How can I make the most of a trip to Iceland in August?
July 7, 2008 11:12 AM   Subscribe

How can I plan a trip to Iceland this August? What do you recommend to do, where to stay, what to budget ... and how can we spend money intelligently rather than in tourist traps, etc.

I am hoping to meet a friend in Reykjavik this August. I'm flying in from NYC, he (is an Aussie) from Ghana.

We both love checking out natural wonder, hiking, natural hot springs, etc., but would greatly appreciate turning it out at bars at night sometimes, too. I know very, very little about the country, apart from the fact that it's both gorgeous and pricey.

What would you recommend doing while there? Any "can't-miss" things? Affordable hotels that may be a cut above hostels without being exactly opulent?

Any links, tips, ideas where to start are greatly appreciated. I'm not sure where to turn, but need to get planning.
posted by chinese_fashion to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (9 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I really like, not necessarily to stay (although that's worked out great for me) but to meet up with people who are interested in showing their city/country to visitors. I've met some fantastic people and done things that I would never have known about without advice from a local. So plan ahead and contact some couchsurfing hosts and meet up for drinks when you get there.

Also I absolutely loved Iceland. It is expensive but you don't need that much money to just go out and experience the drop-dead gorgeous outdoors. It's really striking. Also they have a wide variety of dairy products to try: very yummy yogurt and a kind of soft cheese (?) called kvark or kwark (not sure of the spelling) which I've never seen in the US.

Definitely spend some time in a hotspring bath, especially at night. And you also get a great view of Reykjavik from the top of the cathedral (you can go up to the top).
posted by tractorfeed at 12:01 PM on July 7, 2008

Response by poster: When you say expensive -- how does it compare to New York City? I live in Brooklyn, work in Manhattan, and have adapted to the higher cost of living. Is Iceland much pricier than that?
posted by chinese_fashion at 12:22 PM on July 7, 2008

We too went from NYC, but because we live here we know where to get things cheaply; less so in Iceland. Food in restaurants as well as supermarkets seemed really expensive; not surprising as most of it is flown/shipped in from afar. Also products are expensive there, but you're probably not going to buy shoes or cds so you're ok on that front. Basically it's just a question of most products having to travel fairly far in order to get to what amounts to a relatively small market. I recall hearing that taxis were really outrageously expensive, especially from the airport, so we never took one. We did, however, rent a car and drive around the country, which I highly recommend. And we did splurge on eating out, which easily competes with NYC for high prices, especially the booze which is fairly heavily taxed and costly ( But you can get Cuban rum there, unlike in NYC. And I believe Iceland routinely wins for most expensive big mac in the Economist Big Mac Index.
posted by tractorfeed at 1:07 PM on July 7, 2008

Now, I've never been a foreign tourist in Iceland, being Icelandic, but I've had friends and acquaintances visit, so I'm drawing from that well of knowledge.

First of all, bring clothing appropriate for all and any weather. If I were you I'd hit downtown Reykjavik on a weekend night (but be aware that things don't really start until about midnight). Icelanders tend to have a few at home before they go downtown, so that might be a strategy you might want to follow, if drunkeness is a goal (liquor stores close early, so be prepared). As to the country, there's tons and tons to do. If I were you, instead of racing around trying to see everything, settle on a region of the country and explore that. For lunar starkness nothing beats the Highland. If you want something more habitable (but still beautiful), sticking to the coast is ideal. Either going north or along the southern coast offers plenty of opportunites (I talked about specific places in a comment to a recent AskMe post about traveling in Iceland).

The cheapest way to travel is with a tent, but farmhouse accommodation is also quite good (for more information go to the website of the Icelandic farmhouse accommodation association. If you have more specific questions I'll be happy to answer them.
posted by Kattullus at 1:19 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's more expensive than NYC, for sure, and I live in Manhattan. I went with a friend for 3 days in August of 2006, en route to Amsterdam. I can't remember the exchange rate, but casual fast food type meal ran about $10- $15 bucks, and our one big splurge meal in Reykjavik was about $50 each for good seafood.

Our goal was to see as much of the country as possible, so as soon as we flew into Reykjavik, we went to the regional airport and flew into Akureyri, which is the next largest city in Iceland (which is adorable and quaint). I think that flight was about $200.Then we rented a car and drove to Husavik, went whale watching, and to Iceland Phallological Museum. Both of these things might be considered "tourist trappy", but they were fun. And really, there's just not that much to be trapped by. The car rental was expensive... about $400 for 2 days, but is was completely worth it to see the country on our schedule.

We drove down the western side of the Ring Road, and hit the Golden Circle. The scenery is stunning, and also desolate, and also other worldly. What looked like major roads on the map would often be gravel roads. We could drive for an hour and only see 1 or 2 other cars. If you opt not to rent a car, there are plenty of bus tours to the Golden Circle, and other scenic areas. The Golden Circle is worth it... there are spectacular falls and geysers, and Pingvellir National Park is fantastic.

I can't make many recommendations about Reykjavik. We drove in mid-evening, wandered around, had dinner, then crashed. We went to the Blue Lagoon the next day, which very nearly didn't do because we thought it would be too much of a tourist trap. But it was incredible and delightful in every way. Yes, it is man-made, but it's well done. It was very relaxing and comfortable. And again... completely other worldly. It's like a fucking oasis on the dark side of the moon.

As for lodgings... we stayed in a decent guest house/ hotel in Akureyri for about $35 a night for a single room with a shared bath (a single room with a private bath was $55). I really wanted to stay here, because the price was comparable, and the views were stunning, but there was no availability for the night we were there. I can't remember the name of our hotel in Reykjavik, but it was pretty nice, modern, and served breakfast. I think it was about $200 for a room with 2 double beds, and a private bath.

If you need a place near the airport (which is quite far from Reykjavik), I can thoroughly recommend the B&B guest house in Keflavik. They picked us up after we went to the Blue Lagoon, and then took us to the airport very early the next morning. I think it was about $35 for a single room with a shared bath. It was extremely clean, had internet access, and a kitchen stocked with snacks and easy breakfast food.
posted by kimdog at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2008

Oh, one thing. Waitstaff in Iceland gets paid a living wage, so tipping is unnecessary. So no need to mentally ad 15-20% to meal prices.
posted by Kattullus at 3:47 AM on July 8, 2008

The Lake Myvatn area, a bit south of Akureyri, is amazing. The Golden Circle is a great day trip too. Most of these shots of mine are from those two areas.

By staying at the HI hostel in Reykjavik and self-catering, it wasn't too hard to keep living costs down, so we had more money to spend on activities. I mainly did bus tours rather than self-driving on account of the whole driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road thing but that won't be an issue for you.

Domestic flights are easy to get and reasonably cheap. The flight from Reykjavik from Akureyri was by far the most spectacular I've ever been on.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 10:44 AM on July 8, 2008

Have you looked at this previous Ask MeFi question? It has a lot of good info.

I was in Iceland for two weeks in August of last year. One thing to note is that it's colder than you think. Very windy too.

I took the ring road north towards Akureyri and all the way around, it was fantastic. I took lots of pictures that might provide some inspiration.

Some of my favorite spots were Kerlingarfjöll, the Askja volcano (Viti crater especially) and Jökulsárlón.

@tractorfeed: You must be thinking of Skyr. It's tasty.
posted by kepano at 11:35 AM on July 8, 2008

Thanks, kepano -- and a quick google search tells me that it's available in NYC. Yay!
posted by tractorfeed at 11:11 AM on July 9, 2008

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