Research for travel planning is tedious and, frankly, pretty time-consuming. Many tourist find Google searches of their upcoming adventures fun and a great way to remain excited about their upcoming trip. I am not one of those people. I find planning, in all forms, boring. In most cases, all of my planning seem to bite me in the ass. Countless times I have booked an excursion only for locals to offer me a personal sight-seeing tour hours to days later (hey, I’m a last-minute planner at best).
However, I’m happy to share my experiences to those who like to know travel tips about the foreign countries I invade with my unabashed wild ways. Two weeks ago I was in Iceland and there were several things I was made aware of while in the frosty country that were contrary to the things I had learn prior.
1. Alcohol in Iceland Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
Whether buying beer or spirits in a bar, grocery store, gas station, or official liquor store, all alcohol is taxed at an additional 14 percent. You can expect to pay at least $10, more likely $15, for a drink. I stupidly asked a bartender to make his favorite cocktail for me and paid a whopping $24 for it.
Likewise, you can only buy certain types of alcohol at certain places. For instance, you can only buy light beer at gas stations and groceries. To find anything harder, you have to go to an official liquor store or a bar.
Note: “Light” beer indicates less alcohol (2.5 percent rather than 5), not less calories.
I have two tips for getting alcohol at a reasonable price. First, buy a bottle (or 5) at the airport. Being duty free, you avoid the 14 percent tax. The second tip, which in retrospect is quite obvious, look for happy hours. Plenty of locations offer happy hour prices on beer and cocktails; you just have to look for them.
One location offered happy hour prices on beer every other hour. This meant that if you didn’t get your order in before the end of the hour, you would need to wait 61 mins for the next one. Think of it as built-in pacing for you lushes.
2. Days Are Short and Cold
Going in late October, I expected it to be cold, I expected it to get dark. I did not expect for sunrise to come as late as 8:30 and the sun to disappear before 5 pm. Luckily, in the last 10 years of tourist, the city of Reykjavik has catered to the wanderlust population and have restaurants and bars open later than it use to. Having many locations to pop into and have a drink or a bite is necessary when it feels like your toes and nose might fall off from frostbite every 50 feet.
A fellow solo, American, female traveler I met at the Loki Guesthouse (a MUST stay for economical accommodations) and I set off one chilly day to head to a few local sights ended up stopping for a pint every block due to the unreasonable cold factor. Setting my phone to Celsius rather than Fahrenheit really put the weather into perspective. At zero degrees, my many layers of thermals did absolutely nothing.
3. Don’t Buy the City Card
So I actually never heard of the Reykjavik City Card until my new American mentioned it. And I really wish she didn’t. It sounds like a good deal — and maybe to the right person it is. The card allows you to visit many local attractions for free, ride the local city bus at no cost, and purchase tickets to other attractions at a discounted price. Pretty nice, right?
It works under a time limit, which is available in 24, 48, and 72 hours. Not one to dip my toes in, I purchased the 72-hour pass for $56.40. We checked out the Settlement Exhibition and Museum of Photography immediately. Both locations were, how do I saw this nicely, pretty lame.
The attendant at the Settlement Exhibition didn’t even bother to check the time on our passes; just waved us in. It takes maybe 15 minutes to walk through and play with any buttons that happen to be working. I would stay the demographic for this place is 5 to 8 year olds, not two 30-somethings.
The Museum of Photography was a bit of a disappointment, but I’m not a fan of modern art as it is. The reception clerk DID check our pass times, and, in fact, wrote them in himself — apparently the lady who sold them to us was suppose to and we were using “free time,” as we didn’t start the timer without writing in the times.
The next day, we went to the Sundhöllin Public Baths, which is the oldest thermal pools in the city. My acquaintance from Texas really enjoy this, as she’s a runner who was looking forward to some much-needed relief before and after the marathon for which was the reason she was visiting the country. Again, I’m not a fan of hot tubs (who doesn’t like hot tubs!) so this was less fun for me to take a bath with 20 other people.
I did use the card for one bus ride. I did plan on using the card for this purpose more, but locals kept offering me rides. If you are comfortable with taking the bus, then this card may be worth it. Just keep in mind, you are going to be waiting in literally freezing weather for the bus to arrive.
Price to go to:
- The Settlement Exhibition – 1,650 ISK
- The Museum of Photography – 1,000 ISK
- Sundhöllin thermal pool – 900 ISK
- Single bus ride – 440 ISK
Total value used 3,990 ISK ($33.07).
4. A Taxi Ride is HOW MUCH?!
When you go to Iceland, just keep this in mind: Everything is expensive. Probably the most outrageous of them being taxi fares. While I did use the City Card for one bus ride, that bus ride rode right past my stop because I didn’t know you have to request a stop. As a result, I got off one stop past where I was supposed to be. Standing in -1 degrees with my luggage in tow and trying to figure out where my Airbnb was, I was nearly in tears. While there is WiFi nearly everywhere in the capital, the bus stop is not one of them. Luckily, I was with my new American friend who had a working mobile. We called for a cab to take us one mile, which ended up costing $15.
I also took a cab after the thermal pool because t
he idea of standing at a bus stop with wet hair at 9 pm sounded like receipt for pneumonia. Again, a one-mile ride cost nearly $15. And I still left Iceland with a cold.
Uber, Lyft, or any other ride share is not available in Iceland.
Speaking of, I thought I would be clever and download the taxi app for the city. Unfortunately, this only works if you have an active phone line. So unless you purchase a SIM card for the country, don’t bother. See, planning fail.
5. Everyone Speaks English
This was great! I don’t know if you have been checking out how to pronounce words in Icelandic but the language is nearly impossible for the American tongue. Fortunately, everyone, and I do mean everyone, speaks English.
6. You Don’t Have to Relive the High School Locker Room Embarrassment
If you go to a thermal pool or the Blue Lagoon, then you must shower. This is a hard-pressed rule that is policed by attendants in the lockers rooms as well as locals. When I first read about how you would have to take off all your clothes and shower in front of others of your gender, I wasn’t too weirded out (hey, we all got the same parts) but it did bring me back to those old high school days. I personally enjoy the freedom of walking around naked, no matter who’s around. I’m sexy and I know dun dun dunn…
For those who do not feel super comfortable flashing their genitals at strangers, there are private showers and changing rooms. However, there are lines for the more reserved.
7. No Pictures at the Thermal Pools
This may only apply at the Sundhöllin Public Baths. However, when I asked some locals in the locker room, they pretty much told me that its not an acceptable practice. The bath houses are not just for tourists; they are mostly for locals. As such, no one wants a bunch of cameras clicking away while they are trying to relax.
For me, this was a real hit. If I can’t take pictures, then was I even really there? Okay, okay. That’s very millennial of me, but I’m a travel blogger and I need my pics.
Like I said, I’m not a fan of hot tubs, but if you are, then you will probably enjoy this. There are different tubs at varying degrees so you’ll find your perfect fit, Goldilocks. However, be warn that there is a cold pool. Yeah, some people actually like sitting in cold water when it’s freezing.