The content of this article is opinion-only. Before making any big trip decisions, be sure to get information from multiple sources.
Where I Would Have Saved Money
On my recent tour of Europe this summer, I saw a lot of different things in a lot of different climates. Although it’s hard to say what my favorite country was, if I had to pick, I’d pick Iceland. This is because the beauty and variety of the landscape was a one-two punch that just couldn’t be matched. Sure, the Alps were gorgeous, but they didn’t have the crazy variety (glaciers, volcanoes, and the ocean!) that Iceland did.
That being said, there were a few things I did in Iceland that I just didn’t feel were worth my time. If I could do it over, here’s what I wouldn’t do.
The Blue Lagoon
This one may not come as a surprise. The Blue Lagoon gets a lot of varied opinions. Alex and I went here our very first day in Iceland, straight from the airport. We were in line by 7 am, right when the placed opened. I was one of the first people in the pool.
The water is genuinely a pretty shade, varying from a milky blue to almost robin’s egg blue. The temperature was pretty warm in lots of places. If you sat in the water next to the heaters, it was hot.
I enjoyed looking at the various rock formations. Moving around the pool, to get to certain areas I had to either crouch really low or stand up with only my shins in the water. The free face mask felt nice on my skin, until it got into my eyes and burned really badly. Luckily, the burning didn’t last too long. Getting a drink from the swim-up bar was pretty expensive.
For me personally, if I’m going to relax, I want to be in hot water and in a place that’s quiet. The water was only really hot if I sat next to a somewhat loud and ill-disguised heater. The pool itself quickly filled up with other people. They all had mud-covered faces and alcoholic drinks.
So far, it really doesn’t sound so bad. And it wasn’t. But that was just it; it was an okay experience. I spent sixty dollars to sit in some warm water for about an hour. And I didn’t even get a towel to dry off! This would maybe be an experience that would be worth it, if it wasn’t for all of the other free and genuinely natural hot baths in Iceland. If I’m going to be sitting somewhere crowded, I’d prefer it to be in the wild at least. That’s what I came to see.
Instead: Try one of the natural hot pools that don’t cost you anything, at least not yet. Try the one in Landmannalaugar, or Grettislaug, which is supposed to have nice views. You will have a more natural experience and be able to save the money for something more authentic in Iceland.
This is something that sounded so cool. Snorkeling between the continental plates?? Who knew you could even do that? I was very excited for this one.
The first half hour or so of our tour was spent jamming ourselves into our suits. Pretty understandable. After all, you want to be protected from the really cold water. But a lot of the people had gaps in their suits, and our host had to then put extra ties around them to keep them watertight. Alex had to wear what looked like a collar around his neck, pressing against his Adam’s apple. Not super pleasant. Nonetheless, we were still very excited!
When we got into the water, I expected to feel very cold right away. I was surprised that it actually took a while to feel cold. But once I did, man did my hands ache. Forty minutes in almost freezing water will do that to you, regardless of what type of suit you’re wearing. If it was just this, it would have still been worth it.
My issue with this was what I was rewarded with. The rocks under the water were a pretty green and aqua in color. We saw lots of rocks, at different depths and different shapes, strewn around in different ways. Some even had some algae clinging to them. But that was it. It was very cold water, and it was lots of rocks. There was no educational speech about how the continental divide was formed, or even what kind of rocks they were. It would have been really nice to have some information on what we were looking at, considering it was a unique geologic area.
This was again an okay experience, maybe worth doing once. But for me the price just wasn’t right. 150 dollars to swim for forty minutes in icy water and look at some rocks? It’s really questionable, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
Instead: Walk around in Þingvellir National Park. You can see into Silfra’s waters just fine from above, since the water is so clear. Even just stick your camera in for a quick picture if it’s waterproof. Then you can move on to the much bigger rock formations in the park, and even walk up to the waterfall Öxarárfoss that crashes over the old divide. The views from the top of these rock formations are beautiful, especially at sunset or sunrise. And it won’t cost you a dime.
Eating Fermented Shark
I know, I know. Where else are you going to try fermented shark? Or puffin? Or whale?? Alex and I ordered both fermented shark and dried fish at a restaurant in Vik. The waiter brought out the plate and sat it between us. I stared down at about ten small bits of fermented shark, and an entire bowl of dried fish that looked like a pale jerky.
Although hesitant, I tried the shark. Let me just walk you through what that experience was like for me. At first, it tasted very fishy, the way a fish does when it’s not first-day fresh. Then the salt came through. This was followed by a whopping flavor of cleaning product. I’m guessing this is whatever liquid they use to ferment it. Then the cleaning product taste turned almost meaty. It’s really hard to describe at that point. But the smell and taste carried up into my nasal cavity, where no amount of water or beer could wash it away. I hated it. And I am not one to shy away from new foods.
The dried fish was a little better in flavor. However, it was so dry and stiff that I had to yank on it to pull it apart and then chew it for forever, so much that my jaw ached.
So here’s my issue with eating these delicacies. After only a single bite of the shark and a few pieces of fish, the rest was left to go to waste. I stared down at the other eight pieces of fermented shark and thought about how that animal had completely gone to waste, just so that I could be revolted by its taste. If I didn’t already have a bad taste in my mouth, that would have done it. Luckily Alex was somehow more tolerant than me and gamely ate the majority of the remaining shark.
Instead: Try eating something that isn’t endangered or infamous, but that Icelanders still enjoy. We had some pretty delicious hot dogs from a place called Reykjavik Sausage Company that also had a delicious ice cream shop. Watch the locals order, then get it the same style. It was really good. There’s also other good seafood options in Reykjavik’s restaurants that you’ll actually enjoy and that will be really fresh.
At the end of our trip, we looked back on Iceland knowing we had an incredible time, even if some things weren’t worth the time or money. I think part of having a great trip is acknowledging that every choice you make won’t be 100% perfect. That is sometimes what makes it fun! Above all, don’t sweat your choices too much, and you’ll have a great time.
Did you do any of these things in Iceland? What did you think of it?