Since WOW Air has been flying these really cheap flights from Europe to the USA (I’ve seen one-way flights for less than $200USD), on our last trip back to the States, we decided to get out and see what Iceland is all about.
Iceland has been on my radar for a couple of years ever since I saw videos and pictures of the Blue Lagoon. When you look at pictures of Iceland, it’s super whimsical, majestic, and beautiful. There are surreal glaciers and amazing waterfalls, but I (personally) won’t be returning anytime soon. My pictures may show otherwise, but for a budget-minded traveler who loves to eat and lounge under the warm sun, Iceland was definitely not my ideal vacation spot. (Okay, for you budget-minded travelers, you can definitely get to Iceland for very cheap, but once you arrive, you’ll be spending a ton of money.) If I was to describe Iceland, I would say that it is a cold and windy land filled with adventure that will suck the money from your wallet without you knowing it. Nonetheless, I’m glad we went.
We took a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Keflavík.
We left SFO around 10pm and arrived in Iceland around 2:30pm. After researching the prices of airport transfers to the city center, we (or I did because Andrew doesn’t plan any of our trips) decided to rent a car because it would be cheaper than 2 roundtrip airport shuttle tickets + 2 roundtrip Blue Lagoon shuttle tickets. We got to Reykjavík around 4:30pm dropped our stuff off at our Airbnb.
Immediately after dropping off our stuff, we got back into the car to go on a hike to a hot spring that I read about in a travel blog. We drove to Hvergerði, a small town about 45 minutes (driving) from Reykjavík. From there, we were able to hike through the Reykjadalur Valley to find the hot spring. This is a pretty popular hike, but were really lucky because there were only about 12-15 other cars in the parking lot. The hike to the hot springs is not long (probably around 2 miles), but it was tough. The first 30 minutes of the hike was all uphill. It was super windy when we were there so it felt harder than it probably is on a good day. Even in May, the elements were really harsh. The temperature was probably around 45°F, but it felt way colder due to the wind.
Finally, we reached the steaming springs and my body was able to regain its warmth. I will tell you that it was painful taking off my jacket and clothes to get into the water, but the water was perfect. It was hot, clean, and super clear (although I’m not sure if it was worth the 45 minutes of hiking in cold and wind). Andrew and I soaked in the water for a good amount of time before we gained the courage to get out. I was literally crawling in the water to grass because it was so cold getting out.
After drying off we hiked and ran as fast as we could to get to our rental car and turn on the heater. We got back to our car around 9:15pm, but there was still so much light out. Since we were there in May, the sun didn’t go down until after 10:30pm! I can’t imagine being a little kid and being told to go to sleep when it’s sunny and bright out.
Our Airbnb host had a fish & chips stand across from the apartment, so we went by to pick some up. He used cod (in the UK, they usually use haddock) and it tasted super fresh. I think I like fried cod more than fried haddock. His chips (fries) were well seasoned as well.
Our Airbnb host also left us some skyr for us try as well. Skyr is Iceland’s yogurt. It’s been part of Icelandic cuisine for years. It’s technically a cheese, but has the consistency of greek yogurt. It’s super healthy, with low sugar, no fat, and high protein content. It’s pretty plain, but I’d definitely substitute this for my normal yogurts.
I had originally planned another waterfall hike for the next day, but we were exhausted and jet-lagged so we scratched that. Then, we thought we’d join the free walking tour of Reykjavík in the morning, but we totally slept through it. Nevertheless, we made it out to walk around the town (a short walk because it was so cold and windy).
When Andrew and I were walking around, we were reminded of a colder Monterey. There were lots of seafood restaurants and the city had a small-town atmosphere with a lot of character. When we were there, there weren’t that many other people walking around. Even though the buildings weren’t that old, there was a lot of charm to it.
The unofficial national food of Iceland is a hot dog. Icelandic hot dogs are made of a combination of lamb, pork, and beef (lamb because there are lots of sheep in Iceland and hot dogs are an easy way to preserve meat). Apparently, Iceland’s hot dogs are also free-range, grass-fed, organic, and hormone-free because Iceland doesn’t allow the import of live animals. The most famous place to get a hot dog is from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Honestly though, it was just a hot dog. The toppings were really nice though. The toppings on my hot dog included white onions, fried onions, a sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade (a sauce made with mayonnaise, capers, mustard, and herbs). The only problem with eating a hot dog in Iceland is that by the time you eat half of it, the rest of the hot dog is cold.
After lunch, we headed towards the long-awaited Blue Lagoon! The Blue Lagoon is located in Grindavík, about 50 minutes away by car from Reykjavík. It’s actually closer to the airport than Reykjavík.
Our tickets costed us €45 each (not cheap!) and we spent about 2 hours in the lagoon (to be honest, you don’t need more than 2 hours). If you’re planning to go, make sure you book ahead because they might be fully booked. They give you this wristband for your locker, but they charge you for slippers, bathrobes, and towels. They have a place for you to store luggage too if you literally come here during a layover. You can also try their silicone face mask which is supposed to be good for your skin. I definitely thought my skin felt softer. The facilities were nice and clean, but we got there later in the day so it didn’t feel as clean because it was so busy. Even though the Blue Lagoon is probably the most visited spot in Iceland, the pool itself is pretty large so you don’t feel too crowded. I liked our visit to the Blue Lagoon, but Andrew and I have differing opinions about it. On one hand, it is a bit overpriced, super touristy (I like touristy though), and over-rated, but on the other hand, it’s still a really cool experience to bath in white-blue warm waters warmed by geothermal and lava power.
For dinner, we went to Ostabúðin Restaurant in Reykjavík and got their seafood curry soup and specialty lamb dish. While we enjoyed our dinner, I didn’t think it was particularly special. I still can’t believe we paid 5900 ISK (almost $60!!!) for soup and 1 dish. But it’s okay! Our goal was to find a place that would feed us for less than $60 and we did!
After dinner, we headed back to our Airbnb to get some sleep before our super early flight back to Edinburgh.
Iceland is definitely a unique destination. Don’t know when we’ll be back, but we survived!