The Best Tips for Solo Travel in Reykjavik, Iceland
Edit: Wow Air is no longer a flight carrier, it ceased operations in March 2019
It can be scary to travel solo, especially if you’ve never done it before. Iceland is the perfect place to start due to how safe it is and easy it is to get around. Depending on the time of choose to travel, you may even be lucky enough to experience the midnight sun - this is where there is maximum daylight, at peak times, it’ll stay light for 23 hours of the day.
So you’ve booked your plane ticket. Presumably through Wow Air, Icelands budget airline that offers some of the lowest prices into the capital, Reykjavik. I was able to find prices for as low as $350 round trip from Toronto depending on the time of year. I never really love doing a ton of planning before travelling to a new place simply because I want to keep my expectations low. HOWEVER, planning beforehand can save time, money, and a lot of unnecessary stress.
It’s typical to rent a car in Iceland and sightsee using this method. I chose to rather explore via the excursion method. Definitely a cheaper option if travelling solo and only staying in the country for a short period of time. It’s worth it to do some research and find a reputable excursion agency as well as, find the best prices. Okay, we’ll come back to all this later. For now, I want to share my experience - what I did, what I recommend, and what I would avoid if I had to do it all over again.
My trip was a short, three nights and four days. I made sure to jam pack it so I could see and do as much as possible. I had an overnight flight so arrived in Reykjavik at about 4am and took the Flybus to my hostel. Hostels, hotels, apartments usually only allow check in around noon if not later. This “rule” forced me to suck up my tiredness and go exploring (and most of these accommodations will let you drop off your baggage for no fee so there’s really no excuse).
The city is fairly small and can be explored within three to four, five hours tops depending on your walk speed. It’s also kind of tough to get lost, so explore on! Most stores opened around 10am or 11am on weekends (since I landed on a Saturday) this gave me lots of time to see the amazing art that fills the streets, try delicious pastries and kaffi (that’s Icelandic for coffee), and explore the natural scenery. Don’t be afraid to be a tourist and visit spots like Hallgrimskirkja (the largest and among the tallest structures in Iceland), the Harpa (go inside, walk up all the way to the top, and admire the architecture), and walk along the harbour front (with the mountains in the back it’s hard to look anywhere else).
My first excursion was a tour to Southern Iceland. While this route and the ‘Golden Circle’ are most popular and highly touristy, it’s pretty clear why. It’s incredibly beautiful. The Southern tour takes about half the day and consists of two waterfalls (Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss). Both were incredible, especially to a waterfall enthusiast like me. Selijalandsfoss is smaller than Skogafoss however, you can walk behind it which makes not only for an amazing experience but a pretty incredible picture. Skogafoss is breathtaking, just to the right hand side is a set of steps that leads all the way to the top. In touristy places like these, it’s important to find the hidden pathways that make YOUR experience separate from everyone else’s. About 3/4 of the way up these stairs, I found a narrow pathway (narrow like one wrong move and you’re… well you know…) that lead to an even better view and photo op. The last stop was in a small town by the name of Vik. A pretty little town with a picturesque, red-roofed church at the top of a hill. The town is situated next to a black sand beach with large basalt columns, fairly common in Iceland due to the many volcanoes. On the way back, I got the opportunity to walk up to a glacier. It really doesn’t sound all that adventurous in comparison to the glacial hikers speeding past me BUT the magnitude of this thing was unimaginable. All in all, Southern Iceland = a must.
*This excursion was booked through Trips Iceland and cost about $150.00 CDN including pick up and drop off at my hostel.
My second excursion was to the famous Blue Lagoon. I had read about this place before my departure and was mesmerized by the turquoise blue water. Iceland is known for its geothermal bodies of water. The Blue Lagoon is actually a spa that’s surrounded by lava fields. Pretty cool uh? Yes, very. It’s also very expensive and I hate to say it, but a bit overrated. Sorry I had to. It is also probably much more enjoyable when experienced with other people. However, another geothermic spa option is Laugarvatn Fontana hot spring. I did not physically get to check it out but, online reviews had given it quite a few stars so, how can you go wrong? If you want a real geothermal experience, the Secret Lagoon is the place to go (I went here on my second trip to Iceland). It’s natural (that means not man made) and just as beautiful as it’s situated between many hills and lava fields. If the Blue Lagoon is on your bucket list and an absolute must, make sure to go as soon as it opens. I got there at 8am and by 10am it was packed.
*This excursion was booked through the Blue Lagoon site and cost $115.00 CDN and included pick up and drop off to my hostel.
My third, and final excursion was a fun little snorkelling activity in Thingvellir National Park. Specifically in Silfra, a fissure between the North American and Eurasian continents. If you have ever been snorkelling before, it was most likely to see fantastic fish and other sea creatures. Snorkelling through this fissure, will most likely include algae and bright green “troll hair”. Not all that exciting. BUT the water is so pristine clear that the bottom is visible even 100 meters down. The water also comes from a nearby glacier and is therefore pure enough to drink from. The experience was unlike any other, even in 4ºc water.
*This excursion was booked through Viator and cost $245.00 CDN and included pick up and drop off at my hostel.
If you’ve read any articles about Iceland, I’m sure you’re well aware that the nightlife is outta this world. This is very true and I encourage you to take part. There are events like karaoke and live bands almost every night of the week. I even passed a bar that was transforming their space into a movie screening theatre. If you’re super outgoing the bars and clubs are loaded up with many locals to chat with and good vibes. If you’re a bit more reserved the jazz bars are the perfect place to grab a beer and submerse yourself in the effortless music Icelandic locals seem to all possess. That’s exactly what I did. The night began with a group of twenty-somethings jamming. As the space filled up more, the band seemed to randomly choose individuals from the crowd who all either played an instrument or sang as if they were on The Voice or American Idol (whichever you prefer).
Some pointers to take away:
Be like a tourist. Visit all the touristy attractions (they are after all popular for a reason).
Don’t be afraid to walk off the beaten path as well, this is how you stumble upon beauty that makes each trip unique.
Take advantage of circumstances. I travelled during the midnight sun (which was not planned). Even if you have no intent on partying ’til the early am, take a walk at three in the morning to the harbour, simply because you can. I also got to experience being in the country during the Iceland vs. England Euro 2016 game. They won, and the country went wild. Join the crowd and be part of history.
Talk to locals, they are very nice and know a lot more than you.
Indulge in what the food trucks have to offer (look out for Dons Donuts - absolute heaven).
Bring a selfie stick ;)
Let me know if you think I missed anything!