Iceland had been a dream of mine since studying abroad. I remember the disappointment when I ran out of weekends to visit, and I felt like I may never see it. However, things totally have a way of working out, and my trip to Iceland ended up being way better as a week-long trip from home than a short-lived weekend trip from Switzerland. Here are a few recommendations for one of my favorite places on the whole planet:
1. Rent the Land Rover. Just do it.
After going back and forth on whether we really needed to rent the Land Rover for Iceland, we went for it. Honestly, it MADE. THE. TRIP. I'm not kidding. It may seem silly, but we rented this rig from ISAK, and it was outfitted with in-car wifi, which made finding our way around the isolated countryside way less daunting, and WAY more fun. Plus all of our pictures were just a smidge cooler. Ok, a lot cooler. We all almost cried when we had to hand our home-away-from-home back over to the rental place. It's worth it.
2. Do the Blue Lagoon even though it's a tourist trap
Ok, my thoughts when traveling are usually something along the lines of, "I only want to do really obscure 'off-the-beaten path' items, and I want to avoid tourist traps at all cost", so naturally I was skeptical of the Blue Lagoon.
Here's my honest thoughts after visiting:
- It's totally a tourist trap. They have monetized literally all aspects of the place, and it is much more like a spa than a natural experience.
- If you like spas (most people do) this is one of the coolest freaking spas of all time and you will probably love it like we did.
- Pictures turned out really cool, so even if you just want an awesome picture, it's worth your time.
- It really is luxurious. Private? No. Relaxing and fun? Absolutely. Know what you're getting into.
- ALSO: surprisingly, after the hefty entrance fee (we spent around $90 USD) drinks were not that expensive at the bar. I was expecting worse.
All-In-All: I would definitely not plan a trip to Iceland without going. It was just too much fun!
3. Ice Caves
This is for everyone crazy enough to go to Iceland in the Winter like we did. Spending the extra money and going with Local Guide for our ice caving experience was WELL worth the stupid amount of money it cost. It was easily the highlight of my trip, and we had such an unforgettable day on the glaciers. We did the "Ice Cave Discovery" tour and instead of going to the easily accessible Crystal Cave, where there are like crowds of people hanging out (no thanks) we spent the whole day hiking on top of the glacier to two more remote caves. We only saw one other group in one of the caves for like TWO seconds, and our group was only 8 people, so we really felt quite alone up there. It was amazing. I also cannot say enough about the kindness and patience of our guide! He was so lovely!
So, before the hike even started, I was a little concerned about difficulty, as the online difficulty was listed as "Moderate/Hard". I like to hike but I don't really like to HIKE if you guys know what I mean hahaha. Like I am always the last person up the hill and I can handle a little bit of a struggle but I don't want to be so out of breath the whole time that I hate my life, you know? Anyway, when we got there, our guide started handing us harnesses and ice axes and crampons and i was like GREAT ya girl is about to die, but in all honesty, the hike was pretty easy. Like we were definitely worn out by the end, but pretty much anyone that can comfortably walk like 4 miles around a flat track could probably do this hike. So don't let the rating scare you!
I'm not sure what I was expecting, but once we got on the glacier, we were walking on actual ice. I know that sounds dumb, but I think I was expecting snow or something less translucent. It's hard to tell in pictures, but you can see through layers and layers of ice, which kinda looks like you're walking on a clear marble. And the water was so pure, we stopped for a little drink!
Alright, the caves themselves were straight out of a movie. I felt like an explorer spelunking for National Geographic. It was incredible. Because of climate change, the glaciers and therefore ice caves are receding at an alarming rate, so we were feeling really lucky just to have been able to witness their majesty. It was truly one of those things that I will never forget.
Another tip is to bring your favorite people along with you. Look at Christen Fallon looking like a complete badass. I mean really.
The water turned out to be so delightful, Michael and Christen's husband Jason filled up some water bottles full of Iceland's best.
4. Don't skip on Reykjavik!
So, in a place like Iceland, it's natural to want to skip anything that isn't rugged wilderness, but Reykjavik, the world's northernmost capital city is so unique and cute and should definitely not be skipped!
Here are some of my favorite Reykjavik finds:
I have had a lot of Mochas in my life, and I am comfortable saying that Mokka Café has the best. TO DIE FOR. And a cute and cozy retro vibe to go along with. My heart pitter-patters at the thought of this place. Sigh. *sheds a single tear*
If you're looking for something healthy and vegan, that also isn't $1,000 a plate (classic Iceland) then Gló is your spot. We loved this little café! It also had great people watching views of the city!
Anyone who really knows me knows I can't go too long without Indian food. It is my lifeline and comfort so I'm always on the hunt for the best Indian around. While I had pretty low expectations for Icelandic Indian food, Hradelstin was decent and SO freaking cute on the inside. So if you seriously can't get Indian out of your head, check this place out!
If you're feeling a latté and you're over the mokkas, Reykjavik Roasters is the place for you. With a simple menu, they have gotten really great at the classics, and the cute little records and trinkets made me feel right at home here.
5. Pet some ponies
I'm obsessed. They're everywhere. It's free. Do your thang. Also buy some carrots at the supermarket and they will flock to you. Pro-tip.
6. Visit the plane!
Not going to lie to you, this is much more of a photo-op than an experience, but there's nothing wrong with a cool photo right?!
I saw this photo allllll over the internet and I was determined to make my way there, but what I didn't realize, was that there was a pretty long walk to actually arrive at the plane!
Wardrobe tips: bring something flashy to really stand out among the bleak landscape! Otherwise, all black attire really compliments the monochromatic scheme.
7. Black Beach!
Right outside of Vík, Reynisfjara is a famous beach known for its stark black sands! It was low-key crowded, but early mornings help gain smaller crowds, and you can pretty easily find locations without people in them! It's a huge beach!
We found the best little boutique hotel called Black Beach Suites that was right next to black beach. It was right by a pony farm, and even a few hidden waterfalls. Here's a little clip from our time at Black Beach Suites!