Iceland is THE trip to take these days, especially for East Coasters (under 6 hours from JFK!). And if you're west coast based like me, what better way to break up the long haul to Europe?? I had the great pleasure of spending 3 days in Iceland last summer with my beau, and my oh my what a magical place. It's truly worth the visit if you're into a good dose of adventure. Lately, I have been getting a ton of requests for my itinerary. We were only there for a short period of time, so I did some serious research beforehand so as not to miss out on the best stops. Below, you can find a detailed outline on what to do and where to eat. Just a heads up, most of the restaurants are closed on Sundays and Mondays (at least when we were there in August), so keep that in mind when booking your tickies! And one more thing! Iceland is a major dwelling for elves & gnomes, so be on the lookout folks! Scroll all the way down for more pics!
Where to Stay: There isn't an overwhelming amount of lodgings in Reykjavik, so choosing hotel accommodations shouldn't be too challenging. If you're looking to use Airbnb, be sure to book WAY in advance. By the time I started looking 2 months prior to the trip, most of the good ones had already been booked.
We stayed 1 night in Reykjavik at Hotel Odinsve, which is a charming boutique hotel conveniently located in the heart of downtown Reykjavik. We then chose to spend the following 2 nights at the Ion Adventure Hotel approximately 45 min south of the city. Their slogan is, "Where everything meets nothing" - I loved that. And as soon as I saw the outdoor geothermal pool overlooking the mossy terrain, I was HOOKED. We had an amazing experience at the Ion. The hotel literally looks like a spaceship dropped down in the middle of nowhere. It's also quite a doozy getting to the hotel, but nonetheless beautiful. After a pretty straight shot from Reykjavik, you turn off onto a gravel road and continue on what seemed like 30 minutes heading into unchartered territory. We kept elbowing each other saying "we are SO lost." But low and behold, we eventually spotted the boxy structure in the distance. However strange the outside, we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived. The interior is clean, modern, and sophisticated. The beds were super comfortable and the rooms were spacious. We were very impressed with the food and also relieved because God knows where else we would have eaten in the middle of nowhere! There is a VERY modest spa at the hotel, with only 1 or 2 treatment rooms, so don't expect a ton of pampering here. You will book this hotel first and foremost for the experience of being completely detached from civilization.
Where to Eat: There are two places in particular where you must go for dinner. The first, is Dill. This is THE restaurant to try in Reykjavik and you must make a reservation in advance. Also just a side note, it's only open Wednesday-Saturday. This is the first restaurant in Iceland to receive a Michelin star, so don't expect a cheap meal! But, if you choose one place to splurge, do it here. You will not be disappointed with this farm-to-table, sea-to-table establishment. I promise. The second is Matur Og Drykkur. I love the vibe and the food is delicious. You can't go wrong with seafood in Iceland- it's just so damn fresh! If you can't make it for dinner, definitely go for lunch.
If you're like me and experience jet lag in a BIG way, you will want to know where to get the best (and strongest) coffee. The place to go for "the best coffee in Iceland" is Reykjavik Roasters. The environment is friendly and the vibe is Brooklyn meets Seattle. Catch my drift? You'll love it.
You MUST go to Saegreifinn for lunch. There will most likely be a line, but trust me, it is worth the wait. The lobster soup is some of the best I've ever tasted and the salmon skewers are like eating butter off a stick. Seriously, it's the freshest fish you will have in Reykjavik. And if you're super daring, try the fresh whale skewer!
You will most likely hit Haukadular, which is home to two famous geysers, The Great Geyser and Strokkur. Try to go around lunchtime because you will not want to miss the opportunity to try a geothermal tasting at Hotel Geysir. You will dine on traditional Icelandic cuisine cooked in the geothermal ground. Seriously, it's an EXPERIENCE. I'm pretty sure you need a minimum of six people per reservation, so be sure to inquire beforehand! Check out their description below:
"As you arrive to Hotel Geysir, the chef of our restaurant, will be waiting to greet you and tell you about the geothermal area and how the bread is baked, followed by tasting of freshly baked hot spring bread. A local rye bread called Rúgbrauð that is buried in the geothermal ground for 24 hours. Served with Icelandic butter, boiled eggs (also boiled in the geothermal area) and herring. Best served with a small glass of Geysir Schnapps, served at freezing point" - Hotel Geysir
We weren't able to squeeze in all of the ultra foodie spots I had researched in advance, and one of them was Fridheimer. If your guilty pleasure is Keeping up with the Kardashians (embarrassing I know..), you might recognize this place from their Iceland episode. It's a lunch spot where you will dine on all things tomato (even tomato schnapps!). Oddly enough, tomatoes are a popular produce in Iceland...who would've thunk?! You will sit inside the greenhouse among the tomato vines- major ambiance points there. They describe it as a "unique food experience among tomato plants." Need I say more?
What to do: There are SO many activities in Iceland- the options are endless! You may feel overwhelmed choosing things to do, so spend some time ahead of the trip to narrow down your options. You won't regret it. We had a number of things on our to-do list, but alas, there are just never enough hours in a day! Especially when you like to sleep in a little...or a lot... don't judge! Aside from exploring the shops in downtown Reykjavik (which are super quaint), I've outlined some our favorite stops below!
You will hear a lot about The Golden Circle while researching things to do. Simply put, it's a hotspot tourist area containing some of the most popular travel-related activities and destinations. After completing an abbreviated version of the Golden Circle, we hit places on our way to Vik, which is a village on the southern coast of Iceland. It's famous for it's black sand beaches and puffins!
- Pingvellir National Park - first stop on the Golden Circle. It's the location of Iceland’s first Parliament / Rift Valley between North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plates. You can walk it or you can be super daring and dive between the plates (with a tour guide obvi). It wasn't all that exciting, but it's a good one to check off your list.
- Haukadalur - geothermal area with two famous geysers (The Great Geysir and Strokkur). Strokkur still erupts and constantly explodes water every 10 minutes. (About 10 min drive to Gullfoss Falls)
- Gullfoss Waterfall
- Dog Sledding on Langjökull Glacier - second largest icecap in Iceland. Sadly, we didn't get to do this because they weren't offering it during our stay-- pity!
- Reykjadalur hike in Hverageroi. This was my FAVORITE part of the trip and you must go, especially if the weather is nice. The hike itself is suited for people of all ages--so bring the whole fam! After about 2 miles uphill (about 2hr hike in total) you will end the hike in the most pleasant natural hot springs river. There's a designated spot to get in--you can't miss it. After some pretty incredible views and active geysers, the hot springs really was the cherry on top of a great day. So, don't forget your bathing suits! There are quasi changing rooms, but it's best to just have it underneath because they aren't that private. And don't be alarmed if you stumble upon an Icelandic goat in the changing room. Early bird gets the worm! Also, just FYI the further downstream you are the colder it is.
- Seljalandsfoss Waterfall - waterfall you can walk behind
- Depart Seljalandsfoss Waterfall for Seljavallalaug - this is the hot pool in the mountains. About 15 min walk from parking lot to pool. Super cool and GREAT insta opps!
- Go to Vik for lunch @ Suour-Vik Restaurant-- the food was great! We were really impressed!
- Depart Vik for Dyrholaey- amazing view of the ocean and black sand beaches. There are also amazing rock formations in the ocean. The birdlife here is abundant, with puffins and eider ducks being the most common species in the area. Then go to Reynisfjara Beach, should be right in that area-- black sand beach you can walk along.
- Glacier walk on Sólheimajökulll - another activity we didn't have time for :(
- Blue Lagoon-- Almost everyone has this stop on their list and let me be the first to tell you it's the MOST overrated place ever. The website is completely misleading because truth be told it is a far cry from the luxurious, spa-like experience in which they advertise online. If it's a MUST for you, then choke up the extra cash for the Premium tickets so you can cut the check-in line and get shower shoes (yes, that's right. If you buy the normal ticket you are going barefoot. Godspeed.) It's only about 20 minutes from the airport, so it's best to book directly after landing or before taking off. Don't go for the latter. Here is my VERY honest take from the Blue Lagoon. You walk into an overcrowded locker room (hopefully with shower shoes!) and find a locker. Then they herd you into showers much like a women's prison and INSIST you take off your bathing suit (I did not). I saw more lady parts than I needed to in a lifetime. Once I got out of that zoo, I thought things were looking up. Wrong. It felt eerily similar to Spring Break circa 2010.. rubbing elbows with strangers on the lazy river at the Atlantis. Only this time I wasn't surrounded by a gaggle of drunk girlfriends making light of the situation. Really, the only positive about the experience was the free drink I got with my VIP ticket (perks, people, perks). And under NO circumstances, should you get your hair wet in that water!!! If you are going to take away anything from this rant, it is that!!! They advise you to apply conditioner to your hair if you plan on going under. I did just that and my hair remained hard and matted for DAYS. Not to mention my bathing suit smelled like horse piss for weeks. Oh and the onsite restaurant, Lava, is a total bust. Overpriced and downright bad. Much better options in the airport. I know what you're thinking...how do you REALLY feel?? Just don't tell me I didn't warn ya!