Short trip to Iceland (alone)
March 5, 2018 12:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm leaving for a short 3-day trip to Iceland in a few days. This is going to be my first solo trip so I would like to know how to make the most of it and stay safe (F, 26).

I have more or less made plans for the first two days (a trip to the Viðey Island, northern lights tour and the Blue Lagoon spa). I will spend the last day in Reykjavik and am not sure how to make the most of it in such a short time. What is an absolute must-see in Reykjavik? I will have the city card which includes free entrance to the zoo and numerous museums, galleries and swimming pools - is any of these worth visiting in particular?

I'd like to keep this trip low-cost as well - any ideas on where/what to eat to save some money?

My last (and possibly biggest) concern is safety. Are there any areas in Reykjavik that a female tourist should avoid? I'll be staying in a hostel (all-female dorm), so I think I should be fine accommodation-wise.

Thanks for any advice!
posted by U.N.Owen to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Hot dogs. Eat Icelandic hot dogs. I am not kidding. They are yummy. There are also the usual grocery stores that sell prepared foods cheaper than eating out. We had no problems navigating them on our visit.

The Hallgrimskirkja is quite a sight. The whale-watching tours are also fun.
posted by praemunire at 12:48 PM on March 5, 2018

Definitely see the Hallgrimskirkja. The main tourist area is on a street that runs directly from the cathedral down the hill, you can't miss it. There are lots of restaurants, shops, etc. on that street. It's not a full day's worth of stuff, but would keep you busy for a few hours.

We enjoyed the National Museum of Iceland, which is in a different area but was very reachable (Reykjavik is a very small city). Probably not a MUST-see, but we like historical museums.

The whale-watches are fun, but be sure to wear something you don't mind getting very wet. When we went, it rained off and on (as it does in Reykjavik), and even though the tour boat had wet weather gear for us, we were still very soggy when it was over.

You will not save any money in Iceland. It is eye-wateringly expensive.
posted by briank at 1:02 PM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've been to Reykjavik twice, once on my own and once with a female friend (I was in my early 30s) and I felt very safe the whole time. Statistically speaking, it's an incredibly safe country. Violent crime is super-rare. I wandered around a lot of the city and never felt remotely unsafe. There is definitely a hard-drinking Saturday night culture in Iceland that I skipped out on - I don't feel safe out drinking with strangers, plus it's very expensive!

Reykjavik is very small and walkable. The parts I remember most are the Hallgrimskirkja and the National Museum, but mostly I just liked walking around and window-shopping. There are swans but they're different from other swans that I've seen, they look tougher! I liked the art museums.

I generally ate one meal out per day and had breakfast from my hotel and snacks from the supermarket. Even the fast-food/fast-casual restaurants cost more than I would expect to pay for a decent sit-down restaurant meal at home. You may want to plan to cook in your hostel kitchen (possibly with food brought from home, seriously everything is so expensive!), but there is a lot of good food in Reykjavik, so if you can afford to treat yourself for a couple of meals you will probably not regret it.
posted by mskyle at 1:08 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Loved Iceland, went as solo female and never had an issue. It's not a place where you're going to eat / do anything cheaply other than if you bring things from home. I expected weird hunger times due to jet lag, my body so brought granola bars and those were much better than roadside snacks. That said, I still think about the reindeer tartare so (if not veg), it's not a place to dine on a salad.
No advice for Reykjavik as due to time limits/bigger interest in nature I skipped the city save for my hotel
posted by TravellingCari at 1:11 PM on March 5, 2018

The municipal pool is one of the best things I did there.
Talk to the old people in the hot and cold pools in whatever common language you can find. Trippy sauna too.
But the cab ride to get there was expensive. I can’t remember details on bus service to the pool.

Buy the delicious skyr at the grocery store.

Enjoy feeling safe as a woman alone. It is one of the safest places in the world.
posted by littlewater at 1:12 PM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

There are no must-sees in Reykjavik. It's a cute town but people don't go to Iceland to visit Reykjavik. Ask me how I know--I planned a 4-day trip to Iceland in November and the weather meant I was stuck in Reykjavik basically the entire time. However, I did enjoy the National Museum of Iceland, as well as the Settlement Exhibition. If you like modern art, I found the Reykjavik Art Museum surprisingly good.

Top tip: take a bathing suit with you and hit up a public pool. They're all heated--definitely was the highlight of my trip. If you're bashful about public nudity though, be aware that you do need to shower naked before you get in, and they are very serious about it.
posted by Automocar at 1:15 PM on March 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Not really related to your questions, just so you're able to temper your expectations. The northern lights reportedly haven't been visible for about three weeks now (my friends just returned yesterday from a two-week long tour.) Still, they had a blast and really, really loved the hotdogs.
posted by Everydayville at 1:32 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend doing a group tour that hits a bunch of the highlights. I did one with about a half dozen people driven around in a minivan with a great guide that hit the Geyser, Thingvellir, riding Icelandi horses, a spa, etc. It was affordable and a great way to see a bit more of the countryside.
posted by TwoStride at 1:41 PM on March 5, 2018

Nthing the comments about safety. My wife did some walking around on her own when we were there for a bit a couple of summers ago and found it to be totally fine.

If you're staying in a hostel, you'll want to buy groceries and cook your own food. Restaurants are very expensive!

Maybe pack fruit bars or dehydrated fruit. Fresh stuff is all flown in and is crazy expensive. You might want to make sure you eat lots of fresh food at home before you go and just live with not eating strawberries and such.
posted by thenormshow at 1:45 PM on March 5, 2018

In Switzerland, where I was doing a lot of hiking and prices are astronomical, I'd buy bread, cheese, some butter, chocolate and a small carton of fruit juice that made great snacks for when I was hungry on a trail, or was too tired to go find foot once I returned to my hotel room. With snacking, I wasn't hungry enough most times for large expensive meals.
posted by Everydayville at 1:51 PM on March 5, 2018

When it comes to "safe spaces" - generally, I find if you're a woman, you sort of already have a sixth sense for when a particular situation doesn't feel right, just from having grown up learning "street smarts". So if there really are any dicey places or situations, you'll kind of know when to back out. But from what I hear, Iceland is so safe that it's recommended as a "if you're a woman traveling solo for the first time, choose this country" rite of passage.

As for budget tips - DIY picnics and catering can be mad fun. Not everyone thinks to visit the supermarkets where you're staying, but that can be an eye-opening "ordinary life" glimpse that gives you a real flavor for where you're traveling. You may also find some completely wackadoo product (I don't know, like whale-flavor Pringles or something) that is just so fascinatingly weird it becomes your favorite souvenir.

And because I can't not mention it since I know it exists - Reykjavik has a Penis Museum and you should go because Penis Museum, seriously.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:58 PM on March 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

because I can't not mention it since I know it exists - Reykjavik has a Penis Museum and you should go because Penis Museum,

FYI, my friends found it disappointing. It was more "here is a bunch of random dick I accumulated hither and yon" than "let us consider carefully the varied types of implement Nature has furnished the male with."
posted by praemunire at 2:05 PM on March 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

I was in Iceland by myself when I was in my mid-twenties. It was great! I made friends with a couple of other young women in the hostel, wandered around the city by myself, and did the Golden Circle tour and the Blue Lagoon. I didn’t feel unsafe anywhere. Reykjavik is great to walk around, especially if you like photography, as it’s super pretty.

Cost-saving: I brought some lentils and microwave dal from Trader Joe’s with me on the plane and basically ate that stuff, plus maybe some yogurt or cheese from the shops in Reykjavik. Restaurants were really expensive. I did feel kind of weird bringing lentils on a plane but they were delicious and my entire food budget was like $30, do what you gotta do.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:16 PM on March 5, 2018

If you can budget the time/money, I'd recommend a day trip to Thingvellir rather than staying in the city. For me at least, the magic of Iceland was the way they just let nature do its thing. Thingvellir has geysers and waterfalls, and the Silfra fissure is pretty amazing to see, even if you don't dive/snorkel. The water is crystal clear and sort of prismatic.

As for food, I brought a ton of protein bars with me and largely lived off those and some things from grocery stores, though I was road-tripping when I went. Food is super expensive, especially produce.
posted by ktkt at 2:57 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can save money by doing any souvenir shopping in the airport before you fly home. The shops were cheaper and better curated than the overpriced stores in Reykjavik.

In general Reykjavik was too touristy for me and much less exciting than the rest of the country, although I enjoyed the Hallgrimskirkja and walking around neighborhoods with beautiful modernist architecture.

If you prefer nature to museums, definitely see if you can take a bus or tour up to Thingvellir instead (or do the entire Golden Circle, Thingvellir > Geysir > Gullfoss, if weather permits and you have time).
posted by toastedcheese at 3:36 PM on March 5, 2018

The Icelandic Phallological Museum (NSFW maybe) was indeed overrated, but we couldn't pass it up as it was literally across the street from our hotel. You can imagine what the carved wooden keychain souvenirs look like.

I'll echo what everyone has said so far about Reykjavik being small, safe and expensive. One idea not mentioned: Lucky Records is a cool indie record store that had live music on the day we stumbled upon it.

The current exchange rate is about 100 ISK to the dollar. The happy hour at the bar at our hotel had wine and beer for 750 ISK, and cocktails for 1250 ISK, and that wasn't just "hotel bar" pricing.

The city is loaded with friendly cats, though. Many of the cats are Instagram famous.
posted by emelenjr at 3:47 PM on March 5, 2018

We loved this tour. It was very personable and down-to-earth, which we loved. The guide was a woman from Reykjavik who shared what she loved about her city (including street art, a fantastic cinnamon bun place, and her favourite bars... that kind of thing). And she gave us more information about the public swimming pools. They've been mentioned already, but they were my favourite thing in Reykjavik.
posted by MangoNews at 4:06 PM on March 5, 2018

The Tin Can Factory Meet the Natives program was by far the most impactful, interesting, fun, yummy adventure of my trip to Iceland. It is totally worth carving out a few hours for!
posted by rabidsegue at 4:06 PM on March 5, 2018

I went to Reykjavik for four days a couple of months ago. As everyone says,it's extremely expensive, but the price difference between cheap prepared food (say, a Subway sandwich) and really excellent prepared food (a delicious meal in a restaurant) is smaller than you might expect. For what it's worth, my favourite places I ate were Ostabúðin and Hlemmur, which is a food court/market with lots of little stalls selling different foods and drinks. The only real way to eat relatively cheaply is to buy some groceries and prepare food for yourself, if you're staying somewhere with a kitchen.

Even for a touristy city I was amazed by how many of the locals speak perfect English, so you're unlikely to have trouble in that regard.

I found the national history museum very interesting, but enjoyed the Culture House -- exploring aspects of Icelandic history and culture through art -- more.

Definitely take one of the many minibus tours around the Golden Circle. There seem to be a thousand companies that run virtually identical tours for similar prices. I went with Arctic Adventures, which included a trip to the Secret Lagoon, which is effectively a stone-built outdoor swimming pool fed by a hot spring. Lounging for an hour or two in hot water with icy air (and, if you like, some wine or beer) is pretty great, I'd recommend it. Spa days aren't really my thing, but I know a couple of people who've been to the Blue Lagoon and say it was definitely worth the price.

As mentioned upthread, swimming is a big activity for the locals, and the municipal pools are fantastic. Laugardalslaug is a great place to spend an evening. Also as mentioned upthread, anywhere you go in the water you'll be expected to shower naked in a shared, same-gender shower block first, so be sure you're comfortable with that.

The cathedral is extremely impressive, and a ticket up the tower is worth paying for it the weather is clear. Otherwise, I'd say just wander around. The views from the harbour path are great, there's some great architecture (notably the opera house) and street art dotted around, and lots of tiny museums and galleries.

Depending where you're from, you might not be used to walking on ice (not a problem in most areas, but side streets weren't always cleared) or in a stiff, cold sea breeze. Consider picking up something like Yak Trax to slip on to your shoes, and make sure your clothes (coat, gloves, etc) include a windproof layer.
posted by metaBugs at 1:15 AM on March 6, 2018

We were just there and marveled at the delicious and cheap vegan fare at Glo. Cost-wise, we spent less on a good meal with three sides, a drink and dessert than we did most other places for a single sandwich. For two of us, we spent $30 on dinner - nearly every other meal there was closer to $100USD.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:16 AM on March 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

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