At long last! I had the opportunity to travel to Iceland last March and I’ve finally set aside some time to sift through my photos, re-live the trip, and organize my recommendations. Enjoy scrolling through and I hope it’s helpful if you’re planning a trip sometime soon. You can also check out my photo diary here or the Iceland section on my Travel Guide page. Please let me know if you have any questions! You can shoot me an email or leave a comment in the discussion below.
Iceland was easily one of the coolest places I’ve ever been! The landscape and terrain is truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I mean, there aren’t trees! Like, at all. It was so unique that it seemed like a different planet! But with all of the snow, waterfalls, geysers, glaciers, and seaside town of Reykjavik, there’s a picture-perfect scene everywhere you turn. And it’s SO clean! Icelanders are so friendly, too, and everyone we encountered spoke English.
We had a mere 72 hours in Iceland, but managed to pack quite a bit in. I’d love to go back someday though! If you’re considering a trip, I’d really recommend it. And if not, consider adding it to your travel bucket list!
How I Got There
This past year Icelandair launched non-stop flights from ORD directly to Keflavik (about 45 mins from Reykjavik) and it’s only a 6 hour flight. For how different the terrain is, it’s remarkable that it’s just two hours farther than California. (In the opposite direction, of course.) The best part of the Icelandair is that their stopover program allows you to spend up to 7 nights in Iceland without any additional airfare. (And they fly to over 20 destination in Europe!) So if you’re heading to Europe anytime soon, you should probably look into an Icelandair Stopover to add an extra stamp to your passport. (Icelandair also flies out of Boston, Denver, Edmonton, Minneapolis, JFK in New York, Newark, Seattle, Toronto, and DC year-round, as well as a few more seasonally!)
Where I Stayed
The hotel was a great location right on the Marina… I loved looking out my window (it was a bit too chilly to spend time on the balcony!) at all of the boats! And one of the best bars in Reykjavik is in the hotel lobby… Slipbarrinn. It was an easy walk to the downtown area and all of the restaurants we ate at, too!
And there was an in-room espresso maker, which is my second favorite thing in a hotel. (The first being a rain shower, which they also have… Complete with L’Occitane products!) It was super clean and all of the rooms have different decor!
What I Did
Since we took a redeye from ORD to Keflavik, we landed early and made our way to the hotel to get checked in. We had some downtime in our itinerary to relax before we hopped on a bus to do some sightseeing. Knowing I should fight the jetlag, I opted to set out on foot and explore Reykjavik a little bit! (I’ve found that doing something active is one of the best ways to fight jetlag, FYI!)
The first stop on our bus tour was Grótta Island Lighthouse, which was surrounded by mounds and mounds of seaweed! It was a good spot for photos and I believe it’s a spot where you can try to view the Northern Lights. (Spoiler Alert: It was pretty cloudy the two nights we were there, so we didn’t get to see them. I guess they were visible the night after we left though! Such a bummer.) I think the sunset would be gorgeous here, too!
After that, we stopped by one of the foot baths outside of Reykjavik and actually stumbled on two little lovebirds taking a dip! Don’t worry, they had swimsuits on. 😂 It was so cute though and made for a great photo opp! Someone in the group took their picture and sent it to them.
We visited the Hofdi House and actually got a private tour, which was pretty awesome as it’s not normally open to the public! It’s best known for the summit meeting of President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbatsjov in 1986 that marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. You can explore the house from the outside though!
Hallgrímskirkja is another must-see in Reykjavik! You can see it from most everywhere in the city, but the church is really stunning in person. Plus, the views from the tower are a must! I absolutely loved how colorful the city of Reykjavik is. The colorful rooftops are picture-perfect!
On our first full day, we did a Golden Circle tour with Super Jeeps! The Super Jeeps were *super* fun, but it was a rocky ride. If you get car sick easily (I don’t, but a few people on the trip do/did!), one of the bus tours or driving yourself might be a better option.
On the Golden Circle tour, we saw a ton of must-see attractions: Faxi Waterfall, Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir park and Strokkur, Thingvellir National Park and the tectonic divide. We even got to stop and pet the Icelandic horses on the side of the road! (This was probably one of my favorite parts… I took *countless* photos!)
Strokkur is one of Iceland’s most famous geysirs, as it erupts about every 5-10 minutes! It was so cool to see… We saw it erupt quite a few times as we were Snapchatting, Boomeranging, Videoing, and also taking photos. (So many devices, so little time. 😂) It’s in the Geysir Hot Spring Area where there are boiling mud pits, erupting geysirs, and more. (There’s a rest area, too, with snacks and restrooms!)
Gullfoss was such an incredible waterfall… It’s stunning! The weather wasn’t really cooperating with us when we were there (so cold, windy, and rainy), but it was still really cool to see.
You can see the Icelandic Horses on the side of the road as you’re driving the Golden Circle. If the off-roading jeeps aren’t for you, I’d suggest driving yourself so you can stop and take as many photos as you want! I don’t typically do well with big guided tours because I want to explore things on my own time, but I totally understand that’s some people’s go-to. I’m not sure if the buses stop to let you pet the horses or not, definitely something worth looking into though!
The Tectonic Drift at Thingvellir National Park was really cool to see, too! The park sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of the US & Europe tectonic plates.
On our last day, I walked around the Marina to take some photos before we headed to the Blue Lagoon. Blue Lagoon is usually one of the first things people think of when they think of a trip to Iceland… It’s Instagrammable AF. (Just make sure you have a waterproof phone case or camera!) It’s a geothermal spa that’s gotten so popular, that you have to prebook and make reservations in advance. Don’t forget to do this!
On the way to the Blue Lagoon, we saw the most incredible double rainbow! It was truly magical, the closest and most vivid rainbow I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. The Blue Lagoon is between the airport and Reykjavik so most people come right after the airport or on the way back to the airport! I was a little nervous about this (getting on a flight after being there), but there are showers and storage lockers for your luggage. (Just remember a wet bag for your suit!) You can also make a night out of it, which I think would fun and something I plan on doing next time I’m there … There is a full-service hotel (Hotel Silica) and a spa! (And you get access to a private lagoon!) It all looks gorgeous. Since we had a flight to catch, we only had time for quicker dip in the main lagoon (plenty of time to try both of the facemasks they offer you in the lagoon!) before we had to shower and grab lunch at Lava Restaurant on the property. There are swim-up bars with alcohol and healthy juices in the lagoon, saunas and steam rooms, and a relaxation area so you can definitely stay as long as you’d like!
A Few Things We Didn’t Have Time To Do
There are multiple whale-watching tours on boat that leave from the marina right by the hotel we stayed at! There are other boat tours, too. (I always find that the best photos are taken via boat… My favorite!)
Obviously try to see the Northern Lights when you’re there, FOR SURE!
We didn’t go there, but you can stand in between two continents on this bridge, which is pretty awesome.
Where We Ate & Drank
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur | I don’t even like hot dogs, but these hot dogs were so good! So good. You have to grab a hot dog at the hot dog stand when you’re there! (Read more about it here on Conde Nast Traveler!)
Kaffibrennslan | We grabbed coffee (one to stay and one to go!) at this shop and it was so cute!
Kryddlegin Hjortu | We are lunch here on our first day and their soup was really good! A must on a cold day.
Slippbarinn | We had cocktails here before dinner on our first night and it was a really fun spot!
Grillmarkadurinn | We ate dinner here on our first night and I highly recommend! The space is stunning, too. It’s farm to table (pretty much everything in Iceland is!), the menu is seasonal, and they’re known for their grilling. I had the Fish Gourmet tasting platter!
Efstidalur | During our Golden Circle tour, we stopped here for lunch. It doesn’t get much more farm-to-table than this since it’s actually ON a farm! It’s super nice and non-farm like inside though, don’t worry. They even have an ice cream shop, which you know I hit up after lunch!
Kopar | We ate dinner here on our second night and it was DELISH! It was right across the street from the hotel on the marina, too. To start, we ordered Cod Tongues, The Holy Crab, Icelandic Scallops, Crab Cakes, Rock Crab Soup, and Duck Spring Rolls. I had Lobster & Crab Risotto as my main course! It was all so, so good. I don’t remember what wine I had, but it was a red of some sort and it was tasty! The decor downstairs was also really cool… A little bit rustic with wooden and leather accents, cool lighting, and a wall of greenery. The napkins were gingham, which I can’t believe I even remember a year later. #GinghamObsessed
Saemundur Gastro Pub at Kex Hostel | After dinner, we headed to the bar at this hostel for some drinks and live music. It was too cold, but they have an outdoor little patio, too! It was a lot of fun and a great place to meet locals, as well as other travelers.
Lava Restaurant at Blue Lagoon | We ate lunch here before heading to the airport and it was incredible! I can’t remember what I had to eat, but I have photos on my phone of some very delicious-looking dessert and an espresso. 😂
Cafe Babalú was also super cute for takeaway coffee and quick bites!
Verbud 11 looked really cute from the outside, but we didn’t have time to eat there. Reviews look good online, too!
Stores to Visit
Jolahusid was the cutest Christmas store… It’s year-round!
I was on a mission to find an Icelandic wool sweater to buy, but they’re actually really expensive! You have to look at the tag and make sure you’re getting one made in Iceland, or what’s the point?! But an authentic one will cost you around $400 USD. I wasn’t expecting that, so I got a few pairs of wool socks instead. 😉 Maybe on my next trip I’ll get one! There are lots of little boutiques selling them in the downtown area of Reykjavik.
What to Pack
I visited in March (about one year ago exactly), so the weather was pretty on-par with Chicago. It was cold (in the 30’s) and it was wet! The weather is constantly changing so bring lots of layers, a warm coat that’s water-resistant, and all-weather boots. (I wore a heavy wool coat, but I wish I would have had a Barbour or Canada Goose with me.) Each of us girls packed Hunter Boots (I *swear* by my foldable/packable pair for travel.. Super lightweight for your suitcase!) and we were all so glad that we did! Make sure you pack warm socks to go in them, though. If you have more space in your suitcase or will be doing more active adventures on food, a pair of sturdy snowboots are a good idea!
You’ll need a passport and outlet adapters, too.
Check out my full photo diary here!