city reviews, iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is the little big city. Its official population is 119,000 people with about twice that living in the surrounding towns. In the US or most of Europe this would be quite a small city; however, Reykjavik really pulls off a bigger town feel.

Language:

Almost everyone in Reykjavik speaks decent English so communication shouldn’t be an issue if you know that language.

Transport:

The city is very navigable with a couple of larger roads but no real highways. There is plenty of free parking if you are willing to walk a few blocks which I always am! The city is quite walkable once you park. There are also public buses which will get you from place to place; however, they don’t come that often and were a bit hard to figure out for me.

Lodging:

I recommend Airbnb. I paid about $40/night to take a private room for two in an apartment. We had full range of the apartment and hardly saw the owner. Another visit we did use a hotel which was under $100/night for 3 people and included a large delicious European style breakfast. My upcoming trip I have rented a 5 bedroom house for a large group of us for about $350/night.

Eating:

Food is quite expensive in Reykjavik. Going out to eat at an average restaurant that might cost $10-20/person in the US would be about double that in Iceland. However, shopping for your own food is reasonable, sometimes cheaper than the US, but still more expensive than most of Europe.

Because of this I haven’t eaten out much in Reykjavik. There are plenty of other blogs where you can learn more about the cuisine there, but if you are budget traveling like me, you may want to skip it.

Two recommendations I can make: Omnom Chocolate: got a bunch of free samples from them and loved it. Quite delicious dark homemade chocolate bars. Reykjavik Roasters makes some awesome brews. They are located in a quaint red house that really sets that perfect coffee house mood.

Shops and stuff to see:

Most of Reykjavik’s shops and restaurants are located along Laugavegur street and its side streets. Here you will find numerous bars, restaurants, locally hand made products of all sorts, clothing shops, and more. Much of it is touristy of course so prices may be a bit higher than elsewhere. We discovered some cool pottery shops and lots of wool clothing stores on our last visit.

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A view of the city with the mountains behind it from one of the hotels I stayed in on my first ever visit to Iceland in 2015

Nightlife:

For its size Reykjavik has amazing nightlife. Both times I visited, I took one night to go out on the town and had an amazing time. Tons of people out including many locals not just tourists. Last time I met a guy who recognized me from my Instagram where he had seen photos from my previous visit. We also met some random Icelandic guys who showed a great time, skipping the line to get into a more exclusive club. One of the most fun bars in Reykjavik is the gay bar, Kíkí Queer Bar, fun music and a great mixed crowd. We also enjoyed Lebowski BarKaffibarinn, and Austur.

Because drinks are expensive in Reykjavik ($10/beer, $15/cocktail), I’d recommend a good pregame to get the night started. Drinking age is 20 and there are bouncers but they are pretty chill. Icelandic people love to drink and party (or so they have told me), and from what I’ve seen they seem to be right. Most of the bars are off that same main street with all the shops and restaurants. Just walk up and down and go bar hopping. You will have a good time!

Touristy Stuff:

Like most towns there are all sorts of tours including free walking tours. I’ve never done one in Reykjavik but I know that in some towns the system kind of rips off the tour guides, so make sure you tip well and maybe read up on the way the tour guides work before going on one.

Whale watching is tons of fun and a good way to enjoy the nearby natural beauty. I recommend Elding Adventures At Sea, whom I went with and quite enjoyed. They have their own museum about whales as well.

There is also a large swimming area (well lots of them but one in particular) in the city, taking full advantage of the thermal waters underneath Iceland. Every pool at this swimming park is somewhat warm and there are multiple hot tubs of various temperatures. The park is called Laugardalslaug and is open to the public.

Another popular tourist attraction is the Hallgrimskirkja, a large church deigned to resemble the natural volcanic rock formations found in Iceland. It is quite beautiful and offers a great view of the city from the top.

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Random tourist saying a prayer in front of the great church

The best thing about Reykjavik is you can do all this stuff in just a day or two, giving you tons more time to see the rest of the nature on the Island.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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country profiles, iceland

Epic spots off the beaten path in Iceland

One thing I’d like to say here before I give you guys a few more awesome adventure to behold. All these places in Iceland I’m suggesting are aboslutely free. Just show up and enjoy. That being said: please take care of the environment. Pick up your trash. Stay on the trails (ok mostly, just don’t damage things). And leave the place better than you found it.

 

Dettifoss, Selfoss, Hafragilsfoss, and the Jökulsa Canyon

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Pictured above is me jumping over Europe’s most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss. Ok not exactly jumping over it. But pretty damn close to the edge. This spectacular site can be reached in the north west corner of Iceland about 7 hours from the capital Reykjavik.

Personally I like the less famous but in my opinion more beautiful Selfoss just a short walk upstream from this waterfall. Its the same river with the same volume of water spread out in a horseshoe shape with numerous falls separated by small rock islands.

Further downstream from both is the Jokulsa Canyon and the Hafragilsfoss, both of which I haven’t visited yet. Supposedly the canyon is one of the most beautiful spots in Iceland and I will be sure to update you guys when I go!

Even further down is the Ásbyrgi Canyon which is supposedly amazing too (the pictures appear so!).

Learn more about this are on the official website here

 

Glymur

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Glymur is arguably the tallest waterfall in the country of Iceland. It is also an abdolutely gorgeous canyon with well marked, excellent hiking trails and is not too far from Reykjavik to the north. The photo above shows me looking over the cliffs downstream from Glymur itself. The gorge is filled with greenery and flowers, and up above is a beautiful stream cutting its way through a large meadow surrounded by mountains. The hike is about a two mile loop that involves a river crossing if you want to see both sides and a lot of uphill climbing. Not for the fain hearted but requiring no special skills either.

Jökulsárlón – Glacier Lagoon

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Jökulsárlón is a large lake at the base of Iceland’s largest glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull. The lake then spills into the ocean allowing icebergs of various sizes to float into the oncoming waves. The waves the wash these icebergs onto the beautiful black sand beaches of Jökulsárlón Ice Beach. Its a spectacular site. Off in the distance you can see the tallest mountains of Iceland towering over a mile above the beaches below (see the photo above). \

Happy Travels!

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country profiles, iceland

More Must See Locations in Iceland

I could probably write ten posts or more outlining the most beautiful spots in Iceland. I want to tell you guys about all of them but I may do a few more than move on to another travel destination 🙂

Skógafoss

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Skogafoss is one of Iceland’s most famous and beautiful waterfalls. Supposedly a Viking hid his treasure beneath the falls nearly 1000 years ago and it was nearly recovered by a farm boy within the last century but as he tried to bring it up from under the falls the handles to the chest broke and it was again plunged beneath the water.

Whether this story is true or not, the falls is certainly a treasure in and of itself. That spot where you see the guy sitting is a soft, flimsy tuft of dirt overlooking the falls. Wouldn’t recommend climbing it as you could fall but its an epic shot.

Pro tip: climb the stairs on the right side of the falls and hike up a ways. There is a nice trail that leads to another falls in less than a quarter mile and then if you continue onward you get some incredible mountain views.

 

Black Sand BeachDyrhólaey Arch and Light house, and Kirkjufjara beach

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Iceland has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches outside of the tropics. My favorite so far is the Black Sand Beach area near Vik in southern Iceland. What you see in the photo above is looking west from the Dyrholaey Lighthouse on top of a large cliff between two of the black sand beaches.

There are several attractions here. The long, straight, volcanic beach above is the official Black Sand Beach, although there are plenty of others. Starting from the west this is the first location you come to.

Next is the Dyrholaey lighthouse which you can drive nearly to or hike up the hill along a sheep path (meeting some friendly and some not so friendly, fluffy creatures along the way). Also on this hill is the Dyrholaey Arch, a huge arch with formidable cliffs jutting out between two black sand beaches. I believe there are signs suggesting one shouldn’t walk out there any more, but I’ve seen people doing it nonetheless.

Continuing East you reach Kirkjufjara Beach which is fill of more arches and more black sand. I think this is one of the most picturesque scenes in Iceland. Beyond that is the Hálsanefshellir Cave which is rumored to have contained a troll until its depths were sealed by falling rock.

Gljúfrabúi and Seljalandsfoss

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Seljalandsfoss is another one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. If you are going to Skogafoss and Black Sand Beach, you will inevitably pass this waterfall on your way and must stop (you can see it from the main road, hard to miss!).

The main attraction is Seljalandsfoss. This spectacular waterfall has a trail that you can walk behind the falls for a unique view of the fields beyond. Another trail follows the cliff to the left of the falls heading north. Several small trickles of water create green, lush, cliff side landscapes.

After about a quarter mile you will come to Gljufrabui. This waterfall is easy to miss because it is actually inside of a cave. The waterfall has essentially cut through the roof of the cave and careens into it before cutting its way back outside of the cliff. The only way to see the entire waterfall is to walk through the stream into the cave and look up.

I guarantee you that you will not leave dry but it is an amazing site. Another (more adventurous) option, pictured above, involved scaling the cliff with the help of a few well placed ropes and looking over the edge into the hole beneath where which the water plunges.

Happy Travels!

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iceland

What to see in Iceland

My last three posts  (part 1, part 2, and part 3) covered the basics about traveling to Iceland from how to get there to what to eat. Go read those if you haven’t yet 🙂

Quick pro-travel tip: Use Airbnb to book and save money while contributing to local economy and meeting amazing new people. My link will give you $35 off your first booking 🙂

Now I want to talk about the very best part of Iceland: the natural wonders. Iceland, is pack with waterfalls, glaciers, mountains, rivers, beaches, and wildlife. If you had a week to drive around the island what would you not want to miss?

Let me start by simply describing (with photos) some of my favorites spots in the country. In the future (if I am motivated enough), I may actually write a day-by-day blog describing how to drive the Ring Road and see most of Iceland’s most beautiful scenery in 7 days. Each destination is linked to the Google Maps location!

Goðafoss

Goðafoss

Godafoss in located just off the Ring Road on the river Skjálfandafljót and boasts crystal clear blue glacier water and plenty of spots for epic shots. The clouds were perfect on my visit last summer, however, a dirty lens ruined most of my photos. This shot is from the lower section which is smaller but still beautiful. While still quite touristy, this waterfall feels more isolated than the more popular Gullfoss in the southern part of the country.

 

Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellfoss

Kirkjufell

Kirkjufell is perhaps that most famous and certainly most photographed mountain in Iceland. It is a beautiful cone shaped peak located on the north side of the stunning peninsula called Snæfellsjökull which is in and of itself well worth the visit.

This small mountain is actually climbable via a small goat trail that wraps around the mountain. However, this is no easy day hike. At spots old ropes wrapped around large boulders are your main support as you scale 10 meter cliffs on your way to the top. The trail is also hard to find and parking is limited.

A larger parking area is right across from the mountain by the picturesque waterfall Kirkjufellfoss which is pictured above with the mountain in the background. This is a fun and easy waterfall to climb around and get some impressive shots of both the mountain and the falls.

 

Fjaðrárgljúfur

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This spot is a small canyon with a hiking trail along the rim and some spectacular waterfalls. However, the most beautiful spots are in the canyon itself. To get there you must be willing to wade through some ice cold water which is up to your knees even during the summer. The views are well worth it!

 

Geyser

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This Geyser is so famous they simply named it Geysir! Beautiful, hot, blue water erupts every 5-15 minutes from this renowned spot in the Golden Circle. Less than an hour from Reykjavik, this touristy spot is worth the crowds.

 

Þingvellir

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Pingvellir is where the North American and European tectonic plates meet and are separating slowly every year. A large lake, waterfalls, and clear deep water, make this spot a must see. There are areas where you can literally straddle two continents with crystal clear water beneath you (see my jump in the photo above). The water is so clear that people often go snorkeling and scuba diving here.

 

Check back for more must see spots in Iceland soon.

Happy Travels!

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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A quick guide to visiting Iceland (part 3)

Icelandic Horses running through a field
Icelandic Horses running through a field

I didn’t realize there was so much to tell about Iceland. So here it is part 3!

Nightlife

Iceland has a surprisingly thriving nightlife given its size. Locals tell me that everyone there drinks. A lot. And when you go out you see this. Many of the people out at the bars and clubs are locals, not just tourists.

Reykjavik is home to a metro population of about 200,000 or almost 2/3 of the population of the island. While the town is relatively small, it still offers a wide range of bars and clubs, from jazzy coffee shops serving whiskey late into the morning to ritzy night clubs with fancy cock-tales, to American style sports bars with more TVs than patrons. Everything is scaled down to the size of the country but there is still something for everyone.

If you like night life, I’d recommend taking one night to thoroughly enjoy it while in Iceland. If you go during the summer you will get to have the very odd experience of walking out of a club and finding it quite light outside almost as if you partied till 7am, except its only 2!

Alcohol 

Speaking of nightlife, alcohol is extremely expensive in Iceland. Even buying your on liquor or beer and mixing your own drinks can cost a lot. For example, the last time I went to Iceland I bout a 500ml bottle of regular Smirnoff Vodka for about $32. Meanwhile in your bars and clubs drinks start at about $15. Beers are about $9.

If you want to drink in Iceland and want to save money, I highly recommend buying duty free alcohol in the airport before you leave and taking it with you.

Culture and Art

I don’t have as much experience with the culture and art of Iceland but there is plenty to be had if you are interested. pretty much anywhere there are tourists, you can find hand made crafts and goods which may be a bit expensive but are usually beautifully done and support the local economy. Downtown Reykjavik has tons of shops with art, pottery, wool, and much more. There are also performing arts in the city as well

Happy Travels!

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country profiles

A quick guide to visiting Iceland (part 2)

 

Getting around Iceland:

By far the best way to get around Iceland and see all that it has to offer is to rent a car. In the winter I’d recommend a 4 wheel drive or if you desire to go up the mountain into the national park or the glaciers even in the summer. However, from late spring to early fall, you can literally drive around the entire country in the most budget of cars without too much difficulty. How do I know? I’ve done it. In a Chevrolet Spark. Even over some treacherous gravel mountain passes!

Of course, there is public transportation in the main city, and then you can take bus tours of the popular tourist sites for sure. And there are frequest flights from the main city to smaller ones via small aircraft for a fee if you are willing.

But if you really want to get a feel for the beauty of this place, you need to rent a car. These run from about $25/day for an off season economy car with limited milage to over $200/day for an off road capable SUV.

Gas is expesnive in Iceland however. Fule can be up to $8/gallon.

The Famous Blue Lagoon:

The Blue Lagoon is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the country of Iceland. It is formed from the run off  hot spring water used to pwer a geo thermoal electrical plan which is then funneled into a natural looking man made pool with mud baths, massages, and bars surrounding it.

While this place is increddibly touristy and actualyl quite man made, it can be a relaxing place to visit.

Id recommend buying tickets in advance as they usually sell out. bring some snacks and sneak some alcohol in if you can as things are ridiculously expesnive inside. Get the basic package and then go enjoy a good full day in the park. There are steam rooms and saunas to enjoy as well as the beautiful pool with varying temperatures of water. There is plenty of mud to go around for skin cleansing and good facilities to clean up afterward. Tickets range from $40-55.

Food:

Food varies greatly in Iceland depending on iff you are are eating out or shopping at the super market. There are several discount super markets with prices as good or better than food costs in the US including Bonus and Kronan.

Eating out is very expensive. I imagine this is because of labor costs being high. I’m sure there are some more economical choices and from what I hear there are a few delicious restaurants that one must try. However if you are on a tight budget you may wish to forgo this option.

One note about food in Iceland. Some people will tell you that to truly experience Iceland culture you must try whale meat. While the Icelandic people have at times eaten whale, it is primarily a tourist attraction and completely unnecessary for your enjoyment of the Island. Please be humane and refrain from eating these highly intelligent beings and don’t eat at restaurants that serve whale meat.

Money

Iceland uses the Krona which is valued at 110 per US dollar at the time of this writing.

Most places take credit cards but do keep a few thousand in bills just in case.

Cell phone service

T-mobile has 4G service throughout Iceland as good or better than in the US. Your T-mobile plan allows you your normal data allowance and unlimited text in Iceland with no changes or additional charges. Calling is extra.

Other providers may have other plans options

 

Happy Travels!

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

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Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

travel

A quick guide to visiting Iceland (part 1)

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Geyser erupting in Iceland

Iceland is one of my favorite places in the world. Granted I speak from limited experience, having primarily traveled in Central America and Europe, but that being said, there is something unique and special about Iceland that is hard to find elsewhere. As I plan my seemingly annual trip there, I thoguht I’d share some travel advice for budget minded adventure travelers like myself.

When to go:

Iceland is cold. It rarely gets above 50 degrees even in the summer. It also rains. A lot. And of course snows in the winter as well. The cheapest flights to Iceland are around early spring and mid autumn. If you don’t mind some snow, are ok missing the spectacular greenery of the country, and still want a chance at the northern lights, I’d go mid fall or spring.

However, if you plan in advance and plan properly, you can still get a reasonably priced trip to Iceland even in peak season (July). The weather is better and much more of the Island is accessable.

Getting there:

Budget airlines WOW Air is the cheapest and easiest way to get to Iceland. From BWI, Boston, and San Francisco, you can get direct flights nearly every day of the year. WOW airlines also has a unique stopover feature where you book a flight to somewhere else in Europe with an planned stopover (kind of like an extended layover) from 1 day to several weeks in Iceland. This immensely decreases the price of your ticket and helps the bring tourism to the country

The cost of getting there can be as cheap as $80 one way with WOW airlines in the early months of the year and up to $300 or more in the peak summer season. I just booked round trip, stopover tickets from San Francisco to Iceland to Dublin, and back, for $375 round trip. From BWI it is not uncommon to see round trip tickets in early spring lower than $200 round trip.

Other airlines are available too but for greater cost. It is important to remember that WOW charges for anything larger than a small 10kg personal item. However, even if you upgrade to full sized checked luggage, you still make out cheaper most of the time.

Where to stay:

There are 3 primary ways to stay in Iceland: hotels, Airbnb, and Hostels as well as lesser known guest houses and such which often appear on hostel, airbnb, and hotel searches.

Hotels: this is the typical way to travel for most people. However, as a world traveling adventurer YOU are not most people. There are times though when a hotel makes sense. My first, almost completely unplanned, trip to Iceland, I had no housing for me and my two friends. We booked hotels, often on the fly the night of, for 3 people, in mid May, for under $100/night with breakfast included. It worked out well that time. Hotels often charge per person outside of the US. So unlike here where you can get a room with two double beds and put 4 people no questions asked, there they may actually question you and throw a fit if more than the allowed number try to stay in one room.

Airbnb: this is my favorite way to travel in Iceland. It is probably by far the most economical for more than a single person. people in Iceland are super nice and lovely to stay with a chat with. A private room in Reykjavik, in someones house, can be as cheap as $40/night for two people while a private studio separate from the house starts at about $70/night. Use this link to save $35 off you first Airbnb trip!

Hostels: I have to admit, I’ve never stayed in a hostel in Iceland. I think if I ever go solo, that’s exactly what I will do. There are a few good hostels there from reading the reviews, but a lot of them seem more like guest houses than true hostels. Use Hostel World to evaluate whether this will make a good choice for you

Happy Travels!

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II