Ernie Chiara

Boston-based writer, artist, and father of three extraordinarily unique children.

The Best Inexpensive Souvenirs from Reykjavík, Iceland

My wife, Kim, and I just got back from vacation to Iceland and I wanted to share our idea for souvenirs.

First off, Iceland is gorgeous. It was the best trip of our lives. If you want to check out some pics from our trip, they’re here in my Instagram feed.

Okay, back to the souvenirs. Gifts in Iceland are SUPER EXPENSIVE. Expect to pay 150-250% more for things than you’d pay at gift shops here in the US. For example, t-shirts in most souvenir shops in Reykjavík were priced at around 4000 ISK, or around $40 USD each.

By comparison, I’m going to show you how we made a dozen, much more meaningful gifts for $6 USD. Total. For all 12 gifts.

How, you might ask?

First off, take some sandwich sized ziplock bags with you while sightseeing. Okay, I didn’t include ziplock bags in the $6 total, but c’mon guys, who doesn’t have ziplock bags? I mean, seriously. Moving on.

Second, assuming you’re visiting Reynisfjara black sand beach while you’re there, which should be at or near the top of your to-do list (it’s breathtaking), scoop up some sand into your ziplock bag and toss it into your backpack or pocket or purse or wherever. Fill your socks for all I care. The point is to take some sand back.

I don’t know how Iceland would feel about doing this, but there’s, like, a beach full of sand, guys, so don’t give me the business about taking a baggie’s worth home. If you think this is a bad idea, feel free to find some other post about inexpensive Iceland souvenirs. If you’re still reading, I’m going to assume you don’t have a problem with bringing some sand home. And, by the way, they sell it in gift shops, so I don’t think they mind very much. We’re just cutting out the middleman here.

So, on to the next step. After you’ve enjoyed the amazing Reynisfjara beach, taken pictures in the enormous Hálsanefshellir caves along the beach, and basked in the glory of the Reynisdrangar basalt sea stacks situated under the mountain Reynisfjall right alongside the beach, get back in your car, hop back on your tour bus, or mount your dragon or whatever—but, regardless of your means of transportation, the important thing is to not forget your baggie of that black sand.

The ride back to Reykjavík is a long one, and there are plenty more things to see and do along the way. There are several gorgeous waterfalls, an active geyser, even the Mid-Atlantic Ridge valley, which marks the division between the Eurasian Plate and North American tectonic plates. Suffice it to say, it’ll be a trip you’ll remember for the rest of your life. But we’re here to talk about the souvenirs, right? Right.

So, on the way back to Reykjavík you’ll be driving past miles and miles of lava fields covered in moss. Along the way there are dozens of spots on the side of the road where you can pull off, take pictures, read the plaques that explain what you’re looking at, and snap some pictures of yourself on this seemingly alien world (they filmed The Martian here for good reason, folks). If you’re taking a tour bus, at some point your bus will stop at one of these spots. Or, if you’ve rented a car, you can pull off anywhere you like, whenever you like. You’ll want to do this a LOT, since there’s so much to see.

Okay, the next step in our souvenir-making process is, at one of these rest areas along Route 1, take a picture of the plaque so you have that info for later, then whip out a couple more of your handy sandwich bags.

Look down. See those lava rocks? Toss a dozen walnut-sized ones into your baggies. Don’t worry, they’re literally the only rocks under your feet. The entire place is made out of the stuff, so everywhere you walk, you’re standing on them. They won’t miss a dozen small rocks. Anyway, if you don’t agree, see my comments above regarding the sand.

Right, then. You have your sand. You have some lava rocks. You’re back in business. Enjoy the whole rest of your trip. Check out The Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík, go through the ice caves beneath the Perlan museum, walk behind the waterfall at Seljalandsfoss, be sure to check out the 360° view from the top of the Dyrhólaey promontory, get the lamb tenderloin dinner at Harry’s Restaurant (this is a top tip for best hole-in-the-wall, no-frills local restaurant with amazing food at reasonable prices), and try the fish and chips at Icelandic Fish & Chips (it’s not just a clever name).

Just about everyone in Iceland speaks perfect English, but, of course, their first language is Icelandic (do I really have to mention this?). My point is, while they’re happy to speak to us in our own language, while you’re there it’s a good idea to make an effort to learn a few words in theirs. It’s not hard, and you’d be surprised how warmly your efforts will be received. Thanks is “takk’ (pronounced like “Mach 1”, but without the 1, you silly goose). Goodbye is “bless” (pronounced like “bless”, as if you really needed my help with that one). And hello is “hallo” (pronounced like the Hawaiian “mahalo” but without the “ma”).

Now that that’s out of the way, if you’re feeling rather spiritual as you’re zipping up your baggies of sand and rocks, you can say “takk” to the spirit of the land for sharing a piece of itself with you and your gifts’ recipients.

Let’s fast forward to when you’re back home from vacation. Still not unpacked? No worries, me neither. But, at this point, you’ll need to pull out those ziplock bags from your luggage. We washed the lava rocks off with some dish detergent, but I suppose you don’t have to.

Got your sandwich bag of black sand? Got your dozen walnut-sized lava rocks? Great. Now, get a dozen 1/2 pint mason jars. We got these at Walmart for $6. You can use any jars you like. Spend more if you want. Splurge on fancy Ball jars if that’s more your style. Hell, you’re already saving $480 on a dozen of those gift shop t-shirts you didn’t buy.

Now, I bet you can see where this is going. Yes, fill each jar with a bit of sand and toss in a rock. Seal the jar and, tada, you’re done.

The only other step I’d recommend, if you really want to add a personalized touch to your gift, is to print out some labels to put on the lids. Remember I told you to take a picture of the plaque where you got the rocks? Great. Flip through your pics and find the one of that plaque, then copy the text into whatever software you use to print labels. No, I didn’t include the price of labels in the $6 either, but they’re not really necessary, and I already had printable label sheets at home, so it didn’t cost me anything to make them.

So, there you have it. A dozen gifts from the heart. All for $6 plus the cost of a few ziplock bags and a label sheet. Now you can give them out to your loved ones with a picture of Reynisfjara beach and the lava field your rocks came from. You can tell them you got the sand and rock with your own two hands just for them, so they could have a small piece of Iceland for their very own.

By the way, on our first day in Reykjavík, we walked through several gift shops, and all of them were selling lava rocks in little boxes for around 2000 ISK, or $20 USD each—and upwards of 5000 ISK ($50 USD) for some larger ones. I didn’t know any better at first, but I’m glad we didn’t buy any, because as soon as we drove a mile outside the city and saw nothing but lava fields as far as the eye could see, I laughed to myself at the 100% markup those gift shops were getting on souvenir rocks.

Enjoy your time in Iceland—it’ll be the best trip of your life. But, spend your money on the things you really want to do and see, help protect Iceland’s nature and environment by supporting Landvernd—Iceland’s non-profit environmental and nature conservation organization, don’t try the whale meat at restaurants (here’s why), and definitely don’t waste your money on overpriced tchotchkes and t-shirts for souvenirs.

Get you some sandwich bags, folks.

 

 

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