If you go to Reykjavik in September…
Pack warm clothes!
Not your whole winter wardrobe, but it’s true what they say – layers are the best solution. Comfortable T-shirts, jerseys, cardigans, stretchy sweaters or hoodies, plenty of socks, waterproof coats. Absolute musts: a hat or two (if you’ll have to wear one every day, you might feel like a fresh one at some point); a scarf (or two), gloves and, yes, leg-warmers. I used to think I would only use these as part of an 80s costume, but then a friend clued me in on the real thing during a cold Hamburg winter when the local wind seemed to reach my ankles no matter what I wore. It might be either chilly, or windy, or both in Reykjavik at this time of year, and you can always take them off if it gets warm. They work well with both sneakers and boots, and they are easy to pack while you’re out on a tour or walking around the city. Bottom line: get all this together and test it out at home before the trip. Shopping for suitable outfits and gear in the city is possible, but it will take time and it’s also very expensive.
Everyone’s different, but I would not recommend putting on anything other than sneakers or worn-in, low-heeled boots for walking around the city. Hiking or outdoor shoes are a must. Obviously they can also be used for getting around Reykjavik, which is sometimes quite hilly, but mine, for example, were a bit too heavy for that. If you go out of the city to take in the fantastic scenery Iceland has or trek around during the Golden Circle Tour, there is no other option than hiking boots. This became especially obvious as soon as we were walking between the tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park or making our way to the Gulfloss Waterfall. The terrain underfoot changed at intervals, and I heard more than one person lamenting their sneakers slipped on rocky outcrops or natural steps one had to clamber up. Be safe!
It’s in the bag!
A backpack with firm, wide straps that don’t cut in to your shoulders, padded back and easy to reach pockets on either side for a water bottle and an umbrella could become your best friend while walking around (after the shoes, of course). Unless you stop for a meal, you might not take it off for a while, just reach for those pockets, so make sure it doesn’t feel like it’s dragging you down backwards.
And a few other useful things to know…
Somewhat by chance I read on a blog before my trip that tap water was safe for drinking in Iceland and that there was no reason to buy bottled water. It was one of the first things I saw on a sign in the airport and in my hotel room. And it’s true! The water is clean and obviously it’s a great way to save money if you do treat yourself to a meal out – just ask for tap water. In many cafes and restaurants you’ll see a counter or a shelf with filled jugs standing at the ready.
Based on this first experience in Reykjavik and around it, women traveling alone can be assured that getting around is comfortable and safe. I wasn’t stared at or approached in any unwanted way. In fact, the only time it did happen was with a group of foreign football fans who were insisting on getting my attention even if I thought I was being clear about wanting to be left alone. True, during this trip I didn’t go out in the evening, because I was simply tired out from walking so much, so I don’t know what the situation is there, but it felt very natural to stop and sit somewhere by myself for as long as I wanted, whether outside or inside, no questions asked. There were plenty of other women of various ages doing the same.
Not just museums offer guided tours, but also various other places – check websites and book a few if you like to do that sort of thing. In most cases the tours are done by locals and it’s inspiring to hear how much they know about the place in question, as well as Iceland in general.
Nature and the unique Icelandic environment are treated with and spoken about with deep respect. This leaves a lasting impression.
The Reykjavik City Card is your ticket for local bus transport and it covers many local museums that round off discovering Iceland’s history.
Download a currency converter app on your phone! This will come in handy when you stop in front of a shop, transfixed by a pair of shoes that turn out to cost 10 times more than your last shopping trip to H&M.
Locals make a calm, relaxed impression. Any question you might have has most likely been asked by someone before you and the FAQ sections on any Icelandic websites you might be using to plan your trip are worth checking out. Otherwise, if you have any particular questions, which often happens in the case of booking a transfer, for example, someone usually gets back to you quickly.
Booking a transfer to and from Keflavik Airport is recommended. It’ll spare you time and effort, as taxi prices might be unpredictable and the whole transfer industry in general is very well organized. Pick-ups can be booked for any time, which was a blessing when I had to get up at 4 AM to catch my flight. The larger transfer companies also have desks right in the arrivals hall in the airport, so you can organize that right there, though it is better to book in advance! Allow time for getting through the airport after arrival and upon departure. It may not be too big, but it gets busy.
Think carefully before you buy a book of spells.
Educate yourself about Icelandic runes and bring back a nice souvenir with a suitable symbol.
And above all, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.