Iceland

September 2015

I celebrated my 40th birthday in 2015. Rather than having some big party or asking for a gift that I really did not need, Sarah and I decided to use this milestone birthday as an excuse to take a special trip. After considering a number of destinations, we settled on a mid-September journey to Iceland to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights.

Day 1 – Travel Day, The Blue Lagoon, and Reykjavik

Iceland always seemed like an incredibly remote destination to me (probably because of the word “ice” in the name), but it is actually just a short 5-hour flight from Boston. Both Iceland Air (which is what we flew) and WOW air fly out of Logan with direct flights to Keflavik International Airport (these airlines also fly out of a number of other destinations in the US and Europe). All in all, Iceland is really an easy place to get to and it even acts as an ideal stopover for many flights into Europe.

Our flight left Boston at 9:30PM, so between the flight and the time difference (Iceland is 4 hours ahead of the East Coast of the US), we ended up landing in Iceland early the following morning. Sarah and I typically find ourselves unable to sleep on planes and this flight was no different, so we arrived in Iceland with almost no sleep. Thankfully, the excitement of our trip had us fired up and ready to go!

Our itinerary for Iceland started with 3 nights in the capital of Reykjavik, which is home to about 60% of Iceland’s population. That may sound crowded, but the entire population of the country is only 323,002 (as of 2013). By comparison, the population of Rhode Island (the smallest US state and where we live) is just over 1 million or about 3 times the population of Iceland. That is even more amazing when you consider that RI is just 1,212 square miles in size while Iceland is 39,769 square miles! Iceland never felt crowded, even in the most populous city in the country.

After gathering our luggage, we headed over to pick up our rental vehicle. We decided on a 4-wheel drive after reading some suggestions about the unpaved roads in the country and how a 4-wheel drive is essential to navigate those areas. We actually didn’t go anywhere that required this extra traction, but it was comforting to know that we had it if we needed it.

As we drove out of Keflavik International Airport, we immediately knew that we were someplace totally new and foreign to us. The landscape was surreal, with rocky, volcanic formations along either side of the road as far as we could see. It almost felt like we had been transported to an alien planet and it heighted our sense of excitement for the adventure before us.

Driving away from Keflavik airport
Driving away from Keflavik airport

Before heading into the city and our hotel, we had scheduled a day at the geothermal spa, The Blue Lagoon. This popular destination is halfway between the airport and Reykjavik, so it was an ideal first stop for our time in Iceland.

Even though the day was windy and rainy (which is quite common for Iceland), the Blue Lagoon was already starting to get busy when we pulled up in the early morning. After checking in, we grabbed a quick breakfast from the small cafeteria just inside the entrance. This was where we were able to try Skyr for the first time.

A staple of the Icelandic diet, Skyr is “an Icelandic culture dairy product” that has the consistency of Greek yogurt but with a much milder flavor. It is very low in fat, high in protein, and absolutely delicious. We would enjoy a cup of Skyr for breakfast every morning during our time in Iceland.

Entering the main area of the spa, we showered and then changed into our bathing suits. Shedding the thick robes that had been provided to us, we headed outdoors to brave the weather and enter the lagoon. Seeing the water for the first time is incredible, as the color is brilliant shade of light blue – certainly unlike any water I had ever seen anywhere before. That water is very warm (between 37°C and 40°C / 98°F and 104°F) and soothing, especially on a cold, blustery day like that one.

The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon

The lagoon itself was busy, but not overcrowded and we spent a few hours in the lagoon and lounging in the relaxation area. Right around lunchtime, Sarah and I got dressed and headed over to the LAVA Restaurant that is a part of The Blue Lagoon. The meal was delicious and it immediately dispelled any concerns that we had about finding food to suit our tastes in Iceland. The langoustine soup, which is similar to a lobster bisque, was excellent.

With our bellies full from a wonderful meal, we hopped back in our vehicle and headed to Reykjavik. Our hotel (the Grand Hotel Reykjavik) was just outside of the main part of the city. After checking in and dropping off our bags, we decided to take a walk into the city to explore.

Reykjavik is an incredibly walkable city. In fact, we left our rental vehicle parked at the hotel for almost our entire stay in the capital, choosing to walk everywhere instead. From the colorful homes of Reykjavik, to the county’s wonderful fascination with trolls and elves, to the wonderfully warm and welcoming people we met this day, we fell in love with Reykjavik immediately.

The color homes of Reykjavik
Meeting some trolls on the streets of Reykjavik

After exploring a bit and enjoying a simple, yet wonderful dinner of noodles at The Noodle Station, we stumbled upon a little teahouse call Tiu Dropar that was tucked away in a basement. A sign advertising “wine and waffles” drew us into the teahouse, where we did indeed order a few glasses of wine and a plate of waffles that came complete with melted chocolate and whipped cream. It was a delicious way to end our first day in Iceland – so much so that we would visit this teahouse and place this same order again a few nights later!

Delicious noodles from The Noodle Station
Delicious noodles from The Noodle Station
Wine and waffles from Tiu Droper
Wine and waffles from Tiu Droper

On a sad note, I have since learned that Tiu Dropar has closed after almost 30 years at this location, their lease having been terminated by new landlords. Hopefully the owners will reopen this wonderful teahouse somewhere else in Reykjavik in the future.

Day 2 – Reykjavik Sights and Icelandic Tattoos

We began our first full day in Iceland with a run along the coast in Reykjavik. Along the way we stopped at Höfði House, which is where Ronald Regan and Mikhail Gorbachev held a summit meeting in 1986 that effectively ended the Cold War between the US and Russia. While the building is not open to the public, it is one of the well-known landmarks in Reykjavik, so we paused our run to take a few pictures in front of the iconic white building.

Continuing our jog down the coast, we saw some of the most amazing rainbows. The rainy weather of Iceland produces these stunning rainbows as the sun peeks out, which it thankfully did this morning to treat us to these sights during our run.

Höfði House
Rainbows in Iceland

After cleaning up from our morning excercise, Sarah and I headed back into downtown Reykjavik for some sightseeing, starting with Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland and one of the city’s main landmarks. The street before the church is painted with a rainbow that travelers can follow right to this popular location. For a few dollars, you can take the elevator to the top of the church and see some amazing views of Reykjavik below.

The road to Hallgrímskirkja
Hallgrímskirkja
Hallgrímskirkja
The view of Reykjavik from Hallgrímskirkja

As we exited the church, we found that the Icelandic weather had turned and it was once again cold and rainy. This is something you need to accept about Iceland. The weather is unpredictable at best. You need to be flexible in your plans and make the best out of each day. For instance, the rainy day was a perfect excuse for us to sneak into a small pub to enjoy some Gull beers and bowls of lamb stew for lunch.

Lamb stew and Gull beers for lunch
Lamb stew and Gull beers for lunch

After lunch we took a walk to find The Sun Voyager sculpture and the Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat, two more well-known landmarks in the city. Along the way we hit a few bars to enjoy “happy hour” and some half priced beers. Our favorite was the Public House Gastropub which had some delicious food and equally wonderful brews (we actually visited this pub all three of the days we were in Reykjavik).

The Sun Voyager
the Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat
Drinks at the Public House Gastropub
Drinks in Reykjavik
Drinks in Reykjavik

So how do you end a wonderful evening in Reykjavik? How about with a few spur of the moment tattoos. We stopped in at the Reykjavik Ink Tattoo Shop and met an Argentinian man named Joe who was doing a guest spot at the shop for a few weeks (he actually owns a tattoo museum, shop, and café in Buenos Aires). After talking with the artist for a few minutes, I decided to get a Vegvísir tattooed on my side while Sarah got an Algiz rune on her wrist, a few permanent reminders of our time in Iceland.

Tattoos in Iceland
Tattoos in Iceland

Day 3 – Hiking Mount Esja and a Little Shopping

A beautiful, sunny morning greeted us for our third day in Iceland. With no rain in the forecast, we decided to take advantage of the weather and head away of the city for some hiking. Our destination was Mount Esja, a popular area for day hikers that was just a short drive from Reykjavik.

Entering the location into the GPS system that came with our rental vehicle, we took off for the mountain. Unfortunately, something got mixed up along the way and we ended up being directed into the middle of a field. When the GPS informed us that we had “reached our destination” and all we saw around us was overgrown grass, a broken-down truck, and a curious dog wondering what we were doing in his field, we knew something was wrong!

Getting back on the highway, we stopped off at a parking area that looked like a restaurant. The bad news was the restaurant was closed, but the good news was that it was actually the Mount Esja trailhead! Checking out the map of the trails, we met a couple from Germany who was also visiting Iceland for the week. Sven and Vanessa decided to accompany us on our hike and we were happy for the company and for the chance to meet some cool new people.

Hiking Mt. Esja

Much of the hiking that Sarah and I do is in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, so Mount Esja was a very different kind of hike for us. Instead of a thick cover of trees and rooty footing (which is what you will find in NH), Mount Esja was all wide open spaces and amazing views. Another difference was the markings on the trail itself, or the lack thereof. We actually found ourselves a bit lost at one point and, after hiking for a few hours, decided to turn around and make our way back down the mountain. Along the way we found the elusive signpost that we had missed on our way up, but it was getting later in the day so we continued to our car and headed back to Reykjavik.

Hiking Mt. Esja
Hiking Mt. Esja
Hiking Mt. Esja
Hiking Mt. Esja

For our last evening in Reykjavik, we decided to do a little shopping. We started at a wonderfully quirky shop that we found called Myconceptstore. The shop’s employees told us that the owners pretty much just fill it with whatever items strike their fancy. The end result is a whimsical, eclectic mix of items that had us eagerly opening our wallets. There was so much there that we loved that I am amazed that we got out of their without spending all of our travel money!

Next, Sarah decided that she wanted an Icelandic sweater. You see these pretty much everywhere in Iceland and Sarah had her eye on them from the time that we landed in the airport. Talking to one of the shop’s employees, we actually discovered that many of the sweaters you see for sale are not actually made in Iceland. There is such a demand for these sweaters that Icelandic wool is shipped out overseas so that these sweaters can be made to meet that demand. They are then returned to Iceland so they can be sold to tourists. That information bummed Sarah out as she wanted an authentic, Icelandic-made sweater. The helpful shop employee told us that to get a sweater like that, our best bet was to visit the city’s flea market.

Open on weekends, the Kolaportid Flea Market is located in the old harbor area of Reykjavik. It is just a few minutes’ walk from the city center, but as we entered the building we realized that the crowds around us had changed quite a bit. Instead of the fellow tourists that we found in the restaurants and shops through the rest of Reykjavik, this shopping center seemed to be filled with more local Icelanders than with visitors to the country. In the back of the market were stalls selling fish where we saw people buying what would be their dinner that night. At other stalls, bought books or DVDs or t-shirts. It was an interesting experience that provided a nice contrast to the tourist-centric shops that we had visited elsewhere in the city.

Looking for a stall that sold knitted goods, Sarah found a sweet, old woman with an array of beautiful Icelandic sweaters that she had hand knitted herself. She was actually knitting one as she sat in her booth at the market waiting for customers. Sarah was sold immediately. She found the one she wanted, paid for her purchase, and happily put on her own Icelandic sweater.

If you find yourself in Reykjavik on the weekend and you are looking for a break from the tourist-focused shops found in the city, make your way over to the flea market and browse the available goods and food alongside some locals.

Day 4 – Driving to Hotel Ranga

Our fourth day in Iceland was a travel day. After three nights in Reykjavik, the remainder of our 7-night visit would be at the Hotel Ranga in Hella, Iceland. This is about a 2-hour drive South of Reykjavik along the country’s Route 1 highway.

Route 1, also known as the “Ring Road” circles the entire country. Almost everywhere you want to go in Iceland is either on or directly off of this road and many people actually travel the entire 827 mile (1332km) road during a visit to Iceland as a way to see the entire country (this is what we hope to do with our kids on a future Icelandic adventure). The road itself is well paved and easy to follow, which was a good thing because our trip South on this day was done in the most challenging weather I have ever had to drive in.

Only a few minutes outside of Reykjavik, the sky turned dark and the rain began to fall. Within minutes, a thick fog had covered the entire area and as I drove down this 2-lane road (one lane each way), I could barely see in front of the car. My hands hurt from gripping the wheel so tightly as we inched along. Making matters worse was the fact that this stretch of highway was undergoing some roadwork at that time, so there were construction cones on either side of the road, making it feel even more narrow as I drove into the dense fog. That fog was so thick that if a car in front of me decided to stop quickly, I do not think I would’ve noticed until it was too late.

Thankfully, the worst of the weather lasted only 30 minutes or so. The fog lifted and we were able to drive the rest of the way to Hella in far less stressful conditions.

Pulling up to Hotel Ranga was very exciting. The hotel is in a fairly remote area, which allows visitors to see the Northern Lights right from the parking lot. Seeing the aurora was one of the main reasons we came to Iceland and to Hotel Ranga, so we were very excited for our evenings in this amazing hotel (note – you can actually see inside the hotel and “walk” around using Google Maps).

With the rain still coming down, we decided to spend the rest of the day inside. We even upgraded to one of the deluxe rooms (the “Australia room”) for that first evening.

After some lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, we explored the grounds a bit. There is a river behind the hotel and benches that you can sit at to just enjoy the peace and quiet. There is also an observatory on the grounds. On clear nights, an astronomer from the University of Reykjavik visits the hotel to give guests a tour of the night sky and answer any questions they may have.

Settling down in the hotel for the day, we played a game of chess and I found an amazing puzzle featuring a vintage map of Iceland complete with sea monsters and the like. It was about 2/3 finished, so I made it my mission to complete the rest of that puzzle during my stay.

The rear of Hotel Ranga
Inside the game room at Hotel Ranga

Day 5 – Renewing Our Vows, Geysir, and Gulfoss

This was a very special day for us. We had decided to renew our wedding vows during this trip and Day 5 would begin with a visit to Oddi Church to do just that.

Oddi Church is one of the oldest churches in the country and many guests who want to get married in Iceland do so at this little church. We had already made arrangements with the priest at Oddi, a wonderful woman named Halldóra J Þorvarðardóttir. After taking a few pictures outside of the hotel in the morning, we made the short drive over to the church. Even though we had been married for nearly 14 years, I found myself both nervous and excited for this vow renewal ceremony.

The church itself is beautiful, with a bright red roof on the outside and a stunning interior overflowing with old world charm. The ceremony was simple and quiet. It just us and the priest, and she even gave part of the ceremony and blessing in Icelandic. It was a wonderful experience and although I will never forget any of my time in Iceland, this morning will always stand out as extra special.

Oddi Church
Renewing our vows at Oddi Church
Renewing our vows at Oddi Church
Renewing our vows at Oddi Church

After leaving Oddi Church, we returned to Hotel Ranga for some lunch. Most of the hotel’s guests leave the area during the day to explore the wonders of Iceland, so lunch time is always very quiet in the dining room. During this meal, we were the only ones in the restaurant. The hotel surprised us with some champagne and I had the best cheeseburger I have ever tasted (seriously, it was incredible). To end the meal, we had a kransakaka, which is a traditional Icelandic wedding cake that we had arranged for the hotel prepare for us. It was delicious and huge! We would eat from that cake for the next 2 days.

Our renewal lunch at Hotel Ranga
Kransakaka, a traditional Icelandic wedding cake
Our renewal lunch at Hotel Ranga

Changing out of our fancy clothes (Sarah was excited to wear her new Icelandic sweater for this adventure), we decided to head out to see 2 of the most popular locations in Iceland - Geysir and Gullfoss. These two spots are part of what is known as the “Golden Circle”. Along with Thingvellir National Park, these attractions are likely on any traveler’s “to do” list when they visit Iceland.

Our first stop was to Geysir. The area is actually rather large, with a gift shop / restaurant and a museum that shows videos about the geysers and other interesting natural aspects of Iceland. Crossing over from the parking lot and main building, it is just a short walk to view the geysers. Steam literally rises up from the ground as you make your way along the path to finally come up to the main geyser, which is called Strokkur. Every few minutes, a massive blast of water erupts from the ground. Even though you totally know what to expect as you stand there waiting for the geyser to erupt, it still makes you gasp every time the water blasts into the sky.

Geysir
Geysir
Geysir
Geysir

Leaving Geysir, we headed to the Gullfoss waterfall next. We had been told by the hotel that this was a popular spot and to expect it to be “crowded”. Icelanders apparently have a skewed concept of what "crowded" means. While there were probably a few hundred people there when we arrived, for an area as large as Gullfoss is, this did not feel crowded to us at all!

We walked along the various paths that allow you to see these massive falls from a variety of perspectives, marveling at the size of what we were seeing. It was a wondrous sight and easy to see why it is such a popular destination.

Gulfoss waterfall
Gulfoss waterfall
Gulfoss waterfall

The ride back to Ranga was nice and quiet. Driving in the South of Iceland means passing by lots of farms and lots and lots of sheep. Honestly, at this point I think we saw 1 car for every 200 sheep we passed.

Some of Iceland's many sheep

With the previous night having been rainy and cloudy, this evening was the first time that we had a chance to see the aurora. Hotel Ranga actually has a sign up list that you can put your name on if you are interested in seeing the Northern Lights. If they appear in the sky during the evening, the hotel staff will call your room to wake you so you can head outside to see them.

The clear skies of this night meant that the astronomer from the University of Reykjavik was there to give us a tour of the constellations that we could see in the night sky. This was yet another very cool thing that the hotel does for its guests and the presentation was amazing.

Around 1:00am that night, we received the call that we had been waiting for – the lights were in the sky! We quickly put on some warm clothes, grabbed a few blankets, and headed outside. They were faint, but they were there! We were looking at the Northern Lights! For a day that started with our vow renewal, I honestly could not have asked for a more perfect ending to that day than being able to cuddle together as we marveled at the auroras for the first time in our lives.

The only bummer was that I was not able to take a photograph of the lights. I am an amateur photographer at best, and I did not know how to properly set my camera to photograph the night sky and the aurora. That is why I have no photos from this evening’s display. Thankfully, our time in Iceland was not yet done and we would get another chance to capture those lights!

Day 6 – Waterfalls, Volcanos, Vik, and the Northern Lights

Day 6 was probably the nicest day, weather wise, of our entire week in Iceland. That meant that we were going to go exploring. Our plan was to make our way to the Southernmost point in Iceland - the town of Vik and its black sand beach. It was a drive that should’ve taken about 1 hour. In reality, it took us nearly 4 hours to make this journey since we kept stopping to see so many amazing sights that were right alongside the road as we traveled on Route 1.

Our first stop was to Seljalandsfoss, which is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. You can actually walk behind the waterfall along a little path, an experience that is very cool and which gives you a vantage point that you don’t usually get at a waterfall. Behind those falls is actually where many of the most stunning photos of this area are taken.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Walking along the paths in this area, we saw a number of smaller falls and some interesting rock formations. Eventually, we came to a small cave. Sneaking inside, we found another waterfall, this one hidden from the tourists who had not made the trek away from the main falls to find this little secret place.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Our next stop was the Eyjafjallajökull Vistor Centre. This is a small white building on the side of the road. Across the street is a dairy farm that is that is at the base of the glacier, Eyjafjallajökull. The ice cap covers a volcano which erupted in 2010, snaring air traffic throughout Europe and almost destroying the farm below. The Visitor Centre recounts this event and we paid a few extra dollars to sit down and watch a short movie about the farm, the eruption, and how they eventually recovered. It was very interesting and it drove the point home that, as amazing and wondrous as Iceland is, it is also an area that is very much at the mercy of Mother Nature.

the Eyjafjallajökull Vistor Centre
the Eyjafjallajökull Vistor Centre

Heading away from the Vistor Centre, we next came to another amazing and popular waterfall, Skógafoss. Before actually visiting those falls, we grabbed some lunch from a “Local Fish and Chips” truck just outside of the entrance to the area. As expected, it was delicious.

Roadside fish and chips

Skógafoss is a huge waterfall, both in terms of its height and its width. The water creates such an abundance of mist that there is almost always a rainbow in front of the falls on sunny days.

To the right of the falls is a staircase that allows you to climb to the top of the area to see the area from that higher vantage point. We did this, but what we found at the top was even cooler than we expected. Not only could you see the falls from the top, but there was also a hiking trail up here just begging to be explored.

Skógafoss waterfall
Skógafoss waterfall
Skógafoss waterfall

There is a fence in this area that is meant to keep the sheep in, not people out, and there was a ladder placed over that fence to allow people to get to the other side to access the hiking trail. The is the start of a longer trail that runs between two glaciers known as the Fimmvörðuháls Trail. We decided to follow the trail for probably a mile or so. Along the way we saw a number of other falls and some glaciers in the distance from where we were hiking. We would’ve loved to continue along the trail even further, but the day was waning fast and we still had a ways to go to get to the beach at Vik. We turned back and headed away from this trail, vowing to return one day to explore it in more detail.

the Fimmvörðuháls Trail
the Fimmvörðuháls Trail
the Fimmvörðuháls Trail
the Fimmvörðuháls Trail
the Fimmvörðuháls Trail

Finally, we came to the area of Vik, starting with the peninsula called Dyrholaey. This landmark is known for the large arch with a hole and it features an amazing and rugged coastline. In the distance, you can see the giant rock formations near the black sand beach. Legend has it that these formations are actually the remains of trolls that were caught in the sun and frozen in place.

Dyrholaey
Dyrholaey
Dyrholaey
Dyrholaey

Making our way a little further South, we came to the black sand beach. This area has a number of very interesting sights, starting with the gigantic basalt columns that greet you as soon as you walk onto the beach. These formations stretch high above the beach and you will find many tourists snapping pictures in front of the unusual rocks.

The black sand beach at Vik
The black sand beach at Vik
The black sand beach at Vik
The black sand beach at Vik

Walking a little further down the beach, we came to the huge Hálsanefshellir Cave, another popular spot to stand in awe of nature and snap a few photos.

Hálsanefshellir Cave at the black sand beach at Vik

The beach itself is made up largely of smooth black rocks. Sarah and I enjoyed some quiet time just sitting on that beach watching the waves crash up against the shore.

Back near the parking area, there is a small restaurant that served as a perfect end to our day of exploration. We had some Gull beers, a few sandwiches, and some delicious soup as we sat back and recapped all the amazing things we had seen that day. Little did we know we still had one more surprise to go!

The black sand beach at Vik
The black sand beach at Vik

Another clear evening brought the astronomer back from the University of Iceland, and this time the Northern Lights appeared in the sky before he had left for the night. The lights were also more intense than they had been that previous night. Since I had previously tried to capture a photo of the lights, but had been unable to do so, I enlisted the help of the astronomer (whose name I am ashamed to say I cannot seem to remember) to adjust the settings on my camera to be able to take these photos. It worked!

The observatory at Hotel Ranga
Hotel Ranga at night
The Northern Lights

One thing you realize when you see the Northern Lights and take photos of them is that the colors are so much more vibrant in the photos than they are in real life. This is because of people’s vision limitations and how we see (or do not see) the fainter colors of the aurora at night.

Sarah and I would stay outside looking at the lights for over an hour that night, ending another amazing day in Iceland.

Days 7 and 8 – Relaxation and the Trip Back Home

Our final full day in Iceland was another rainy one, which was fine by us since it gave us an excuse to just relax for a while. Sarah did some reading and I finally completed that puzzle I had been working on for the past few days. Sadly, the puzzle was missing some pieces, so I was left feeling a bit unfulfilled in my accomplishment (Sarah actually bought me that same puzzle for Christmas that year so I could finally finish the puzzle in full – something my daughter Holly and I did a few weeks after the holiday).

My completed puzzle
Relaxing at Hotel Ranga

While our final day was an uneventful one, it was a nice end to a wonderful trip filled with so many amazing memories.

Waking up on our final day, we had to leave Hotel Ranga very early to drive the 2 hours North to the airport for our early flight home. Since we were on the road before the hotel was even serving breakfast, they saw us off with some care packages complete with juice, sandwiches, and Skyr (no breakfast is complete without some Skyr). It was just another example of the amazing level of kindness and service we found everywhere in Iceland - especially at the Hotel Ranga (seriously – if you are ever in the South of Iceland, make it a point to stay at Ranga. You will not regret it.)

Final Thoughts

As much as I love to travel, I am actually a pretty nervous traveler. Mainly, I get worried about three things - transportation, language, and food. Since Iceland was our first big trip outside of the US that was not a cruise or an all-inclusive resort, I was admittedly worried about these three points. If you have similar worries about traveling abroad, let me tell that Iceland is the perfect place for you!

Getting around is easy. As I have mentioned previously, Reykjavik is a super walkable city that you don’t need a car to enjoy. In fact, if you are only visiting that city, I suggest skipping the rental and taking one of the buses that regularly makes the 45-minute trek to the city from the airport.

In terms of language, you quickly realize that the entire country of Iceland is multilingual. Everyone speaks perfect English as well as Icelandic and many people speak other languages as well. It’s actually very impressive and it makes communicating totally stress free.

Finally, the food in Iceland is amazing. Everything we ate was just delicious and there is incredible variety too. If you want to eat exotic, there are plenty of dishes for you to try (we saw puffin and whale on the menu at more than one place). If you want to play it a bit safer, you will find plenty of options available to you as well. The only challenge I think you may find is if you are a vegetarian. Icelandic cuisine is big on fish and lamb and I didn’t see too many vegetarian options. Admittedly, I was not specifically looking for those options, but it does bear mentioning that this may be a challenge.

Some other suggestions, comments, and answers to common questions I hear:

  • Pretty much everywhere in Iceland takes credit cards, so don’t go crazy exchanging for Krona. The only place we went that did not take cards was the flea market and they have an ATM right outside their door. It is nice to have some cash handy, but credit will be fine in almost all places.
  • Bring rain gear. Iceland is wet, so be sure to pack something that will keep you dry.
  • Iceland is pretty casual, so don’t go crazy packing fancy clothes. One outfit is fine if you plan to eat at a super fancy place, but everywhere we went people were dressed warm and comfortable and that’s how you will want to dress too.
  • Be flexible. The weather is unpredictable, so have a plan of what you want to do, but also be ready to shift plans if the weather does not cooperate.
  • Almost every sight in Iceland is free, but you can pay for tours to see those sights. They are usually not necessary. If you have a car, you can drive to the sights yourself super easy. Same goes for the Northern Lights. If you are away from the city lights, all you need to do is go outside to see the aurora. You do not need a formal tour unless you are doing something more dangerous, like a glacier walk or being lowered into a volcano (yes, you can do both of those).
  • If you are interested in the South of Iceland, look into staying at Hotel Ranga. Incredible service and accommodations. Totally worth the price. This is also a great place to see those Northern Lights - just be sure to give yourself a few nights since they do not appear every night.
  • Take advantage of happy hour. Beer and wine can get expensive at bars in Iceland, but everywhere we saw did a happy hour from like 3 to 6:30 or so. Use this time wisely to save some money and meet some other cool like-minded travelers.
  • It is not as cold as you think it is in Iceland (again with that “ice” word in the name). While we were there in mid-September the coldest we saw was mid-40s and the highest was mid-60s.
  • They drive on the same side of the road/car as in the US
  • Most of the cars you can rent are manual, so if you can’t drive stick, be sure to ask for an automatic, which will cost you a little more

Bottom line – Iceland is an amazing place. You will absolutely fall in love with it if you go and you will want to visit again. Almost as soon as we got back from our trip, we started talking about when we would go back, this time with the kids so we could show them the magic of this wonderful country.

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