Aside from not knowing how to pronounce some of the names, traveling in Iceland was very easy and I would definitely recommend it for a small group or couple’s excursion. The entire country is very clean and safe, the food is well-prepared and like you would find in any large city, most people speak English, and the tap water is wonderful and safe to drink. The Icelandic people were all kind and welcoming, and the beauty as you drive through this country is other-worldly. I have to say there is something about places with volcanic activity that just makes them feel so unique. I’ve been skiing and to winter destinations many times before, but Iceland is truly a winter wonderland. I would recommend bringing a fur coat if you have it. Snow boots, gloves, and hats are a must but even in January, the weather is not unbearable. I was honestly colder walking through NYC in February than I ever was in Iceland.
I flew from LAX to JFK on Jetblue and connected to an IcelandAir flight into Reykjavik– we traveled over MLK weekend and the roundtrip price was $742. I would recommend Icelandair– it was very affordable, good service, tons of food options on flight + some movies.
DAY 1: ARRIVAL + GRINDAVIK
We landed before sunrise, which is close to 10:00 am in January. At the airport, there is a nice little convenience store where we picked up snacks and some alcohol for our trip. This time of year there is roughly 6 hours of sunlight daily so from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Grindavik is right on the coast and known as the “countryside”. I wouldn’t spend more than a day over here, but it’s a good town to visit on your way into or out of Iceland and is its right by the airport AND the Blue Lagoon which is a must-see. More on that later.
Took a shuttle from the airport to Sad Car rental where we picked up our Ford Kuga small SUV. For 3 of us, this car seemed to be the right size and handled well on icy roads. A friend recommended getting a WIFI for the car so you can use your phone for GPS which was a good idea. Leaving the airport it looked like we were on another planet—it was pitch black and rocky snowbanks lined the roads which had few other cars.
HOTEL: Northern Light Inn
Grindavik, Southern Peninsula, IS-240 Iceland
This hotel is close to the airport (maybe 20-30 min drive with nothing in between) and right around the corner from the Blue Lagoon. We arrived early and headed straight to the continental breakfast buffet at Max’s Restaurant which was attached to the hotel. All beds in Iceland are single beds, so if you book a double it’s essentially two single beds pushed together FYI. There was a cute little lobby area with snacks, puzzles, and a cozy living room with a fireplace to hang out during the day. Unfortunately, our trip was during a full moon so it wasn’t likely to see the Northern Lights, but the hotel offers to call your room in the middle of the night if they are visible which is cool. Next time!
Grindavik Village (good seafood spots)
Fish House Bar & Grill – very traditional cozy seafood restaurant, all local.
We drove around the local area to see some sights, but just a warning it is very desolate. You won’t be passing gas stations or anything, and there likely won’t even be any other people at the following landmarks so be prepared. The weather was relatively mild when we were in town, but beware you can get stuck in snowstorms.
- Lake Kleifarvatn with frozen black sand beaches
- Reykjanes Peninsula: Reykjanes Lighthouse and Valahnúkur, a beautiful sea cliff
- Bridge Between Continents
Day 2 & 3 REYKJAVIK + GOLDEN CIRCLE
Canopy Reykjavik City Centre
Reykjavik 101, IS
Loved this hotel– Hilton Canopy is one of my favorite new hotel chains, always in great urban areas, modern, clean, and trendy with tons of amenities. Virtually all of the bars and restaurants in the city are within walking distance of the hotel. All of Reykjavik is walkable more or less. The hotel had a restaurant, bar, and a cute lobby with coffee and snacks. It felt very modern and felt authentic to the local area.
Laugavegur 28, 101 Reykjavík
Great drinks and food, very lively and trendy. Fur coats + leopard were the look.
Hverfisgata 4-6, Reykjavik 101
Another hit, very lively. Ended up walking in here one night and was so happy they took us. Good pasta + pizzas, very normal menu
Walk up & down the main street, Laugavegur’, Lebowski Bar and others at the top of the hill. As you walk down further, the American Bar is next to other assorted sports bars which are more casual, some have live music. Pablo Discobar– cool upstairs with dancefloor, was packed. Ran into a friend from LA here.
Other recommendations from friends:
Sand holt (for breakfast/coffee), Snaps (local spot for dinner), Sortir 17 — good baked goods
- Hallgrímskirkja, visit this Lutheran parish church, one of the tallest structures in the country, and take the elevator to the top for beautiful views of the entire city
- Walk past Lake Tjörnin and search for the Monument to the Unkown Bureaucrat
- Laugavegur street with shops and cafes
- Walk through the neighborhood of the gods (Odin St) to see the colorful houses
GOLDEN CIRCLE DRIVING TOUR
This was by far the highlight of the trip as we were able to hit so many natural wonders in one day. As you drive along the route of the Golden Circle, about every 45 minutes or so is another stop. Not all of the stops have food or facilities, so we picked up some sandwiches from a local gas station (so nice inside) for the trip.
Thingvellir National Park
People scuba dive here in the silfra fissure which was a crazy sight to see considering how cold it is! As you walk into the park, there is a parking lot full of vans full of scuba gear where adventurous tourists suit up for their dives. Wouldn’t that be the craziest job in the world to be a scuba diving instructor in the middle of winter in Iceland? The water looks absolutely pristine and ice cold. We walked up a hill and through some trails in the park but weren’t prepared to stay outside too long.
Tons of little geysers together in one spot that go off every 5 minutes or so. There was a nice little restaurant and shop on site here, it seems like the place most people stop for lunch.
This was the last stop on our tour and we were freezing by this point so we didn’t sta too long.
OTHER THINGS TO LOOK INTO
Glacier Hike and Ice Climbing Tour
Reykjadalur Hot Spring (requires hiking)
Day 4: THE BLUE LAGOON
On our way out of town, we stopped at the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport to detox. This spa day was much-needed after a long night out at the bars. We left before sunrise (so 8:30 am) to assure we were at the Blue Lagoon by sunrise. This picturesque spot is actually man-made, but that doesn’t detract from the beauty as it feels very otherworldly (as does all of Iceland due to the volcanic activity on the island).
I booked an in-water massage which turned out to be very awkward—you float on a raft and they cover you with a wet blanket and massage you underneath that. I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit which I had to take off halfway so this mountain-man could massage my back—WEIRD. Other than that, the Blue Lagoon is like being in a massive outdoor hot tub where you can do face masques and sip champagne. This is a must-visit either on your way into or out of town. We had a great lunch at a prime table at the Lava restaurant to cap off our wonderful vacation and celebrate my friend’s 30th birthday. #30under30°