Our Trip to Iceland

I am SO excited to share our adventure in Iceland with you! Lance and I have traveled a ton, and I can honestly say that Iceland was like nowhere else we have ever been.  It truly is spectacular.  The people are friendly, the capital city Reykjavík is quaint, walkable, and adorable, the food is delicious, and the landscape of Iceland is like nothing I have ever seen.  I am SO glad that we went in the winter.  Even though the days are shorter, I loved that it snowed on and off the whole time we were there and everything was covered in a blanket of white.  They have 24 hours of daylight in the summer, so I would love to go back and experience that, too.  Now…for all the deets!

Downtown Reykjavík

Getting there

We actually booked two separate round trip flights for this trip and it cut the cost in half.  We booked a flight with American Airlines round trip to JFK for about $200 and then another round trip flight on Delta from JFK to KEF (the main airport on Iceland) for about $400.  We gave ourselves at least 3 hours between the flights in case of delays and because we checked bags.  We had to get our bags, check them again, and go back through security each time.  It actually worked out flawlessly and was really easy!

Money

They use the Icelandic Króna, and currently the conversion is 100 ISK = .96 USD, so it’s about 100 to 1.  We were able to use our credit card everywhere, but we did get some Króna out of the ATM when we got there to use for tips.  Tipping is not expected in Iceland, but we tipped about 10% if we loved the service (which we always did; everyone is SO friendly).  We had to go to several ATMs to find one that worked, so I would plan to get some Króna at your bank before you go.  I think it’s always best to have some cash on hand when you travel even if you’re planning to mostly use your credit card.

Tjörnin pond in Reykjavík

Converter

You need a converter for the plugs in Iceland like THIS.  I always like to take several because I have my phone, watch, curling iron, etc.

Language

The main language is Icelandic, but everyone we met spoke great English, and they default to speaking English first, which is really nice when you’re traveling!

Outside the Blue Lagoon

Time Change

Iceland is 5 hours ahead of Charlotte, NC (EST).  When we landed in Iceland, it was 7:40 am there and 2:40 am in Charlotte.  It was really nice because the sun doesn’t come up until about 10 am this time of the year (and sets around 5 pm), and there is not much going on in Reykjavík early in the morning.  Most of our tours started around noon, so we kind of stayed on Charlotte time.  We gave ourselves the chance to sleep in and we stayed up late.  Because of this we suffered no jet lag coming home, which was awesome!

Icelandic Horses!

Transportation

We chose to rent a car, knowing that we would drive ourselves to and from the airport, to the Blue Lagoon, to our helicopter tour, and drive the south coast (although we ended up booking a tour for that…more on that below).  We used NÜ Car Rentals and paid about $27/day.  NÜ was definitely cheaper than the other rental car places, and we watched the price and waited for it to come down, too.  Part of the reason it’s cheaper is that all the other rental car places are right in the airport terminal, but you have to take a shuttle to get to NÜ.  It definitely takes longer, but it wasn’t a big deal.  We were worried about the weather, so ended up booking the second highest insurance package, which was an additional $36/day.  Our reasonable rental car quickly became expensive!  I’m not sure you need the full insurance package, but you DEFINITELY need to get the gravel insurance.  We found the roads easy to navigate, but driving in the winter can be precarious.  If you plan to drive in Iceland in the winter, you should be very comfortable driving on snow and ice.  We saw a tour bus get stuck in the snow when we were at the glacier.  They have a saying in Iceland, ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes,’ and we saw this to be true!  It can be sunny one minute and snowing the next, for real.  Another note on renting a car: make sure your hotel has parking.  Sandhotel does, but it was full when we got there.  We actually ended up parking at the church the whole time, which is free and was just a short walk from our hotel.

Flybus is a great option if you don’t want to drive.  The main airport to downtown Reykjavík is about 45 minutes, so I heard of some people who paid over $100 for a cab.  Flybus you can book in advance to and from the airport, they have Wifi on board, and it costs around $30 per person.  They can also transfer you to the Blue Lagoon, and have an option to stop at the Blue Lagoon on your way to Reykjavík from the airport (which is what I would recommend depending on how much time you have; more on that below).  So, depending on how many tours you book vs. how many things you want to do on your own will determine which option is more economical and makes the most sense (booking a rental car vs. using Flybus and tours).  HERE is the Flybus tour that takes you from KEF to the Blue Lagoon and then to Reykjavík.

Stay

We stayed at Sandhotel and loved it.  It is super luxurious and they think of all the little details.  They had coffee in the room, robes, a USB plug by the bed (so you can charge your phone without a converter), a Bluetooth speaker, a mini fridge, a rainfall showerhead, and a door on the shower.  That might sound silly, but a lot of hotels in Europe don’t have doors on the shower, and as cold as it is in Iceland, I wanted a door on my shower!  The staff were all SUPER friendly and helpful with giving recommendations and making reservations.  They give you a cell phone for your stay instead of a room phone, which is great if you want to make local calls or look at the map.  The location was perfect, but downtown Reykjavík is very walkable, so if you are centralized, there really isn’t a bad location.

Eat

The food is Reykjavík is DELICIOUS, but expensive.  I had read that Iceland is expensive and I told Lance…he kind of said, ‘yeah, yeah whatever.’  But when we got there, Lance was like…whoa, you weren’t kidding.  I mean, we have been to London and Hawaii (both uber expensive), but Iceland honestly takes it to a new level.  Think: $23 for a cocktail.  $20 for a bowl of soup at lunch.  Up to $75 for an entrée at dinner.  That being said, you can find more reasonable places to eat (still expensive by American standards, but MORE reasonable).  Here is where we ate:

Icelandic Street Food

Awesome place for a (relatively) cheap meal.  The staff are SUPER friendly and the soup comes in a bread bowl…what more do I need to tell you?!  They also offer ‘refills’ on the soup for 800 KR, but Lance had his bowl refilled for free.  They have two soups (lamb and seafood) and one stew, that’s the extent of the menu.  But when it’s that good, that’s all you need!  It is crowded, but a fun atmosphere.  We went here for lunch one day.

Grillmarket

This was definitely the splurge meal of the trip.  I would venture to say it’s one of the finest restaurants in Reykjavík.  Our waiter was incredible and the food was top notch.

Essencia

We walked past this place on our first night and I thought it looked good (although all the places in Reykjavík look good!), so we went here towards the end of our trip.  We asked at our hotel, and no one who worked at the hotel had been.  It’s a newer restaurant, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was one of my favorite meals!  It was also the best wine I had my entire time there (I did not find the wine to be great overall in Iceland).  The prices are reasonable for Reykjavík standards.  An entrée runs around $22.

Braud & Co.

GO HERE and get a cinnamon roll and you can thank me later.  If you want one straight out of the oven, go just after 11:30 am!  It’s insane and always packed.

OstaBudin

Our hotel recommended this spot and it was great.  Cozy vibe and great, traditional Icelandic food.  It is relatively reasonable.

Reykjavík Roasters

If you need a cup of joe, this is the spot.  It’s super cute inside and has great coffee.

Nudkuskalin

We went here for a quick dinner one night.  It has great prices and the food was really delicious.  Definitely a great option for a cheaper dinner one night.  Two bowls of noodle soup were $36.

Messinn

Another hotel-recommended restaurant that was probably our favorite meal of the trip.  This spot also has a super cozy vibe.  When we looked at the menu, Lance nor I were blown away, but the food was SO GOOD.  They specialize in seafood and had really unique and flavorful preparations.  I cannot recommend this place enough!  It is also on the reasonable side.

Verbud 11

We stopped here for lunch one afternoon and it was great.  They have lunch specials for $19, which is a great price.  It’s also right on the harbor, which is really nice!

Sumac

We ended up here randomly on our last night and it was awesome.  Great vibe, really nice staff, and the food was incredible.  It’s a tapas place, but the potions are generous.  We actually ordered more food than we could eat, which NEVER happens!

Do

We spent quite a bit of time wandering around Reykjavík.  We went to the Hallgrimskirkja Church and went up to the tower, which gives you a great view of Reykjavík.

We visited several museums around Reykjavík:

The Settlement Exhibition

This was right up Lance’s ally.  They uncovered an actual Viking settlement and preserved it.

Museum of Photography

This is on the top floor of the local public library and has rotating exhibits.

Phallological Museum

Too many people mentioned this for us not to check it out.  At $15 a person, I can’t say the museum was worth that, but it’s worth saying that we’ve been there!

Perlan Museum

This one is a little out of town and we visited it on our way back from our helicopter tour.  It is a glacier museum, has a manmade ice cave that you walk through, and it has an (extremely cold and windy) observation deck looking over downtown Reykjavík.

The Reykjavík Food Walk

We always book a food tour in every city we visit because they are so fun!  It’s a great way to get a feel for the city, learn a little history, eat some local food, and discover places to eat for the rest of your time there.  We had a great time and really enjoyed the tour.  As far as food tours go, it was not our favorite food tour ever, but I still recommend it.

Blue Lagoon

This is seriously a must-do if you’re going to Iceland.  I know people say that it’s touristy, but so are all major sites I have ever visited anywhere, and I wouldn’t trade seeing the Eifel tower for anything.  We booked the Luxury package for the Blue Lagoon and it was great.  You get a private changing room with a shower, robes and towels, a private entrance to the lagoon (through the water), and some products from the spa.  Other than that, it seems to be the same as the Premium package.  I didn’t go into the public changing room, but I think as long as you get a robe and towel at the Blue Lagoon, then you’re good.  I’m glad we splurged, but I definitely don’t think you have to.  We booked too late to make this happen, but the Blue Lagoon is between the airport and Reykjavík, so I think it would be really nice to stop there when you land on your way to Reykjavík.  We landed at 7:40 am and were lucky that we could get into our hotel room, but most likely you won’t be able to check in that early anyway.  Soaking in a hot spring after a long flight sounds like perfection to me!

Buuble + Golden Circle Tour

Thingvellir National Park

Shop my look:

Free People Beanie // Free People Scarf (on sale!) // Canada Goose Jacket // Geval Ski Pants (under $40!) // Sorel Caribou Boots

(This is legit what I wore the entire time!)

Gullfoss waterfall

Geysir hot spring

Feeding the horses

Our Buubble

This is hands-down one of the coolest things I have ever done in my life!!  I actually booked this tour before we even had flights to Iceland (or any other accommodations) because I was so excited about it.  Lance was honestly not that into it, but after we did it, he agrees that it was one of the coolest things ever.  A Suburban picked us up at our hotel at noon and we had 4 other people in the car with us on the tour.  First you visit the Golden Circle sites (Thingvellir National Park, Geysir hot spring, and Gullfoss waterfall), which are some of the most popular sites to see in Iceland.  You have dinner at a great little restaurant out in the middle of nowhere, and then head to the Secret Lagoon.  This is the original hot spring of Iceland.  It was so cool because it was dark outside, but there is an orange glow from greenhouses nearby so that combined with the steam from the pool makes it a very exotic and eerie experience.  And after touring all day and eating a meal, there isn’t much nicer than soaking in a hot spring.  And it is HOT, much hotter than the Blue Lagoon.  After swimming in the lagoon and showering, you arrive at the Buubble.  There is a service house for all guests to use that has two full bathrooms with showers (although we both showered at the Secret Lagoon and I changed into my PJs there, too), plus a kitchen, and Wifi.  The Buubbles are heated and have plugs to charge your phone.  We were able to get wine glasses from the service house and enjoy a bottle of wine in our Buubble, which I highly recommend!  The Buubble is super comfortable and the perfect temperature for sleeping (they are heated).  I had to use the bathroom right before we went to sleep, so I just threw on my snow boots and jacket and walked to the service house.  It’s very close and was no big deal.  They really have it set up perfectly…the Buubbles are each very private and tucked away in some trees but you aren’t too far from the bathroom either.  One of the coolest things was when you turned the lights out in the Buubble, it looks like it disappears completely, so you are just lying in the middle of a snowy forest.  Like I said, it is hands-down one of my favorite experiences of all time!  The suburban picks you up at 8:30 the next morning to head back to Reykjavík with a stop for breakfast on the way.  I cannot recommend this experience highly enough!

Nordurflug Helicopter Tour

We did the Waterfalls and Valleys tour.  This tour is not cheap…it was the most expensive thing we did and it was only about an hour.  But I will say that Iceland is stunning and it’s amazing to see it from above.  We went to a geothermal area and we were able to actually walk up to it and touch the water, and in one part drink from the stream!

Northern Lights Tour

The reason we opted to book a tour for viewing the Northern Lights is because if you don’t see them, they will take you out again another night.  The night we were supposed to go out, it was snowing, so they cancelled the tour.  Luckily we were able to go out the next night and we got to see the Northern Lights!  They will also take a professional photo of you with the Northern Lights which is really nice if you don’t have camera equipment (you’re not going to capture them on your iPhone).

Glacier and Waterfalls Tour

Reynisfjara black sand beach

Hiking on the glacier

Our original plan was to drive down the south coast to check out some waterfalls, a black sand beach, and a lagoon.  Then when I was doing some research on tours, I found a tour that took us to those stops (minus the lagoon), and ended with a glacier hike.  I really didn’t want to miss the chance to hike on a glacier, so we ended up booking this tour.  I am SO glad we did the glacier hike (really it’s a ‘walk’).  It was a really cool experience, and it’s designed for all fitness levels so anyone can do it.  Having the opportunity to be on a glacier was super special.  The tour also took us to Skogafoss waterfall, Seljalandsfoss waterfall, and Reynisfjara black sand beach.

I struggle with recommending the tour we did because it was NOT comfortable.  There were 18 people on the tour.  That didn’t sound like too large of a group, and it wasn’t.  But the ‘minibus’ is SO tight.  WAY tighter than any plane or train I have ever been on.  And it’s a long trip, so it was pretty uncomfortable.  It wasn’t just no leg room (taller people had their knees against the seat), but the seats are also SO narrow.  I loved the sights and enjoyed the glacier walk, but I think if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t take that bus.  A different company actually took us on the glacier, so you could drive to the glacier on your own and then use Extreme Iceland for the glacier hike.  You can also rent any gear you need from them, so that is really nice!  If you would prefer to meet Extreme Iceland on site for the glacier hike, HERE is the link.

Clothing

People are not fancy in Iceland, so it is perfectly fine to be casual everywhere.  I took nothing dressier than jeans, boots, and a sweater and that was perfect, even for the nicest restaurants.  And I brought two coats, but I honestly wore my Canada Goose the entire time!

Planning

Make sure you have time to plan your schedule and tours in advance.  Tours get booked up, and not everything is available every day.  This is a mistake that we made, and we couldn’t do everything we wanted to do because of it.  I think that kicking off any vacation with a food tour is a good way to go.  You get a walking tour of the city, a little history and info on the city, and you’ll learn some insider information on where to eat for the rest of your trip.  If you are going to use a tour to see the Northern Lights, I would do that early in your trip as well, so in case you don’t see them, you’ll have a chance to go out again.  As I said earlier, I think doing the Blue Lagoon the day you land is a good plan.  You have to book the Blue Lagoon by a time slot, so make sure you plan in advance because a lot of flights land in the morning and a lot of people have the same plan!

One thing I REALLY wish we had done that was booked while we were there is dog sledding.  It gets great reviews and just looks like SO much fun!  You also get the chance to hang out with the dogs, which would be the best part for me!

I also wish we could have seen Diamond Beach, but because the days are so short in the winter, it wasn’t an option to drive all the way there and get back to Reykjavík in one day.  We could have stayed one night somewhere else, but by the time we figured all of this out, we had already booked our hotel in Reykjavík and most of our other tours.

On that note, I do wish we had stayed at least one night in another town.  Reykjavík is awesome and adorable, but I would have loved to experience somewhere else, too!

Another random tip: pack snacks.  Since food is so expensive there, and some of the tour days are long, it’s nice to have some food on hand.  We took jerky, nuts, and protein bars and ate almost all of it.

And I think that about wraps it for our Iceland trip!  I honestly can’t recommend going there enough.  It is truly a dreamland!  If you ever have any questions about any of my travels, feel free to email me: megan@shopboem.com.

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