As anyone who has researched locations and then traveled to those locations can tell you, there’s only so much the Google can prepare you for when heading abroad. And while every article out there tells you everything you should see and do, very few give you a heads up about what to avoid in your location of choice.
In fact, despite trying hard to make sure we knew what we were getting into, we definitely hit a few minor stumbling blocks. And, for a few of these items, we just got damn lucky.
So, since experience is such a fab teacher, here are 5 things our time in Iceland taught us to avoid for next time:
Pay for a Golden Circle tour
Gas isn’t cheap in Iceland (remember that price is for LITRES!), and renting a car certainly isn’t free. But there’s an element of adventure to driving through a foreign country on your own, pausing to admire each amazing new vista and staying as long as you want at each stop along the way. Especially if you’re traveling with a close friend or significant other, this kind of adventure is a wonderful time to bond and relax. Just be sure to keep abreast of road conditions and closures – especially in the late fall, winter, and early spring months, nasty combinations of wind, snow, and road ice can shut down major roads and keep everyone at home for a day or so. Happily, we found an I Heart Reykjavík article and map in advance of our trip and were able to plan accordingly.
Spend all your time in Reykjavík
Unlike many European cities, where the city itself is the main attraction, the beauty of Iceland is in its unique landscape, vistas, and culture. The city is lovely, with lots of cute shops and houses to ogle, enjoy, and photograph, so you certainly shouldn’t ignore it. But balance your urban time with a tour of the beyond-gorgeous Snaefellsnes peninsula. Or by heading south towards Vik and the basalt cliffs of Black Sand beach. Tiny villages, restaurants, and farm hotels dot the countryside and, if you’re not a 24/7/365 mountain dweller, the views in nearly every direction will steal your breath.
Miss out on the heated pool culture
Whether you take a tour with a provider like Goecco, which promises the experience of outdoor “bathing like a Viking”, or grab a bus to the nearest neighborhood pool, this is a vital part of the culture that any traveler should experience. Plus, envision this: you’ve been walking around all day, hunched against blustery, frigid wind and snow. Your shoulders and back are tight and tired, and you’ve probably got a mild neck ache. Then, you slip into a bathing suit and heated pool, and feel all that tension and exhaustion slip away. Definitely not to be missed! The Blue Lagoon is a luxurious, touristy way to do this. The Secret Lagoon feels a bit more organic (and is certainly quieter AND warmer). And neighborhood pools, often located in YMCA-like gyms, legitimately make you feel like you’re embedded in the culture. So, take your pick and get toasty!
Boyfriend Perspective: Can we make this a thing in the US? It should be a thing in the US.
Stay in a formal hotel
There are plenty of recognizable brand hotels, as well as cute niche hotels, in Reykjavík, so if that’s your thing, you won’t want for options. That said, they’re almost all located smack in the middle of the most touristy, noisy, nightclubby areas. If you’d like to hear even a lick of Icelandic being spoken, take advantage of AirBnB, Homeaway, and other residential accommodations located outside the immediate Laugavegur area. This means that you’ll end up walking a little further to get places in the city, but it also means you’ll get to see more along the way. Unless you need to wade through hip-high snow drifts, you’ll have no issues.
Think the low accommodation and flight prices mean everything is cheap
We hardcore made this mistake, and got a real shock when we went to the grocery store for the first time. $8 for a box of Cheerios? $3/lb for bananas? Oh, the horror! And restaurant prices reflect this same kind of inflation. Why? Think about how produce prices change in the States when we start importing fruits and veggies in their off-seasons. Then, think about the fact that just about everything in Iceland is imported. Boom, insane cost of living. Make sure you budget for NYC or London restaurant prices (unless you hit up a rare spot like Svarta Kaffid) – apps starting around $18, mains between $30-50, and desserts in the $15-$20 range.
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Also published on Medium.