I just got back from an awesome trip to Reykjavik, Iceland! I've had this location in mind for a while now and I found a ticket for $780 a few months ago which sealed the deal. For once, I did do a lot of research on the capital and Iceland in general. It was hard to take the decision between doing the ring road circuit or sticking to the city and what's around it. After all, I decided to keep the ring road for a second trip in their summer season and fully immerse myself in the Reykjavik vibe to see what locals did out there.
I can say that the first few days were a bit of a shock. I found the locals a bit cold and the city sort of boring and small. I think I was expecting too much too fast after all I had read about Reykjavik. However, as I learned to relax and take my time through the city, I found the icelanders much warmer than first perceived and the city grew on me daily!
What I did in 9 days
Day 1 Arrived at the airport around 6am and had a very sleepy brunch at The Laundromat Café. Headed to the Blue Lagoon for an amazing jet lag spa session! Finally checked in at Kex Hostel. Headed back out to discover the best noodle soup ever at Noodle Station. Day 2 Checked out out the shops on Laugavegur. Had a delicious soup and stuffed croissant in a hidden coffee shop located at the back of a tourist shop and booking center. Spent a few hours reading and doing research at Cafe Babalú aka Reykjavik's Cagibi version. Had a beer at my hostel Kex which is surprisingly popular amongst locals. Day 3 Got on a bus to do the Golden Circle which included stops at the waterfall Gulfoss, the active geyser Strokkur, the national park Þingvellir, the Skálholt cathedral and the Hveragerði greenhouse village. Seized the chance to finally try the famous traditional icelandic lamb soup at Gullfoss with free refills. When back in town, grabbed my bathing suit and headed to one of the city's thermal pools open all year round: Laugardalslaug. I totally understand why it's the most popular thing to do in town and it only cost $6! Headed out on the quest for fish & chips and ended up in a crappy dinner. However, it was probably the best fried fish I have had in my life. Day 4 Had breakfast at Sandholt bakarí which became my new favorite place for to go sandwiches and sweets. Another city day but tried to stay away from the tourists. Shopping, walking, eating, nonstop. More relaxing at Laugardalslaug. I would have went only for the showers which were horrible at my hostel! Day 5 Decided to check out a few museums including the Saga Museum and the Volcano House. Got on a free bus to Reykjavik's shopping mall Kringlan and found the best supermarket in town for fresh produce: Hagkaup. Liked it much more than Bónus! Day 6 Went for an amazing snorkeling experience at the Silfra. It took about 3-4h for the transport and getting in our dry suits for only 35min in the water but it was all worth it! Day 7 Final day to really check out the city. Started with a long walk through the Hljómskálagarður park along the Tjörnin lake. At the end of it, started walking towards the Perlan to check out the view from up there. The whole walk took about an hour from the city center. Took another path back to the center by walking towards the Hallgrímskirkja church which also offered a city view at the top for $7. Got back at Noodle Station and Babalú for treats after this cold morning. Walked by Harpa after to check out the building inside out. It has a cool music store inside. Finally in the evening, headed to Sushisamba for the best meal of the whole trip! It's probably one rare time that I enjoyed fusion cuisine. We ordered the nachos ceviche, the surf & turn roll with tempura lobster and beef carpaccio, the spider roll with soft shell crab and an array of nigiris. Day 8 Took the city bus out of town to Mount Esja for only $3.50. Arrived a bit too early for the hiking center to be open and get directions. Took a few wrong turns and also almost broke my finger by sliding on a wooden path but finally figured it out and got to the top of Þverfellshorn. It was a lovely hike, especially on the way down facing Reykjavik! The hiking center and restaurant was open on the way back so I enjoyed a warm coffee and wifi while waiting for the next bus. The activity took about 3.5-4h and cost less than $10. Back in town, waited until 5pm to see if Northern Lights were happening and booked a bus for a 10pm departure. Had a few drinks with fun girls I was sharing a dorm with and then I was on my way. After a very messy departure with Reykjavik Excursions and a very annoying guide tour (who needs one? we just want to look at the sky!), I got my earphones on and enjoyed the evening as much as I could. We made a stop by the beach where the moon could hardly be seen which was perfect. A bar was open for our arrival so I enjoyed my first glass of wine of the trip sitting in candle light and looking up to the sky every few seconds just in case. It was only on our way back to town that we catched beautiful lights. The whole sky was covered with them and it was very magic to see being my first time. I'm just bummed that my GoPro couldn't catch that kind of spectacle. We drove back in town around 2am and I was sadly too tired for the only night I was planning out. Day 9/Last Day Checked out around 10am and headed to Kaffibrennslan for one last cappuccino in town. I've never drank that much coffee in my life. Iceland sure beats the rest of the world in its passion for caffeine. Got on the bus to head to the airport with a small 1h30 stop at the Blue Lagoon again! Yes, all the bus companies offer this and it's fantastic. This time, it was so sunny and calm compared to our arrival that I napped on the rocks smoothed by water with my sunglasses on. <3 Finally, it was time to leave Iceland.
My Thoughts on Reykjavik
I loved the city. It kind of reminds me of Whistler but with much more to do. One thing I'm bummed of missing out on is the bar scene as it seems to be a big part of what locals do but I'm also kind of over that.
I didn't like Kex Hostel at all. The packaging looked great and all but once you actually stay there, you realize they have a lot of flaws. The customer service was rude or useless most of the times. The bathrooms were all drowned in water, had no hand soap available and there was zero water pressure in the showers which forced us to shower for 30min instead of 5. I got a wine bottle stolen from the reserved fridge and I have a feeling it's actually the staff as all the people staying there were super nice and respectful. All in all, Kex is awesome to stop by for a drink and burger or to check out a show but do not sleep there unless you rent a private room with shower. Or maybe I'm just too old for hostels..
The most expensive part of staying in Reykjavik isn't booking trips out of town but actually the food. A bowl of soup which is actually the cheapest thing to get in the world is one of the most expensive items on menus there. It was about $18 to $25 dollar with a side of bread. Each meal, whether in a coffee shop or real restaurant would cost $20 at the cheapest. Cooking would have been great at the hostel but the supermarket chain Bónus wasn't very interesting for grocery shopping except for salads and breakfast.
As for activites, I recommend a budget of $500-700 to do the Golden Circle, Northern Lights and a more expensive outing like snorkeling and going in caves. If you plan to go on a boat or helicopter, double that easily.
A few tips I wish I had before arriving
Bad news, everything is expensive in Iceland. Good news: both taxes and service are included in the price which makes it easier to calculate and split the bill.
Most restaurants that looked bad or not interesting at all in city were actually the best in quality and offers. Take the time to actually read menus and you might be surprised.
Most prices in stores whether it's for food, clothes or souvenirs will be the same everywhere so there's no need to compare, even in shopping centers. However, I have found that they were a bit lower at the airport when you leave especially for their Icelandic chocolate OmNom (yes, I really got screwed). Shockingly, the poor icelanders pay the same high prices as us tourists.
If you're in the quest of trying the traditional Icelandic meat soup, head to the most expensive restaurant in town: The Perlan. During lunch time, a buffet style counter is available including the soup which comes at $11 instead of $18 all over town.
For the best view in town, forget The Perlan (free) and head to the Hallgrímskirkja church ($7).
Coffee/Tea is sold between $4 and $5 all over town. If you're not used to spending that much daily, forget about specialty coffees (that have too much milk anyway) and order the brewed coffee. You get unlimited and free refills!
I booked my flight with Flight Hub which had the lowest fees. The only negative side was that I wasn't able to change my return layoyer flight for an earlier one as I wasn't allowed to talk with Icelandair directly and had to contact the website which made me give up and endure the 4h layover.
My layover was in Toronto which is only a 47min flight from Montreal. I would stick to that city instead of going through the United States and deal with more borders.