First Timer: Iceland

here are some things i discovered during this, my first trip to Iceland. hopefully they’ll help you out!


Reykjavik at 10 PM in early May

getting around

  • from the airport: if your accommodations in Reykjavik are close to Harpa (the big glass concert venue on the shore), take the KexPress bus service instead of the Flybus (like i did, ugh) from the airport. fares on the former are the equivalent of ~$22 round trip, compared to about $40 round trip on the latter (when prepurchased online). you will have to do some walking from the airport terminal and from/to Harpa but it might be worth it for you. note that the Flybus+ service has destination-specific dropoffs and pickups, so you may want to choose that if you have a lot of luggage since it serves most hotels, although you may have to switch to a smaller bus once you get into town at the BSI bus station.
  • around Reykjavik: the downtown area is compact enough to walk. if you have a car in the city, note that some streets can get crowded during heavy traffic periods, leading to frustrating delays. street parking, though, is readily available (at least now — again, early May) and parking meters are easily used and reasonable. for parking in front of our Airbnb it was 100kr (slightly less than a dollar) per hour, and is only metered from 10 AM until 5 6 PM.
  • around Iceland: having a rental car is the best, so you’re not reliant on (tour) buses and their schedules. roads are in good condition and for the most part i found the locals to be good drivers. just remember that gas is not cheap around these parts. the biggest thing that i saw was several people opening their (parked) car doors without checking for traffic behind them first. beware!

the environment

while spectacular, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • because Iceland is so far north, beware super short days in winter and midnight sun in summer. the latter might sound great, but it can really cause trouble if you’re a light sleeper and you don’t have blackout curtains at your accommodation. even now, in early May, it doesn’t get dark until well past 10 PM and sunrise is around 4:30 AM. bring an eyemask if you anticipate problems.
  • the water, unless you’re in a fancy place that filters it, smells like eggs/sulfur — especially hot water. this is especially noticeable when you are taking a bath or shower. it’s HELLA FUNKAY. people say you get used to it, and you do to some extent, but i’m almost at day 4 here and it’s still bothering me! luckily it doesn’t linger so you don’t smell like you just passed gas all day long.


  • expect to pay Scandinavian prices — i.e., a lot. casual dinners in not-fancy cafes or restaurants can easily top $20 for an entree, although the food is quite good and i suppose, once you get past the sticker shock, it’s not necessarily a bad value if you pick your places right. however, fast food is not cheap. i had shawarma takeaway last night and it was about $12.50; a large Pizza Hut pizza with 2 toppings and soda for 2 is over $40. my splurge dinner was a multicourse Icelandic-themed tapas for about $60 (not including drinks except the shot of brennivín). ps: i quite enjoyed the puffin!
    UPDATE: also, please note that one of the items on the menu is minke whale, which i didn’t realize was not a traditional dish until after i got back and researched and is basically a tourist thing to eat. read this for more information on whaling in Iceland. hat tip to @midath72.

  • on the bright side, credit cards (including mag stripe) are accepted almost everywhere, even grocery stores. my foreign transaction fee-free card is my friend.
  • there is a 24-hour 10-11 market (A in the map below) in town by the post office, but use that only as a last resort. prices are much cheaper (by at least 25%) at the Bonus (B) a couple blocks away, but they don’t have the convenient hours of the 10-11. map
  • the best option for cheap food is the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand by the water. it’s been around since the 1930s. a little over $3 for a hot dog (you may want to get two). there are a couple other hot dog stands and many convenience stores and markets sell them (with the special brown hot dog sauce and mayo and whatever else). yeah, hot dogs here are a thing. (as are nachos, for some reason…)


  • i didn’t get a SIM card here (thank you T-Moblie’s Unlimited International Roaming!) but if you want one, you can purchase one in the duty free area of the airport before you exit into the terminal. note that with T-Mobile i had some trouble accessing GMail on my first day here on the default network i got (NOVA) so i had to manually switch to Vodafone. for the most part, the latter has been the most reliable operator.
    UPDATE (thanks @jetsetcd): the convenience store in the arrivals hall sells Siminn cards for ~2300kr (~$20) which comes with 2000kr of credit that you load on.
  • almost all cafes and restaurants have free wifi (just ask for the password or check Foursquare) — and it’s quite speedy, too!

2 Comments on "First Timer: Iceland"

  1. $20 for an entree is pricey for US standards but try coming to Sydney. $41.50 for fish and chips at lunch (bottled water extra). Outrageous!!

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