Last summer I took Iceland Air (www.icelandair.com) for the first time on our trip to Paris and Amsterdam. The reason we chose Iceland Air, simply, was the cost. They had great deals to many of Northern Europe destinations. The flights left in the evening, like most other US to Europe flights, but with a stop in Reykjavik.
I never even considered a visit to Iceland before, but it is something I kept hearing about as a new “hot spot” for travelers. I was intrigued.
The week before my trip I was at work (still a full-time dental hygienist at the time) and I saw a patient that traveled a lot for his job. I loved seeing him because we got to talk about world travel instead of just the usual, “do you floss” talk. When I told him about my upcoming trip, he asked which airlines. When I said Iceland air he told me about this amazing deal. He said that Iceland Air was trying to promote Iceland tourism and will offer, up to a 7 day stopover, for no additional charge. At first I didn’t believe him because he was always joking around with me, but by the end of his appointment I knew I had to look into this.
I got home and did some research. He was right!! I was so excited and yelled to my husband, “What do you think about staying one night in Reykjavik Iceland?” We did have one extra day on our vacation because it fell on Labor day weekend. He said, “Sure, that sounds great”
This deal is still going on today. here is the link:http://www.icelandair.us/flights/stopover/
I was pumped! To think I would not only be seeing Paris and Amsterdam( for the first time), but now also be able to squeeze in a little visit to the “Land of Fire and Ice.” How cool!
I immediately brought up my reservation and looked up contact information on how to go about the change in my flight. I called and spoke to a Iceland Air representative. She stated that this is possible and people do it all the time, but she would have to check the availability of seats. A minor detail I forgot due to my excitement! Guess what happened next? Yep, it was a no go. Especially being a holiday weekend , there were actually overbooked by 10%. Bummer!!
I guess it wasn’t meant to be?
Fast forward to this summer. My girlfriend from work was taking a trip with her mom to visit their homeland of Poland. She was ironically taking Iceland Air. I had previously told her about the deal and she thought it would be a great opportunity to take herself. She booked he flight with 3 day stopover in Reykjavik. I told her I was excited and wished I was able to have done that last summer.
She said, “Why don’t you join us?” “Just for the Iceland portion of our trip.”
I thought about it and decided to take a quick check of price quotes first. I found a deal for $432.00 round trip on WOW Airlines. What the hell was Wow Airlines? I’ve never heard of it, but whatever. I’ve flown Air Asia (http://www.airasia.com,) I’m not picky.
In the few months of planing and seeing what I wanted to do on my quick trip, my husband said he was interested in going as well. He works as a home inspector, so summers are crazy busy and he works constantly. He said it would be a perfect long weekend getaway (less than a 5 hour flight) to relax after an exhausting work season. I was thrilled.
The first thing on my bucket list to check off, was to see the Blue Lagoon (http://www.bluelagoon.com.) I always thought that seemed like such an unique and awesome thing to see, but ever since I was watching (dare I even admit this?), The Bachelor, (cough, cough), television show and their episode in Iceland, I knew that it would have to be a must on my ever-expanding travel destination wish list.
The Blue Lagoon is situated about 20 minutes north from the Keflavik airport and in route to Reykjavik, which is approximately 45 minutes from the Keflavik airport (something that many people aren’t aware of). Because of this, it is recommended to visit the Blue Lagoon either on the way in from your flight or on the way out to your flight. This way you can use your time wisely (since many visitors here are on a stopover ).
Day 1: Blue Lagoon and checking into our AIRBNB
We decided to do it right when we got there. The flights that come into Keflavik International airport from the US come in very, very early. Iceland Air around 7:00 am and WOW Airlines at 4:00!!! This part was a bit inconveniencing. It’s not like you can check into your hotel that early and nothing is open.
W got in from our flight and hung out at a juice and coffee place called Joe and the Juice (http://www.joeandthejuice.com.) It had great health smoothies, coffee, lattes, cappuccinos and hand sandwiches. Our car rental place didn’t even open up until 6am, but our reservation wasn’t until 7:00 am. Lots of waiting around.
We finally got our car and started heading to the Blue Lagoon. We got there early. Our reservation was from 8:00 am-11:00am. The very first block. They do 3 hour appointments, which was plenty of time to enjoy the warm and milky blue waters.
There are 3 different packages from a basic entry to a luxury experience. I decided that this is where we would splurge on our trip. I wanted to have a private changing room and spa area to lounge around in and have a bathrobe, slippers, towel, spa products, drinks and snacks. The basic entry ticket did not provide any extras and you would be changing in a crowded room, not unlike a YMCA. I didn’t want that. I wanted this experience to be special.
We were greeted and walked down to our private “members only” area. We felt like VIP’s and enjoyed every minute of this special treatment and private area. Although it was much pricier, I think it was well worth it. My friend and her mom didn’t indulge in the luxury ticket and they didn’t enjoy it as much. My friend said, when I asked her how they liked it, responded, “It was nothing special. I felt like the whole thing is over-rated. It isn’t even natural. It is heated by a power plant!”
In spite of the fact that this is true, I still feel like, natural or not, this place is the bomb! Where else in the world can you swim in a geothermal bath? Not many places at all! I know I will never probably get to do this again in my lifetime. (I am writing another post that will give a in-depth look into our Blue Lagoon experience soon.) Also note, that there are many naturally occuring geothermal pools in Iceland, plenty right within the Reykjavik region.
When we were done with our Blue Lagoon visit we headed into Reykjavik to have lunch at a cafe that was recommended. We figured we could walk around a bit and explore the area before heading to check into our airbnb rental ( http://www.airbnb.com), which was about 20 minutes away.
We ate at the The Laundromat Cafe (http://www.thelaundromatcafe.com. It was a funky, eclectic style, casual place. They offered free wi-fi with the password:iloveyou. Their menu had the usual American staple dishes such as burgers, salads and club sandwiches, which I was a little disappointed in. I wanted to try some authentic Icelandic dish. I guess I could do that somewhere else? I had a veggie sandwich and my husband had a burger. We hung out and used the wi-fi and after eating, both felt extremely tired. I think the combination of an overnight flight with little to no sleep, taking a 3 hour bath and then filling our bellies, was enough to make us feel ready for a nap. It was still too early for check-in, ugh! We walked around a little but were eager to just relax for the night in our airbnb house rental.
When it was time for check in, we drove to the address and waited to meet the person who was letting us in. (This is another whole post I will share about later) We waited 2 hours! Due to miscommunication, the person thought she was meeting us at 5:00pm, but we thought we were meeting us at 3:00pm. It was torture waiting to be able to take a shower, lay down or just use the bathroom, especially after landing 12 hours prior, but finally we got to stop and take a breather.
We decided on a quick and casual dinner, since we were tired, and certainly had to try their famous hotdogs called a pylsur while visiting. This would be the perfect time to. The hotdog is made with a combination of pork, beef and lamb and is the Pride of Iceland. We found a restaurant that served them, literally 2 minutes from our rental. We got two each. We had them, as the say, “Clinton style” with mustard only. This is how you should order it, I’m told by locals. Their mustard was different, almost like a honey mustard, but not quite. I must admit, the hot-dogs were delicious!
Day 2: Spent the Day in Reykjavik
I’m not sure if we were just generally tired or the 4 hour time difference affected us but we slept late. Very late! So late that the day we had planned, touring the “Golden Circle” with my friend and her mom was not going to happen. I couldn’t make them wait for us.
They did the tour themselves and we had to readjust our travel itinerary. No big deal. I never like to over plan anyway. The best things that happened on any of my previous travels, were always on a whim. Not to mention, this was supposed to be a somewhat relaxing trip for my husband. No stress. We decided to go find some lunch (now that it was afternoon by the time we got ready) and we wanted lobster soup. It was cold out and it seemed fitting since it is a popular Icelandic dish. I’m all about trying other culture’s foods. While I showered I asked my husband to look on tripadvisor (one of my favorite goto travel resources) to find who makes the best lobster soup in Reykjavik. On his research he found the Saegreifinn Restaurant (http://www.saegreifinn.is.), located right in Reykjavik harbor.
You can’t get much fresher than that. We drove the 20 minutes, parked our rental car in the parking garage, which had ridiculously low hourly rates, and walked over tho the harbor side. The restaurant was a little fishing village style place. It was very small with benches lined up where you actually sit side by side with other customers and order at a counter. A completely basic setup so if you are looking for a comfortable dining atmosphere, this wouldn’t be it. On the menu- pretty much just lobster soup.
They also had open refrigerated section with fresh fish to buy by the kg. I went over for a browse. They had mink whale, cringe!! No thank you, but the lobster soup was, as the review promised, “delicious”!!!
After our bellies were full and we were warmed up, we headed over the weekend flea market called the Kolaportid Flea Market. I was so excited because I love flea markets and if we would have gone to the “Golden Circle” tour we would have missed it. I was in search of a handmade Icelandic wool sweater. I guess that’s what you need to buy when you are here. The prices were super high for these at all the souvenir shops, I thought for sure I could get a better deal at the flea market.
I was wrong! Even at the flea market they sold for no less than $200.00 USD. I just couldn’t justify it. Wool has already been my least favorite material. It’s so itchy! I realize you can wear this over clothes and it is extremely warm but for $200.00, I know I wouldn’t get the use out of it to justify the price. No sweater for me.
We walked around the main street called Laugavegur, which had gift shops (more sweaters) coffee shops, restaurants and plenty of bars. We found our way to the Hallgrimskirkja church. It was remarkable looking and tall. It almost looked like a tall “Lego block” building . We went in and were going to go to the top for only $6.oo USD for a lift ticket, but ended up just strolling around inside and outside of the building. I’m afraid of heights anyway.
We walked all day. Reykjavik isn’t a very big city, but it has a lot or character and European charm. The colorful buildings and cobblestone roads were pretty to wander around on. Something to point out that didn’t dawn on me until I came back home was, we never felt unsafe the entire time we were there. The thought of our safety was never even spoke of. I can’t say the same on my visit to India, Thailand and the United Emirates. That was always on the forefront of my mind.
I think Iceland would make a perfect solo travel destination for females.
We later walked along the ocean path and saw the Sun Voyager structure. It was impressive, but it started to rain so we took a few snaps and headed toward the Harpa (http://www.harpa.is.) This is the central hub for all entertainment and cultural events in Reykjavik. It had unique architecture with mirrored cubes all around the building. We made this our final stop before deciding on dinner.
For dinner we chose a cute sushi place called, Sushi The Train (http://www.osushi.is.) They set it up with a conveyor belt (almost like a baggage claim belt you would find at an airport, but on a smaller scale) and chairs lined up on either side. They place offered different types of sushi and Japanese dishes. As the food drives by, you can choose which dish you would like to try by just taking it. By the end of your meal, you bring the “color coded” plates to the counter (each one has a different value) and pay the total. It was very inexpensive and a fun and easy way to end our day in Reykjavik.
We headed back to our car and paid the parking garage fee. it was less than $4.00 USD and we were there the entire afternoon!! I was shocked how cheap it was since everything else in Iceland seemed very expensive.
TIP: They say the night life and bar scene in Reykjavik is taken very seriously by the locals. However, the drinks are super expensive, so the Icelandic bar-hoppers are known for staying at home early and drinking first, before heading out to the bars at around midnight and partying way into the night. So, if you go there for happy hour and wonder where all the people are? Just wait, it will get busy late night, so pace yourself. Unfortunately, I can’t give you my opinion on the bars since I don’t drink, but there were a ton! I’m sure you wouldn’t have any problem finding a drinking hole to enjoy some spirits with Icelandic locals.
Day 3: Waterfalls, waterfalls and more waterfalls, geysers and a black sand volcano beach
We got an early start this day. We knew we had a lot of ground to cover missing the first day out on the road. We decided to do our own version of the “Golden Circle” tour. We chose to focus on the south-west region of Iceland. We would head south to the beach in Vik, and make our way back up and around to see the popular waterfalls and geyser. That would fulfill our wishlist and we could do it all in a day trip.
On our way to Vik we passed the Selijalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls. They were beautiful as we thought and we saw dall sheep, horses and beautiful mountain landscapes as we drove. At least it was very scenic views for our 2 hour drive.
One thing that slipped my mind was the steep walks and stairs leading to viewpoints you are required to take to see these natural wonders. Like I said earlier, I am deathly afraid of heights! This day was full of amazing sights, but also gave me extreme anxiety. I tried my best to enjoy, but with my husband playing jokes on me, pretending he was about to fall, seeing tourists hanging off the edges, trying to take extreme selfies and kids running, with no parents in site, along the hundred foot drops, I was about to have several heart attacks!
We finally made our way to the beach in Vik. Initially, we were at the top cliffs area, beautiful, but again the heights! ugh!! Until we ended up on the black sand beach. This by far was my favorite area. I am partial to any beach, but the views all around, the black sand and lava rock formations, were nothing I have ever seen before. We spend some time in a cave along the stretch of beach and my husband even spotted a puffin in the distance. We were lucky that this happened to be the nicest day of our 3 day stay (6o degrees and sunny). We felt the ocean and were surprised that the temperature was much warmer than you might expect for Icelandic ocean waters. We even suggested that the oceans in our home state of New Hampshire, USA might be colder!
My husband had a flooding thought of taking a swim in the ocean, just to say he did it, but just as quickly as the thought flooded in, it flooded out. He knew we still had a half day ahead of driving and touring and didn’t want to be uncomfortable. Poor sport! Just kidding. It would have been funny to see, but I agree, he may be freezing and wet all day, and I would NEVER do that. I have Reynaud’s syndrome! I would end up with hypothermia. Visiting that beach and being able to do my daily headstand (#365headstandschallenge) there, was more than I could ask for. It was awesome!
We started to get hungry, but were pretty much in the middle of nowhere. We remembered that they had a hostel and restaurant at the bottom of Skogafoss falls an it was on our way back towards our next stops. We figured we could have a little lunch there and head to the next stop after our break. The food was surprisingly good and inexpensive. We assumed, it was after all, a camper site/hostel area and tourist attraction, that it would be the usual burger and hot-dogs, but no. They had all sorts of Icelandic dishes and options. I was excited. I ordered a lamb stew to share and picked char fish for my meal (its kind of like a salmon and a local fish). My husband ordered the leg of lamb. We even treated ourselves to dessert because they had a skyr cake, that we couldn’t pass up. Iceland is one of the only known places where you can find skyr (according to the locals), besides Denmark, Sweden and Norway, so we had to. It was very good, but if you have ever tried skyr before, you would think it was yogurt. It doesn’t seem so outlandish a treat. Also, when I got home, I found some at my neighborhood grocery store (in the yogurt section). None the less, everything was so good and our bill was only $47.00 USD. We were very happy that we chanced it and ended up having an awesome and authentic Icelandic meal.
Off to the geyser. The road that we took leading to it was so scary! It was so skinny and literally hanging off a cliff. It had many “shared bridges” which is a common thing in Iceland, where you have to share it with the oncoming traffic. The road ended up going to dirt and I wasn’t even sure if our car would make it.
Another side note: its best to get a 4×4 car to rent. We were okay with the 2-wheel drive car, but if we had gone on more roads like this we would have needed a 4×4. Some roads don’t even allow anything other than 4×4 cars on it.
Like it said on our dashboard of instructions from the car rental company. “Driving in Iceland is different.” Besides skinny, windy and cliff side roads, possible wildlife, sharing bridges, there is also the risk of falling rocks. If that doesn’t concern you, don’t forget in the winter, without proper gear and blankets, you could risk death by hypothermia if stranded roadside. I’m just so happy my husband joined, otherwise I would have had to drive. Yikes!
The geyser was really interesting and I was happy that it (went off ) erupted in very short intervals..I wasn’t really sure about that and was so glad we could easily capture it’s eruption more than once. It was getting cold so stopping there when the sum was starting to set was a good thing. The heat coming off these gurgling water holes was intense. The sign read that it could reach 80-100 degrees celsius and to stay away. The steam was so hot. We even may have gotten little too close at one of the eruptions. No wonder why we were the only ones standing there? The most memorable thing would probably be the overwhelmingly smell of sulfur that you couldn’t escape. My husband may have gotten away with a few gaseous releases from his big lamb dinner that I would have not noticed. He kept giggling every so often, saying, “Excuse me” as to joke, but I think he may have required that excuse me even if we weren’t at the geyser.
Lastly, we stopped at Iceland’s most visited waterfall Gullfoss. Since it was extremely close to the geyser we couldn’t miss this one. Gullfoss was the largest of the waterfalls and the most impressive. I’m not sure which was scarier; standing on the jutted out lookout at Skogafoss or the wet and slippery, rocky ledge of this bad boy? They were both terrifying, yet a marvel to witness.
Since we drove for nearly 12 hours that day, accomplishing all the sights we wanted to see, we decided to just get take-out for dinner and call it a night. We couldn’t wait to see all the footage and pictures we took of this amazing day in Iceland. We stopped at a nearby pizza place. Naturally, we got the “Boston-style pizza”
Iceland has many unique natural wonders to visit, from their breathtaking waterfalls, awe-inspiring glaciers, gorgeous black sand beaches, rejuvenating geothermal oasis pools, volcanic mountains and bubbling geysers. These are things you can’t just see anywhere. With Iceland Air and WOW Airlines offering cheaper flights daily than their competitors, from the US to Europe and discount deals for stopovers, why not take advantage of them and get to see the land of Fire and Ice for a day or two? The prices on these airlines to European cities, such as Amsterdam, Paris, London,Copenhagen, Barcelona, Dublin, Milan, (just to name a few), provide such savings, that a quick stopover in Reykjavik wouldn’t break the bank. You never know, you may even see a troll?