I Didn’t Love Reykjavik. There, I Said It.

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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.

Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

The Story;

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.

Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

Reykjavik, Iceland

The Good;

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.

Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

Icelandic Fish and Chips in Reykjavik

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!

Icelandic Fish and Chips in Reykjavik

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!

Sky bar in Reykjavik, Iceland

Cocktails and a view!  That’s nothing to complain about.

The Bad;

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.

Dear Iceland, this is not patio weather.... and nothing here is.

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.

Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

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!

Midnight sun in Reykjavik, Iceland

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.







24 thoughts on “I Didn’t Love Reykjavik. There, I Said It.

  1. After seeing so many stunning photos of Iceland over the past few months I was beginning to wonder why there were so few words accompanying the images. Looks like it might be that the rest of what’s on offer does not quite live up to the scenery.
    I would love to see the Northern Lights too, so I will keep your advice in mind, thanks Mags.

  2. Thank you so much for your article and for your sincerity! I’m planning to go to Iceland in my 2016 and that’s a challange since flights from where I live are very expensive (I live in Pugla, south Italy, so if you like warm, cheap, and crazily welcoming places you MUST come and visit us).

    • Mags

      You had me at warm! Pulga sounds like my kind of place.

  3. Nothing wrong with not loving a place. I’ve actually heard this from a few people, that the expectations don’t quite meet the reality, or that the expectations (especially about the cost) turn out to be even more true then expected.

    But those fish and chips look too delish.

  4. sam

    I had that exact same experience in Hong Kong, I spent so long excited to visit but when i finally arrived it was a massive disappointment and I could not wait to leave for our next destination. It is such a shame when it happens but an experience all the same!

    • Mags

      It’s such a bummer when you’re excited about a place, especially a far away and expensive place, only to be disappointed, but it’s always a worthwhile experience.

  5. Haha, I always love reading posts from a different perspective and yours is certainly that. Also, laughing out loud behind my laptop, very funny writing. Despite all this, I would still love to visit Iceland, because you know… it’s stunning:-)

    • Mags

      Thanks so much. I definitely would not discourage anyone else from going to Iceland, it is gorgeous.

  6. I’ve been to Reykjavík a few times (and the rest of Iceland) and I’m a bit disappointed reading about your experience but respect your views.

    In my opinion, Reykavík is a nice city but maybe not one worth travelling on purpose to, especially if you live far. The beauty of Iceland lies outside the city. If you like outdoors there’s plenty of it in Iceland to keep you busy for a long long time.

    Most people only do blue lagoon + reykjavík + golden circle. Which is nice and stuff but getting quite busy in the summer. When I talk about busy here it’s not even like Paris, London or NYC. It’s the Iceland busy.

    Hope next time you visit more of Iceland 🙂

    • Mags

      Thanks Hugo, I think you’re right. I really didn’t get out of the city enough and I would love to give Iceland another shot.

  7. Your pictures look great! I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it. I’m not a fan of cold weather either and I’m from Canada were we can get some really cold weather (You’d think I’d be used to it…well I’m not) At the end of they day at least you can say you’ve been there. Great post!

  8. I’m heading there in a week and I hope I feel differently. I know its cold (because Iceland in winter) but I hope the people are warm and friendly because this is going to be a solo trip and I’m looking for more cultural immersion as well.

  9. We haven’t been to Iceland yet so I couldn’t say anything to agree or disagree BUT you’re right, I’ve heard driving in Iceland is the way to go. My friends who have visited have all said it to be the best way to get around Iceland.

    Puerto Rico was not my favorite.

  10. I’m so glad you shared your real and honest experiences with us! It’s good to know, so if I’ll go to Iceland, I know I need tons of money and a plan! I think you would’ve enjoyed it more if you went out of the city a bit, the landscape of Iceland seems to be quite stunning. And also, now that you compared Iceland to Scotland, I can’t wait to meet the Scottish people in about two months.

    • Mags

      I would definitely not discourage anyone from visiting Iceland. A lot of people love it. You’ll have a blast in Scotland though. It’s gorgeous and full of the nicest people!

  11. Thanks for an honest opinion. I’ve only ever heard good things so it’s nice to get a different perspective.

  12. Thanks for your honest article. It’s hard to admit you don’t like something you have spent a fortune on. I have not been to Iceland but did spend a day in Helsinki once and enjoyed it but also found it really expensive. I had a similar experience in Vienna once years ago and was not keen to go back but finally did last year and really enjoyed it. Sometimes its your headspace and not the place., you never know, if the opportunity presents again you might just change your mind. I did.

  13. In every travel, there are really those places that don’t make it to our expectations. It’s really sad, but at least you had a new experience for you to cherish.

  14. It was so amusing to read your post about Reykjavik. The reason been is that I had the same experience with Medellín. I did not have a preconceived opinion about the city and had been slightly skeptical of what I read and heard. There are so many raving reviews about it. They are, by far, outweigh a tiny trickle of less favorable ones). Except weather, which is excellent in Medellin, it looks like both cities experienced the same plight of becoming overwhelmed by tourists. I hope those are growing pains and, eventually, they would be resolved. Meanwhile, it seems that any city that at some point in the past 3-4 years got on the “top 10/20/[put any number here]” list of any travel publication is bound to suffer similar issues.

  15. It is such a shame that you didn’t enjoy Reykjavík and I hope you give it another go one day. I used Reykjavík as a base for Icelandic horse riding, the Secret Lagoon and the Golden Circle (which were all stunning) and had great fun in the city too. I can recommend Hotel Cabin for a convenient location with en suite facilities. My only grumble was the cost of a glass of wine and the fact that I only had 4 days there which just wasn’t enough.

  16. Thanks for being honest Mags…it’s funny how that happens sometimes…everyone raves about a place, then you go and it’s just ok…Well at least you’ve seen it and have an opinion for yourself now.

  17. Iceland is high on our bucket list but I’m also worried about the price. 200$/night for a regular hotel is a lot! ! We’ll see where we end up this summer

  18. I know this feeling! I went to New York and I wasn’t “wowed”. I think it’s because I already live in a large city, so walking around the skyscrapers didn’t phase me. I didn’t even feel like I was in New York until my second day when I went to the top of the Rockefeller Centre and saw the view (which was breath taking). But like you, I feel so weird having to admit not liking a place. I guess that’s why it’s hard to go somewhere with high expectations!

  19. I have always been fascinated with Iceland and the culture there. I worry about what kind of food I will be able to eat! But I love this post- it’s all about sharing experiences – I would love to go to the Blue Lagoon!! I love what you fit in with what little time you had!

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