Reykjavik on a budget - 4 day itinerary.
I visited Iceland last Feb (for valentines day, how cute?! *vom*) and had the most amazing time! There were however, a few things I would have done differently so I decided to create this itinerary based on things I did and things I wish I had.
Based on flights from London you will probably arrive late afternoon there is no public bus but you can jump on the Airport Express or Flybus which can be booked in advance or in the airport and will drop off at at most major hotels. Use this time to check in, explore what is around you and maybe grab some food to get ready for a long night.
If you are staying in the city, its very unlikely that you are going to see the Northern Lights from your hotel. Not impossible, but with the light pollution I wouldn't count on it. Instead, use your first evening to join a Northern Lights tour. The reason I would recommend this is because if you don't manage to get a glimpse of the lights on the first night, you have a few more nights if you want to go back and try again which most tours offer. The tour guides can take you anywhere from 20 minutes - 2 hours out of Reykjavik depending on where they think the lights are most likely to be seen you can choose to go with the budget coach style option or go with a private tour snacks and drinks are usually included (don't forget to try the Icelandic delicacy of fermented shark!) Wrap up warm and remember you won't see the Northern Lights in the Summer, best time would be Sept- April.
As you won't know how late you will get back from the tour, I wouldn't book any early trips for this day. Have a lazy start and use the day to explore the sights which Reykjavik has to offer right here in the centre. Start you day with a traditional Icelandic breakfast and a coffee at Iceland's oldest restaurant; Kaffivagnin, which is super cosy and full of locals which is always a good sign. From here you can walk down to the Sun Voyager sculpture on the harbour. Continue to walk round towards the centre and you can visit the Concert Hall and the Hallgrimskirkja Church both of which have fantastic architecture, if you're not usually into that kind of thing, it is super impressive. You could also stop by the Penis museum if that's your thing!
Spend the evening in the town centre and if you are on a budget and only planning one nice dinner/ night out, now is the time. After the fermented shark last night we wanted something safer and chose Essensia, which is a gorgeous Italian in downtown Reykavik and got a meal and drink each for around £70 for 2. If you are there at the right time of year, and don't mind the early start, you could also use this day to do one of the famous whale watching tours.
Fortunately budget travellers/ backpackers can't afford to get drunk in Reykjavik so you will probably wake up bright and fresh ready for a full day tour if the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a tourist route around Southern Iceland which stops at 3 main stops: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall and Haukadalur where you can see the Strokkur Geyser which erupts every 5- 10 minutes. Depending on the tour you may also stop at a volcanic crater and a geothermal powerplant!
Budget travellers may want to bring lunch/ bus snacks for the journey as the coffee shop that the tours stop at are around €12 a coffee. Supermarkets are cheap so pick up some sandwich ingredients and save yourself €50 on lunch!
You will probably finish the tour around 5pm so definitely enough time to try out another of the many restaurants or if you are like us, buy some more food from the shop which means more money for alcohol. Microbar does a great beer tasting flight including snacks for £20 which is a great way to start the night.
The Blue Lagoon is actually much closer to the airport than the city and if you book in advance (which you should) you can get a one way transfer which picks you up from the hotel, you can hop off at the Blue Lagoon, and hop back on later for the airport. They are very used to people doing this and so have storage for luggage and they changing rooms are fantastic so you can be fully prepared for your trip home. Depending on your flight, I would aim to spend a minimum of 2 hours here. There is a restaurant, again if you've saved a small fortune for this holiday, if not Mcd's in the airport is never let you down or more homemade sandwiches. The Blue Lagoon is a large geothermal spa (naturally heated) located on a lava field where you can swim, eat, drink and relax. It is one of the most popular attractions in Reykjavik and the perfect end to your Iceland trip.
Budget for 4 days in Reykjavik
Flights (at the right time) - £50-100pp
Accom (mid) £75pp
Food + drink - £100pp
Tours - £200pp
Total cost - if you are careful £400-£600.
Tips for Iceland
Best time to go for northern lights is September - March
Best time to go for whale watching is April - October.
There are days with only 5 hours daylight, and some with 21 hours! So check this out when booking your trip and don't just go for when flights are cheapest.
Stock up on snacks from the supermarket to keep you going and duty free alcohol of course! Iceland isn't in the EU so you can get really cheap alcohol deals from the UK airports.
Book tours in advance, they sell out at peak times.
The tap water smells a bit, but its really clean! Bring a refillable bottle and hold your nose!
Credit cards are accepted everywhere and some places don't take cash so I wouldn't both changing up money before you go.
Be prepared for the weather based on what time of year you go. I went in Feb and thought it wasn't too cold, there was snow around and one of the best opportunities to see the Northern lights.
I ended up losing my purse at one point (whilst jumping around in the snow) but the city's Lost and Found board have a Pinterest page so it is really easy to get it back as long as you are lucky enough for someone to turn it in.
Tipping isn't really expected, some places will have a tip jar but service charges are not usually added or encouraged.
You will need a good camera to capture the northern lights, if you don't have one and don't want to splash out, look for a tour which includes photos!
There is almost no crime in Iceland and people are generally very friendly be sure to smile back and enjoy your time in this beautiful country!