I had the chance to visit Iceland in May with a group of strangers carefully selected to experience the magic of the Nordic island nation through Kym (she’ll be featured in our next The Women Behind series).
I had missed an opportunity to go to Iceland and deeply regretted my hesitation, so when I read about Kym’s adventure on Instagram, I knew I had to cease the moment and take the plunge. I quickly sent her an email introuducing myself and how much the experience would mean to me, she responded back promptly with open arms. I booked my flight ticket that night and decided to arrive a few days early to wander through Reykjavík alone—it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I dream about taking vacations and exploring through magical places all the time, but rarely ever take the first step to make it happen. There was something different about this time though, I felt fearless and determined, I had my heart set on taking this opportunity. I felt as though the land was calling my name. I know, it sounds super spiritual, but the general vibe in Iceland really was a spiritual experience. The beauty of the undistrubed nature and the vastness of this mysterious place was beyond what words could describe. You just have to feel it.
There is a huge growth in the tourism industry in Iceland, especially in the summer when the sun sits above the horizon all day. Without the limitations of darkness, you are free to explore as long as you please. I took a whole week to explore just a tiny segment and I am looking forward to a longer trip next summer to embark on a road trip around the entire island.
Eversince I came back, I’ve been recommending a trip to Iceland to all of my friends and coworkers. I have some helpful tips to share so you can plan your next vacation in Iceland too!
WHERE TO STAY
You would not be surprised by the amount of hostels and hotels in just Reykjavík to accommdate every budget and taste. I opted to spend as little as possible, so I booked several nights in two different hostels, KEX and Hlemmur Square, both located near the bay within minutes from the main road. Hlemmur Square is conveniently located across the street from a bus stop and the world’s largest and only penis museum. It also provided free breakfast and had a super cozy feel with a full bar in the lobby. KEX is situated closer to the bay with an incredible view. It looks a bit discrete from the outside, but the lobby has a vintage library vibe and a cafe for you to order a nice cup of coffee to enjoy the view.
There are also lots of cottages and sleek Scandinavian apartments you can rent through Airbnb, which is a perfect option if you’re traveling in a large group or plan to stay in smaller towns.
WHAT TO EAT
I didn’t do a whole lot of research prior to my trip, but luckily I was able to partner up with Trawire for a personal WiFi hotspot through my entire trip. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of signing up for a international data plan, Trawire is a great option for you and your friends to have access to a super fast internet connection for a small daily fee. I did some quick research while I was exploring through the city and discovered some amazing restaurants!
For my first lunch, I stopped by Torfan lobster house for the most delicious lobster salad I’ve ever had. It was poached to perfect, super soft, buttery, and sweet.
I stopped by dinner at Scandinavian as it was recommended by a friend who had previously visited Iceland. I decided to indulge myself and ordered the creamy lobster pasta and a “California” style Icelandic beer, Skjálfti by Ölvisholt Brugghús. Again, I was not disappointed by the quality of the seafood found in this country.
One of the day, it drizzled lightly, which isn’t surprising at all. Honestly, I hate the rain but it didn’t stop me from walking around town. I took a new route on the bus to check out Matur og Drykkur, literally translates to food and drink, and their three-course lunch menu. It included salted cod croquettes with horseradish remoulade, seared ling (fish of the day) with picked cabbages and mashed potatoes, and Icelandic yogurt with blueberry sauce.
If you’re looking for a light bite and a great cup of coffee while you explore the capital, I recommend Kaffi Vínyl, a record shop turned restaurant, that serves hearty vegan entrees and rich coffee. It has a nice old school look that also serves as a great meeting place for small chats and midday breaks. I also discovered Reykjavik Roasters, a cozy coffee shop, by Hallgrímskirkja the famous church.
On my last night in Iceland, I made reservations at Grillmarkaðurinn to treat myself with a splurge-worthy dinner. It’s an incredibly beautiful and large restaurant with dimly lit seating and wooden dividers that makes you feel like you’re eating in the woods while giving you some privacy. I ordered The Fish Gourmet, a seafood trio of sea trout, redfish, and cod, served with garlic potatoes, fried veggies, and a mushroom sauce. There was also an appetizer sampler with three mini sliders that we all shared because we wanted to try puffin and whale meat. I would love to come back and try their tasting menu!
WHAT TO SEE
The most iconic place in Reykjavík has got to be Hallgrímskirkja, a jagged church that’s also a home to a beautiful pipe organ played every day by an organist. For a small fee, you can get to the top of the church for a breathtaking view of the city and its colorful roof tops extending all the way to the edge of the bay. Speaking of beautiful buildings, you can walk around the bay to reach Harpa, the Icelandic Opera house.
The main focus of this trip was to explore the Golden Circle, a popular route in southern Iceland where you’ll find incrediblly magestic waterfalls like Gullfoss, Skogafoss, and Hjalparfoss. There are so many waterfalls all over the Iceland you won’t need to search too hard to find them! Especially after a bit of rain, you’ll see the streams of water following down the mountainside as you drive along the Ring Road and fly away in the gusts of wind like white veils.
On our trip, we decided to skip the Blue Lagoon in favor of a more intimate hot spring experience in the Secret Lagoon. It’s not so much of a secret, but it’s less crowded and it’s easy to talk to friendly travelers from all over the world. We met a woman who told us stories of ancient Greek mythology, a girl from Philly who shared her exciting experience meeting a gorgeous “viking man” the night before, and a fun group of Americans spending quality time exploring a new place.
TRANSPORTATION IN ICELAND
Getting around was fairly straight forward in Iceland, especially with the internet connection I had through a Trawire device, I never felt lost or scared. I looked up the Strætó bus routes online and paid 420 ISK (about $5) for a one-way ride ticket, which is quite expensive. We also rented a car for the majority of our trip, which the GPS came in super handy while we chase after waterfalls, grocery stores, and hot springs!
You can purchase a roundtrip airport shuttle ride in advance so you don’t have to worry about getting in and out of the capital city.