We have some mixed emotions about Iceland. First point, the views are gorgeous, but the weather is absolutely bipolar and you need to be prepared for it ALL! There are so many stories and tips on this one!
What to pack? Layers & Waterproof everything! If you thought you packed properly, double check this list.
•Pack thermals/long underwear. •Replace 3-4 tops with 2 sweaters. •Make one of your bottoms a basic pair of black pants. •Choose boots as your one shoe. •Pack warm, lightweight socks •Accessorize with hats, gloves, and scarves. •Choose your coat wisely. •Don't forget chap stick, lotion and a thermos.
Depending on the time of year, we highly recommend that you carry-on or wear your boots/coat/gloves/hat in case your luggage gets delayed.
Purchase dry bags and waterproof containers for long day trips.
If traveling in a group, pack 1 suitcase and a waterproof backpack. Vehicles are small in this region and tend not to have much space for luggage.
We heard WOW Air has the best flights to Iceland, so we checked it out and found a pretty good deal. Yes.. the name is really WOW air and it's the purplish/pink jumbo jets that you may have thought were photo-shopped from the movie soul plane. Nope, it is a legit company with great flights from certain cities.
Things to know about WOW air: Don't get too excited when you see the prices! Keep clicking! You must pay for your seat, carry-on bags, checked bags, and of course travel protection. Be sure to read the cancellation/refund policies for each flight very carefully before completing purchases.
Arrival at Keflavik International Airport (KEF). First of all, we landed at 5am local time in a full on blizzard. In fact the worst blizzard Iceland has experienced in the past 10-20 years. Why Lord?? At times, you land on the runway with no jet bridge and transfer to terminal on a bus, you are outside for a moment. I'm glad we wore our heavy duty & waterproof winter boots, coats, hats and scarfs to protect ourselves from the elements because of course this was one of those times..."burrrrrr"!!!
When storms come, the government closes certain roads and bridges to take safety precautions for extended periods of time. We used The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration Website to track the storms movement and ever changing road conditions/closures. We were stuck in the airport for approximately 3 hours and found some wheel chairs and floor space in a corner to camp out until the weather lifted. It seemed like the longest 3 hours of our lives! When you finally get to your destination, its go time! But unfortunately, not this time.
So...we decide to rent a car in Iceland...in a blizzard...YIKES! Reasons: 1. Our villa was secluded and about 30 minutes from the city center of Reykjavik. 2. Wanted the freedom to explore on our own time since the weather wasn't going to be great. We picked up our keys from Avis car rental in the airport terminal and proceeded to find our vehicle. All the cars are parked outside and of course it was still snowing, super windy and the car markers were covered with snow! We fought the wind and found the car in the far back corner of the lot. We decided to drive it closer to a partially covered walkway to load up the luggage. Another reason why it is important to pack smart for this adventure is the cars are relatively small! With four people, luggage and carry-on bags loading the car in a blizzard took some creativity. Be sure to review the tips in the what to pack section above .
We wanted a more private experience with 2-3 bedrooms. There were 4 people on this trip so 2 bathrooms was a must! Unfortunately multiple bathrooms in Icelandic homes are very rare. We searched high and low to find the perfect modern villa located on private, black sand beachfront property in a small town called Nesvík. The large windows, open concept, and minimalist decor was absolutely perfect! We enjoyed ocean views on one side and snow-capped mountains on the other.
Navigating, Places we ate & visited: We spent a lot of our time dodging and tracking snow storms and road closures. For safety reasons we made sure to leave out and get back before dark when driving through the mountains. Side note: Totally thanking my parents for raising me in Chicago and teaching me how to drive in the snow. Those skills paid off this trip, Thanks guys!!! But, through ALL the sunshine, rain, hail, sleet and snow, we managed to experience these beautiful places:
The Golden Circle: We took the scenic route to the Secret Lagoon while dodging storms and ended up in The Golden Circle. We stopped several times at lookout points for views and photos. We didn't get to do a few things on our list due to extreme weather conditions. I guess this just gives us an excuse to go back sooner than later! Be sure to add The Great Geysir and snow-mobilling on a glacier to your list when planning your Icelandic getaway.
The Secret Lagoon: Both off-the-beaten-path and within the Golden Circle, the Secret Lagoon hot springs lives up to their evocative name. Tucked away in the small village of Fludir, the hot springs are not quite as popular as other nearby
attractions, but offer unbeatable natural luxury and comfort, plus amenities such
as changing rooms, a shower, plus a bar and restaurant. It's The Secret Lagoon, truly a hidden gem is not overly crowded by tourists and the reason why we like this geothermal retreat the best! Book your ticket in advance to ensure a smooth visit.
Downtown Reykjavík: 📍Sun Voyager (Icelandic: Sólfar) is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, located next to the Sæbraut & Klapparstígur road in Reykjavík. Sun Voyager is described as a dreamboat, or an ode to the sun. The artist intended it to convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom. Just a short walk down the pier are other popular tourist attractions such as the Reykjavik harbor and Harpa Music Hall.
Foodie Chronicles: We did some research prior to our trip to and decided to prepare some home cooked meals and immerse ourselves into some of the most popular gourmet restaurants of Iceland. The nearest grocery market to our villa was Kronan. Expect to see a lot of lamb including the heads and dishes with root vegetables, such as potatoes, rutabagas, beets and carrots and cold weather vegetables, such as cabbage and rhubarb often appear on the Icelandic menu. Other fruits and vegetables are available as imports or grown in hothouses, which are a bit more expensive.
Water: Don't buy bottled water! Not only is it safe to drink the water straight from the tap, it's also safe to drink from most lakes, rivers and streams if the water runs clear. Basically, if you're not drinking mud or seawater, it's ok to drink and super refreshing! If you decide to purchase water from the local stores, it is more than likely just Icelandic Tap Water in a bottle. Save your money and bring a thermos long day trips.
Dining with a view in Reykjavík: SKÝ Restaurant & Bar is perfectly situated in the center of down town Reykjavík. The restaurant is located on the 8th floor at CenterHotel Arnarhvoll. Offering delicious food, fun drinks and spectacular view over the city center and the mountain range beyond the Faxaflói Bay.
Appetizer: Bacon wrapped dates with garlic aioli for dipping.
Entrees: We heard they had one of the best bacon burgers and fish and chips in Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon: After exploring the cold streets of Reykjavik, we enjoyed the sunset and spent our evening in the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon. Minerals like silica and sulfur naturally mixed together create the blue milky look. Bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C (99–102 °F). The Blue Lagoon also operates a research and development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the mineral-rich water. Keep in mind there was a full on blizzard happening and below freezing temperatures. As mentioned, the lagoon has many different temperatures so it was best for us to find and stay in the warmest areas. We had the best of both worlds for a while with cool breezes and warm pockets of water. At times the winds and ice were blowing so hard we had to duck inside the coves for shelter. However, there were still hundreds of brave souls out there barring it all!
Get the ultimate indulgence by spending the night in one of the two onsite hotels and enjoy fine dinning at the Lava Restaurant. Also upgrade your package to include complimentary drinks, algae and silica facial masks, use of towel and bathrobe. This is an absolute must activity when in Iceland. Be sure to book your tickets in advance as capacity fills up fast.
Exploring Black Sand Beaches: Once again, the weather wouldn't hold up for us to go to the world-famous black-sand beach of Reynisfjara. However, when the sun came out we got out of the house to explore the private beach and surrounding areas on the property in Nesvík.
- Tipping in restaurants. In Iceland your restaurant bill will probably already include a service charge, so you don't need to tip. If there isn't a service charge, then a 10% gratuity is perfectly fine. Another option is to round up to the next even amount.
- If driving in Iceland, headlights need to be on at all time, 24/7.
- There are restrictions on bus types and pick up points for tours. Review your tour vouchers carefully to avoid confusion and delays at pick up and drop off locations. Read more here.