Trip Report: Iceland
Iceland is the Land of Fire and Ice, and during our visit we pretty much experienced just ice. Our departure passport stamp has now dried and we are already longing for the next visit. Though our visit during the prime of winter, we were still able to take in the beauty of the country. Although we were there only 6 short days, we wanted to give a brief trip report on certain aspects that may help you in your planning of an Icelandic trip.
The trip started out with a good flight from Atlanta to Baltimore on Southwest Airlines. We did not have any issues and the flight went smoothly in typical Southwest fashion. Once we arrived in Baltimore though, things got a little bit rocky. We were informed via text and email that our WOW Air flight originally scheduled for a 6pm departure was delayed by 4 hours to 10pm.
Long story short, our flight did not actually depart until 11:19pm. That is exactly 5 hours and 19 minutes later than scheduled! We will divulge more about our experience with WOW Air in a review post coming soon but needless to say, you get what you pay for.
During this visit, we stayed at the Hilton Nordica Reykjavik. As a Diamond member, we were able to get access to the Executive Lounge, buffet breakfast in the Vox restaurant, and access to the hotel spa. The Hilton Nordica treated us exceptionally well and there were no issues for us at all.
We loved the food, snacks, and beer in the lounge as well as the complimentary shoulder and neck massage in the spa! Yes…you read that right, complimentary! The hotel itself is modern, clean, and efficiently operated. The only downside about the Hilton Nordica is that it is a 15-20 minute walk from downtown. Luckily though, it is literally a straight shot on the main road down. We will have a more thorough review of the hotel soon.
Our pre-trip research informed us that the weather would be unpredictable during this time of the year. Being the optimist that we are, we had high hopes that there will be at least a couple days of pleasant weather. Well during the trip, Mother Nature gave us a big slap on our faces.
The only decent weather day that we had was the day of our arrival and unfortunately our incoming flight was delayed which did not allow us much time to enjoy the weather. The rest of the trip was mired by the typical Icelandic snow storms, rain showers, and wind that will literally knock you off your feet. Seriously, I can not state enough how strong the winds were especially with the snow.
We did not let the weather deter us from seeing as much as we could of Reykjavik and the surrounding areas. Choosing not to rent a car during our visit was a very WISE decision. We have driven in snow and wind before but the Icelandic weather takes it up a few notches.
Reykjavik is easily traversable on foot or bus. There is no train system on the city or island. Bus tickets cost roughly $4 one way, which is a bit pricier than typical European fares. The bus system is efficient in the city and there are even buses that can take you around the island.
Reykjavik is a quaint and beautiful city. We visited all of the major attractions including Hallgrimskirkja, Solfar, Old Town, City Hall, and the HARPA event center. When you read that Reykjavik is an expensive city, you better believe it! A cheap meal such as a hot dog will cost you close to $5! The hot dogs are delicious but that is a little too pricy for a wiener in a bun.
From Reykjavik, we took a short bus ride to the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. Even though the weather was extremely windy with snow and sleet showers, it was well worth the trip. The geothermal water was just perfect even though our face and head was mostly frozen while there. Unless you have some extra money to get rid of, we’d highly recommend just purchasing the Standard ticket. Also, definitely book ahead! We booked our Christmas day visit to the Blue Lagoon three months in advance and still was only able to snag the last spot available. Don’t expect to just show up to Iceland and buy tickets!
The majority of our sightseeing outside of Reykjavik was done through tour companies. We had originally booked a Golden Circle and South Coast tour through Geoiceland, the highest rated company on TripAdvisor. Due to the weather, Geoiceland had to cancel our Golden Circle tour. In a last minute scramble at 8pm on Christmas, we were able to book a new Golden Circle tour through Iceland Guided Tours. The South Coast tour went well without hiccups. Thanks Icelandic Mother Nature! We would highly recommend both companies if you chose to go with a tour company.
Unfortunately though, we did not get to see the Northern Lights. We rebooked the Northern Lights tour every day during our stay in hopes of maybe getting lucky. We did not get all the ingredients of magnetic activity and clear weather to be able to attempt the tour. Maybe it was the Icelandic Elves fault (yes, Icelandic people believe in Elves!) but it was not meant to be this time. The Northern Lights will have to stay on our bucket list for now.
Culture and People
Icelandic people, or Islanders as they call themselves, are nice and lovely people. Almost everyone speaks English and they are not rude if you can not speak Icelandic. It does not hurt to learn a few phrases like “Goden Dayinn” or “Takk Fyrir” though! Islanders are very prideful of themselves and of their Viking heritage. In our interactions with Islanders, they were more than willing to help you out if needed.
One thing that we picked up about the people is that Islanders are very punctual. They arrive and leave when they say they will. It is like the polar opposite of what we experience in countries like Italy (Italy is maybe a bad example haha, but you get the idea). If you arrange a tour pick up, you better be there 5-10 minutes before they come or they will leave you!
The only instance that we ran into anyone unpleasant was when we were trying to up into the observation tower of the Hallgrimskirkja. We arrived to the church at 4:30pm and the church was set to close at 5pm. The man at the ticket office decided to close the ticket office right as we got in line and strongly refused to sell us tickets to go up. We learned that Islanders like to be on time but 30 minutes early is a little too much. Hopefully that guy was just having a bad day because that was the only bad experience we had with any Islanders.
Food, like almost everything else in Reykjavik, is expensive. Iceland is known for their fishing industry and it is what brings in close to half of their GDP. While we budgeted a good amount of money for food, we were able to cut down significantly on our food cost by eating meals at the Hilton Nordica Executive Lounge. The lounge provided tastings of traditional Icelandic food like marinated herring. We were not big fans of the preparation but at least we tried it. For one reason or another, sweet tasting fish is a weird taste.
We were able to try other fish such as fresh artic char and cod at Ostabudin which tasted delicious though. There were surprisingly a decent amount of Asian food options in Reykjavik as well. Lastly, you cannot visit Reykjavik and not try the hot dogs. The Icelandic hot dog is probably the most delicious hot dog ever. There is something with the combination of ketchup, mustard, remoulade, fresh and fried onions that turns a wiener in a bun into a party in your mouth. A must visit hot dog stand is the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur near the harbor. The line is definitely worth it.
Like every vacation we go on, it is hard to come home. Iceland with it’s natural beauty even in winter is a must visit place. If you are on the fence about going, get over that hesitation and just do it! We loved everything about Reykjavik and Iceland, well maybe except the unpredictability of the weather. Hopefully on our next visit, we can sprinkle in more fire on our itinerary to balance out the ice.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add it down below! Also, make sure to follow us on Instagram for more photos from our trip!