Iceland had been on the bucket list for some time before my girlfriend Diana and I decided to pull the trigger on this pre-holiday trip. The temperature never got above 30 degrees, the sun didn’t stay longer than 6 hours and Christmas was right around the corner. For two Florida girls, it was a nice change to put our fashionable winter clothes to use, and, although we didn’t have much daylight, we made the best of the short days with plenty of excursions planned as well as adequate time in the spa. Our nights were spent shopping, exploring the city on icy streets under strung lights and eating strange foods with new friends. Hot dog stands were at every corner and the mustard is sold in grocery stores. The grocery store is where it’s at for unique items that are cheaper than the tourist shops.
We made some friends during one of our day trips and found this gem next to the ice skating rink in downtown. They toast your bun in a panini press and then you load up your toppings of choice. For me, simple was best, and I enjoyed my pylsur with fried onions, mayo and their famous yummy mustard. The Huffington Post published and article that you can read here which goes into detail about these delectable treats, and they even give you a recipe. From what we gathered, most of the dogs are made with a combination of lamb and beef or pork.
What you are looking at above is a tasty sample of whale, scallops and lobster soup served up at the Saegreifinn (also known as the Sea Baron). This small hole in the wall is located on the wharf and has a couple of community tables where you can get to know your fellow diners who are also taking pictures of their food. You grab a beer, order your skewers of raw fish whose names are hard to pronounce, and wait for someone to get up. They have a good selection of Icelandic beer and the food is as tasty as expected.
We decided against a posh, Nordic style Air B&B and opted for the Hilton Reykjavik. This ended up being a great decision as there were many perks that accompanied having status with the Hilton brand. This included free breakfast and cocktail hour every day in the executive lounge, which had a warm fireplace, board games and a beautiful view of the city and lunar landscape. And after every frigid excursion, spa access allowed us five minute neck massages in one of three hot pots of choice (all three with varying temperatures of course). Free bus passes were provided as the Hilton is located a short distance from the city center, but this worked in our favor as we were the last to be picked up for our daily excursions and always the first to be dropped off.
All excursions were able to be booked through the hotel or a tour company. It was extremely convenient to have a tour desk within the hotel. It’s best advised to book any must do trips months in advance that may not be as common as a bus ride to see the northern lights or a tour to the golden circle. Dog sledding would have been fun, and it was booked out months in advance, but we were not too upset about it as this kind of trip could have been arranged in the states. For our 5 day trip, we were able to see the following:
Lava Tube Caving
Our adventure through the lava tubes was pretty impressive. Our driver and guide took us through an old lava tube where we actually had to climb, and sometimes roll, through a cave like atmosphere. We marveled at icicles, stalagmites and stalactites and the sound of absolute silence. We finished the day off with a snowball fight and a nap before heading to the Golden Circle.
The picture in front of the waterfall was taken in the Golden Circle prior to spending an arm and a leg on hot hands. Since Iceland has to import a lot of their goods, everything is expensive. We found hot hands at a camping store which we immediately started using in our shoes and gloves for all of these outdoor activities. Before going on your trip, I would highly recommend getting a bunch of these to make your outdoor treks more enjoyable.
Running quads on a moon like terrain for two hours was one of the scariest and most awesome days of my life. We were under the impression that we would each get our own four wheeler, but ended up having to share. Hence, while one of us was having the time of our life, the other was terrified of their impending death. If you have experience with quads, I would highly recommend a tour as you get to run through lava fields, push top speed on highways with amazing views and climb up and down mountains.
After our near death experience, we headed over to the popular Blue Lagoon where we decided a fancy lunch at LAVA would help us wind down. By the time we got into the water, night was setting in, the temperature dropped down to around 20 degrees and the snow started to fall. We enjoyed our cocktails and an endless supply of silica for face masks. I would highly recommend bringing tupperware with you to take the silica back. Although the store sells it, the products are extremely expensive. You will have to check it in your luggage on the way back, and it smells like rotten eggs, but it is worth it and makes great gifts. There is a 3 drink maximum in the lagoon, so be aware, and possibly bring your own alcohol if you plan on staying all day. The lagoon offers spa treatments as well as waterfalls, saunas and steam rooms to play in.
The Silfra snorkel at Thingvellir National Park was booked in advance through Dive.IS. You can book your travel here. Since this is a national park, there are no buildings or large structures. Keep in mind that you will have to strip down to your thermals with about 6 other people to get into your dry suit. A small standing bathroom with a space heater is the closest warmth you will get for hours. This is the clearest water on earth and the whole experience surrounding the 20 minutes you are floating through freezing water is well worth it. The fissure is 60 feet in depth with complete visibility. The terrain is dramatic and nothing is able to live in this space. Year round the water is just above freezing and you should definitely take a few sips while floating around. Just make sure to bring plenty of warm clothes for after the experience as you will be very cold.
Iceland has come as a highly recommended destination, even for cold weather travel. As long as you are well prepared, there are many new, exciting memories and friends to be made. Favorite local souvenirs to bring back included the dreaded Brennivin (unsweetened schnapps), Reyka vodka, silica from the Blue Lagoon and various wool and fur textiles. If you are a fan of the movie the Big Lebowski, you will not regret checking out the Lebowski Bar. Their long menu of white russians, live music and “vikings” proved to be a unique hangout. If you are looking for a quick, 5 day pre-holiday fix without venturing too far into Europe, this is your trip.