Selfie in Iceland

Why Iceland Didn’t Become My Favorite Country in the World

Since before I started traveling, I had Iceland and New Zealand as my top two destinations in the world. Then I got to Scotland and it quickly became my favorite country. It might not be a perfect country, but it certainly is the best one so far. The food, people, climate, dialect, nature and location come together to make a spectacular package. What could be better?

Then I started getting invitations for Trablin 2017 in Iceland. Trablin, short for Travel Bloggers and Influencers, is a new convention for influencers. I really wanted to get to their first-annual conference. Not just because attending influencer conventions is vital for bloggers, Instagrammers, vloggers, et al, but because it was taking place in Iceland! I just had one concern. Would Iceland pass up Scotland as my favorite country in the world?

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How Much for a Hotdog in Iceland?!

I’m no stranger to large figures for prices around the world. In Hungary, I was paying 1,325 for a hamburger, and a delicious eggs & salmon breakfast in Vientiane, Laos was a staggering 35,000! Yet it’s the conversion of those numbers that matter. The hamburger in Hungary came out to about $5, while the Laotian breakfast set me back $4.20.

When I got to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, I didn’t think much of the 8,100 price tag. I had pre-booked my tickets when setting up my travels and wasn’t looking at the conversion rates. Silly me!

It wasn’t until that night when I was running to catch my northern lights boat tour and stopped at a Subway to get a fast dinner that I found out just how expensive Iceland was. I ordered a foot-long sandwich. While it was being made, I went to xe.com to find out how much the 1,499 converted to. $14.25! OMG! I quickly realized one thing about Iceland. If this was considered one of the cheapest places to eat in the country, within a week I would be broke.

I quickly learned that the prices were equally high for other purchases. A night in a decent hostel was about $50, while a good hotel runs for more like $500 a night! It wasn’t uncommon to find meals in town for over $100 a plate. Just the round-trip bus ticket from the airport to Reykjavik is over $50!

Most of the travel hacks to stay within a budget (buying food at a market instead of a restaurant, sleeping in a hostel and hitchhiking) don’t get you very far in Iceland. Food in the stores is not much cheaper than the restaurants. I saw a bottle of water in one of the shops for $5, and a bag of chips was $4.

In contrast, Edinburgh is a far cheaper city to visit or live in. While considered one of the most expensive cities in the UK, a bottle of water is as little as $0.50, a night in a hostel can be found for $9, I’ve found car rentals for under $10 a day, and renting an apartment can be found for under $500 a month.

Hotdogs came to my rescue. There is a world-famous street food stand in the center of Reykjavik called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. They’ve had notable figures like Bill Clinton and Kim Kardashian try their hotdogs, and are advertised as the best hotdogs in the world. I don’t think I could call them the best in the world, but they are certainly above average with their lamb meat, fried onions and special sauce. And while they weren’t the best, they were certainly the cheapest meal in Iceland at only $3.80 a hot dog. I’ll admit I had dinner there more than once during my week in the country.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur Hotdogs

If money wasn’t a concern, I would probably be calling Iceland my favorite country in the world right now.

What Continent is Iceland On?

One thing that makes Scotland my favorite country is its global location. Not just beauty-wise, but for the convenience of travel. I can fly round-trip from Edinburgh to Los Angeles or Bangkok for under $500! That’s cheaper than the average domestic flight within the US. Better yet, there are destinations all across Europe where I can fly to for $25 each way!

It’s not to say there aren’t cheap flights from Iceland – many locations in Europe can still be reached for under $100 round trip. But Iceland is relatively remote, and longer trips (those not serviced by WOW Air) are significantly more expensive. There are only 20 countries you can fly round trip to for under $200 (as of today) compared to 46 countries from the UK.

I wouldn’t say it’s the price of the flights that turns me off, but rather just the feeling of being remote. Even in places like SE Asia or Albania, I still felt like I was either in a hub of activity or within easy travel of it. Perhaps Iceland just reminds me of how my mom lives in Montana, which is about as remote as you can get in the US – a full 12 hours to drive to the nearest decent city. Then again, Reykjavik is the only “decent city” in Iceland! Of course, that feels like an insult to Reykjavik, which I consider as a truly world-class city full of beauty, art, innovation and fun.

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But back to the question. What continent is Iceland on? When I was in the US, I was certain that Iceland was in Europe. However, I’ve met many Europeans who insisted it was part of North America. The truth? It’s on both continents! The Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) National Park contains the land split between North America and Europe. You can even take a tour with Reykjavik Sightseeing to scuba dive down in the trench between continents.

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While I suppose you could consider it being on both continents, I personally believe Iceland is its own little world. It feels like you’ve left planet Earth when you arrive. Perhaps that’s what gives it the remote feeling. While I love that aspect, for my favorite country I prefer it to be slightly more centrally located.

What’s Wrong with Iceland?

So, other than being expensive and kinda out of the way, what’s wrong with Iceland? Nothing! It is a truly incredible country. While I’m staying true to saying that Scotland is my favorite country in the world, it would be a lie not to say that Iceland is the most beautiful country in the world. Between the waterfalls, volcanos, northern lights, thermal springs, glaciers, lava fields, ice caves and puffins, it’s simply stunning. I’d be happy to spend a full year exploring every gorgeous location in the country. After all, some of my favorite Game of Thrones scenes were filmed here. Someday I might even make it to the cave where…yeah, you know the one.

What about the people? In three words – friendly, beautiful and fun. I personally didn’t have a single bad moment of hospitality in the week I was in the country. I did hear a couple stories from two other influencers about trouble they were running into, but from knowing those people, I don’t believe the fault was with the Icelanders.

They were always happy, welcoming and ready to have fun. And yeah, they look like remnants out of some Greek myth. Muscular men and beautiful, blonde woman, both of which affect the fashion of long hair. There was some mention that Icelanders have a problem with being overweight, but that wasn’t readily observable in Reykjavik. However, if you look at some of the meals they eat, well, perhaps that might account for something. Maybe someday I’ll try their jellied sheep heads and sour ram testicles. Maybe…

And the climate? Well, I went in November and it was freezing. I got to witness the first snow that Reykjavik received in two years. More than that, I drove back from one of my excursions in a blizzard that pushed a tour bus off the road (an extremely rare occurrence, don’t let it put you off from visiting). I personally loved the adventure of it as my 4×4 slid from side to side on the road. I also got to see the northern lights three days in a row, and one of them was deemed the best display all year! While they can be elusive, they are seen often enough that locals consider them commonplace and hardly notice them anymore.

When it comes to tourism, Iceland really sets the stage! Every tourist attraction I went to was under renovations to improve facilities. I can think of a lot of places (I’m looking at you, Isle of Skye) which could really learn a thing or two from the tourism industry of Iceland. However, there is one serious problem with tourism there. The tourists! Some of them can be really uncaring for the landscape (moss takes decades to grow back, Justin Bieber) and getting your car stuck on a glacier several times consecutively is just plain rude in any country. Before you go, please read The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland: Tips, tricks, and what the Icelanders really think of you by Alda Sigmundsdottir. In fact, you should read that book before traveling to any country in the world.

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I still love the Scottish accent the best, but Iceland also has a really nice language to listen to. It’s always good to learn some words in the native language before going to a new country. Here’s a great karaoke video you can use to gain a bit of knowledge of Icelandic.

There was one fact about Iceland which certainly put it above every other country in the world, particularly Scotland and Thailand which are two of my favorite countries. Unlike those countries which are infested with mosquitoes, roaches (Thailand), mice and other insects and vermin, Iceland has none of that. Absolutely none. Not one insect! Perhaps my favorite conversation on the island was in the taxi on my way back to the airport. I commented to the cabby how I loved that Iceland had no insects. He said “No what?” Haha! He honestly was unfamiliar with the word!

Would I Return to Iceland?

In a heartbeat! I’m already making plans to visit in May. This time, I want to see the waterfalls in the summer surrounded by green. I want to jump into the secret hot spring lagoons. I want to take the drive around the whole country. I want to ride the Icelandic horses, explore Diamond Beach and snorkel in the Silfra fissure between continents. Hopefully I’ll even get to try some home cooking with the locals. I’m wondering if they plan to secretly serve me those dishes mentioned above, but I did already make it through the whale testicle beer from Steðja.

What about you? Have you been to Iceland? Did it become your favorite country? Many of the travelers I talked to said it did. If you haven’t been, I hope you can make it soon. Just make sure you start saving up for the trip now. After all, it’s so worth it!

Oh, and if you don’t think that Iceland is the most beautiful country in the world, just remember that The Mountain comes from Iceland…

Other Activities in Iceland

Fancy luxuriating in one of the most beautiful thermal pools in the world? How about a trip to the Blue Lagoon!

Ever wanted to see the northern lights? Follow this link to learn the best tips for catching the elusive display.

Did you know that Iceland has the largest ice and lava caves in the world? Read my story about Reykjavik Sightseeing’s Into Ice and Lava tour.

Need to visit Iceland on a budget? Read about what it’s like to stay at the Loft Hostel.

Planning to Visit Iceland?

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Since before I started traveling, I had Iceland and New Zealand as my top two destinations in the world. Then I got to Scotland and it quickly became my favorite country. It might not be a perfect country, but it certainly is the best one so far. The food, people, climate, dialect, nature and location come together to make a spectacular package. What could be better? Then I started getting invitations for Trablin 2017 in Iceland. Trablin, short for Travel Bloggers and Influencers, is a new convention for influencers. I really wanted to get to their first-annual conference. Not just because…

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22 comments

  1. Thank you for being so open about this! I’ve seen that Iceland became pretty big this year with bloggers, but I’ve always known that it is pretty expensive. I wasn’t wrong, apparently! $100 on a meal and $500 per night for a hotel? It’s honestly insane!

    • Yeah, there are definitely ways to get by on a budget, but not easily, and I didn’t really explore them while I was there so I can’t exactly write that blog post. But I do hope you can make it someday.

  2. OK so I have yet to go to Iceland. I will be avoiding the Whale Testicle beer at all costs. And, to be honest, I’m not sure about the Blue Lagoon. But the Scenery is something else and I am guessing I really need to get myself there. I’m pleased you love Scotland so much (my family is from Mull, a Western Isle).

    • Haha. I usually would have avoided that beer myself, but it was a free sample, and I like to try new experiences, as long as they don’t harm me. Feel free to read my post on the Blue Lagoon. I’m jealous you’re from Mull. I might have been named after the Isle of Skye, but that’s as far as my claim to being Scottish goes.

  3. OK so I have yet to go to Iceland. I will be avoiding the Whale Testicle beer at all costs. And, to be honest, I’m not sure about the Blue Lagoon. But the Scenery is something else and I am guessing I really need to get myself there. I’m pleased you love Scotland so much (my family is from Mull, a Western Isle).

    • Haha. I usually would have avoided that beer myself, but it was a free sample, and I like to try new experiences, as long as they don’t harm me. Feel free to read my post on the Blue Lagoon. I’m jealous you’re from Mull. I might have been named after the Isle of Skye, but that’s as far as my claim to being Scottish goes.

  4. I’ve read way too many posts on Iceland and I just have to go there now. I’m afraid it has suddenly become such a popular destination that people are going to crowd there, did you find it crowded when you visited? I’ve heard it’s super expensive but also damn pretty, unlike any other place in the world! I guess I’ll have to see it for myself. I’ll survive on hot dogs, i am sure it’ll be worth it 🙂

    • You absolutely have to visit. It wasn’t that crowded when I went, but that was in November which tends to be a slightly less busy month. I heard April and May are the best for fewer crowds. The hot dogs are certainly worth it!

  5. I LOVED Iceland, but yes, travel here comes at quite an expense! We did a day road trip around the ring road and were averaging $100 in gas a day. It was pretty intense – but so worthwhile – Iceland is my favorite country in the world, because as nature enthusiasts we were blown away by the landscapes, and the accessibility of incredible natural wonders. Also the lack of tourism once you got outside the main cities and attractions and forged your own path 🙂

    • $100 in gas a day is crazy! I had a car rental but didn’t use it that much. Most of my time in the country was on tours. Next time I’ll have to explore further away from Reykjavik where there are fewer tourists.

  6. Budget traveling is the key to enjoy the country I am concluding. I guess the sudden spurt of tourists there made them hike up the prices. It is indeed beautiful and as a traveler and as tourist Iceland is high on my list.

  7. Well written and very informative article. Wow! I know travelling in Europe is expensive but Iceland is really expensive. I also learned that its located in both North America and Europe. I thought its just part of Europe. I want to see the Aurora, its one of my ultimate dreams. Iceland is so beautiful l actually watched the karaoke video. So beautiful country! Would love to visit someday!

  8. Oh, of course if money isn’t an issue, I would definitely visit Iceland, after all, it’s Iceland. Right? haha One best things to love a specific place or country is the people. If the people passed your interest in this certain place then you’d love almost everything about it. People are fun and beautiful you say, I believe you’re right! Filipinos have a similar character as them, very welcoming but not that a bit overweight! I’m kind of thinking of booking a flight next year, to Iceland! Yay!

    • I certainly hope you do book that flight. Perhaps I’ll even be in the Philippines while you’re in Iceland, as I plan to visit in 2018. But I also plan to return to Iceland next year too. Yeah, the Icelanders I met were really fun.

  9. I completely understand about how it is expensive it is in Iceland, it is crazy, but have to been to Norway? As it is just as expensive! I love Iceland in the summer as it is beautiful, if it’s not raining. I’m from the UK, so I’m very happy to hear your favourite country is Scotland. Enjoy your travels.

    • Norway is actually one of my last countries in Europe to visit, and I’ve always heard it (and Switzerland) were the most expensive countries in the world. I’m kinda dreading them, especially after Iceland! Edinburgh is my home base, and I absolutely love it here. Would definitely be hard to call another place better. 🙂

  10. I visited Iceland December last year and yes its pretty much expensive there, but i did love and enjoy my time and lookinf forward to visiting during summer!

  11. authenticfoodquest

    It’s incredible to read just how expensive the food is. Glad you were able to find decent hotdogs at $3.80. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful country and one that I would love to explore. By the way, good to know that Iceland is on two continents 🙂

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