by Claire Star
Before starting college, I took a gap year. During that time, I spent four months traveling by myself through five countries in the spring of 2014. I thoroughly loved exploring new cities, satiating my wanderlust, and spending time with family friends.
My first week was spent in Reykjavík, Iceland. I’d seen countless photos on Pinterest and was blown away by the country’s picturesque landscapes. I figured that with so many photos out there, it would’ve been impossible to photoshop them all; the country must be that beautiful. I was not disappointed. The first two nights I was a basket of nerves as I faced four months away from home. My dad remembers having to coax me through eating a sandwich over Skype while I fought back tears! Luckily, after recovering from the jetlag and adjusting to the shock of solo travel, I ended up having an incredible week. Out of the hundreds of photos that I took, not a single one required any photoshopping.
Transportation: Fly into Keflavik airport, located 30 miles southwest of Reykjavík. At the airport, purchase a ticket for the Flybus airport shuttle, a quick and fairly priced shuttle bus into the capital. Pay the few extra dollars for the Flybus+ service so that you can be dropped off directly at your accommodation. The convenience when tired and schlepping luggage is well worth it. You can book your Flybus ticket in advance and buy a one-way or roundtrip ticket.
Stay: A hostel in downtown Reykjavík is a great choice for solo travelers, couples, or even families. A bed in a dormitory is often under $50 per night and Icelandic hostels are really friendly and well maintained. They’re also a great place to meet people if you’re traveling alone and looking for people to hang out with. Most hostels, if not all, offer co-ed and single gender dorms, in addition to private rooms that are better suited for families/couples. I stayed at Loft Hostel on Bankastræti, one of the main streets downtown, for $35 a night in the off season (late February/early March). I’ve also heard great reviews from friends about Kex Hostel, housed in a repurposed cookie factory.
Many flights from the United States arrive at Keflavik International Airport around 7am. Take the Flybus shuttle from Keflavik to your accommodations in Reykjavík; the bus ride is just shy of an hour. It’s worth the extra few dollars to pay for the Flybus+ service to be dropped off exactly where you’re staying. If you arrive too early for check in, ask the front desk staff to stow your bags for the morning so you can start exploring with your hands free.
Stop at Bonus, the Icelandic grocery store on Laugavegur (identified by its iconic pig logo), to stock up on Skyr, the famous Icelandic style yogurt (although technically it’s a cheese). Pick up a couple flavors: one for a Golden Circle snack, another for breakfast the morning you head back to the airport. I love visiting grocery stores when traveling, both to save money on food (restaurant meals add up so quickly) and to see how food varies between countries I visit.
Depending on the time, begin heading back to your accommodations to be picked up at 12:15pm for the afternoon Golden Circle tour with the friendly company Bus Travel.
If you still have time before your Golden Circle tour, here are a few more places to explore:
The Handknitting Association of Iceland is brimming with handmade gifts and Lopapeysa, the traditional Icelandic sweaters (close to Hallgrimskirkja). Álafoss is another shop selling Lopapeysa on Laugavegur.
Cintamani is the trendy (but pricey) Icelandic outdoor goods and clothing store. They have an indoor slide, free coffee, and, if you’re lucky, a down mini skirt in metallic silver and traffic cone orange, should you need one to get you through winter (next door to Loft Hostel on Bankastræti).
There are a number of eclectic vintage/thrift stores in Iceland. It’s fun to browse through the racks and they’re a great place to buy less expensive handknit items like hats, gloves, and scarves (and sweaters if you’re lucky!). Obligatory dressing room selfie wearing the silliest outfit you can find = free souvenir. Try Spúútnik (some items by the kilo) and Red Cross ($5-$50) on Laugavegur or Gyllti kötturinn ($20-$100) on Austurstraeti.
Mál og Menning bookstore on Laugavegur is a great place to browse. They have books in both Icelandic and English, in addition to some not-so-corny gifts.
If you’re feeling adventurous after dinner, ta_ke a walk (or the number 11 bus, getting off at Lindargotu road) to Grotta lighthouse. It’s one of a few places I didn’t have a chance to see during my visit and really wished I had. Aside from the pretty views, I hear Grotta is also a great place to see the Northern Lights.
Rest and wake up bright and early for your flight out of Keflavik in the morning. Don’t forget your Skyr for the road! And maybe an extra bollur for the plane… just don’t squish it in your bag like I did.
* Golden Circle Afternoon tour with Bus Travel offers 12:15pm pickups at your accommodations. Price is 6750 ISK for adults/3375 ISK for children. Tour is 5-6 hours. Book online in advance for a 24 hour layover, or with the front desk staff at your accommodations for longer stays and more flexible itineraries. Don't forget to bring snacks!
Update: For a printer-friendly version of this itinerary, including addresses and links to locations mentioned in this post, click here.
// photography by Claire Star. Thrift store information from The House That Lars Built. Grotta article from Total Iceland.
Tags: by Claire, Iceland, Travel Guide, Travel