One of my best friends just turned 40, and to celebrate, a few of us, including her, went to Iceland for a long weekend. What an unexpectedly great mini-vacation! For about $1,000, we had a round trip flight out of JFK to Reykjavik, three nights at the Reykjavik Natura, and two tours (to be spoken of later). What a baaah-gain! I did zero research before going to Iceland (my friend did all the bookings), and it was great to have everything pretty much taken care of. Iceland is a beautiful country, just growing in its tourism industry, so not yet overrun with crazy photo-taking tourists from around the world. And we got there in time for the first big, steady snow of the season, so everything was coated in a blanket of pristine snow. It was cold, yes, but I expected that, so I was somewhat prepared both mentally and physically. Here’s a quick run through of what we did over the three and a half days in this country of 300,000 people, about the size of Virginia:
We took a red eye flight from JFK into Keflavik, which is about 45 minutes from downtown Reykjavik, both of which are in the southeast of Iceland. But with the time difference (5 hours ahead of New York), the five-ish hour flight brought us into Iceland at about 1am EST. And from our arrival, we were on the go pretty much the rest of the day. The first thing that took getting used to was the inflated prices of everything. Others had told me that Iceland prices are way higher than US prices, and that was no joke. The other thing that took getting used to was that the sun didn’t rise until about 10am and then set around 4pm. Literally, the sun did not get high in the sky.
Our first stop from the airport was at Blue Lagoon, a man-made geothermal spa that was “accidentally” formed from the running of a nearby geothermal power plant. It supposedly has healing waters, and it’s called “blue” because the water is a tinted light blue. A little scary when you think of it, that it’s created from the waste of the power plant, but oh well. In any case, it was really cool to be soaking in this hot water (high 90 degrees) while the outside air was in the low 30s (it was cold enough to be snowing).
After a few hours lounging, we headed into the city, checked in at our hotel, and took the public bus into downtown. We took a nice walk down Laugavegur, a street lined with shops and cafes, as the snow fell and the temperature dropped. We arrived for dinner at Fish Market, with a great seat in the lounge to celebrate my friend’s birthday. We wanted to take full advantage of Iceland eats, so we ordered appetizers with puffin and whale as well as the langoustine main dish (basically a mini-lobster). All was totally yummy, and we got a free dessert which was as big as one of the entrees!
The next day, we did the Golden Circle tour, the most popular and recommended tour to do in Iceland. We got on a tour bus and went to several places, all where we could get out and take photos, a walk, and enjoy the sights. What we saw:
- Thingvellir National Park – a beautiful expansive national park, the site of the first Icelandic parliament in 930, and the location where two tectonic plates (the North American plate and the Eurasian plate) converge/ diverge
- Gullfoss (Golden Falls) – an impressive and powerful waterfall
- Geysir geothermal area – site of hot springs that bubble up into the sky, kind of like Old Faithful
- Fontana steambaths – a spa with natural steam baths and pools in the open air. The tour includes a gimmicky experience of seeing bread baked in a pot in the sand, heated by geothermal activity.
That night we ate fish and chips and Icelandic Fish and Chips, which was quite good. Overall, the food we ate in Iceland was tasty. Not as I had expected. Our next full day tour was an all day trip including a glacier walk, a visit to a folk art museum, a traditional Icelandic meat soup dinner, a view of a beautiful waterfall lit up by night spot lights and a full moon, and a hunt for the aurora borealis. The glacier walk was way cool. We had crampons strapped to our boots, and hiked up the glacier, even through a short snowstorm. Unfortunately, we were not successful finding the Northern Lights, but the full moon was gorgeous, and with the new snow on the ground, we had some beautiful short walks in search of the aurora.
The next day was a free day, our last half day before heading back to the airport. We headed back downtown, had a hot dog at a famous stand that has been frequented by Bill Clinton (that’s their claim to fame). It was a delicious hot dog, which we ate outside, under a bike shelter as the snowflakes fell. Well worth the search and the wait. And cheap, relatively speaking = 380 Icelandic krona (about 3 bucks!).
What a fun and easy trip. All courtesy of Iceland Air. Check out their package deals!