Reykjavik: It’s Quirky, But Is It Affordable?

Today, we would like to introduce Shing of  theculturemap.com to you, who is sharing her tips on how to explore Reykjavik on the cheap. She is a twenty-something year old with a relentless love for travel. She has worked as an English teacher in China, travelled through 5 continents and now works in travel. She blogs over at The Culture Map which focuses on London life, quirky museums, Scandinavia and the Arctic. You can connect with her via Twitter and Facebook.

Reykjavik, Bird view
Reykjavik, Bird view

 

Now let’s see how how affordable it is to travel in Reykjavik…

If you lined up (not too neatly) all the brightly coloured plastic houses from a game of Monopoly and took pictures of them, you would find a striking resemblance to Reykjavik. Only Reykjavik has more of an edge: surrounded by sea and strange geothermal energy – bubbling mud pools, open fissures, and hot springs – it’s a quirky sight to greet.

But to see all this, how affordable is a trip to Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik?

Since Iceland’s dramatic financial crash in 2008, it has become more affordable for budget travellers to step foot on this small yet astonishingly diverse country (every cloud has a silver lining certainly springs to mind). Prior to that, the cost of a simple day of sightseeing was on par with the purse-shuddering prices of Norway.

“I didn’t think twice about jumping on a plane to Norway to see friends, but after the crash that all changed – the food, drinks and clothes – all of a sudden became staggeringly expensive”, said a young Icelandic woman.

Some people gauge how expensive a place is in terms of beer, but since I’m not usually a beer drinker I gauge the price of things in terms of a plate of food. I use this comparison because food is always my biggest expenditure and something I don’t like to scrimp on. Prices are similar to London in Iceland, they can be expensive but price-conscious meals can definitely be found. One of my favourite places to grab something tasty to eat is The Sea Baron, located by the harbour. Decorated in the style of a ship cabin, it offers a special dining experience. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s scrumptiously off-beat, and serves a small selection of local food starting from £5. Nobody should go without having lobster soup mopped up with a crusty, white roll.

Places to eat, Reykjavik(1)

Budget travellers can be rest assured that there are plenty of fun and free things to do in Reykjavik, and others which come at a reasonable price.
Exploring the streets of this Arctic city is proof that the best things really are free. Street art and sculptures sprawl across the city, and looking for it is the perfect way to unearth the creative vibe of this city. Fortunately, you won’t have to look very hard.

Street art Reykjavik
Street art, Reykjavik
Street art Rekjavik 1
Street art, Reykjavik
Reykjavik, street art
Reykjavik, street art

 

Window shopping along the main shopping street, Laugavegur, inevitably offers a few design tips for your own home, and an insight into Nordic aesthetics. It only takes a day in the city to realise Icelanders are effortlessly cool, and have a knack for making houseware appliances and furniture look like pieces of art. What’s more, this eye for design is all encompassing. They appear to have mastered the impossible: making practical clothing look sexy. The same is true for its nearby neighbours in Scandinavia. After many hours of people watching around Scandinavia I think I’ve discovered how they do it – there are a few simple rules to follow: No obvious logos, simpler the better (anything frilly appears to be fashion faux pas), and the liberal use of block colours, especially black, is well practised.

Shops in Reykjavik
Shops in Reykjavik

 

For a fine example of contemporary architecture, head over to the Harpa Concert Hall. It’s ‘honeycomb’ structure consists of a steel framework clad with geometric shaped glass panels of different colours. Located by the harbour it creates a kaleidoscope of colour as it reflects the sun, sea, and elements of the cityscape. Harpa opened in August 2011, a seemingly bold statement to make during the midst of the financial crisis, I can’t help thinking it symbolises the mark of Reykjavik’s triumphant recovery following a few disastrous years. Even if you don’t have a concert to go to, it’s a spectacular building to visit, climb up the steps to the top floor and see the building from different perspectives.

Harpa City Hall
Harpa City Hall

 

For an hour of perpetual laughter, I suggest waltzing over to the Phallological Museum, it’s the only museum in the world dedicated to penises. Yep, that’s right. There are over two hundred and eighty of them too, in all shapes and sizes, from creatures great and small. There’s an entrance fee of 1,000 SK, that’s approximately £5, not bad for an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the word. The star of the show is a whale’s penis. You can’t miss it. Literally.

Phallological Museum, Reykjavik

Reykjavik is a city with a great skyline, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to see and photograph it. There are two options; one is free, and the other you have to pay. For the free view head over to the rooftop terrace at the Perlan, it’s good but it cannot compete with view seen from the top of the tower at Hallgrimskirkja Church. It costs 700 SK per person (roughly £3.60) , but I suggest paying the small charge because the view is phenomenal.

Hallgrímskirkja Church Reykjavik
Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik
Panoramic reykjavik
Panoramic Reykjavik

 

It would be a shame to go to Reykjavik without doing the Golden Circle Route, or at least a tour of Southwest Iceland, but hiring a car is often expensive for solo travellers or couples. I suggest getting in contact with someone from Reykjavik on Couchsurfing.com or Wayn.com and ask if they fancy cutting the cost of fuel on a daytrip away from the city. If you’re using Airbnb it’s worth asking your host if they’d be up for some DIY touring too. The Golden Circle Route consists of three main areas – Thingvellir National Park, Geysir and Gullfoss, and there are a couple of smaller places that can be encompassed into the route such as Kerid Crater.

gullfoss waterfall iceland
Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland

 

In peak times the Golden Circle Route can be very busy, so an exploration of Southwest Iceland’s lesser known geothermal thermal areas provides a worthy alternative. To feel like you’ve just landed on Mars, head over to Seltun and Gunnuhver, where you’ll find bubbling mud pots, thermal springs and fumaroles. They are less than thirty minutes apart by car and located approximately forty minutes away from Reykjavik. It’s also completely free to enter these places.

gunnuhver_iceland
Gunnuhver, Iceland
Seltun iceland
Seltun, Iceland

 

Would you like to visit quirky Reykjavik?

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72 Comments

  • I’ve never seen a church like Hallgrímskirkja. The sky/cloud backdrop helps it to look like something out of a fairy tale.

    What a fascinating place that you can visit somewhat inexpensively as long as you remain mindful of frugality.

  • Reykjavik is a great city – there are some other budget options – Bellys Bar was the cheapest for drinking when we were there, especially on Happy Hour and we hired an apartment between a group of people to cut down on costs – it worked out cheaper and we could also cook there. Safe travels.

  • I visited Iceland in 1999 and it was very expensive indeed. Glad to hear it’s not quite so expensive these days. Hope to go back one day. Great post thanks for sharing.

  • Iceland is so high on my bucket list but I’ve never travelled there so far due to the high prices. So thanks for sharing those budget tips :) Reykjavik looks like a really nice little town.

  • I can’t get enough of pictures from Iceland, and having some tips to take along with me when Franca and I eventually get our chance to go is going to be super handy, especially for the street art sightseeing.

    • I know how much you like the street art Dale. You would certainly love Reykjavik for this reason!

  • I loved Reykjavik, we went in the winter and it was so cosy and unique. I loved all the colourful buildings and the interesting design shops. Although yes, it definitely isn’t cheap sadly!

  • I’d love to visit Reykjavik and the whole of Iceland for that matter. I know it was an expensive place to visit a few years ago before it was so popular but I’ve read so much about how it’s becoming so affordable, especially if your travelling from the UK and western Europe. This is great post and I have added a few more things to see when I get there in the next few years.

  • Great post Shing – even we found Iceland surprisingly affordable. I love all your suggestions. Insofar as budget eats go, we were told about Reykjavik’s large Thai community by a local. As a result the city has loads of cheap (and authentic) Thai restaurants too – nom! :-)

    • Thanks for the tip Savi, I didn’t try any Thai food whilst I was in Reykjavik but I did see a few Thai restaurants. I’ll definitely try them next time – I’m going back to Iceland at the end of September – can’t wait!

  • I have a plan to spend a month in Iceland… hopefully in 2015 and maybe even in 2016 cause that’ll be a trip… though camping/biking around should hopefully negate some costs. Its good to know I can hang out in the city for less

    • Wow, sounds amazing! My brother camped in Reykjavik during the summer and had a great time – of course it saves a lot of money too! You’ll be able to see so much in a month. It might be worth checking out workaway.info to see what’s going on in Iceland, I’ve seen things like, working for activity companies in exchange for accommodation where you have to take people down glacier caves – sounds immense!

  • Such a beautiful city! I was there last year and didn’t find it that expensive, although it’s not cheap either. Hoping to see the Northern Lights, I made the mistake of going early January, when you get only 4 hours of daylight, so I definitely have to go back.

    Great pictures, by the way!

  • I really love Shing’s blog, always has some quirky travel places or museums. I visited Reykjavik many years ago on a school trip but only remember it being dismally grey and cloudy. It looks like I missed a lot of awesome things to do and colourful houses, so I must return one day! :)

    • I know!!! She always visits the most awkward places in Europe – some of the museums she has been to are so quirky, yet unique and interesting!

  • Reykjavik sounds fabulous! We’re always tend to be put-off by the acclaimed “it’s so expensive” thing so it’s really good to see that it’s not as bad as it could be. And when you can have lobster soup mopped up with a crusty, white roll for only 5 quid. How can that be bad!

  • Iceland is top of my list for countries to get to but, you’re correct, the price is definitely something to think about as it tends to be quite a bit higher than a lot of other places in Europe. Still, Reykjavik looks gorgeous, and definitely worth the added cost, I think. I’ll be getting there next year :)

    Beautiful photos too.

  • Great article Shing. Thank you for introducing us to your country and the lovely Reykjavik.

    Whilst I’ve yet to visit the people I know who have been have fond memories of the place. You certainly make me interested.

    As for that museum, I’ll try to resist making any witty comments on it but it is tempting! :-)

  • Reykjavik is on every traveller’s bucketlist. I know a lot of people who want to visit this Arctic city. I came across Reykjavik on a Discovery Channel programme some 12-14 years back and since then made a mental note of visiting the city someday. The city looks so colourful and the street arts are so fabulous…looks like the population there are in love with loud colours and quirky designs. I really like the way Shing have listed all the must see places here and if i get to visit Reykjavik, i will follow no itinerary other than this. Reykjavik: May be someday i’ll be there!

  • I really need to stop looking at posts about Iceland. It just looks better and better!! And with this post, even the prices seem quite okay. Now if only I can manage to figure out good airfare, hmmm… (India to Iceland… NOT pocket friendly :/ )

  • Yeah for having Shing here! We are huge fans of hers and have enjoyed her friendship since last year. You keeping rocking The Culture Map, our friend, and so thrilled to see you here…a much deserved guest post! And yes all day on the lobster soup and crusty bread :)

  • I loved Reykjavik last year when I went for the first time but I must admit to thinking it was quite expensive at the time but actually, reading this article, there are a fair few ways of saving money out there! I also really liked the street art scene out there and despite all my reservations, the phallological museum turned out to be quite scientifically interesting and nothing like what I was imagining!!

    • Hi Shikha, Reykjavik can be expensive, but thankfully there are still things to do that are affordable. Haha, glad you had fun at the Penis Museum too, it’s much more civilised and scientifically interesting than you’d expect, huh?! A small museum formed into a nice little package :)

  • Reykjavik looks beautiful. I love cities with great street art and epic views. And I too don’t scrimp on food, that’s always my biggest splurge when I travel.

  • The houses look unreal! They look like a perfect place for dolls to live in. So tiny and colorful. Are you sure those pictures aren’t taken in a miniature park? Lol

  • Incredible photos of the city and surrounding countryside, although I have to say that the whale penis is the one that will stay in my memory! I’ll add this to my list of penis places I’d like to visit, along with the penis park in South Korea! ;)

  • Agness,

    Looks like a great time. I love the colour of the houses in the street, its very cute! Wooden penises though give me great memories of what my dad used to sell in his shop! Yeah, he is a strange one! Thanks Agness.

  • Cute, colourful houses!
    I suppose some cities have rules and regulations regarding the colours of the buildings, so that no-one comes in ruining the looks by creating a striking ugly contrast.

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