What better way to spend a 1:20 flight delay than to start this post! 😊
Vacationing in Iceland was definitely worth it! The views are spectacular and it really is a country full of geological wonders. We booked our flight + hotel package through Expedia.com and stayed at the Icelandlair Hotel Reykjavik Natura.
It is a pricey place to go (one of the top 5 expensive places in the world) so be prepared to spend money. We spent an average of 650 kr ($5.66) for a 8 oz latte; 2,100 kr ($18.27) for lunch; 4,900 kr for dinner ($42.63); and 1,750 kr ($15.23) for a 6 minute taxi cab ride.
A lot of my friends rented with SAD Cars, so we did as well. On the first day, we swapped a car due to the EPS service light (electric power steering) after driving 20 towards Blue Lagoon. The second night, after booking a tour and getting back to our hotel, we drove the exchanged car 10-15 minutes and it started to smoke up. There was still water fluid in the car so that was pretty crazy. We did not swap for a third car. Thank goodness for enterprise.
Here are the places we visited:
Inside the Volcano
How cool is this!! The excursion is 42,000 kr (~$365) and 5-6 hours, book it here. The mini tourbus picked us up from the hotel and to the booking center. In 50 minutes, we reached the other camp site to gear up. They provide these long yellow rain jackets which were a must!!
The walk to the base camp is about 45 minutes, so dress warm. So warm–like your snowboarding gear. We wish we brought ours. Even the goggles, because that can be helpful against hail (or even to trek closer to the waterfalls mentioned below for beautiful photos).
Once we arrived at the base camp, we were greeted by warm tea and coffee. After a brief safety message, the Group 1 geared up with helmets. The tour experience is only for 6 people at a time since the window washing transporter can only fit 6-7 people max. Patiently waiting for our turn, while supping tea, we mounted the GoPro to the helmet. Yay for the 2 helmets with the mount!!
Once it was our turn, it started to rain harder. But no worries, the experience was highly anticipated. We took off our helpful yellow rain coats and braced the cold. We went down the window washing transporter, which had wheels on one side to buffer against the uneven volcano opening (it actually got warmer as we were further from the opening). There was even a portion of the volcano wall that had metal reinforcement to ease the machine down. Safely stopped at the volcano bottom, we had about 20-30 minutes to explore the space.
A little history behind the volcano… The magma burst out of the volcano in two spots. One opening was closed off. There are speculations about the crater that formed which allows people to be able to walk in the volcano. There appeared to be a small gas chamber that helped expel some of the magma gas out. Natural wonders are so cool 😮 .
Here are some shots which do not do this wonder any justice:
Going back up the volcano and back to the base camp was super cold (strong hail) so being greeted to lamb soup was perfect. Soon after, we began our 45 minute journey back. This time I took Kevin’s yellow coat which was longer so no water got into my shoe! During this walk, we realized our hiking shoes were actually not waterproof (from Amazon: Wolverine Women’s Blackledge LX Waterproof Mid Ankle Hiker and Hi-Tec Men’s Bandera Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot). Hopefully that’s just because rain was pouring into the shoes vs the shoe not being able to withstand water puddles… Either way, these shoes were great for the rest of our trip.
The city central (most touristy area) was about a 6-10 drive away from our hotel, so it was convenient to get to. Since our car was malfunctioning the second night, we returned it and spent 1,750 kr for a taxi cab back to the hotel.
It’s definitely a small city (comparing to NYC and Barcelona). You can walk from one end to the other in about 15 minutes.
There are enough food choices here so you can eat something different for breakfast and lunch. We went to the below places:
- Þrir Frakkar (3 Frakker) – website – more traditional Icelandic food. We had shark (it was very metallic-y), minke whale (it was alright), smoked cod (way too salty), and sour creme brulee (so delicious). Our clothes smelled strongly of fish the next day. After this, we decided we were not big fans of the Icelandic food. I was never a big fan of fish and thought it was still worth a try. During our Marina Bay walk this trip, we saw a sign that whale hunting is being done just for tourists. I am not sure on the fact behind that and will need to do more research.
- Google Maps: Baldursgata 14, Baldursgata, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
- Car GPS: Street = Baldursgata, Number = 14; City = Reykjavik
- Tapas barinn – website – fusion of Spanish and Icelandic food. We ordered 4 tapas for the both of us. Everything was so delicious.
- Google Maps: Vesturgata 3b, 101 Reykjavík
- Car GPS: Street = Vesturgata, Number = 3b, City = Reykjavik
- The Laundromat Cafe – website – good vegan options and a mix of everything . I was feeling for veggies and something light and even asked for a hot toddy. The waitress found a recipe that I thought was wrong (I’ve only had the hot cider toddy), haha. Beetroot on top of eggplant on top of hummus on top of toast sprinkled with cashews–yum. Avocado smoothie was SOUR. The water comes in 3 flavors: plain, lemon/lime, and strawberry. Pretty chill space to grab coffee and work or chill with cocktails. WiFi is available.
Cafe Babalu – tripadvisor – cozy spot for coffee or to catch up on your trip plans with WiFi. We came here for breakfast: lamb soup (good), grilled cheese (couldn’t tell what cheese this was), and panini with tomato, cheese, and pesto (not the usual pesto flavor I was familiar with). They brew chai here but the latte was a bit disappointing. There was no foamy milk. It tasted like chai with a bit of milk and a lot of hot water. The regular latte is definitely frothy and has a kick.
- Google Maps: Skólavörðustígur 22, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
- Car GPS: Street: Skolavordustigur = Number: 22 = City: Reykjavik
- 10-11 markets – to grab lunch for the day’s trip or breakfast. Sandwiches/wraps range from 890 kr to 1,000 kr. It’ll be cheaper than the ones sold in the touristy nature tours.
- Te & Kaffi – the chain coffee store in Iceland. They offer matcha latte 🍵 for 750 kr in the bookstore. Super pricey but so good.
- Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – tripadvisor – to get the best hot dog in town. Get it with everything, white onions and fried onions, topped with mustard, ketchup, and mayo. The fried onions are so good–I’ve been eating my hot hogs wrong my entire life.
- Google Maps: Tryggvatagata 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Blue Lagoon (website)
While this is a tourist spot, I would definitely recommend it as your FIRST stop in Iceland or your LAST stop before your flight. Why? So you can shower and feel rested. Prebook your tickets so you can have a certain time slot for entry. The worst thing is to show up and not being able to be admitted. This spa is basically a huge warm tub full of geothermal water full of minerals to help your skin. For 40 euros, enjoy the nice warm waters and the little waterfall that acts like a shoulder massage. The Silica mud mask is offered for free, so cake some onto your face for 5-10 minutes to get smooth results. If you purchase the comfort pass for 55 euros, you will also try the algae mud mask, which makes the skin even smoother (effects lasted ALL day and I did not apply any lotions after showering 😍. I was very tempted to buy the algae mask but it’s $$$$ and I’ll just stick to my Korean products – see my routine here).
Pack your bathing suit and your waterproof camera! They provide soap, towels, cotton rounds, and a hair dryer. The conditioner is pretty low quality since it left my hair in knots all day (it was incredibly hard to brush/comb through). I was a bit sad I left the camera in the car! I didn’t think they would be so lax about electronics… Here’s a pic post-spa:
This is where you can catch any water related tour. From whale watching to puffins and night cruises to catch the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). There are also shops lined along the shore. We went to
- Valdis – tripadvisor – ice cream. We figured they must be very popular since they had a number ticketing system. The locals stopped by during their lunch break too.
- Sortir 17 – tripadvisor – baked goods. We bought the blueberry cupcake with meringue. It was fluffy and it wasn’t as sweet as expected. There was a sample of the chocolate cake which was tasty until I bit into licorice 😲.
We booked the Afternoon Tour with What’s On since our car broke down. It included the following:
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park
This area was very nice and calm. This is actually a good spot to view the Northern Lights since there is no light pollution (but we’d be crazy to drive here in the dead of the night). 200 kr to use the bathroom aka donate to preserve this land. Since this was early morning, we were not AS cold yet… thus, no jackets in this photo:
Geysir – Strokkur
The big Geyser no longer erupts, however, the smaller one Strokkur erupts every 5-7 minutes up to 30 meters (98 feet) high. We went in the rain, so it wasn’t taller than 5 feet. We caught the eruption on video but here is a low quality GIF:
Thank you Iceland weather for suddenly being so uncooperative. It started to rain, then hail, then blow crazy rains, then hail again. We were walking outside for about 5-8 minutes before running back into the tour minibus. I was able to walk up the steps but didn’t go very far to be closer to the waterfall. The hail was in our direction. We weren’t able to capture many good photos since the water was all over the camera lens. I wish the weather was better so we could’ve walked closer! The tour guide gave us 30 minutes but almost everyone was back inside. These two guys braved the weather for about 20 minutes and was cursing once he came back inside–wayyy too cold 🌨🌧.
Faxi (Vatnsleysufoss) Waterfall
This was the second waterfall the tour guide led us to. The weather calmed down a bit (just 🌧). Not as grand as the first one but still a wonderful sight.
Google Maps: Þórsmerkurvegur, Iceland
Car GPS: Seljalandsfloss
A “small” waterfall that you can walk up and behind. There is a wooden staircase on each end and the middle is all natural rock. It does get slippery. There are so many photo opps during this walk. Be careful to not slip!
Google Maps: Skógafoss, Iceland
Car GPS: Skogafoss
We saw this along the way to the Black Sand Beach and had to stop by. The waterfall is much bigger than Seljalandsfoss. There was a long walkway up on both sides but we did not climb up (since we didn’t have enough time).
Black Sand Beach
Google Maps: Black Beach Restaurant
Car GPS: your GPS may not have this particular address point. So onto the street Reynishverfisvegur and keep driving until you reach the end, which is the parking lot.
The parking lot is already the black sand!! I didn’t realize this until I walked into the beach front and saw the ground did not change. The waves were getting bigger every second at 5 PM. The mountains surrounding this beach had such amazing cuts from the volcano molten lava. The beach was full of larger stones and pebbles with varying fineness of the sand throughout.
Do NOT pay for the toilets outside (200 kr). The QR scanner works but the door does not open. Plus, restrooms are INSIDE the restaurant.
The Black Sand Beach restaurant is disappointingly all touristy/bar type of food. There was lamb soup (1,450 kr) and well as burger (2,190 kr), mozzarella sticks, cold sandwiches, and cake. We were hoping for more Icelandic fare or at least something less bar food like.
- When traveling in winter months (September – March), pack warm clothes, a waterproof jacket, and a pair of waterproof hiking shoes.
- Stay longer than 5 days so you can explore more of the country.
- Plan but be flexible. The weather changes every 5 minutes and varies daily, so some activities may not be as favorable on certain days.
- Bring your credit card that has zero foreign transaction fee. They accept card everywhere.
- Renting a car is definitely cheaper than booking tours and recommended to see most/all of Iceland.
- Tap water is safe to drink, so you do not need to buy from the markets.
Fun Facts About Iceland
- Iceland uses renewable energy, sourced naturally through the glaciers and hot springs.
- Iceland creates 300 times the energy needed to power the country.
- Electricity costs about 2 euros per month per house.
- Hot water is absolutely free since they have an abundance of it.
- There are 320,000 people living in Iceland and have been visited yearly by 2.5 million tourists.
Since Iceland imports most of its items from other countries, it was a bit hard finding souvenirs outside of the standard magnet, keychain, or postcard.
- Wool. Iceland has a ton of wool (since they have a ton of sheep) so the best gift is something made with wool. The cheapest pair of gloves were about 3,500 kr and hat 4,500. Not sure about you but that is WAY over my personal budget limit for this items.
- Licorice. The people here seem to like this very much. It’s in a ton of candy and chocolate. You can find many products at the duty-free airport. I did not try this since I am not a fan…
What we tried in Iceland that was delicious and not made there:
- Prince Polo – dark chocolate wafers imported from Poland. Get it on Amazon.
- Fresita sparking wine – fizzy strawberry wine from Chile. Get the 200 ml bottle duty free at the airport.