peaceful place, and one of my favourite in the city.

The National Museum of Iceland

This museum is located near the lake, about a 15 minute walk from the church. We visited this museum the day after our Golden Circle trip (read about here: The best Golden Circle Tour) which was perfect because our guide on the trip had already introduced us to Iceland’s history. The museum is beautifully laid out and is really enjoyable to walk around. The information is easy to take in and I learnt so much about Iceland’s past. There are also a lot of interactive things to do and life size exhibits. I would highly recommend! It costs 1,500kr (£11.50) or 750kr (£6) if you’re a student.

Website here.

The Botanical Garden

We’re heading away from the central downtown area now to Reykjavik’s garden. As a reference point, it is about a 40 minute walk east of the church. We visited this area sort of by accident, as we were trying to get lunch in a bistro we read about online. Turns out it was closed (we should’ve guessed this as it is winter and people don’t typically flock to botanical gardens) but we discovered a beautiful place. It’s even worth visiting in winter. The area contains a zoo, an sports complex, an athletics field, a swimming pool (which I’ll get to next) and charming gardens. These gardens were frozen when we visited, but this made them all the more stunning I believe.

Laugardalslaug Public Swimming Pool

Swimming is the most popular activity for locals to do in Reykjavik. The city has 7 public pools (I believe) and we visited this one, close to the gardens. It is truly the most bizarre thing to be swimming in a heated outdoor pool, in -5°, whilst it is snowing. It’s wonderful. This is Reykjavik’s largest pool; it has a ‘fun’ outdoor pool paired with one for doing lengths and 2 ‘hot pots’ where the water is about 40°, and also an indoor sports pool. The changing rooms are interesting for myself and other tourists who are not used to showering absolutely naked with about 20 other women, but it was a kind of liberating experience! It’s completely normal for Icelanders who have grown up this way. The whole thing was incredibly relaxing and so much fun. I would definitely recommend spending a couple of hours in one of the city’s outdoor pools. At this one it cost 950kr (£7.50) each and that includes a locker and you get as long as you want.

Kringlan Mall

Lastly, I’ll mention Reykjavik’s largest mall. This was about 5 minutes from our airbnb which is why we went here, but I actually think it’s a good place to visit! It’s one of the nicest shopping centres I’ve ever visited and has lots of shops to browse. It has a bonus, which is the cheapest supermarket in Iceland – very handy to know about! It has a few tourist shops and great book shops. It has a few restaurants and fast food places too. Lastly, and my favourite part about it, it has little seating areas randomly throughout the mall which are so nice and like mini lounges in a mall! Great place to spend an couple of hours or so (and get out of the cold).

Website here.

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So there you go! A pretty long list of things to do in Reykjavik. I hope this is useful and if you are visiting – have an incredible time!

From Lou

About Me

The best Golden Circle Tour

Letter 54

Iceland surprised me in so many ways. I believe I may have found true paradise and stood and took countless photos of it whilst my hand almost dropped off from the cold. It really is magnificent and I want to tell everybody about it.

The Golden Circle tour is the most popular tour to take in Iceland, and there are very good reasons why. However, the first thing I want to say in this post, before many of you may stop reading from boredom (I don’t blame you), is that the company you should go with is Your Day Tours. This is a small company, started only a couple of years ago, and run by 3 brothers. They operate minibus tours for the golden circle route and the south coast route. They are very different to the other big coach tours because there’s only a maximum of 19 people on the bus and they do their best to beat the crowds to each of the stops. The guide we had (who was the youngest brother) was incredible and told us so much about Icelandic culture and was fabulously funny. He also gave us an Icelandic drink and snack early in the day which you won’t get on a big coach tour. It all felt very personal and the tour was incredibly enjoyable. I learnt more than I thought I would about the country and the people in it.

The first couple of stops were small, but it was good to break up the journey. The first was in a town about half an hour from Reykjavik, which I can’t remember the name of, but it had an exhibition about the earthquakes that can occur here and a demonstration of the plates meeting in Iceland. It was very interesting and right next door was a bakery which I very much enjoyed. I got a massive pastry. If I could remember any of the names I would recommend the place and the pastry. We then headed to a waterfall called Faxi which was small, quiet and lit by very early sunrise. My camera didn’t like it as much as I did, so these are the only decent photos from this stop.

Next came the big boy. Mr Gullfoss. This waterfall is fed by one of Iceland’s glaciers, which was a beautiful backdrop. The views around here are actually stunning and it was incredible to view this monumental waterfall. What I remember most though was fighting through blistering winds across solid ice, heading towards the edge of the waterfall with only a rope to protect us. It was pretty scary but also hilariously exhilarating. The waterfall crashed below us whilst we stared over it with freezing hands. The water should have been frozen by this time of year but it flowed freely, only partially frozen. The sun continued rising, setting the glacier on fire.

We circled back a little way to a little town called Geysir. Here we stopped for a long lunch break and spent time exploring the geothermal area. The geysir that now erupts regularly is called Strokkur and supposedly erupts every 3-8 minutes. I don’t believe this. We waited for a good 15 minutes for it to erupt and to be honest was quite underwhelmed when it did. I felt like a full on tourist waiting with the hundreds of others pointing their phones towards the natural bubbling bath before us. Even though the eruption may have disappointed a little, the area was beautiful. The ground is constantly steaming from every hole and against the sun and the mountains, it was truly beautiful. It was also very eggy.

Our last stop for the Golden Circle tour was Þingvellir National Park which honestly took my breath away. This is a main stop for anyone visiting Iceland because it’s where you can experience walking between two plates; as a result of movement of the Eurasian and North-American plate boundaries that run through Iceland. It’s quite surreal.You can read more about it on this website: here. After walking this famous walkway we wandered around the area as we were given a lot of time here (perks of your day tours). We took in the views of the park and the mountains beyond as well as finding quaint bridges, a church and frozen parts of the lake. It’s a spectacular place and I would’ve loved to spend a few days here.

The tour was magical and I would highly recommend it to anyone. There are tonnes of big bus tours that go around this popular route (Greyline, Reykjavik Excursions.. I could go on), but please choose our small company that treat you right and give you the most amount of time in each place, also beating the crowds. It was a fantastic day and we were super lucky with the weather – as you can probably tell from the photos.

I hope you enjoyed this!

From Lou

 

I did something crazy

Letter 5

Well maybe not that crazy. One of my favourite things to do is plan trips. I love researching, looking at flights, mapping out routes… this can amuse me for HOURS. Well, me and the boyfriend were thinking about taking a trip towards the end of the year, just a short weekend to somewhere in Europe, maybe a city, maybe somewhere warmer than Edinburgh. Instead we booked a week in Iceland.

Basically, I’m a sucker for a bargain. Easyjet sent me a lovely email telling me how their January flights are now out and are cheap, so I had to take a look.

We paid £53 return each.

Could you resist that? That’s less than it is for me to go home from uni! And now I am buzzing. Iceland has always been a country that intrigued me. The lifestyle, the language and of course the landscapes. And as a geography enthusiast I think it will be a trip to remember. Iceland, being a bit off the beaten track, is probably not a place I would visit on a standard Europe trip so I’m incredibly happy to have the chance to go next year (7th to the 14th of January)!

I have been doing a substantial amount of research since booking these flights and have come up with a list of places I’d (I should say we’d…) like to visit. I’ve also been checking out accommodation and how to get around. If anyone has been to Iceland and has any advice whatsoever please let me know!

iceland planning

All the thanks,

 

From Lou

About Me