Planning a Trip to Iceland – Highlights of our Icelandic Trip
It seems that everyone is going to Iceland these days and I don’t blame them – it is a beautiful country! Victor and I went there in 2013 (you can see pictures here) and loved it so much that this July we planned a trip there with the girls! A lot of my friends have been asking me details of our trip so here is a post about it. Make sure to scroll all the way to the end of the post for detailed logistical info – tours, restaurants, etc.
First time we were in Iceland we spent close to 2 weeks there – there is definitely is enough to see there. This time around it was a shorter trip – we took advantage of IcelandAir free stopover in Reykjavik and spent three nights in Iceland before heading to Paris for the second part of the trip. We absolutely love this free stop-over deal – you get two vacations in one – what’s not to love about it?! So if you have not yet, I highly recommend you join their mailing list because they have some pretty amazing deals there from time to time.
We rarely travel to Europe in the summer (last time we did that was for our honeymoon back in 2003) and I forgot how crowded and busy everything is. So if you are traveling during high season I definitely recommend booking everything in advance. One of Iceland’s most famous tourist sites is Blue Lagoon – yes it is very touristy and can get crowded but I highly recommend going there – it is pretty amazing being in a hot thermal lagoon with a silica mask on your face surrounded by beautiful scenery. You can buy tickets to the lagoon in advance and I am glad we did – by the time I thought about buying tickets there was only one time slot left!
We took a red eye and got to Reykjavik nice and early – at 7 AM! At the airpot we took a cab and headed straight to Blue Lagoon:
We were a bit jet-lagged and it felt wonderful relaxing in hot water.. I almost fell asleep there (I was THAT relaxed) – good thing that my family loves me because they did not leave me behind:) When I booked our tickets I also made a reservation at Lava Restaurant – their a la carte restaurant with a new lagoon view. The food was really good there so if you are looking for a nice way to start (or end) your Icelandic vacation I definitely recommend checking it out.
After lunch, all relaxed and refreshed and a bit groggy we took a cab and headed to Reyjavik to our first ever AirBnB. We’ve never stayed at an AirBnB before – I am always caucoius about staying event at B&Bs in the US) but a friend of a friend recommended it, it had great reviews so we decided to give the world of AirBnBs a try. It worked out well – the place was in the center, was really charming (and I don’t use the word ‘charming’ as a code name for ‘tiny’ or ‘old’) and came with a really chatty owner who lived upstairs.
we checked out Hallgrimskirkja, had dinner, were amazed by how light it was at 11 PM at night (we’ve never experienced white nights before) and called it a day!
Next day we were up bright and early and ready for a Puffing Watching/Sea Angling Tour that I booked back in the US with Happy Tours company. I just had to book this tour because this company had amazing reviews on tripadvisor and after taking the tour I can definitely see why – it was AWESOME! A traditional small fishing boat with a captain and his first mate – his daughter – and there was only one more family besides us! I was not that impressed with the puffin watching portion (not in any way fault of the tour company) – who knew that puffins were so tiny? – not me! But fishing was amazing and definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We don’t fish and don’t know much about the fish and I was worried that we would not be able to contribute our fishing share to the communal lunch that we were to have at the end of the tour. But boy was I wrong! Mia caught the biggest fish of the day – a 13 lbs cod and Alexa followed a close second. Victor caught fish and even I caught a few. The girls had a blast touching fish, learning about fish, touching fish guts and eyes – as Alexa said to me – they are not ‘girly girls’. And after all the fish was caught and filleted (right on the boat) the girls threw fish remainders to the sea gulls who followed our boat – it was pretty awesome. And then we all enjoyed super yummy lunch of grilled freshly caught (by us!) fish eaten in the harbor right on our boat!
After fishing me made our way ‘uptown’ – a nice 30 min walk. I’ve never see as much street art as I have in Reyjkavik – it is absolutely stunning and it is EVERYWHERE! It really is a very colorful city and we loved meandering there.
Next day was the Golden Circle day. I think everybody who comes to Iceland visits the Golden Circle and there is a reason for that – it is very close to Reykjavik – I think the whole loop takes only a few hours – and there are pretty awesome sights on the way. If you are not a fan of driving yourself then you can definitely take a tour – there are lots of tour companies that offer them. But we, not being bus tour people, opted out and instead rented a car for a day at the Golden Circle.
We drove through Þingvellir national park and stood on North American and Euroasian continental tectonic plates (all at the same time!)
we saw Geyser erupt at irregular intervals:
we stood by Gullfoss waterfall and watched it in awe:
we walked all over Kerið crater (those three dots on the right of the image are Victor, Mia and Alexa)
and we drove through amazing scenery full of sheep and horses:
and in the evening we had another amazing meal and decided that we should come back to Iceland again!
If you are planning a trip to Iceland here is some practical info that I hope you will find useful:
we got our car from SixT – they were nice and professional with
- Grillmarkaðurinn -we loved it so much in 2013 that we decided to go back to it this summer. You definitely need a reservation and I would recommend making it in advance. I booked it a week in advance and the only time they had available was at 9 PM!
- Sjávargrillið – another place we loved from out last trip – and this time around it did not dispapoint – despite a pretty slow service. I would recommend making a reservation there as well.
- Braud & Co – a great bakery – it was so good that we went there twice in just three short days we spent in Reykjavik!
- Lava Restaurant – a fun place for lunch at the Blue Lagoon
What To Bring
From what I know it never gets really hot in Iceland – even in the middle of the summer. When we were here in September it was around 50 degrees and when we were here in July it was around 55 degrees. So pack accordingly!
We’ve only got one tour – Sea Angling and booked it through Happy Tours – they were wonderful!
Where to Stay
Last time we stayed at a hotel (don’t remember the name of it ) and this time we stayed at an AirBnB. T
The most economical way to get to/from Reykavik and Blue Lagoon is by bus – they run every 30 min or so. We were running late this time around and took a taxi but took a bus back to the airport last time. dr A word of warning – depending on the exchange rate Iceland can be expensive – more expensive than New York. When we were there in 2013 dollar was pretty strong against Icelandic krona so things were cheaper than in New York. But this time around the $/krona exchange rate was not favorable and as result everything was more expensive than in New York – for example – a 20 min taxi ride from the airport to Blue Lagoon was around $80. If you end up renting a car there to drive yourself around you can arrange to return it at the airport, which is what we did. It does cost more returning it at the airport but it is convenient and you save $ on a taxi going back to the airport.
I highly recommend visiting it. Blue Lagoon is located outside of Reykjavik close (ish)to the airport so most everybody goes there either on the way from the airport or on the way to the airport. We’ve done both (first time on the way out and last time on the way in) and both were fine. They are set up for tourists – you can check in your luggage, lock your valuables, rent robes and towels, etc. Between getting ready to go in, relaxing in the lagoon, showering (getting silica out of your hair takes a looong time!) and having lunch we ended up spending about 5 hours there so plan accordingly.
And that’s all! If you are planning to go to Iceland I hope you find this guide useful. Enjoy this beautiful country!