Last summer I decided that I wanted to spend Christmas in a dark and cold place (Why? I have no idea.) and so I booked tickets to Iceland which happened to be one of the cheapest international countries to visit from Baltimore at the time. As the days rolled closer to departure, I began questioning my choices because I would be spending the Holidays there after already having missed Thanksgiving with my family. Woopdeedoo! Regardless, I was going to make the most of it!
I packed my 65 L hiking backpack with 4 shirts, a pair of leggings and jeans, my Docs, and travel documents and set out for an adventure.
Initially, the idea was that I would camp to pay the least amount of money, especially since I wasn’t so lucky finding a Couchsurfing host in Reykjavik. But because the ground was too stiff and I couldn’t figure out how to set up the tent, that plan failed and I had to book a hostel for a week. Luckily, the site I was at was both a campground and hostel, Reykjavik City HI (Hostelling International) Hostel. It cost me around 45 USD a night for a bed in a 6-bed room. This definitely set me out a lot of money that I hadn’t expected to spend which then meant I had to reduce my visit by 2 tours and do only 1 which was remarkable.
Luckily, because it was low-season, I was guaranteed housing… I just had to check out and in about 4 times to do so, waking up at 8am a number of times. But, the rooms were really clean, the service was great and I had access to warm showers and a kitchen to store my food and cook.
Tip 1: Buy groceries from Bonus and make as many meals as you can in house because prices in Iceland are wild! I only ate out once during my Golden Circle tour and a tomato soup and bread cost me 2,000 ISK or around 20 USD, whereas as week’s worth of groceries cost me about 30 USD.
Tip 2: Don’t overpack, but pack a lot of socks and maybe even toe/hand warmers. I only took the minimum and washed my clothes by hand then hung them to dry on my bunk bed rods. Laundry would have cost around 7 USD a load, so I chose the rustic way.
After all of this, I made my plan with the guidebook I bought the day of my departure from a Barnes & Noble.
Tip 3: Get maps and guidebooks downloaded on your phone for free, like Maps.me which doesn’t require internet to access.
This was my bucket list of places I wanted to go to and see. Because I was there for such a long time and because I overestimated how big the city was I got to go through the entire list!!!
- Window shop on Laugavegur
- Swim in the hot pots (next door to my hostel were the Laugardalslaug swimming pools and hot pots which cost about 10 USD)
- Tip 4: Get the Reykjavik City Card (you can check it out here: http://visitreykjavik.is/city-card/how-it-works) which gives you access to a number of museums and swimming pools. You can get them at your hotel or hostel on demand.
- Go to the following museums:
- The Reykjavik Art Museums: Asmunder Sveinsen, Kjarvalsstadir, and Hafnarhus
- The Culture House
- Museum of Photography (this usually costs over 10 USD and, because it’s so little, I think it’s only worth it when you have the city card)
- National Museum of Iceland
- National Gallery of Iceland
- Reykjavik Zoo
- Go to Elf School- I went to this and had the greatest time, got the tastiest bread I’ve had, met fellow travelers and paid only 60 USD. For more information, check out the site here: http://www.theelfschool.com.
- Go on the Golden Circle Tour (Check out my article on that here. If interested, you can get tickets here: https://www.re.is/day-tours/the-golden-circle)
- See some street art- this was a little hard because all of the art was tucked behind buildings or around corners off of Main Street but I found them.
- Visit the Harpa- I ended up going to the Nordur go Nidir Festival which was loaded with art exhibitions, concerts, and interesting talks!
- Get an Icelandic Sweater- I found a non-wool sweater with the pattern in a thrift store on Laugavegur
- Visit Videy island- when I had the City Card, I got free access to use the ferry to visit Videy so I went for a nice walk, enjoying the view of the water and feeling the chill on my skin.
- Check out Höfði house
- See a volcano- did that during the Golden Circle tour
- See the Northern Lights- this happened earlier than expected… on the airplane over! I saw it right outside of my window and marveled at all of the colors and warmth I felt for the country.
- Browse around Kringlan Shopping Mall- it was s beautifully-decorated because of the holiday season!
- Walk along the boardwalk which was more of a frosty journey but just as beautiful and breath-taking because of Mount Esja
Looking back, I would probably want to come during the summer, maybe to see the midnight sun and partake in the many summer concerts in Iceland. That way I would definitely be able to camp!
Things I’m Glad I Brought
- A jar of peanut butter and lots of snacks
- A reusable utensils case
- A tote bag for grocery shopping
- My GoPro for taking pictures since I was out a phone
- My Docs, which turned out to be better snow boots than my snow books were
- Beanie and gloves
- Handwarmers and toe warmers
- A Keep Cup, which I actually bought in Iceland because you get mad discounts if you go to a coffeeshop an buy coffee or tea and have a reusable Keep Cup!
- Long johns because it got really cold at night
- Cold cream to keep your skin from drying out from the cold air and hot showers
Things I Should’ve Brought
- An adapter– totally forgot it at home!
- A smaller and micro-fiber towel because I used mine often and it took forever to dry
Things I Should’ve Left
- My blowdryer, which, after one use blew up and make the fire alarm in my hostel dorm go off
- So many books to read- I read them all but I definitely could not have brought them and their weight