Heads up: this is a pretty long post – enjoy!
Let me start off this new addition to the blog with an important fact about me: I am not a very organized person except for when it comes to work and planning events. Outside of my 8-5, I leave a trail of chaos in my wake – piles of clothes (I separate clean from dirty, I’m not a savage), and have no idea how to effectively load a dishwasher. Don’t get me wrong, I can clean up my mess every once in a while, but I’m definitely not the type of person who needs to have my home sparkling clean at all times. Glad we got that out of the way.
Now, back to when I am organized: planning events – more specifically, planning trips and creating itineraries. I don’t need my trips planned down to the minute because I think that takes the fun out of your trip, but I do love the process of booking travel and finding fun and meaningful things to do while abroad to make the most out of my journey. I get this fun little trait from my dad.
Almost a year ago to the day, Josh and I took the trip of a lifetime to Iceland, Paris, and Nice. We were gone for 13 days, but it felt like so much longer. We (read: I) planned for so long, meticulously researched what to pack for “springtime” (read: cold and rainy AF season) in Iceland, and pored over Lonely Island’s Iceland Travel Guide for months, so when we were finally on our way to DTW, it felt surreal.
Here’s what we did:
- Day 1
- Flew WOW Airlines (RIP) into Keflavik International Airport. Pretty sure the airline that was the next closest in price was IcelandAir, but it probably depends on what time of the year you go.
- Rented a car (this is a must if you plan on going anywhere outside of Reykjavik) – Get insurance and be prepared to spend quite a bit on gas.
- Drove 3 hours to Vik and stayed at Guesthouse Carina, which was set on a hill overlooking the village of Vik and the sea.
- *Note: The only place you’ll actually find a true hotel is in Reykjavik. If you’re venturing outside of the city, expect to stay in guesthouses with shared bathrooms.
- We explored Seljalandfoss waterfall, Skogafoss waterfall, Reyniksfjara (the black sand beach), Myrdalsjokull Glacier, and the Vik church.
- *Note: “foss” means waterfall, so anytime you see that on a map, you’re bound to see something awesome.
- Places to eat:
- Day 2
- Before we drove 2 hours to Hof, we doubled back by a half hour and went to see the crashed DC-3 plane on Sólheimasandur. This was something I was dying to see because all of pictures I had seen were out of this world. The sand on the beach is too soft for vehicles, so you have to park on the side of the road (there’s a small parking lot) and walk the distance to see the plane. The walk was surprisingly long (I think close to 2 or 3 miles) and in true Iceland fashion, we walked through a rain storm, a bit of sunshine, and then more rain. Finally, when we got to the plane, the sky cleared and we were able to enjoy the sight.
- After we saw the plane, we hiked about a mile to see Svartifoss, a pretty waterfall tucked back into the national park. The view of the snow-covered mountains was amazing from here.
- On the way to Hof, we also checked out the Svinafellsjokull Glacier, Dverghamrar (translated to ‘The Dwarf Cliffs’), and Foss a Sidu.
- In Hof, we stayed in the main building at the Hof 1 Hotel, another shared-bathroom guesthouse.
- Places to eat:
- Fosshotel Glacier
- Day 3
- Drove an hour and a half from Hof to Hofn (confusing, I know) and stayed at House on the Hill.
- En route to Hofn, we stopped to see the famous Glacier Lagoon, held mini icebergs on the Diamond Beach, and saw some remarkable glacier formations at Skaftafell National Park.
- Places to eat:
- Hotel Hofn
- Kaffi Hornio
- Day 4
- This day was a doozy. We drove almost 6 hours (back west) to Gullfoss, where we stayed at Hotel Gullfoss. Complimentary breakfast was clutch.
- The nice thing about it being light for so long is that we were still able to make it to see the huge Gullfoss waterfall. Hands down one of the coolest things I’ve seen. There’s also a really nice welcome center that has food and [very expensive] souvenirs.
- We also went to check out the Geysir (pronounced gay-zeer) hot springs area, which was really neat. Geysir was actually inactive while we were there, but we were able to witness a smaller neighbor geyser, Strokkur, erupt.
- Places to eat:
- Efstidalur II – Kaffihús/ísbúð – Literally farm to table. If you eat upstairs, get a seat by the windows and look down at your new cow friends. Really great ice cream, too.
- Days 5 & 6
- This is when I tell you that if you choose to visit the same towns that we did, you only need 5 days. I repeat: you do not need 6 days. Days 5 and 6 were spent in Reykjavik, where we were able to fully explore the city in a couple of hours and found ourselves wondering what to do next. We were so tired from traveling the previous days that we actually went back to our hotel (gasp!) and caught up on season 2 of 13 Reasons Why, which had just came out. At this point, we were also so ready for normal food (I was mostly living off of RxBars #notsponsored) and actually wound up eating at Joe and the Juice twice because they were 1) cheap compared to other places and 2) had gluten free bread for mmm… turkey & pesto paninis.
- While in Reykjavik, we explored the Hallgrimskirkja church, wandered around the famous Harpa concert hall, and checked out the Sun Voyager sculpture.
- The last thing we did while in Iceland was visit the Blue Lagoon. Honestly, the lagoon was my favorite part of the Iceland portion of our trip. We chose the comfort-level package, which gave us a towel, one free drink of our choice, and a silica mud mask. Once you enter the lagoon, you’re able to stay for as long as you like. We wandered around the lagoon, which is massive BTW, in search of hot spots since the majority of the water is like a slightly cooled down bath temperature.
- Fun fact: the lagoon contains 9 million liters of geothermal seawater and it renews itself every 40 hours.
- Pro tip: Like we did, make the lagoon the last thing you do on your trip. Our scheduled time slot was around 9pm and it was the perfect way to wind down after a travel-packed adventure before we jetted off to Paris.
- We stayed at Reykjavik Treasure B&B and it was great. The mother & daughter duo are so nice and really go out of their way to make your stay the best. We had left our camera there (technically we left it in our rental car that was locked in a parking garage, but that’s a story for another time) and they shipped it all the way back to us – no questions asked. Breakfast included (obviously, since it’s a bed and breakfast) that was top notch.
A few tips and tricks:
- Busy season for Iceland tourism is “summer”, which is June through early September. Booking in shoulder season (May and end of September/early October) will yield slightly lower rates.
- Book everything VERY far in advance! Can’t stress this one enough. Since there aren’t mainstream hotels outside of Reykjavik, guesthouses book up quickly. I started researching around October/November for our May trip and was surprised to see that only a few rooms were left at some of the guesthouses.
- Basically everywhere took credit card, which was great – no need to bring cash or deal with the exchange booth at the airport.
- When renting a car, get an SUV (the only truly paved road is the Ring Road) and make sure you get insurance. Some friends of mine had their car door ripped off from high winds and didn’t have insurance – not good. Also, go in with the mentality that you’ll be spending quite a bit on gas. I’m pretty sure that we spent around $500 over the course of 6 days.
- When driving, check the signs and tune into the local radio stations to listen out for closed roads. The Ring Road almost never closes, but the smaller roads tend to shut down suddenly due to high winds or wet conditions. Keep a map with you at all times and be prepared to change course.
- Unless you’re eating lamb or beef, everything is imported and as a result, expensive. The airlines get you there for less so they can promote tourism, but the Icelandic businesses obviously need to charge a healthy chunk of change to be profitable. No joke, I paid around $25 for a “Caesar salad” that I’m pretty sure was iceberg lettuce with ranch.
- Speaking of food… Their gas stations had some of the best food. The highest rated restaurants on Yelp were ones that had fuel tanks out front.
- Icelandic horses have better hair than Fabio. Pull over on the side of the road to snag a pic with them – you won’t regret it.
What I packed:
- Rain pants! I wore these a lot and was so thankful that I bought them because it rained basically every day and the combination of cold, rain, and wind made it pretty rough some days.
- My LLBean boots – the perfect mix of waterproof boot and “hiking” boot. We didn’t go on any extreme hikes, so these were perfect for me. Honestly, these were the only shoes I wore while we were in Iceland.
- Pro tip: Wear them on the plane so you don’t have the extra lbs. in your luggage.
- Patagonia Snap-T Pullover – I wish I packed 5 of these.
- Turtlenecks – My favorites are the tissue turtlenecks from J.Crew since they’re relatively lightweight and make a great base layer.
- LLBean boot socks
- A bathing suit that I didn’t mind getting dirty – We planned on going to one of the hot springs in the side of the mountain, but didn’t wind up making it. We did; however, get to enjoy the Blue Lagoon and wound up needing our suits for that.
- RxBars and Lara Bars for quick GF fixes during the road trips
Overall, we had such a good time in Iceland. Would I go back tomorrow? Nah. Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely – it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
Have you been to Iceland? Was your experience similar to ours? I’d love to hear from you!