Iceland is a dream destination for many travelers, but it’s easier and more affordable than ever to get there. Solo female travel in Iceland is also growing increasingly popular, as it’s one of the safest and friendliest countries in the world. From the touristy-but-still-amazing Blue Lagoon to the lunar landscapes, here’s why you should travel to Iceland solo in 2016.
1. Flights to Iceland are Short and Affordable
If you live in Boston or Baltimore, you can fly to Iceland on WOW Air for as little as $99 each way. BUT there’s a catch – you’ll have to pay for everything additional on a WOW flight, like an advanced seat assignment, check bag and even a carry on bag unless you pack ridiculously light.
Coming from somewhere else? IcelandAir has great fare sales, and allows a free stopover, meaning you can stop in Iceland for a few days for free while on your way to another European city. IcelandAir flies from Anchorage, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Seattle and Washington D.C.
In November, I took a solo trip to Iceland and traveled one of the legs on IcelandAir and the other on WOW (my flights were around $300 total). I have to say that flying WOW was pretty painless. I wasn’t happy to spend $48 on my bag on the way back, but the price was still ridiculously affordable so I can’t complain too much! In fact, I’m flying them again to Paris next month.
SIDE NOTE: If you’re curious to know how I’m always in the know about all these cheap flights, my tips and tricks can be found in my FREE 22-page eBook: How I Afford to Travel the World.
I traveled to Iceland the week of Veteran’s Day in the U.S. When I found out I had that Wednesday off, I booked an overnight flight for Tuesday night after work and took off Thursday and Friday so I could spend five days there.
2. Solo Female Travel in Iceland is Safe and Easy
While I’ve traveled alone to meet up with friends, or spent a portion of certain trips on my own (like 48 hours in Marrakech, Morocco), Iceland was the first destination I visited completely solo for five days.
The idea of traveling alone appealed to me because of the freedom it would allow. After traveling with multiple family members, friends, significant others and friends of friends, I’ve realized that I have more energy than most while I’m on the go. I don’t need to nap or take breaks, and I tend to wake up early and want to get going immediately. I totally get that most people prefer a slower pace, and usually I’m fine with a compromise, but it was just fantastic to be able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
No one was annoyed that I was spending too much time taking photos for my blog, I didn’t have to worry about a travel buddy getting tired as I dragged them to multiple destinations in a day, and I never had to wait for someone else to finish getting ready – or to be hungry before I could eat lunch (major)!
I never felt unsafe while I was alone in Iceland. Pretty much everyone speaks English and is happy to help if you’re lost. And most tour companies will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel so you can’t get lost.
3. It’s Really Not that Cold!
“Iceland in winter? You’re going to freeze!” – the typical response when I told friends and family that I’d be heading to Iceland in mid-November. However, despite the winter season, Iceland actually wasn’t that cold. While I was definitely thankful for my toasty parka, thermally-rated boots and cozy hat, Iceland isn’t colder than northeastern U.S. cities like Boston, Chicago and New York. The temperature in Reykjavik typically hovers around 32F in the winter, which sounds almost tropical to me after the 8 degree day we had in Boston this week (and let’s not forget about the “Polar Vortex”).
4. The Landscapes in Iceland are Unreal
If all you did in Iceland was drive around, you’d still have a great time. Seriously, everywhere you’ll look you’ll find something stunning.
While many people recommend renting a car and doing a road trip, as a solo traveler in Iceland who isn’t very experienced behind the wheel (#CityGirlProblems) I felt more comfortable booking group tours. Viator offers some of the most budget-friendly tours, including Iceland’s most popular road trip, the Golden Circle. This tour takes you to Pingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the geysers. Typically I’d hate traveling on a huge tour bus, but since I was visiting Iceland in the “off season,” the bus wasn’t even full. Since Iceland is so expensive, I was willing to hop on a bus to save cash for more adventurous excursions.
If you prefer small group tours, there are also plenty of options that are more expensive. I’d recommend a mix of both, as the small group tours are better for meeting people if you’re traveling solo in Iceland, while the bus tours will keep you from spending your entire life savings.
And let’s not forget about the Northern Lights. I’m not going to lie: if you’re there on a low activity night, the Northern Lights are kinda “meh” and you’re likely to spend a lot of time standing out in the cold, craning your neck to look up at the sky while you wait for them to appear. I didn’t love the Viator tour I booked because we didn’t see anything, it was freezing and there were way too many people on the tour (four busloads in one spot). Make sure you check the aurora forecast before you head out, and if you want to get one of the amazing Northern Lights pictures you’ve seen on Instagram, you’ll need a fancy camera (DSLR with a lens capable of a wide aperture, and a tripod).
I wouldn’t recommend spending money on a Northern Lights tour, like I did my first night in Iceland. It’s pricey and you’re not guaranteed to see anything. And there are so many cool tours you can spend your hard-earned money on in Iceland! Instead, there’s a lighthouse in Reykjavik that you can take a public bus to for a good chance of catching them. Just ask a local resident how to get there! I went with a girl I met in my hostel one night and was able to see some activity.
You can also get friendly with other travelers you meet in the hopes that they’ll invite you along in a rented car to hunt for the Lights. Yes, I’m recommending you travel in to the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night with strangers. Things like this are normal in Iceland!
5. You Can Swim Outside, Even When It’s Freezing Cold
Everyone who wants to visit Iceland has heard of the Blue Lagoon, the famed geothermal spa where you can float in blue water in the middle of a snowy landscape. However, you might not know that there are many opportunities to go swimming in Iceland, even in the dead of winter. So pack your swimsuit (or two)!
One of the highlights of my trip was the Hot Springs Hunt, a small group tour with Arctic Adventures, where we hiked to a hot spring with a guide who was from the north of Iceland. While changing into my bikini outside and running across the icy ground was pretty painful, jumping into the piping hot river in Reykjadalur and spending a couple hours swimming in the middle of the mountains was incredible. For a solo traveler the Arctic Adventures tour was a great option: the guide was awesome, as were my friendly fellow hikers, and I wasn’t the only solo person in attendance.
Swimming in heated pools year-round is a tradition in Iceland, and after work you’ll find local pools packed with people relaxing and chatting. I decided to check one of the pools in Reykjavik, Vesturbaejarlaug, one night to get a feel for the “real Iceland” since most of my activities during my five-day trip were on organized tours. I wound up meeting three other Americans there – all of whom were traveling solo and had met that day! It was pretty cool and further illustrates that Iceland is the perfect destination for solo travelers.
photo source: Foursquare
On my last day in Iceland, I finally visited the Blue Lagoon on my way to the airport. While the Blue Lagoon is extremely touristy, expensive and crowded, I have to say it was still worth it. It’s definitely more of a spa-like atmosphere than the outdoor and local pools, and really is quite beautiful.
A few tips for visiting the Blue Lagoon:
- Make a reservation in advance, on their website, or else you might not get in. Since I visited in winter, I was able to do it the night before but it might be more difficult during high season.
- If you have to catch a flight in the afternoon or evening, you’re better off going earlier than later. There can be long lines (unless you buy a more expensive package that lets you skip the line).
- You’ll have to shower without your swimsuit before entering the Blue Lagoon. After changing into my bikini in the middle of the mountains and showering at the pool the day before with Reykjavik locals, I was fully prepared for this. But I noticed other Americans were having a near heart attack when they realized they were going to have to derobe and rinse off in front of all the other ladies in the locker room. I was thankful that I’d had the chance to do this earlier in the week surrounded by only Europeans – they didn’t even know that I was half freaking out about it inside! I felt slightly superior as I tossed my clothes aside and headed toward the shower like it was nothing while everyone else was panicking. But seriously: it’s not a big deal. We’ve all pretty much got the same things going on underneath.
6. Icelandic Horses are the Cutest
Seriously, they’re chubby and short and all around adorable. Plus, they’re super well-behaved, so if you’ve been scared to try riding a horse, I recommend you test it out in Iceland.
7. Reykjavik is Charming – and Fun!
Reykjavik is pretty tiny compared to other European capitals, but it still has plenty to offer. On my first day, I booked a walking tour of the city with the lovely Auður, blogger behind I Heart Reykjavik, a site I had read for hours while planning my trip. Her tour was a great introduction to the city and its history, with plenty of the dry humor Icelanders are known for mixed in! I loved that she also shared personal anecdotes, along with her favorite spots for dining and grabbing a drink, and offered to bring me a SIM card so my phone would work in Iceland.
On weekends, Reykjavik has a pretty rowdy nightlife scene that doesn’t wind down until the wee hours of the morning. Worried that you’ll have no one to go out with? Don’t be! I sat at the hostel bar on Saturday night and within twenty minutes had joined a group of traveling friends on their night out. And while we were out, we picked up two other solo travelers who had been brave enough to venture out to other bars on their own already.
My favorite spot was Kiki Queer Bar, a gay bar with really fun music that seemed to be very popular with straight people, and a place that I can’t remember the name for reggae night. Reggae night in Iceland? Yes, it’s a thing. You can find all kinds of music in Reykjavik, where the major Iceland Airwaves Music Festival had just wrapped up before my trip.
8. You Can Go to Bed Early and Wake Up Refreshed For Early Morning Tours
While I had a blast going out with random people I’d just met in Reykjavik one night, one of the reasons I loved traveling solo in Iceland was that I could go to bed early whenever I wanted. I’d grab a drink at the Kex Hostel bar, chat with whoever was around and then find myself reading in bed by 10pm. I’ll save my energy for the daylight hours when I’d rather be up and about snapping photos!
In the winter, it’s dark until around 9:30am in Iceland. So if I stayed out late, dragging myself out of bed at 7:30am to make an 8:00am tour bus pick up was a struggle.
9. You’ll Save Money on Eating Out If You’re Traveling Solo in Iceland
One of the other great things about traveling alone in Iceland? You don’t have to make meals a thing. Don’t get me wrong: I love eating out. But restaurant food in Iceland is just ridiculously expensive. I did go out for dinner twice, once at Tacobarinn (yep, there are good tacos in Iceland!) and once at The Laundromat Cafe because I’d just loved it so much when I visited Copenhagen I couldn’t not go. But for the rest of the trip, I was eating convenience store sandwiches and, I’m not ashamed to admit it, Domino’s pizza. There’s a Domino’s strategically located next to Kex Hostel, and if you’re there I highly recommend a visit. The pizza is pretty good and they have a whole menu of gourmet flavors we don’t even have in the U.S.!
So there you have it…. while five days wasn’t nearly enough to explore the entire country of Iceland, it was the perfect destination for a first-time solo traveler like me and left me with plenty of time to get to know Reyjkavik and check out some really amazing nature things. So what do you think: have I convinced you to travel solo to Iceland in 2016?
Questions about Iceland or other travel destinations? Get your questions answered in the Weekend Jetsetters group on Facebook!