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Before I visited Iceland, I had no idea what to expect, other than it would be could. Really cold. I had no idea how much of a fairy tale city Reykjavik is, or how many waterfalls this little island has, or that it’s practically split in to across 2 tectonic plates. But with these limited expectations came a mind-blowing trip. In fact, after just 5 days in Iceland I can easily say it’s one of my favorite places in the world and I would go back in a heartbeat.
The population is 120,000 (which is nothing compared to say, London, with over 8.5 million!). Crime is ridiculously low here, I heard that the Icelandic Police are mostly known for their Instagram account showing pictures of them getting cats out of trees. This is my kinda place! The only thing I couldn’t get used to was how dark it was. It doesn’t really start getting light properly until about 11 am. I don’t think I have ever slept so much even though I’m one of those horrible morning people (sorry not sorry).
Tom and I had planned our 5 day Iceland Itinerary over the course of a few months and it turned out to be the perfect amalgamation of activities and relaxation. We based ourselves in Reykjavik which is the main city in Iceland and it was perfect for doing tours and getting around on foot. My only regret is not having more time to hit up the south coat of Iceland on a tour like this one, but I have one heck of a reason to go back!
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- Top things to know before you go to Iceland
- A day trip to the Golden Circle with Super Jeep
- My guide to spending 3 days in Amsterdam in Winter and how much it costs
What’s the weather like when visiting Iceland in winter?
As you’ll expect, Iceland is cold. The average temperature can get as low as -3 degrees Celsius so be sure to wrap up warm! As well as the frosty temperatures, winter in Iceland means really short days. Tom and I visited in January and the sun rose around 11 am and set around 4 pm.
What to wear in Iceland in Winter
With temperatures getting really cold and little sun to warm you up, it’s super important to stay really warm as you explore Iceland. There’s so much natural beauty that you’re going to be outside for a good amount of it so buying items that are both warm and waterproof is essential. Here’s what I recommend including in your Iceland winter packing list.
- Boots: It’s really important that you don’t scrimp too much on a decent pair of boots for Iceland. My feet really feel the cold and in low temperatures and on snow and ice it can be painful if they get too cold. Something like these boots which are waterproof, durable and have a really good grip would be perfect or like these for guys.
- Warm socks: My little feet really feel the cold so I would recommend getting some wool or thermal socks as you’re going to be outside quite a lot.
- Jeans: Be sure to pack your comfiest jeans as you’re probably going to be layering thermals underneath them.
- Thick tights or long johns: When Tom and I were in Iceland we found that jeans weren’t enough to stay warm. I opted for thick fleece lined tights to wear under my jeans and Tom brought a couple of pairs of long johns with him.
- Thermal tops – Is it just me who doesn’t understand how this this layer of material works? Well anyway, you’re going to want a few of these with you as they really do help you keep warm. These light weight ones for women and men are a great option.
- Jumpers: A nice wooly jumper is perfect for winter in Iceland. It’s worth investing in a decent jumper or two made from cashmere as this type of wool actually keeps you warm rather than the cheapy jumpers you find in the normal high street shops. Alternatively, Tom used his North Face fleece like this one which is super soft and really warm as well, without being too bulky.
- Coat: It’s important to note that not only is Iceland cold but it can also be windy and quite rainy too. You’re going to need a coat that is warm, waterproof and windproof to make sure you stay warm. I would recommend looking for something like a long ski jacket like this one for women and this one for men.
- Hat and scarf: It’s a great idea to find a hat that has a fleece lining as I found that a normal wooly hat wasn’t keeping my head warm. You can still get cute ones like this one that comes with a matching scarf for women and this one for men. Both are super affordable too!
- Touch screen gloves: My hands felt like they were going to drop off when I was taking photos in Iceland, so I would highly recommend getting some of these touch screen gloves. This pair can withstand temperatures down to -20 degrees Celsius so you’ll be fine in Iceland with these.
- Day bag: Because Iceland is all about being outdoors, I found a backpack to be the best bag to use during the day. As I was going on tours I liked to take some snacks with me as well as my camera and the usual day to day items. I used something like this backpack which is lightweight, really waterproof and strong so I knew all my technology was safe.
- Umbrella: Yes, it might rain, so don’t get caught out and make sure you have a compact brolly with you.
- Rechargeable hand warmer: OK, I didn’t take one of these with me because I had no idea they existed when I went, but these rechargeable hand warmers look awesome and have great reviews! My hands really struggle in the cold so this would be perfect and more sustainable than using the disposable hand warmers
- Camera: Iceland is insanely beautiful! If you’re looking for a great camera to take with you then I would highly recommend the Sony a6000. I love this camera as the photo quality is awesome and it’s small enough to fit in a day bag. I took this trip before I bought my Sony camera but if take a look at any of my more recent posts, you’ll see examples of what it can do. It’s also a great idea to learn how to shoot at night so you can try and capture the northern lights!
- GoPro: If you’re planning on doing trips like snowmobiling or ice water swimming, a GoPro is an awesome camera to record your adventures. The GoPro Hero 6 and 7 both record 4K video and the most recent 7 has stabilisation so your shots will be clear and crisp.
A few things to know before you go to Iceland
- English is widely spoken in Iceland.
- The local currency is the Icelandic króna and at the time of writing this, £1 = 140 Icelandic Krona.
- The water smells of sulphur but it is drinkable (if you can get past the smell, anyway).
How to get to Reykjavik from the Airport
Keflavik airport is the largest of Iceland’s 2 airports and is located about 50km from Reykjavik. There are a couple of companies that run shuttle links to and from the city – Flybus and Grey Line. Both offer door to door services if you want or just a drop off/pick-up from the bus terminal. We opted for the door to door service with Grey Line and booked online in advance, mostly because we didn’t know what to expect and didn’t want to drag our bags through the snow! This came to 5,000ISK which is about £35 for the both of us for a return. There is a public bus that runs between the airport and the city but they are less frequent and takes longer than a shuttle bus.
Where to stay in Reykjavik on a budget
We stayed in a fab Hotel called Hotel Fron on Laugavegur on the main street in Reykjavik. It was super quiet though and very convenient to get to pretty much everywhere. Breakfast was included in our stay and we also had a kitchenette in the room, which was perfect for stocking up on snacks to keep costs down.
Reykjavik is a small city and I would recommend staying in the heart of it. I’ve had friends visit Iceland and they’ve also found some amazing places to stay through Airbnb too. It’s worth checking a few different options and to book in advance as well to ensure availability.
Iceland’s popularity has grown so much in the last few years I would highly recommend booking your accommodation as soon as you know you’re going. Use the search box below to check out availability and costs of hotels.
How much does a trip to Iceland cost?
One thing you should bear in mind is that Iceland is NOT cheap. Honestly, even the ‘cheap’ places are pricey in comparison to other cities. For example, dinner for 2 with just a main course and a drink costs about £50 which is a huge difference to the £3 dinners I’ve had in places like Asia. But for myself, Iceland is a bucket list destination.
To help ease the pressure of the cost of this holiday, we decided to book each aspect separately rather than as a package. Although there are loads of fab package deals out there, we wanted to be able to spread the cost of the trip. By paying for a bit at a time it all became a lot more manageable, and we still had control of our plans. This was a once in a lifetime trip for us so we really wanted to go for it!
Here’s a quick (and approximate) breakdown of what 5 days in Iceland cost us as a couple:
- Accommodation – £600
- Tours and attractions – £1120
- GreyLine Airport transfer – £70
- Food and drink – £500
Total = £2,290
The 5 day Iceland Itinerary
Take a stroll around Reykjavik to get your bearings and a taste of what the city is all about. The main street is called Laugavegur and its full of beautiful shops (mostly full of amazing stuff that you don’t need but really want) and cafes so it’s perfect for finding some food. Also, if you love street art, then you will be pleased to know that Reykjavik has looooads of it!
Make your way over to the City Hall where you will see no guards or anything – kinda bizarre compared to other cities! A couple more roads down is the beautiful Tjörnin, a lake in the centre of Reykjavik, and guess what? When I was there it was frozen! Honestly, I have ALWAYS wanted to wall across a frozen lake so this was just amazing!
As the sun starts to set, go to the awesome Hallgrímskirkja church to get a beautiful view of the city. I love this Church, It’s just so unique and it fits in beautifully with the rest of the city. The tower costs ISK 1000 and tickets can be bought from the Church shop. I’m a huge fan of viewpoints as it is, but honestly, this is well worth the view!
Time for the ULTIMATE one- head out on your Northern Lights tour! I would always advise this to be booked for early on in your trip as most tours offer a free second chance if you don’t see the lights. Believe me, on my Northern Lights Tour with Superjeep, it nearly didn’t see the lights so having as much time as possible to book in again would have been a godsend! Make sure you’re well prepared before you go as well! It can be a long night but the best experience ever when you get to see them! So good luck!
Time for my favourite… a Free Walking Tour! Yes, I do these literally everywhere I go, but they really are the best budget tours ever! City Walk has a fantastic free tour round Reykjavik starting at Parliament House and exploring the history, politics, folklore, nightlife and food of the city, as well how weird and down right impossible Icelandic is to learn. Honestly.
After the tour, warm up with some traditional lamb soup called kjötsúpa at one of the many cafes. The brightly coloured Cafe Babalu is hard to miss, super cosy and quirky. it costs about £11 which was about as cheap as it got for me! But it was bloody delicious.
Take a walk along the harbour to explore the coastal sites there. Make sure you visit the Solfar Sun Voyager sculpture, designed to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city back in 1990, which is crazy, I am literally older than this city! The Solfar sculpture is made from stainless steel and symbolises a dream boat. I’m not very artsy so I just think it’s pretty damn awesome!
You can’t miss the giant Harpa Concert Hall next to the harbour. There are a tonne of events and concerts going on in this building, which I would love to have experienced, but I just went for a freebie walk round inside. It’s a wicked building to explore so make sure you do!
Incase you didn’t know, Iceland is essentially a giant and still active volcano. A few years ago I was in the USA and my flight got cancelled due to an Icelandic volcano erupting, so when I say active, I mean active! To learn more about it, or if you’re just a bit of a science geek and in need of your fix, visit Volcano House. Here you can explore the geology exhibition for free and also watch what has happened during previous eruptions in a documentary (IKS 1900, £13.00), which all seemed surprisingly calm. There is also a funky little cafe nearby called Cafe Haiti which does amazing cake if you need a break from the cold (any excuse for cake!).
There are loooads of places for dinner in Reykjavik, and a couple of delicious places we went to were Vegamot and Islenski Barinn which are both just off Laugavegur Road, so nice and easy to find. Seafood in Iceland is about as fresh as you can get so make sure you get some!
Reykjavik also does drinking. A lot. All the bars have something unique about them such as The Laundromat Cafe where you can actually do your laundry, have a drink, dinner and play board games. For a more lively feel, try somewhere like the Lebowski Bar which is pretty much always heaving but has brilliant cocktails.
Full day tour
It will be an early start but it’s worth it! Time for another must-do tour from Reykjavik – The Golden Circle. I also did this tour with SuperJeep because the off-roading experience is way better than sitting on a coach all day going to the sites. On this trip you will get the chance to walk between 2 tectonic plates, the dramatic Gullfoss waterfall, Geysirs and also have a chance to snowmobile on a glacier! FYI, lunch is not included so to save money, take a packed lunch with you! I wish I’d known this before I went. Also, the snowmobiling is an extra cost, but Tom and I wanted to do it, so we did! You can wither share a snowmobile or have one to yourself.
Ok, so this trip isn’t cheap. It cost ISK37,900 (£270) per person for the tour, and the snowmobiling was ISK20,900 (£150) for the 2 of us as we shared one.
Ah, the famous Blue Lagoon. It was originally formed following the building of a nearby power plant using the geothermal energy form the island (yeah ok, a power plant sounds pretty grim, but trust me, it’s not), and since then has grown and grown to become a gorgeous place to relax. Loads of research has gone into the skin healing elements of the water, so it’s a great place for all.
One pretty great thing about the Blue Lagoon is the bar located in the water. No money required, it all goes on to a wrist band and you just pay at the end!
You have to pre-book your tickets due to its popularity and there are a bunch of different tickets available with things like robes, treatments and lunches included, but we opted for the Standard ticket at ISK 6990 (£47). All their tickets include a transfer as well, which is handy as it’s a bit out of town. We took our own towels from our hotel (check before you do this) and waited until we got back to Reykjavik before we ate at the restaurants there are pretty darn expensive, even for Iceland!
The last day (sob!) honestly, I love Reykjavik and I did not want to go. So I had to make the most of my last day here!
Every Saturday and Sunday the locals hold the Kolaportid Flea Market, the only flea market in Iceland down by the harbour. It’s full of all the usual stuff you would expect – clothes, books, food and things like lighters and dreamcatchers which I never quite get, but whatever. It’s alright, but exactly what you expect from a flea market.
Visit the World’s most famous hot dog stand. Yep, honestly; little ole’ Reykjavik’s hot dog stand ‘Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur’ reached fame in 2004 when President Bill Clinton visited, and the always-present long queue still shows it’s popularity today. And they are bloody good, especially because you can tell they’re pretty bad for you. But honestly, the crispy fried onion on top are rediculously moreish.
To get a final view of the wonderful Reykjavik, I would recommend taking a walk up to the Perlan Building. The main attraction here is actually a big fancy restaurant which was definitely out of our price range, but there is also a cafe for a more budget friendly approach. However, more important is its location on the top of a hill and with a viewing deck all around it, it’s a beautiful place to see all the city and sea and mountains surrounding it. A perfect way to end a trip to Reykjavik!