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

Today, we would like to introduce Shing of 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 colored 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 travelers 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.

Budget travelers 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 colors, 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 colors. Located by the harbour it creates a kaleidoscope of color 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.

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 travelers or couples. I suggest getting in contact with someone from Reykjavik on or and ask if they fancy cutting the cost of fuel on a daytrip away from the city. If you’re using VRBO 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
Seltun iceland
 Seltun, Iceland

Would you like to visit quirky Reykjavik?


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Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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72 thoughts on “Reykjavik: It’s Quirky, But Is It Affordable?”

  1. 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.

  2. 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! :-)

  3. 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!

  4. Surya Bhattacharya

    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 :/ )

  5. 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 :)

  6. Marie @ Budgeting for Travel

    Wow, Reykjavik is a great city. I love the photos you posted. I definitely want to see them in real.. I’m gonna visit quirky Reykjavik soon. :)

  7. Shikha (whywasteannualleave)

    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!!

    1. 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 :)

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. Cool post. Most posts about Iceland would be about the Aurora, but I like this one because it’s more about it.

  11. I really want to go to Reykjavik! It looks like such a fun place, and it’s nice to know it’s affordable, too!

  12. 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! ;)

  13. Tim | UrbanDuniya

    My God that church! Incredible!! I’d love to go there one day, and it seems like it’s definitely doable on a budget! Thanks for sharing. :D

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. Adam @ Round the World we go

    We’re visiting Iceland pretty soon, our first destination of 2015! This article made me smile, really cannot wait to go explore the real life Monopoly houses in Reykjavik, and go on a road trip across the South!

  17. Love these photos! From the street art to the Harpa to the colored roofs on the ‘Monopoly’ houses, Reykjavik looks full of beauty and surprises.

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