How to plan a trip to winter wonderland in Iceland – if you can
Ooops… But you can still try to, let us help you with that!
Topics covered in this post:
- Flight ticket
- How to get to the city?
- How to get around?
- Hidden perks
- Useful apps and websites
- Extremely useful websites
First of all, it is important to check both the flight tickets and the accommodation simultaneously, both of them can be quite expensive, thus the best is to find the perfect combination. When I first started to have an idea about the hostel prices, I found them even for 15 euro, however, as soon as we found the cheapest dates for flying, there was nothing under 30 euro (by nothing I mean, not even the hostel rooms where you need to share them with 20 other travellers).
If you haven’t heard about it or the first couple of lines didn’t give you the idea, Iceland is super expensive. Nevertheless, I show you how did we enjoy it in a cost-conscious way!
From Budapest, we were lucky to have the direct flight and even though we had an idea when to go (before the end of March, to see the Aurora Borealis, but close enough to end of February to celebrate the birthday weekend there), it was important to check the different price combinations. Since we are collecting money with our co-branded credit card to our WIZZ Account and since Wizz Air is currently the only company operating direct flight, the decision was straightforward where to look for the tickets. If you are not using monitoring sites in this case (like Skyscanner, Kayak Explore, Momondo etc.), but you check the company’s site, you can browse for ticket prices on the fare finder. This is how we have done and this is how we spent 10 euro per head per direction for a week-long trip in this winter wonderland.
Alright, so ticket ✓
I thought that 20-30 minutes of walking is nothing so we can book our accommodation anywhere… Where, yes, maybe, but not when the 100 km/h wind is hitting your face constantly with some nice hail and not when on the icy road you can’t even take a step forward. For this reason, I really recommend you booking something close to the centre, especially if you have no rented car to roam around in the city or you don’t want to take the public transport when the single ticket costs 460 ISK (approx 4 euro).
We stayed in 3 places during the week and all had a reason.
1. Hlemmur Square – because the bus stop from the center was “only” (hah) 15 mins walk and we didn’t want to be too far neither from the city center, nor from the bus station, since we arrived in the evening – ah, and obviously a 24/7 reception is important when you have a late flight
- located in the centre
- pub and restaurant in the hostel
- you can only enter the part of the building with the rooms with entry card
- nice message board
- kitchen to cook your food and even shared food (if you have extra food you don’t take home, you can leave it for the next travellers, on a stormy day if they cannot leave the hostel, they might need it!)
- next to the bus station, so can be pretty noisy
- metal bedframes, their edges were sharp
2. Bus Hostel – because there was no more place for the rest of the days for Hlemmur, it was cheap, and it is further from the city, so actually we saw our first Aurora Borealis here
- awesome pub with comfy armchairs
- happy hours, which is a dream to find in this city (more about this later!)
- kitchen and common food basket
- the tour buses stop here as well
- cheap in Icelandic terms
- pretty far from the city
- the rooms have only one switch, thus all the 20 people can be woken up if someone turns on the light
3. I Sleep Reykjavík Guesthouse – because we didn’t want to spend the bday weekend with 20 other people in the same room
- closer to the centre
- cheap in Icelandic terms
- great price-value ratio
- Other travellers can be noisy, but it is just about luck
How to get to the city?
Outside the airport, there are plenty of shuttles waiting for you, but learning from the experience in Stockholm – where if you didn’t have a ticket in advance, you could miss the first buses and you could have waited a long time – we bought them in advance.
Flybus brought us closer to the city centre (check the possible bus stops before buying your ticket), so we chose this one.
How to get around?
If you decide to rent a car and you are confident enough to drive in Icelandic conditions (take this seriously, please!), keep the following in mind:
- rent a 4WD during winter
- have spikes on the wheels
- bring a shovel if you get stuck in the snow (the weather changes every 5 mins, snow storms can come anytime)
- download the app called 112 Iceland which can send your whereabouts to the rescue team (App store, Google Play)
- be careful with the extremely strong wind, have an experienced driver with you in order to avoid accidents
- there are not so many gas stations on the ring road / Road 1, be prepared, check them on the map in advance
You may be able to find passengers and drivers in Couchsurfing (e.g. in the events) or we saw a paper in the hostels where you could sign up for a trip
Let us give you some reason why do you need a shovel and experience in driving in difficult conditions:
The basic trips are Golden Circle, South of Iceland and Northern light tour, maybe whale watching (not only for the Aurora Borealis but also for this you need luck), anything besides these can get pretty expensive.
In February 2018 grayline.is seemed to be the cheapest, use FBook5 to have 5% discount online. We also checked in their central office whether they cancelled the trips for the next day or not, and based on this information we booked the trips online with the discount. However, it happened once that they cancelled the trip not much after we booked, they can re-schedule it or refund you.
Other companies if Grayline gets full (but these are more expensive):
- Reykjavik excursion (it has 20% off due to anniversary in 2018),
- Arctic Adventures offers more extra,
- Thule Travel
There are several pick up points all around the town, you don’t need to go to the central bus station, but be there even earlier than the pick up time, they are getting actually there 5-10 mins earlier sometimes!
If you have the chance to spend 1-2 days in Reykjavík, we would also recommend the free (tip-based – you can also tip online by card) city tour, which always gives you a great chance to get to know the city you visit.
Also, due to the bad weather if you may get stranded in Reykjavík, here you can find a city card (check what is included and whether it is worth for you).
Wait, what? Stranded?
Yes, unfortunately even I, who loves planning, needed to give up my comfort zone with planning our trip and trying to see as much as we could because the weather is something you cannot possibly predict in Iceland. When I lived in Wales, I thought nothing can surprise me anymore, but the Icelandic weather is even more ever-changing than the Welsh one.
On our first day we made a nice timetable, tried to fit every interesting thing, and boom, we managed to get inside one of the worst and stormiest February in Iceland’s recent history. So yeah, “there is no way to plan Iceland. Iceland just sort of happens.”
However, being stranded can also be beautiful, just imagine if it happens when you are in a bookstore you found with Appy hours and you sip your nice Icelandic beer when there is a snowstorm outside.
But be prepared! You cannot only get stranded in the city, but also in your apartment, so it is better to bring food with yourself – and also in general, it is good to have some stocks, since Icelandic meal prices are good for tasting some interesting, new tastes, but 3 meals for 2 people for 1 week is not among the affordable things.
This is what we bought in Budapest and we also brought 2-2 Tupperware and 2 sets of cutlery with us:
The cheapest supermarket is Bónus (you can even find prices closer to the Hungarian-Western European prices :)), however, there are not so many in town, maybe I would recommend bringing a bit of food from home (e.g. dried food, easily preparable food) in case of a stormy day when you cannot get outside.
We were super lucky and we got some great tips from friends who lived in Iceland, so please, do get some time and visit these hidden perks as well!
- Small footbath/hotpot close to the lighthouse: https://goo.gl/maps/jQdMRpVoRao
- Café Babalú, awesome place with great lamb soup (around 1690 ISK, but very filling)
- Seabaron – seafood place, awesome lobster soup (around 1390 ISK, fast serving but be there at opening – 11:30 – because the place is getting full fast, but there are seats in the back of the place as well) and whale steak (around 1890 ISK)
- Bookshops, where you can get coffee, beer and you can read any book while being sheltered from the storm. Makes a great rendez-vous point for Couchsurfers! (e.g. Ida Zimsen)
- Elf school , if you look for something particular for yet another stranded afternoon, however, be prepared not only for the weird tales or the even more interesting style of the storyteller (don’t tell anything neither about your political views, maybe nor about your nationality, Magnús will certainly have something to say about those – for like 20 times, at least), but also for the amazing pancakes they offer you
Useful apps and websites
- 112: to save your life 🙂
- Aurora: it can send you push notifications if the Aurora Borealis is to be seen soon, also gives you forecast (Google Play, iTunes)
- Appy Hour: to give you the places where the beer is around 5-6 EUR instead of 10+
- Appening Today: programmes in Reykjavík
- Hot pot Iceland– where to find awesome hot pots in Iceland
Extremely useful websites, use them several times a day
- Road.is: to check the condition of the roads and which roads are closed (and how is the wind in m/s)
- Weather forecast: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/elements/ and https://www.mbl.is/frettir/vedur/#!sl=4,st=reykjavik
- Aurora forecast: Aurora forecasting, check the clouds and the KP
If the weather forecast predicts storm, be extremely careful, the storm shall be taken very seriously in Iceland. Also, if the roads are closed (red in road.is) you are not going to be saved only for paying for your rescue.
And if you had all these, at least you can say you survived Iceland!