Though the idea of going to Iceland was always on the radar, for me, this journey started with a Facebook post advertising $300 flights from LAX to Reykjavik. Very spontaneously, my friends and I booked flights on WOW Air (complete with a Northern Lights viewing) that departed in a month. We got a different adventure than we imagined – front row seats to the biggest blizzard in Iceland since 1952. But even with cancelled excursions and road closures, we were still able to take in the unique beauty and remote landscape that has everyone flocking to Iceland.
To make the most of your trip, I’ve got some tips for you.
Tip 1: Though airfare is cheap, all other prices are comparable to what you would find in LA, NYC or London. If you don’t want to break the break, switch up your stays between boutique hotels and quaint farmhouses.
Tip 2: Plan your driving route and make reservations accordingly. It’s more enjoyable if your accommodations are spaced out, so you don’t spend all day in the car. We made the mistake of booking two hotels too close together.
Tip 3: Make reservations in advance. There are lots of tourists, over 2 million a year, and they want to do all the things you want to do.
…where to crash and get some R&R
NOTE: To say the Island is extremely remote is an understatement, but that’s part of its charm. Below are a few standout boutique hotels, however, if you’re on the road, you’ll have to spend a few nights in farmhouses. They are super quaint and give a local’s perspective.
I got to know this hotel very well, given that the snowstorm during my trip made it impossible to leave. Luckily, it was a great place to be stuck. I spent the first half of my day here in the outdoor thermal pool, taking shelter in the sauna when I needed to warm up a bit. My other favorite spot was the Northern Lights Bar – all glass for exquisite views during the day or night, if the lights are active. Set up shop here for a couple of days, adventuring around Thingvellir National Park.
Warning: Pricey at upwards of $400 a night, this was my splurge – thank you American Express Platinum points. As someone who is obsessed with baths, I indulged in a sandlewood-scented soak in the claw foot tub in the middle of the room. The bed was huge, the art was superb and the location couldn’t have been better. Everything a luxury hotel should be in boutique packaging.
Another great option in the capital city, this is less expensive starting at $180/night. In the heart of the main shopping street, Laugavegur, Alda boasts a minimalist, modern aesthetic. Rooms are nice, but not fussy. I loved the energy here – it’s buzzing from breakfast until it’s time for a nightcap. Plus, there’s a barbershop inside in case you need a trim. Or, just release your inner Viking and drop the clean-cut act.
…where to chow down and then unbutton the top button
I stayed here my first night in Iceland, and hands down, the best part was the dairy farm. Overlooking the cows, the restaurant serves grass-fed beef in the form of indulgent steaks and burgers. I have to insist you try the Skyr – a rich, but low-fat Icelandic yogurt that was insanely good fresh off the farm. I had it for breakfast, along with a scoop of ice cream. Moo.
In a desperate attempt to find food in the middle of nowhere (just outside of Vik), my group happened upon this gem and it was one of my favorite meals in Iceland. It, too, is located on a cow farm. (There’s a theme here.) The service was super friendly and the preparation was simple. We took her recommendation to try the local seafood – Iceland is famous for Cod and the Lobster is fresh with generous portions. If you fancy dessert, get the date cake with ice cream. Then, tuck yourself in for the night.
I can’t take credit for this find – Gwyneth visited and recommended it on goop, one of my favorite websites for ideas on where to splurge. The prices were on par with LA and NYC, as was the ambiance, food and cocktails. Even if you’re a wino, start with a cocktail. I tried The Amy (best cocktail I’ve ever had) and my friends were going wild over the Basil Hendrix. The food is just as good – I loved the Monkfish Grill Skewers and the Rack of Lamb was perfectly and simply prepared.
The smell of bread comes wafting through the popular street around 5 a.m., when they open. If you’re just arriving from an early morning flight, it’s the perfect place to get your carb on by choosing from a variety of breads and pastries. Plus, they’re opening a hotel soon and it looks like a winner.
… where to drink up and get down
Located inside the Alda Hotel, the Barber Bar has a fun, casual vibe so come on in, even if it’s after a day of adventuring in the snow. They make a mean cheese plate, have a nice wine list and happy hour starts at 4.
Wooden rustic tables mix with modern, eclectic furniture to create a cozy vibe that is also very cool. What got me about this place, besides the fact that it was in my hotel, was the inviting fireplace. Pour me a glass of red and I’m a happy girl.
It wouldn’t be Wanderpants without a weird off-the-wall dive bar. Can’t be fancy all the time, can we? This was recommended to my friends by a local so you can let your hair down and sip (or slurp) their Specialty White Russian.
I JUST BOUGHT THESE PANTS
…where to nab the best threads
An admitted salt phene, I went here in search of Icelandic salt – a gourmet treasure I could take home and enjoy for months. There are tons of different flavors to choose from – Liquorice, Sea Truffles, Berryleaves, Rowanberry and yes, Viking.
Wanting a trip keepsake in the form of jewelry, I happened upon this store where I tried on necklaces, earrings and rings from a lovely and local handmade collection that showcased black and gold.
ANTS IN YOUR PANTS
…what to do when you can’t sit still
Did you know that Iceland was founded on faulty navigation? Or, that the university created an anti-incest app because so many people on the Island are related? Just a couple of tidbits I learned during this walking tour in Reykjavik. It’s technically free, but don’t be a jerk and be sure to make a donation at the end.
I have no doubt you’re familiar with this wonder of the world – it appears monthly on my Insta feed. Only about 20 minutes from the airport, it’s a great first stop after a long flight. Indulge in the face masques and have a glass of wine at the swim up bar. Just be sure to book in advance.
A bit of a sore spot for me because my excursion was cancelled, however, I will be back. Supposedly the clearest water on earth, the Silfra fissure is a crack between the North American and Eurasian continents, so you get to dive or snorkel where the continental plates meet. Bad. Ass.
You can explore this park the same day as snorkeling in Silfra. Gullfoss, a powerful waterfall, and Geysir, an area containing two active geysers, are the two main sites. Another must-do for me here is snowmobiling through the glacial landscape. When I go back, I’ll stay in this area for two days to take it all in.
I’ve never seen anything quite like this. Amidst snow-covered hills and mountains is a blue lagoon with huge chunks of ice breaking off from the glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull. If you want to explore further, you can take a boat tour or visit one of the ice caves, which look spectacular.