At one point during my road trip around Iceland, I felt like this must be a different planet. The topography of Iceland would abruptly change from black sand beaches and rocky lava deserts to glacier lagoons and mountainous sheets of ice. There are shooting geysers steaming into the sky, green pastures where miniature horses nestle each other, long strands of white mountains, and the charming city of Reykjavík with colorful houses made out of shipping containers.
Reykjavík is known as a quirky yet vibrant mashing of a small town vibe with big city living. As the capital of Iceland, and it’s the largest city with around 300,000, Reykjavik is home to museums, restaurants, bars, live music venues, and so much more. The city is a creative one with musicians, comedians, theatre actors, filmmakers, drag artists and burlesque performers. Fashion, art, and architecture are thriving here. Even if you are on an adventure trip through all of Iceland it is always a great idea to spend a few days in Reykjavík eating, shopping, cultural exploring, and barhopping.
If you come to Iceland during the winter months, realize you are constantly racing against time. Daylight hours are from 940am to 450pm. This is in your favor if you like to sleep in.
Beer was outlawed in Iceland until 1989 because politicians considered it to be a ‘peasant’ drink and didn’t want their countrymen getting drunk off of beer, although hard liquor and wine were always legal. So if you want to show up to a party in style, bring a 6 pack.
Brandy wine is a popular beverage in Iceland. The most traditional dessert is a delicious heavy cream medley called Skyr. What you find on the menu is lamb, puffin, horse, whale, and shark. Smoked fish like Arctic char is a staple as is licorice chocolate. Icelanders do not import meat – so everything is very fresh.
Reykjavik was founded by Norwegian Vikings fleeing from their king. A Viking called Ingólfur Arnarson named the place he found Reykjavik (‘Smokey Bay’) after seeing the steam rising from the hot springs.
Almost everything we know about Iceland’s earliest history comes from the Landnámabók, also known as the Book of Settlements, composed by Ari Þorgilsson in the late 11th or early 12th Century. It records the first people to come to Iceland, where they settled, and who their descendants were in meticulous detail. It is from this that we know that Ingólfur Arnason and Hallveig Fróðadóttir were Iceland’s first permanent settlers and that they settled in Reykjavík in 874.
I found millennials at the bars to be very engaging, great conversationalists, and friendly. Most of them came up to me speaking Icelandic, which was extremely flattering. I even chatted with a few fisherman from Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Don’t be fooled by the lure of its charm, Reykjavík is also party town. Bars get really good around 4am and do not close until 630am – and you are guilt free because the sun doesn’t rise until 9:40am.
We started out classy at Loftid, then went to Slippbarinn, Peterson Svitan, Kaldi, and ‘ended’ the night with some live music at The English Pub. By ended night, we meant we shut down the bar.
They say that Hallgrímskirkja stands guard over Reykjavík. The Evangelical-Lutheran church is both a parish church and a national sanctuary in Iceland. Its stepped concrete facade is an ode to modernism and a reminder of the Icelandic landscape. The church is named after the 17th-century clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson, author of Hymns of the Passion.
Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum is the former home and workshop of the sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) who designed and mostly constructed this building himself. Ásmundur´s art greatly reflects his lifelong interest in the Icelandic sagas, folktales, and classical mythology. The building itself is a magnificent work of architecture, largely inspired by the Egyptian pyramids and the mosques of the Middle East.
Swim with the locals at the warm outdoor swimming pools and spas which typically open at 630am and close late. Laugardalslaug is an Olympic-sized swimming pool located in Sundlaugarvegur in the Laugardalur district of Reykjavík. Your other options are Árbæjarlaug, Vesturbæjarlaug, and Sundhöllin.
This unique spa features a huge outdoor lagoon filled with geothermal hot water whose active ingredients are mineral salts, silica, and blue-green algae – set in a black lava background the baby blue water is a perfect picture.
Make sure you try a facemask and sit in the sauna and steam baths. Visit the exclusive lounge for more privacy, with private changing rooms, a reserved lounge with light refreshments and a private indoor lagoon, as well as an outdoor deck with lounge chairs. The Blue Lagoon is 15 minutes away from the airport. Packed Perfectly suggests you try it on your way to or from the airport to maximize your time and give you travel relief. Also if you can, splurge on the exclusive package! This place gets crowded very quickly and it is so nice to have a private room to leave your stuff and shower.
Either rent a car or hire a driver. You can choose to tour for the day or take overnight trips around the country. Iceland is relatively small, it takes 13 hours to drive around the entire country on what is called The Ring Road.
The Golden Circle is a popular route in Iceland. The three main sights you will want to visit include Thingvellir, Gullfoss, and Geysir as well as enjoying an optional stop at Laugarvatn Fontana spa. You can do this in a few hours unless you want to do an activity like snowmobiling which typically takes 3 hours.
Thingvellir National Park is a historic site. Major events in the history of Iceland have taken place at Þingvellir, therefore, today Þingvellir is a protected national shrine.
Fontana the Icelandic Fountain of Wellness – option Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths is located between Thingvellir and Geysir. It consists of a unique experience of the healing powers of the geothermal springs. Soak in a natural pool, listen to the bubbling hot spring in the steam rooms, or for the venturesome, take a dip in the refreshing lake. Also, you can experience and taste the bread that is baked in the earth due to the geothermal heat.
At Geysir, you can see erupting geysers. The great Geysir stopped erupting 1916 but his “baby brother,” Strokkur, goes off every few minutes reaching an average of 15‐20 meters into the air.
Take a tour of the beautiful waterfall Gullfoss or Golden falls. The waterfall drops down in two stages 11m and 21m before falling into a crevice making it look as if it disappears into the earth.
The Silfra fissure is one of Iceland’s best‐kept secrets and is world famous for its amazing shades of blue. The Silfra fissure is located in the Thingvallavatn Lake in Thingvellir National Park and is typically a three-hour excursion. As Silfra is a part of the Mid‐Atlantic Ridge, snorkelers will experience swimming between two continents – North America and Eurasia. You will be guided both over and under the surface by one of the PADI Dive Masters or Diving Instructors.
Take a Snowmobile tour on Iceland’s second largest Glacier, Langjökull. Then get a guided tour into an ice cave. If you want the best tour guide in Iceland, have a chat with Jóhann Kristjánsson at IS Travel.
Packed Perfectly drove from Reykjavík in West Iceland through the south coast, to east Iceland. The Icelandic south coast is one of the most spectacular driving routes in Iceland. You experience black sand beaches, glaciers, and waterfalls.
Dyrholaey is a small but majestic peninsula and the southernmost point of the mainland. Dyrholaey has formed in a sub‐aquatic eruption about 100 thousand years ago.
Skogarfoss waterfall cascades 65 meters down from ancient sea cliffs and is considered to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland.
Eyjafjallajokull crater reins about 1666 meters high on the glacier overlooking the south of Iceland.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall which cascades from ancient sea cliffs over 60 meters down to a shallow pool. It is possible to take a walk behind the waterfall.
Skaftafell is also known as the black fall in Vatnajökull National Park. There is great hiking here, and glacier walking.
Who doesn’t want to see big icebergs floating on a lake that connects to Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier? You only see 10% of a glacier, the other 90% is underwater. (cool fact to impress your friends)
Depending upon weather conditions, like how clear the sky is you can see the Aurora Borealis, aka Northern Lights dance around the sky. I feel like I am a chaser of the Northern Lights
This site will help you track them in Iceland
Driving around the country during wintertime you will only see 4 wheel drive vehicles with massive tires. Massive tires are the most important thing to have in the winter if you are planning on driving around the rocky back roads to do things like checking out ice caves, glacier walks, and exploring hidden spots.