The land of ice and fire has been at the top of my travel list since seeing the many travel bloggers who’ve flocked there recently. I’ve also heard for a long time that it’s expensive to get to and to be in. However, this year, WOW Air began flying to Chicago with cheap fares so I jumped at the offer to go. In this post I recount our 5 days and 4 nights trip to Iceland!
Flight to Iceland
We bought our WOW Air flight for only $530 round-trip for two people. This impulse buy was really the reason we went to Iceland at the end of November.
I have to say though that you won’t pay just the price base. When flying with WOW Air you need to factor in the luggage costs which was another $180 for 2 people round-trip. So in the end we saved money but it was still a bummer to spend more on top of that cheap base ticket. In total we spent around $700 round-trip for the both of us.
From Chicago to Keflavík, the flight is actually short. In air it’s only a five and half hour flight. WOW Air is basic service and you don’t even get a meal so we brought everything on. No entertainment either. However I did pay for a seat near the front and facing north. I’m glad I did as we saw the northern lights over the Labrador Sea between Canada and Greenland. This was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Iceland and it turns out we’d never see them on ground. Other than that, the flight is ordinary and although we arrived late into Iceland.
Blue Lagoon or Bláa lónið
The Blue Lagoon is a must! Yes it’s touristy and yes it’s pricey but so is everything else in Iceland. Many people skip this place since it’s near the airport and out-of-the-way from other sites but my suggestion is to take the bus from the airport and then take a bus to Reykjavík once your done. Saves money and time.
We went when it was pitch-black at 8 am, raining and freezing. There is a lot of lining up, getting rid of extra luggage, paying, stripping, showering naked and then putting on your bathing suit. Overall this will take around 30 minutes to 45 minutes. It’s kind of disorganized and that’s why I recommend getting there early in the morning before the rush in the afternoon.
Anyways we got our locker, I put on my skimpy bathing suit and went out in the pitch-black. It was misty, and freezing but the water was the perfect temperature. Even if its near freezing it’s comfortable to be in the water. It was pretty dark but they also have low lights around the lagoon. Our goal was to experience the lagoon in the dark and wait for the sunrise to get pictures of the pretty blue water.
The water with silica and sulfur was perfect for our skin as it cleaned, dried up pores and made our skin silky smooth. You can also add a mud mask for free to further rejuvenate your skin. We felt amazing afterwards.
There is a bar in the lagoon and although the drinks are pricey there are several options including smoothies, wine and beer. You really can’t beat swimming around in warm water with an alcoholic drink in your hand.
Suffering from jet-lag we were ready to leave the Blue Lagoon at around 11. There are buses that go direct to the city and everything was pre-paid beforehand. I just flashed them our ticket on my phone and we were off to the capital city, Reykjavík. It’s about a 45 minute drive and is scenic but we were too tired to stay awake.
Arriving at around midday we checked in and immediately slept. We stayed at the Reykjavík Residence Hotel, and I highly recommend it. It was cute, modern and in the heart of the action. The only thing was our shower kept flooding but we were able to fix it ourselves.
After sleeping we got up at 4 pm to eat dinner at Icelandic Street Food. This place now has the top spot on TripAdvisor for cheap eats and I can highly recommend it. They only make 3 items and two are bread bowls filled with soup. Lamb or a seafood mix. I choose the lamb and it was amazing. It can be crowded there so go early.
We did tour the downtown area for a bit and had some coffee before we returned near our hotel to have last-minute happy hour. Iceland loves their beers and any bar will have a great choice. Given we went near Christmas time the bars all had a great selection of Christmas beer.
Oh we were suppose to go on a northern lights tour that night but it was cancelled due to cloudy weather and low activity.
I’m glad we were able to sleep in and just take the day slow in Reykjavík. The city is tiny and can easily be conquered in a day. And to be honest there isn’t much to see or do.
Even at 8 am it’s dark in the city and really quiet. It really felt like 12 in the morning. Since we were close to their famous church, Hallgrímskirkja, and take some dystopian looking pictures. The rain continued overnight so my pictures came out so bleak and eerie but haunting. We also went back during the day to take some daylight pictures.
Reykjavík City Center
The street just below Hallgrímskirkja, there are a lot of shops and this street ultimately leads to the city center. We walked this street all the way down to the city center and went back to have a morning coffee and chai latte. Honestly most shops open at around 9 or 10 am in the winter so we had to wait for a while.
Reykjavík does not have a large city center. There are some shops, cafes, and a city square but it’s not grand. It’s easy to walk around the city within a couple of hours so pace yourself.
We first went to the Harpa. This is a modern convention center located right on the ocean front. It mostly hosts music concerts as well as other events and has an amazing modern design. It was free to enter and we walked around for a bit admiring the architecture.
On the ocean front there is also the Sun Voyager or Sólfarið. It’s a beautiful sculpture that actually doesn’t represent anything viking but rather was inspiration to keep moving along with a dream of hope and progress. Regardless of what it’s suppose to be it’s gorgeous and we took amazing photos with it.
We went back into the city center to walk along Laugavegur Street which is equal to the “main street” of Reykjavík. This is where all the shopping, bars, etc are located. From here you can branch off to side streets or take a walk over to the Tjörnin, a lake in the center of Reykjavík. We walked along this part to kill time as we had a lunch reservation.
Matur og Drykkur
Icelandic food is actually pretty good and there are many Icelandic restaurants. Matur og Drykkur is on the western side of Reykjavík in the Saga Museum and should be considered on your itinerary.
We went for lunch and although kind of pricey it really wasn’t too extreme compared to most restaurants. Food in Iceland is frankly just expensive and that’s one thing to consider before going. Alcohol is worse and at Matur og Drykkur, a cocktail was $24! Yeah I stuck with water when I saw those prices!
We both went with a seafood order and I had haddock and potatoes. Delicious!
Northern Lights Tour
The sun rises at like 10:30 am and goes down at like 3:30 pm in late November early December. Our northern lights tour was cancelled the previous night but this night it was on. Now there are apps to check the activity and to be honest it didn’t show great activity. So I was slightly optimistic.
Anyways we booked with Guide to Iceland and this tour offered a small group experience with hot chocolate and cookies. Other tours will be on these huge buses and I really didn’t feel like dealing with so many people on our tour. Everybody will leave from Reykjavík and the tour will bring you around the area to a dark spot and hopefully you see lights!
We unfortunately really didn’t. I mean I saw a sliver but I saw way better ones on the airplane. Now since we really didn’t see any we had the choice to go again but we choose not to because it’s exhausting to do and the solar activity was really poor while we were there. It is worth it to see the northern lights but they are never guaranteed.
For day 3 we went on a Southern Region tour with Arctic Adventures that basically brings you around glaciers, views of volcanoes, to black beaches, and to of course beautiful waterfalls! This tour is about the same price as others but it is worth it since you get to see more of the country. We decided to see a glacier and not climb it since the hike can be challenging.
It’s about a 2 hour drive from Reykjavík and we opted for a small excursion. Half our group went climbing while the other half went on to the city of Vík, like we did. Most of the drive during the winter is pitch-black so if you do decide to go you have to deal with darkness for much of the time. It just limits what you can see in a day.
Vík & Reynisfjara Beach
Just about 30 minutes from the glacier there is a city called Vík. This city has the distinction as the southern most village in Iceland and has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The beach is lined with black sand and nearby there is the Reynisfjall cliffs. Legend says that trolls were caught when the sun came up and frozen permanently as rocks when sunrise caught them before they could make it back in the rocks. Today they are shown as black pillars extending from the cliffs.
At Reynisfjara Beach there is a restaurant and a chance to take photos of the photogenic cliffs that border the beach. Here its super windy and the waves can be dangerous if you decide to go in the water.
Skógafoss & Seljalandsfoss
These are the two main waterfalls in the Southern Region and both are worth a visit. We first stopped at Skógafoss Waterfall which is closest to the Sólheimajökull Glacier. It’s breathtaking in the winter. It’s a breathtaking 200 foot waterfall and falls off a cliff that use to be next to the sea.
Seljalandsfoss is about 25 minutes to the west of Skógafoss and west of the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier. It’s perhaps more famous than Skógafoss because as long as it’s not icy you can walk behind the falls into a cave. When we went that part was closed but it was still pretty cool to have an icy background with black and green mossy rocks.
The Golden Circle
This trek is famous for Iceland trips and is usually the first thing that every tourists does. Now you could do this route with a rent-a-car as long as the route is clear and safe but we chose to take a tour guide. First off rental cars can be expensive although they are cheaper than a tour. However you also have to worry about the responsibility of driving in Icelands extreme weather.
Our tour was great. We went with Troll Expeditions and our driver was awesome. The bus had wifi and was comfortable.
The first place we visited was Kerið, a dormant volcano on the southern part of the Golden Circle. The tour was designed so that we showed up at the crater right at dawn and luckily there wasn’t too many tourist there. This place is gorgeous. The surrounding views are amazing and the volcano in the winter holds a frozen lake that you can walk on.
From Kerið, we drove for around 45 minutes to the Gullfoss area. Here there is a little farm off the side of the road where anybody can pet Icelandic horses. Apparently the owner of the farm is generous enough to allow tourist to pet and feed his horses.
Gullfoss waterfall is famous and the widest waterfall in Iceland. It’s also a deep waterfall and if you stand at certain spots it looks like the waterfall is disappearing into the earth. There was a gift shop nearby and over the 3 days in Iceland I debated on whether getting a traditional Icelandic wool blanket. I caved and bought one and posed with a picture in front of the falls.
This place is where the name geyser came from. Geysir is a famous geyser that goes off about every 3 to 10 minutes and we get the term geyser from this particular geyser named “Geysir.” Apparently it use to go off 4 times higher than it does today but it’s still impressive. When it went off it scared me actually because it makes a lot of sound.
Nearby there is a restaurant and a shopping area, a perfect place to sit down in the warmth and shop for some goods.
Ice Cream Farm
Now heading back to Reykjavík we first stopped at an ice cream farm that produces their own ice cream. Attached to the ice cream shop, there are windows that look into the cows that produced the ice cream your eating. It was a cute little stop that we all appreciated.
Light does not last long in Iceland in the winter and so we had to rush over to Þingvellir. It’s a very important place to Iceland since this is where parliament was first established in 930 AD. But coincidentally it’s also where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge comes up through Iceland. It’s said that Icelandic people probably settled this area because the wind was low in this area hence warmer. It’s a beautiful area with a 3.2 kilometer split between the Eurasian plate and the North American plate running up through the valley.
Review of Iceland
The last morning was a rainy and cold start. Since we had about half a day in Iceland left I wanted to shop a bit in the central part for a scarf. The quality of souvenirs in Iceland is high but so are the prices. And a quality scarf is going to run around 70 dollars. So I picked up a design that I love and will wear back in Chicago.
Iceland is gorgeous and now ranks in my top 10 countries I’ve been to. Until you see it in person you can’t fully appreciate it and it’s safe to say that every corner you go in Iceland, it’s bound to be amazing.
People are also what make a great country and Iceland is no exception. We found that Iceland is probably the most progressive country we’ve been to. Where the people openly support gay rights and other minorities. It made us think about wanting to live in Iceland at one point not because we have a horrible life in Chicago, but we just love the attitude so much in Iceland.
Then again Iceland is an expensive place. Where cocktails can cost you $24 and a regular meal is routinely $30 plus. So no it wasn’t a cheap place to travel to and in 4 nights and 5 days we spent $2,000 combined.
For me personally it has everything I love about travel. It’s a beautiful place to look at. The cities are quaint and adorable. The food is excellent. The cities are opening and welcoming. And traveling there is super easy. Iceland should be on the top of anybodies list.