I know, I know, It is as painful and embarrassing for me to write as it is for you to read, but it’s the truth. I was ready to be wowed. Iceland is so hot right now, figuratively speaking of course.
There are cities in which I arrive and immediately think, “Ah, these are my people. I am home.” Reykjavik was not one of those cities. In fact, full disclosure, Reykjavik is the only city I’ve ever landed in and started trying to figure out how much it would cost to just fly back home before I even left the airport.
I had just been in Scotland for the first time, which was on of those “my people” places for me, which probably didn’t help. I hadn’t booked a have a place to stay while I was in Reykjavik and figured I would just use the free airport wifi to book when I got there. I can already see the comments and I acknowledge that this is a lack of planning on my part and totally completely my fault. However, that’s how it went down.
No one had responded to the couchsurfing request that I had made the day before (see, I planned a little), so I booked an okay looking guest house in downtown Reykjavik for more money than I was planning on spending, but I was in a bind. After I booked the hotel I went about the process of getting from the airport to Rekjavik proper.
There are two different buses that can take you into town for a fee of around $24 USD. I bought my passage into Rekjavik and was told to wait outside for the bus. Of course it was cold and raining, because Iceland. After about half an hour of just one chartered tour bus that had no idea about the bus I was waiting for, I went back inside and asked the woman who had sold me the bus ticket when I could expect the bus. The answer I got, “45 minutes after the plane lands.”
That’s real life. And yes again, I understand that this is a little bit my fault… BUT still super frustrating after a long day of travel. The next flight was going to land in a little over an hour, meaning the next bus would be there in approximately two hours. I had missed the bus for my flight whilst booking a hotel room, and that lady was going to let me stand outside in the cold rain for HOURS.
There are many rental car desks at the airport, and I would highly recommend using them. I would also highly recommend booking them in advance, because they were out of cars.
I just sat in the airport and had a $1000 smoothie then took the bus into town, but I didn’t have a ton of time in Iceland and I spent a good portion of it at the airport.
I’ll admit that this experience perhaps colored my impression of Iceland unfairly. Obviously, it’s not all bad.
Iceland is gorgeous. Seriously stunning. That was evident even from the airport window (where I spent most of my time). Just look at those pictures, it’s like nothing on earth.
I had the best fish and chip of my life there! Sorry U.K., but Icelandic Fish and chips has you beat. They have chalkboard wall with the selection of fish that came in from the marina that morning.
This fish is the freshest you’re likely to get anywhere. The “chips” are roasted potatoes, with a rosemary option, and there are a selection of dipping sauces!
This meal is maybe worth a trip to Rekjavik in itself, especially if you live anywhere near a WOW Airlines hub.
They, and I, love a sky bar!
Cocktails and a view! That’s nothing to complain about.
I really tried not to let the initial inconveniences color the rest of my trip, but there were a few other reasons I didn’t quite gel with Reykjavik.
It’s cold. Not their fault, but not for me.
Iceland, and Reykjavik specifically, has become a tourist hot spot in relatively recent years, and I don’t think they have the infrastructure for it. This didn’t happen while I was there (almost though), but from what I understand, they literally run out of hotel rooms sometimes. There are literally more tourist than the city can deal with. It’s a great problem to have, but certainly one that needs to be dealt with. There is a lot of new construction around town though, so maybe that will soon change.
I’m not entirely sure who the target audience for Reykjavik. There are amazingly affordable flights there right now, plenty of outdoor/adventure activities nearby, and bars that stay open til the wee hours of the morning, especially in the summer when it doesn’t get dark. This seems like it would draw a younger backpacker crowd, but the town itself is so expensive I can’t imagine they could afford to stay long. I know I couldn’t! Even the hostel dorms will set you back about $50/person.
Reykjavik certainly comes with a luxury price tag, again especially in the summer, but the availability of what American travelers would typically consider “luxury” accommodations. It’s difficult to find an en suite room. I’m a “when in Rome” person, and I certainly don’t mind a shared bathroom, but I know a lot of Americans. We, as a people, don’t love sharing. That sounds awful, but I do know a type of traveler that wants to go everywhere, but not give up any of the conveniences or lifestyle they’re used to. There is a Radisson in the center of town, that will run you about $400 a night… bit rich for my blood. I went for a nice moderate $200/ night hotel, which was still covered in grafiti.
I will say that the inside of the hotel was lovely and they had complimentary breakfast so I was happy, but I’m pretty easy to please.
And how great can a place be when this is a series of fashion ads? This cold miserable lady is actually trying to sell something. This looks alarmingly similar to the billboards seen around cities here to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless.
Finally and more to the point, so much of my impression of a place is its people. I didn’t have any problems with the Icelandic people, but I didn’t find them to be terribly warm and friendly. Obviously there are exceptions, but that was my experience. Certainly a stark difference from the Scottish.
There is really no place that I have regretted traveling, but this was far from my favorite. I’m still glad I went and I wouldn’t take it back. In fact, I would like to go back for a re-match because I feel like I must have done something wrong. Everyone loves Iceland so much that I’m willing to accept that the problem is probably with me and there are a few things I would do differently.
What I Will Do Differently Next Time;
Rent a car! I hit on this before, but I can’t stress it enough. Gas is expensive in Iceland, but so is getting around by bus. I think having a car would have saved so much time and money and added a ton of convenience.
Get out of the city! I didn’t get out of the city much. I didn’t have much time, really. I went to the Blue Lagoon, but other than that I stayed in Rekjavik. Next time I would like to get out and see the Golden Circle, and a bit of countryside.
Go in the winter! This is just because I’ve already been in summer. The weather may kill me, but I need to see the northern lights. Besides, in the summer the midnight sun does no favors for jet lag!
I really hope this didn’t come off as the rantings of a privileged American girl. I just honestly wasn’t in love with Reykjavik. Believe it or not, I’ve actually met people that didn’t love Brussels and New Orleans and I met them with the shock and horror you’re likely feeling now.
Are there any cities you’ve been to that you didn’t quite get the appeal of? It’s a weird feeling.