As our social media feeds are flooded with friends and family enjoying the gorgeous Icelandic summers, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about our amazing trip back in November 2021. What better way to ride the memory train than to finally write a blog on Iceland! So, after seven months…. Here it is!
For years, one of the places on both of our bucket lists has been Iceland. For me, it has been about seeing the northern lights, landscape, wildlife, and trying the local delicacies. For Ian, it was about visiting Game of Thrones sites and trying all the bakeries Paul Hollywood went to on his show, City Bakes. To each their own right? We decided on the late fall/early winter months in order to increase our chances of seeing the northern lights (which SPOILER: we did not). We also wanted to see some snow and experience some of the wintery Viking life that Iceland has to offer. Insider tip, if you go in the off season (basically late fall and winter), everything is significantly cheaper! For instance, we did not pay more than around two hundred dollars a night for any of our accommodations, and two hundred would have been the high end. One of the places we stayed runs for about four hundred dollars a night in the summer months. Also, Iceland is way less crowded! during the “off season.” We had all the sites practically to ourselves! Don’t let the colder weather scare you! I am a WEENIE about the cold and I enjoyed it! Just make sure you have some good winter gear. The lowest the temperature got was probably in the high twenties (Fahrenheit) and it rained more than it snowed. The only downside I will say is the driving during the colder months. If you are like us and not as used to driving in winter conditions (especially on stick shift), then you may not be able to go as many places as you would like. We had to cancel our day up west because the roads were just too difficult for us. The daylight is really reduced during that time of year in Iceland. We had probably six hours max of daylight. So it will also reduce the sites you can see in the daytime. However, we really think the good outweighed the small difficulties! So let’s get into the breakdown of our trip!
One more thing, if you are thinking of traveling to Iceland, then I would recommend you check out Rick Steves Iceland book. I used it when planning most of our travels!
Ok, this will be a short one because Day 1 was mainly traveling. It takes a longggg time to get to Iceland from San Diego. There is also a huge time difference, so prepare to be jet lagged. I think we were awake for a total of twenty-six hours by the time we landed in Iceland (neither of us can sleep on planes). When we touched down in Keflavik, we asked our shuttle driver for the rental cars where we should get breakfast. He pointed us to the Hotel Keflavik for their buffet. Now, we had just gotten off the plane. It was around 6:30 am local time. We looked like… heated up garbage. But we thought, ok let’s listen to the locals. So we went to the Hotel Keflavik and it was super fancy. Like gorgeous. And here we are in our joggers with sleep in our eyes. I was mortified! That being said, we had a wonderful breakfast for a very reasonable price. After breakfast, we headed out to The Blue Lagoon. Now, if you don’t know, Iceland is known for its geothermal activity and hot springs. The Blue Lagoon is a man-made location, but is a very popular tourist activity. I have heard a lot of people say it is not worth it, however, we thought it was totally worth it. We got there first thing in the morning so it was not super crowded. We recommend getting the upgraded package if possible, you get a lot more masks and some free alcohol. The pools feel lovely when it is chilly outside, though getting into them was… cold. Make sure to follow all the directions for prepping to get in the water. After the lagoon, we drove into Reykjavik to check into our hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Kvosin in the City Center of Reykjavik. This area was so fun and easily accessible! Our hotel was amazing too. Lovely accommodations with some parking available. Very close to restaurants, shops, bars, and museums. Since we were exhausted at this point, we elected to have an early dinner (like 3:30 pm) at a nearby restaurant we stumbled upon called Skuggabaldur. This tiny, almost hole-in-the-wall, restaurant doubles as a jazz lounge. The interior is beautifully decorated with homey, welcoming decor. The food was amazing. Ian had steak and fries. I had halibut in a Romesco sauce. I also ordered a side of fries because they were amazing, and I was starving. We had to have one of our favorite beers- Einstok! It is an Icelandic company, but you can find right here in San Diego as well. The meal was superb! I’d like to say that after that we hit the town and got crazy, but really we went home and fell asleep by 5:00 pm despite our best efforts. Oh well. At least we slept in! Sike – we were up at 3:30 am realizing our mistake. DON’T BE LIKE US! Try to adjust. It’s hard, but just try!
Day 2 started oddly early with us just waiting until things opened up (never thought I’d say those words). Our plan was to get out and see the South Coast, so we wanted to hit the road early. We decided on a simple breakfast from DEIG. It is really close to the harbor. We both got bagel sandwiches and split a creme brûlée donut. That donut was one of the BEST filled donuts we have ever had. The crème on the inside was just perfect with a light sweetness. They actually brûléed the sugar on top so it became hot and sticky. It was the perfect way to fight off the cold morning. Oh, this may be a good point to say that the coffee in Iceland is not super strong, so if you are an avid coffee drinker, you may be a little disappointed. I did find one good spot I will discuss later! After we ate, we headed off to the South Coast. So we did things a little differently due to weather conditions and sunlight restrictions. Most people will do the full Golden Circle. We sort of did it as two semi-circles. It was actually nice that way because we were able to see more in the limited light. So, our first stop of the day (after about 45 minutes of driving) was Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Now, Iceland has a lot of waterfalls. So if you are a waterfall fan, you will be blown away. I have to admit… waterfalls are not my favorite thing in the world, but the ones in Iceland are gorgeous. This is usually where the puffins are if you are there in the right months. We, of course, were not. But it was still gorgeous! The next stop was Skogar. The waterfall here is called Skogafoss. It was actually used in Game of Thrones when Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen were flying around on dragons and landed them by the waterfall. Remember? Anyways, it is gorgeous. It was very, very windy and I didn’t make it to the top (very scary stairs if you are afraid of heights), but Ian was brave and made the whole climb! The other thing we would recommend doing if you have time is checking out the Skogar Folk Museum. This super cute museum is jam-packed with interesting Icelandic history and culture. There is a really cute outdoor exhibit with walk-through houses and an old school house. I have heard the cafeteria has good lunch offerings, but it was closed when we were there (and we were starving!!). Next stop was the seaside village of Vik. Gorgeous little town right on the water. We had lunch at a place called Sudur-Vik. We had some fried Camembert cheese and I had smoked Arctic char. We split a very interesting meat lovers pizza topped with Bernaise sauce! Lunch was fantastic and we were the only people there. Our final stops were the black sand beaches of Vik and more specifically, Reynisfjara. This is where the beach scenes from Star Wars: Rogue One and the Eastwatch-by-the-sea scenes in Game of Thrones scenes were filmed! It was absolutely stunning- definitely one of our favorite locations on this trip. The giant basalt formations are very humbling! Due to time, we had to skip some of the items on our list including the glacier where they shot part of Batman Begins. Ian was…not thrilled about that. After that, we headed to our very isolated cabin outside of Hela. Rookie mistake #2, if you stay off the beaten trail, make sure to bring dinner with you! We had granola bars for dinner…not a very blog-worthy dinner. The cabin itself was incredible though- hosted by Afternoon Cottages. Completely isolated. We could see Mount Hekla (an active volcano). We stayed up most of the night watching for the Aurora, but unfortunately we were not able to see it.
This was an interesting day, we were supposed to be heading up to the Snaefellsnes peninsula to stay in Budir for the evening. However, after one hour on the road (and five more to go), we decided we couldn’t do it. Instead, we called up Hotel Kvosin and they booked us a night there at the same rate we had booked months in advance! There’s a story about Ian losing his hydroflask at the front desk, them not having it, and feeling bad they actually DID have it…but needless to say we were happy. We decided to explore Reykjavik that day. We went to the Phallological Museum (that’s all I’ll say about that here). We tried a hot dog stand (more on that later) and Holla Batar sandwiches on the recommendation of Icelandic strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson . Definitely try Holla Batar if you like a good toasted sandwich! We decided to start our bakery tour with Sandholt bakery. Now Sandholt is a darling bakery and everything we tried there was fantastic. That being said, the one thing we went back for (and told everyone to get), is their croissant. Paul Hollywood said it was the best he ever had, and darn it, we agree. It is buttery. The outside is crunchy shards of goodness while the inside is soft and pillowy. It is phenomenal – the best croissant in the world. We even talked to the owner and told him his bakery was a big part of the reason we flew to Iceland! He seemed to think we were crazy Americans, but that’s ok. We also tried a few bars. We would definitely recommend you go to the Einstok beer bar. Iceland has some fantastic local beers, and we would recommend you try a few. The Einstok bar also had some amazing cocktails! Kaldi is a really cool spot with amazing drinks as well. The bar and brewery aesthetic is one that both of us enjoy immensely – see the pictures for that Scandinavian minimalism hygge. We finished up with a cocktail at the bar in Hotel Kvosin- the head bartender has won several awards! Our dinner that night was not great, so we will skip that for the sake of time.
DAY 4 & 5
I decided to lump these together because, well, I realized I am rambling. I apologize- but I just love Iceland so much! I could go on forever! Heck, we even have a whole slideshow about it. Anyways, these days we moved up to an Airbnb by The Neighborhood of the Gods. It was a stone’s throw from the famous Hallgrimskirkja (church). We did go up there, but as soon as we did it started dumping snow from the heavens and we couldn’t see a darn thing. Definitely not a good use of your money if it is not a clear day. Make sure you get a waffle from the waffle cart if it is out front though – so yummy!! We spent this time really checking out Reykjavik. We went to the Saga museum- which was a fun little museum about the early settlers of Iceland. Very interactive, but very small. There is apparently an amazing restaurant in there, but you need reservations several weeks in advance. We went to the Whale Museum which has life-sized models of all the species of whales that frequent Iceland. I would say skip this unless you have children or you are just looking to get out of the elements for a while. Let’s talk about food because I did remember that this is a food blog and not a travel blog or a love letter to Iceland. During these forty-eight hours, we had some of our favorite food. We tried another bakery Paul Hollywood recommended called Braud og Co. Very different than Sandholt, but still very worth checking out. We recommend you try the Einkorn bread. It is a sourdough made with ancient grains. Very unique, Ian has stated this is his favorite sourdough in the entire world. Make sure you get some Icelandic butter too! They also had amazing buns and rolls. We also got another hot dog, but this time from the famous spot- Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. I didn’t know why anyone would talk so much about hot dogs, but I get it now. I am a convert. These are a lamb-based hot dog topped with grilled onions, crunchy onions, two types of mustard, and ketchup. They are… delicious. I dreamt about these hot dogs. From the bite of the first one I had, I was begging Ian for another one. The second round was even better than the first one we tried!! Seriously, I wish I had one right now. Another recommendation from strongman Hafþór was Grai kotturinn for breakfast. I won’t lie… we went here twice. Great breakfast with great, big portions and yummy breakfast staples! I mentioned good coffee. There was a place by our Airbnb called Reykjavik Roasters- and I did have some very good coffee there! Another spot close to our house was Rok. Rok is a small plates restaurant with some very delicious offerings. We recommend you get a lot for the table to try! We also got soup in a bread bowl at a place called Sparta Kaffio. Kind of genius, all they do is soup in bread bowls. They offer two soups from a rotating menu. We both got Icelandic lamb stew, and it was incredible! Very savory and filling. We did try the famous Rye bread ice cream at Cafe Loki and we would say skip it and get it at one of the smaller ice cream shops (like Valdi’s). It is very expensive at Cafe Loki, for a small serving. Speaking of pricing, the food is pretty expensive in Iceland. Now the way to work around that is to have smaller snack items or to stick with more local foods like fish and lamb. Beef and chicken are more expensive and a little harder to find, so branch out and try some local stuff!
We set off this day to complete the Golden Circle (told you we did it weird). This was a very cold day and a very cold trip, but clear and gorgeous! Our first stop was Þingvellir National Park. Another Game of Thrones location- this time the entrance to Eyrie. Absolutely breathtaking scenery, and that wasn’t just because I knocked the wind outta myself by falling on my butt on the ice (Ian pointed and laughed). Next up was one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland- Gulfoss! Zac Efron went here in his show, Down to Earth. Very gorgeous. Finally, we saw Geysir. The spot that all other geysers are named after! We had lunch at a little place called Skjol. Very delicious pizza for Ian and a warm bowl of yummy cauliflower soup for me! For dinner, we tried The Old Icelandic restaurant (thank you Don and Althea). This restaurant features an upscale spin on some traditional Icelandic dishes. I was adventurous and tried a lamb dish (a little gamely for me, but overall very tasty) and Ian got a braised beef cheek meal. The desserts were to-die-for. Ian had Kleinur (traditional Icelandic donuts) with a berry and Skyr (Icelandic yogurt) dipping sauce. I had the Icelandic marriage cake made with oats and rhubarb. Both were delicious and we argued over who ordered better!
Our last full day! Incidentally, it was also Thanksgiving! We hit the Perla- the biggest museum in the city. It has a lot to offer including the natural history section, a real ice tunnel, and gorgeous views of Reykjavik! We also explored more of the local scenery and shopping centers. For dinner, we went into Hafnarfjordur. This is a small area outside of Reykjavik located on the harbor. Also, it is where I want to move and live for the rest of my life! It’s so stinking cute!! We had our Thanksgiving dinner at Viking Village/Fjorukrain. Ian likes to refer to it as Viking T.G.I. Friday’s. It is all Viking themed and decorated. I’ll be honest, I was worried, but the food was really good! I got a White Ling dish and Ian got a ham steak! We ate it all!!
Our last day, and we were sad. We didn’t want to leave Iceland. I almost canceled our flight without telling Ian. Oh well. We spent the morning soaking up the last of Reykjavik’s wonders and then headed towards Keflavik to explore a little more there before going to the airport. We had lunch at a fun old school diner called Olsen Olsen. My burger was delicious! The thick cut bacon on it was a nice touch. Ian had a good cheesesteak sandwich! Our last meal in Iceland was not a disappointment! Oh, I forgot to mention. You should try the 7-Up free when you are there! It is so bubbly and citrusy. We got it all the time when we were there!
Well, that concludes our epic trip to Iceland. I apologize for how long (and belated) this entry is, but we just have too much to say about it. We can’t wait to go back to Iceland and see even more!!