Okay, this may seem like a sponsored ad for Iceland but it isn’t. We went to Iceland because we’d heard good things, but mostly because our favorite singer, John Grant, settled in Iceland and we wanted to stalk him. And we think you should go, too, whether you want to stalk someone or not. More than just a travelogue of our trip, I hope this will provide some pointers for those who are curious to visit.
We flew on Icelandair, through Reykjavik onto London, spending three days in Iceland on the way back, making for pretty much the perfect trip (we did another trip later through Iceland on Wow Airlines which was a nightmare; we were not surprised when later they folded suddenly, leaving thousands of people stranded). I’d definitely recommend any airline that offered the long layover option in Iceland, giving you a great two-for-one trip.
Anyhow, we went in early March, not only the cheapest time but one that allowed us to experience their winter. And yes, it was cold (see pic of Peter below)! They’re used to that, so there was no problem in keeping tourists like us safe and warm. Landing at Keflavik Airport, it was easy to get a bus into Reykjavik, taking about an hour driving past icy moonscapes. We arrived at a central bus station just outside the city center and then were shuttled in a van to our accommodations. Next time, I would try to stay closer to the bus station and walk, weather permitting.
Because I’m gluten-intolerant and have problems finding things to eat when I travel, we rented a small apartment with a full kitchen so we could cook our meals. Our bags were loaded with food we’d bought in London where gluten-free items are plentiful and cheap, even with the exchange rate. It was a good thing we did because we went to a grocery store near our apartment and found everything prohibitively expensive with limited choice. This is, of course, a tiny isolated nation with few options for growing their own food. Note that we later discovered a full-sized grocery store called Nettó 24 in the northwest corner of the city with lots of GF items. And close to that, we found a ramen shop with gluten-free noodles! Perfect meal for cold weather.
The city center of Reykjavik is very walkable with a lot to see, do and eat, although you may get pummeled by snow one minute, rain the next, and then blistering winds. However, we loved it! We browsed in a few record shops where again, things were pricey although there were some decent deals. Iceland has an inordinate amount of good music being produced despite the fact their entire population is around 338,000. One of our faves is Ásgeir (pronounced Oscar) who was helped by our fave John Grant (an American who speaks multiple languages) in translating his debut album “Dýrð í dauðaþögn” to “Into the Silence”. Here’s a video featuring both Ásgeir and John.
One of the most impressive sites in the city is the cathedral called Hallgrimskirkja.
Although there were some tour shops along the main tourist drag, we opted to book a bus tour online. Our choice was the main tour most people take which is the Golden Circle, a greatest hits of Iceland containing waterfalls, gorges, a geyser, and lots of beautifully desolate icescapes. We were picked up the next day and shuttled back to the main bus station, boarding a bus with a hilarious tour guide whose name I unfortunately forget, who was completely fluent in English and could have easily gotten stand-up gigs in America. Here’s a shot that encapsulates it all:
It was magnificent and cold! Again, we were kept safe and warm, with the bus and driver completely relaxed and in command even when driving through a blizzard, seemingly just another day at the office for him. We got stops for coffee and shopping, with Peter buying me some gloves because it was too damned freezing. I would recommend bringing waterproof shoes, gloves, scarf, and cap along with several layers of clothing.
They also made a stop so we could pet horses. Wow, they were beautiful and quite friendly.
The next day, we did the other main touristy thing and took a bus to the Blue Lagoon, a mostly man-made hot springs spa. It was massive. We were required to take a shower beforehand, for good reason, then go outside onto the deck for a 15-foot walk to the water, just wearing a swimsuit and skimpy robe. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold in my life. Once I got in, it felt great. Here’s Peter with some white mineral glop they provide that’s supposed to be good for your skin. The wildest thing was a shower of snow that came through, making me look like a frosted Christmas tree.
So, I’d definitely recommend doing this, even if it’s rather touristy. If you’d rather just stay here the whole trip, there’s a hotel and bonus that it’s closer to the airport than Reykjavik. While overall things are expensive here, you have enough options that you can travel here on a budget and still have a great time.
Hopefully, that’s given you enough information to entice you to book a trip to Iceland. For us, this was just a taste and we’d love to go back in the summer for a completely different experience.