In less than two days, we managed to unlock “the tip of the Iceland iceberg,” i.e. Reykjavík and the surrounding area. Nevertheless, check out what we were able to fit into 46 hours! Consider this our Iceland 101 and we can’t WAIT to go back and bring you Iceland 102! We’ve got; how to get there, where to stay, where to shop, where to eat, and the Golden Circle tour covered.
Post sponsored by IcelandAir
Iceland is a Nordic island nation, defined by its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields. Massive glaciers are protected in two national parks. Most of the (335k) population lives in the capital, Reykjavík, which runs on geothermal power and is home to the National and Saga museums, tracing Iceland’s Viking history. Thanks, Google Search 😉
The beauty of Iceland (besides the extreme beauty of Iceland) is that it’s tourist friendly and therefore very easy to navigate. If you find yourself traveling east to Europe, say to Scotland for example….do yourself a favor and take advantage of Iceland Air‘s stopover flights on the way home (assuming you live in the US).
We took a 2 hour 2o min flight from Glasgow to Keflavik Intl Airport, and it couldn’t have been easier. We were a bit worried that we hadn’t figured out how we’d get from the airport to our hotel in Reykjavík (about 30 mins away)…but we need not have stressed. With roughly 2 million (and rising) tourists visiting Iceland each year, they’ve got shuttling folks around mastered!
We’ll start with some dramatic landscapes for your viewing pleasure.
Stay a while!
Two words: Icelandair Hotels. When we were in the planning stages, we loved Icelandair Hotel’s clean, easy to navigate website (a big plus in our books!). With a few hotels in different areas of Reykjavík to choose from, we decided to stay in a different hotel for each of our two nights. We love checking out hotels; call it a hobby.
Icelandair Hotels also teams up with Your Perfect Day travel agency. With a booking center in the lobby of both hotels, it made organizing our Golden Tour day-trip extremely simple.
Reykjavik Natura – Hotel 1
Slightly industrial looking on the outside, super modern, clean, bright, and chic on the inside! The rooms were compact with an efficient use of space, Ikea style. There was a really nice balance of nature and modern art incorporated throughout the hotel, and we were in international-food heaven at the hotel’s restaurant, Satt. We sampled a little bit of everything at the breakfast buffet and it’s where we first discovered our love of Icelandic butter. We will compare all butter to Iceland butter from here on forward. It’s ridiculous.
Easy to do from the Natura hotel. Step outside, look for Hallgrimskirkja (240 ft church and also the tallest building in Reykjavík) and head that way! We chose to get some exercise and walked, maybe even skipped a little when we realized we were finally walking/skipping in Reykjavik. So much planning for so long, so awesome to finally be there!
Besides being an excellent marker (it’s how we knew where we were…like a giant breadcrumb), the Hallgrimskirkja church is beautiful and should be visited. We love the clean Nordic lines. Not an overly embellished church, that’s for sure. Definitely, take the lift to the top of the tower and enjoy a 360° view over all of Reykjavík. Wow.
The Sun Voyager by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason in downtown Reykjavík is another must-see.
Between the church and the Sun Voyager lies downtown Reykjavík and lots and lots of lovely shops! Gather up all your kronur, you’re going to need them!
- Laugavegur, Bankastræti, Austurstræti, Lækjargata, Skólavörðustígur.
Fashionable Icelandic design
Stay fueled while you walk around downtown Reykjavik, and take advantage of the many little bakeries, and cafes. We waited for some rain to pass inside Fish & more (a coffee shop!) and enjoyed a good cup of java and some traditional rhubarb cake.
Thanks to the recommendation of Icelandair Hotels we had the most incredible dinner at Geiri Smart Restaurant. In fact, we awarded it Best Meal of the entire Scotland/Iceland trip. This is fine contemporary dining in a velvety/industrial modern luxe setting. How’s that for a description?!
Vox was another winning restaurant in our eyes and in the eyes of the 2017 Michelin Guide. Handy that it was in our Hotel # 2, the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica. We savored every bite from the lunch buffet, with many trips to try multiple courses of fish, meat, salads, sushi, appetizers, and desserts. And yeah, bread and our beloved Icelandic butter.
Golden Circle Tour with a side of Geothermal spa, please.
Reykjavik Excursions offers every kind of tour, to satisfy every kind of person, with every kind of interest. Northern Lights Tours, Wellness Tours, Golden Circle Tours with options and add-ons, Nature Tours, and Adventure Tours! We opted for the popular Golden Circle & Fontana Wellness package because all touring should be broken up with a 2 hour stop at a geothermal spa! The Golden Circle also covers Iceland’s most famous sights.
Geysir (pronounced gay-sir, not guy-sir, and not gee-sir). The area is named after the biggest, and now mostly dormant, geyser Geysir and all geysers in the world owe their name to it. That’s a whole lot of geyser in a sentence! The biggest attraction today is the active Strokkur, which shoots up a column of water up to 98 ft into the air every few minutes.
One of Iceland’s most spectacular waterfalls, Gullfoss took our breath away…figuratively and almost literally, it was so windy! The energy pumping out of that waterfall could be felt as soon as we got off the tour bus. Our driver pointed us towards the stairs to get up close and personal with the falls…and from there we just followed the roaring noise. It was pretty spectacular!
And because, Iceland; blustery, chilly, and invigorating here ⬆ and a little while later, basking in a toasty geothermal spa here ⬇ in the…
Laugarvatn Fontana was a welcome break from tour bussing and gave us time to stretch our legs and soak in natural geothermal baths. Yes, please! Along with our new friend Zuzana, we checked out every single hot pool, warm pool and bubbling hot-spring steam room. We even dipped a toe in Lake Laugarvatn. We rented towels but brought our own bathing suits (though you could rent those too!) and when we were done, we were treated to a demo of geothermal bread baking.
Yes, geothermal bread baking! Our guide walked us out to the black sandy shore of the lake where we could see the hot springs bubbling…and then she started digging. Out came a pot of baked rye bread cooking there in the sand since she placed it there the day before. Crazy, right?! Then came the best bit of all…we followed our guide back into the spa lobby where she sliced that warm fresh bread and served it up with SLABS of Icelandic butter.
Fully rejuvenated, our bus came back to collect us and bring us to the final stop on our Golden Circle Tour…
Thingvellir park is where you can see Alþing (Althing), the site of Iceland’s parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. The park is also famous for sitting in a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates, the North-American plate and the Eurasian plate. Basically, you can walk between two continents….so we did!
And that sadly brings us to the end of our Iceland post 🙁 It was time to make the sad transfer back to Keflavik, where we navigated self-check-in for our Icelandair flight like a boss. Worth mentioning about Keflavik airport, the Dyson bathroom cubes are totally awesome. If you’ve been, you know what we’re talking about.
One last travel tip: Butter doesn’t travel particularly well. [Lora’s note: But the duty-free Icelandic vodka you can buy at the airport does…]
Pics: Lora / Words: Bev / Video Editing: Jeff Oliver