Iceland – Tips & Tricks and Day 1 Itinerary

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Well, I’m back from Iceland! Wow. I’m almost speechless. First of all, thank you all SO much for following along with our trip! I had so much fun being able to share things with you all along the way, and it was so fun to see how many of you are planning (or simply wanting) to go there soon. For those of you who are hoping to plan a trip there anytime in the near future, I’m hopeful that I can be a resource for you! I know it was super helpful for me before we left to have people who had already experienced Iceland, because I was able to get so many tips & tricks along with recommendations from others. I only wish that everything had been compiled in one place – so that’s what I’m here for! And for those of you who have asked why I chose Iceland – because it’s STUNNING and there are so many adventurous, outdoorsy things to do! It feels like you’re in a whole different world, and it’s only a ~5 hour flight from D.C., which is like going to California! Seriously, I’m convinced I will never go anywhere cooler or more beautiful in my entire life.

I am going to do a few different Iceland posts – one for each day of the trip. This post is also going to include a bulleted list of helpful tips, in case you already have your own itinerary planned but would like some overall recommendations for traveling to Iceland. Just a fair warning that none of these tips and tricks are in any specific order – I just made sure to write things down as we went along and as they came to me. So, here we go!

Iceland Tips & Tricks

  • I will say this a million times throughout these posts, but ICELAND. IS. INSANELY. EXPENSIVE. First things first, don’t be fooled by cheap airline tickets. When you get there, everything is crazy expensive (think $8.50 USD per gallon of gas) – just as a fair warning!! So make sure you’ve saved up enough so that you’re not caught off guard/surprised once you’re there 🙂
  • When packing, here is the number one thing to keep in mind: LAYER! They say “if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, wait 10 minutes,” and it couldn’t be more true! The weather is constantly changing, and it’s really helpful to have several layers. The things I lived in on this trip were: Smartwool leggings, REI rain pants, a Smartwool long sleeve shirt, a Northface vest, a rain coat, a puffy coat, gloves, scarves and a hat. You will constantly be adding and removing layers depending on what you’re doing and whether or not it’s rainy – which changes SO frequently!
  • Speaking of layers, invest in a pair of rain paints. I promise you won’t regret it! I got mine from REI. Everything in Iceland is extremely wet – it rains a lot, it’s really windy, there are tons of waterfalls everywhere, etc. Also make sure you bring a windbreaker! Iceland is the third windiest country in the world.
  • Bring warm, thick socks and a good pair of hiking boots. You will live in hiking boots. There are so many great hiking spots, places to walk around waterfalls, etc.
  • We flew IcelandAir and had a GREAT experience – no delays, great customer service. In my opinion, it was worth spending the little bit of extra money to fly IcelandAir vs. WOW Airlines!
  • RENT A CAR! Some of the best parts of Iceland are in remote areas that you wouldn’t be able to get to without one. This is probably my #1 recommendation! Depending on what you’re planning to do on your trip and the time of year you’re going, get a car with 4WD – you don’t want to get stuck anywhere, which is definitely a thing there.
  • Rent a GPS for your car! Cell phone service isn’t always amazing, so definitely don’t rely on Google Maps to get you around everywhere. We were extremely happy to have a GPS for our car.
  • When entering addresses into the GPS, don’t put “Glacier,” “Waterfall,” “Church,” etc… English words did not show up for us when typing them in, and it got really frustrating!
  • When you have said car, make sure you stop and get when you see a gas station if you’re ever under half a tank. This was recommended to me before I left, and it was greatly appreciated! Iceland doesn’t have a ton of infrastructure, and depending on where you’re going, you might not see a gas station for a very long time.
  • Speaking of gas stations… all of the Iceland gas stations are known for having amazing hot dogs! It sounds weird, but Iceland is very much known for their traditional Icelandic hotdogs. N1 (the gas station) has great ones – make sure you get everything on it!
  • When you’re driving somewhere, make sure you build in a little extra time for pulling over on the side of the road when you see something pretty! People were CONSTANTLY doing this – including myself – and it’s so worth it 🙂 you will be driving along and just see something STUNNING every 10 minutes or so, and you’ll want to stop and capture it, if you’re anything like me!
  • Pack snacks! The food there is EXPENSIVE (I cannot stress enough how expensive…) and I can’t imagine eating out every single meal.
  • Get duty free alcohol, either at your home airport or at Keflavik International Airport in Iceland, if you like getting a little buzz at night! Drinks in Iceland are ABSURDLY expensive and we were really happy to be able to have a glass of wine before heading out to dinner at night.
  • September was an AMAZING time to go, in my opinion. The colors were unbelievable as all the leaves were changing colors, and the Northern Lights are active in September!
  • You don’t need to bring cash!! Every single place we went takes credit cards.
  • If you want to go to the Blue Lagoon, purchase your tickets ahead of time!!! If you don’t do this, you could be waiting in line for HOURS before getting in.
  • If you go to the Blue Lagoon, make sure you put conditioner in your hair BEFORE you go in and don’t wash it out! The sulfur can really mess with your hair, so it’s good to have it protected. Even if you don’t think you’ll get your hair wet, you probably will!
  • The Blue Lagoon is super close to the airport and pretty far from everything else – if you’re going to go, I recommend going straight to the Blue Lagoon from the airport, or going on the way to the airport on your way home. This was recommended to us by multiple people before we left, and we definitely agree with the recommendation!
  • Try Icelandic food!!! They’re known for puffin, lamb, whale, reindeer, hot dogs and FISH. They have the best fish ever because they’re an island, and the best lamb ever because all of their sheep roam so freely and are very happy 🙂
  • GIVE YOURSELF PLENTY OF TIME AT THE AIRPORT ON THE WAY HOME. I swear, people at this airport don’t understand what a line is – everyone is just scattered all over the place, and everything is extremely slow. We got to the airport three hours early and still only made it to our gate with 25 minutes to spare.
  • Don’t forget a converter for your electronics!
  • Use this site to track the Northern Lights. In order to see the Northern Lights, they need to be active (ideally a 4 or 5 on the scale, at the minimum) and you need clear skies. You will not see them if it’s cloudy. This site allows you to track the cloud coverage and activity level!
  • If you get there and the Northern Lights are out one night, GO SEE THEM! Just start driving to a remote area. Don’t hope that they’ll come out another day – even if you’re exhausted from a redeye flight!
  • Some things might seem like they’re a far drive, but the views are AMAZING. While we did lots of adventurous things on our trip, some of my favorite moments were just driving from place to place, soaking in the scenery – so don’t let that deter you!

Iceland Day 1 Itinerary: Arrive, Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik

Arrive at Keflavik International Airport
Our flight was a redeye flight and left from D.C. at 8:30pm on Wednesday night, and arrived at 6:30am local time on Thursday, which was still 2:30am at home. Needless to say, we were exhausted, but luckily the adrenaline of being in a new place (and some coffee) kicked in and helped us through. After we landed, the first thing we did was grab a cup of coffee in the airport and pick up our rental car. We had a reservation at the Blue Lagoon at 10am, and it’s really close to the airport, so we knew we had some time to kill.

Arrival

Drive Around, Enjoy Scenery
We talked to the guy at the rental car place and told him that we had some time to kill before the Blue Lagoon, and he recommended we drive a loop to just soak up the scenery at bit. We drove around for about an hour, pulled over a couple of times to take a few pictures and really soak it all in, then drove to the Blue Lagoon.

Drive after Arrival

Blue Lagoon
As I mentioned in my “tips & tricks” section, the Blue Lagoon is super close to the airport and pretty far from everything else, so I recommend going on your way to Reykjavik from the airport, or on the way to the airport when you’re leaving Iceland. In our case, we went straight from the airport! It was the PERFECT way to relax & decompress after our flight, since it’s basically just a giant spa with a massive natural hot tub. My #1 tip: PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS AHEAD OF TIME! You will wait in line for hours if you don’t do this! When purchasing your ticket, I recommend getting the Comfort Package, which includes a towel rental and a drink at the bar inside the lagoon. There are also face masks you can get while swimming around the lagoon, which was super fun and relaxing! Altogether, we probably spent a good three hours here, and it was just magical!

Drive to Reykjavik, visit Hallgrímskirkja Church
The drive to Reykjavik is around 45 minutes. We went straight to this huge, extremely tall church located in downtown Reykjavik. It’s BEAUTFUL from the outside – and the best part is that you can go inside and purchase a ticket to go to the tower. An elevator will take you to the top, and you’ll be able to see ALL of Reykjavik from there! It’s absolutely stunning. Reykjavik is SO colorful and in the fall, you’ll be able to see all the different colors of the trees. Make sure your camera is nice ‘n charged because you’ll want to take tons of pictures of this view!

Church - outsideChurch - top 1Church - top 2

Drive to Sea Baron – Located in Reykjavik Harbor
After we visited the church, we were super hungry and wanted something warm and delicious for lunch. Sea Baron is right on the harbor and is known for having the BEST lobster soup on the island! It was absolutely AMAZING – easily the best soup I’ve ever had, and served with the warmest, freshest bread. This was definitely a must-eat-at stop!

Sea Baron 1Sea Baron 2

Walk to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – Famous Hot Dog Stand
As I mentioned before, Iceland is famous for its hot dogs. How weird is that? Before leaving, I thought to myself, how good can a freakin’ hot dog be?! Like, of course I love me a good ole ballpark dog, but I didn’t think these could be THAT different. Boy, was I wrong! We walked to this hot dog stand from Sea Baron (it was about a 10 minute walk) and there was a line that was ~20 minutes long. We waited in line and had the best hot dogs of our lives! I have a feeling Charlie and I will be talking about those Iceland hot dogs for years to come. All Icelandic hot dogs have the same toppings – and I highly recommend getting all of them, which is the traditional Icelandic way. Hint: they have FRIED ONIONS they put on their dogs and this amazing mayo-esque sauce! All around 10/10.

Hot Dog 1Hot Dog 2Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

Check into Airbnb
We were EXHAUSTED from flying and jetlag, so from here, we drove to our Airbnb located in downtown Reykjavik. We stayed on the CUTEST street with colorful houses. I know a lot of people stay in hotels while they’re in Iceland, but if you don’t know by now, I pretty much always stay in Airbnbs when traveling, so I opted for that route instead! As much as I wanted to stay awake and keep exploring, I knew we needed a nap if we were going to make it through the night. We napped for two hours, which was a definite game-changer. We then whipped out our bottle of red wine and the rum we purchased duty-free back in D.C. (DO THIS! Alcohol is so expensive in Iceland), and got a nice little buzz before heading to our 7:30pm dinner reservations.

Airbnb

Dinner Reservation: Grillmarkadurinn
I did a lot of research on where I wanted to eat while I was in Iceland, and made sure to get tons of recommendations. Several people recommended this place to me, and now I want to recommend it to YOU because it was insane! It was such a romantic and cozy vibe, and the food was so good. One thing I cannot stress enough: THE FOOD IN ICELAND IS VERY EXPENSIVE. It helps that you don’t have to tip at restaurants, but again, I want to forewarn you, that the food (and everything, really) in Iceland is very expensive, especially if you’re eating at a decently “nice” restaurant. That being said, I could not recommend this more. For us, eating at restaurants with amazing local food is part of the cultural experience, and we didn’t want to forego that! We walked to Grillmarkadurinn from our centrally-located Airbnb. We started with the whale, puffin & lobster sliders (WHALE AND PUFFIN WERE ACTUALLY SO GOOD!) I know that sounds really weird, but I wanted to experience food there that I knew I couldn’t experience back at home! For dinner, I ordered the lamb (it was certainly the best lamb I’ve ever had) and Charlie ordered a sampler of different fishes since Iceland has such incredible fish. For dessert, we split the skyrsorbet (if you don’t know about “skyr,” you’re in for quite the treat! It’s basically their form of Greek yogurt with TONS of cultures and it’s very creamy & delicious!)

Drinks at Bar Kaldi
After dinner, we were excited to walk around downtown a bit and go to a bar that was highly recommended to me called Bar Kaldi. While I was sitting in this candlelit bar with live piano playing, sipping on my Moscow mule, with tons of locals around me in their jackets on this cold and windy night, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I was. It was the coziest bar in the world, and I really felt like I was in a tiny European city. Actually, the vibe in that little bar was my favorite of any bar I’ve ever been to – it’s hard to even explain. Anyway, their Moscow mule was absolutely delicious 🙂 on our walk home, we looked up and saw the Northern Lights! It was just magical.

Lights

Home – Sleep!
That was it for Day 1!

Stay tuned for the next couple of days in Iceland. I hope those of you who are planning (or wanting to plan!) a trip to Iceland find this helpful! I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

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