I know what you’re thinking… my wife and I live in Wisconsin so we’d probably want to vacation to somewhere tropical, right? While that sounds great and all, when an opportunity to visit Iceland came along, we both jumped at the idea.
In one word, the trip was INCREDIBLE.
I’m sharing a summary of what my wife and I enjoyed during our 8-day trip partly because I want to relive the trip again and again and also because I found similar blog posts SO HELPFUL during my research prior to our trip.
We flew out of Madison with Iceland Air. The flight was around 8 hours but seemed quite endless due to the warm temperature of the airplane. But, 8 hours is fantastic for an international flight, so I really have no complaints.
Our first stop after landing was to the infamous Blue Lagoon, an outdoor geothermal spa. Make sure you reserve your tickets ahead of time! Spots fill up quickly and this is an extremely popular tourist stop so try to book as soon as possible.
It was foggy and freezing when we arrived, making the warm, luxurious water a perfect welcome to Iceland! We spent about 3 hours here, trying out the free silica mud mask and stopping at the swim up bar for a quick drink.
Afterwards, we caught a bus back to our home for the week, a small flat near the city center. Grocery shopping (at their discount chain, Bonus), unpacking and dinner completed, we slept for a solid 14 hours. Probably a bad idea, but clearly needed after adjusting to the time change. Our only issue with the rental was not having hot water due a water heater malfunction (which was quickly taken care of by the owner).
We explored downtown Reykjavik for awhile and headed over to the Parliament House for a FREE 2-hour walking CityWalk Reykjavik tour. I can’t recommend this tour enough. Make sure you book ahead of time on their website!
This walking tour is absolutely a must, especially during the first few days of your time in the city! Our tour guide provided ample detail about both the history and modern events in Iceland with charisma and humor. This tour helped us quickly become familiar with downtown Reykjavik. I was able to capture some fantastic photos during the tour too.
After the tour, we walked to iconic Hallgrímskirkja church, seen from almost everywhere in town. It’s just gorgeous! We also went inside a few days later (the first day we arrived too late.)
You can pay a small fee to take an elevator ride up to the top of the church for great views of the city, but we opted not to because the lines were long.
We were supposed to go on a Northern Lights tour this night, but it was rescheduled due to cloud cover/fog.
One of my favorite tours was the Golden Circle Full Day Tour by Minibus. It was super affordable and the smallest of all the day trips we took (maybe about 20 or so people on the bus, plus an excellent tour guide).
Most tours will pick you up right at your hotel, guesthouse, etc. so we took full advantage of that with every tour.
This trip took us to several waterfalls, including the famous Gullfoss, Strokkur geyser, and the gorgeous Thingvellir National Park. There was even the chance to sample Icelandic lamb and bread and a non-alcoholic ale.
Our Northern Lights tour was cancelled again this night, so instead we headed to an outdoor heated public pool. The only caveat is that you have to shower nude, without your bathing suit, before swimming. But not to worry, there was a stall with a curtain available.
The Southern Iceland Glaciers, Waterfalls and Beaches Day Tour took up a full day but was SO worth it! Everything seen on this tour is truly gorgeous.
Then we stopped near Sólheimajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. Absolutely beautiful! We even got to *touch* the glacier, which we had to document, of course.
Next was the tiny town of Vik where we stopped for lunch. Then we headed to Reynisfjara, also known as the black sand beach. Our tour guide warned us before we got off our bus to be mindful of the waves. People have died because they either turn their backs to the waves or get too close to take a picture. Yikes! Needless to say, we were very cautious walking along the beach.
Last stop of the day was to Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Another stunning place to stop!
When we returned from this tour, we had a couple hours before our Superjeep Northern Lights tour! This was, by far, one of the best nights of my life and definitely my favorite experience in Iceland.
Words fail when it comes to describing what it’s like to see the Northern Lights, so these pictures will have to do.
I highly recommend bringing a tripod if you’re also bringing along a DSLR camera capable of capturing the Northern Lights. You need a camera that allows adjustments to the aperture, exposure and ISO. Our tour guides were super helpful with assisting in prepping everyone’s cameras. Here’s the settings I used:
2-second timer (The camera can’t be moving at all if you want good pictures, so hit the timer and let go!)
- Exposure: 5 seconds
- Aperture: f 2.8
- ISO: 1600
Needless to say, if you’re going to Iceland in the winter, trying to see the Northern Lights should be at the top of your list 🙂
Day 5 was another trip to Southern Iceland, this time to snowmobile on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier! I was a little nervous about the snowmobiling but after a minute or so, I was having the time of my life.
We also stopped at some of the same waterfalls as the previous day during this tour.
I had a blast horseback riding through Icelandic lava fields! This tour was affordable and so much fun. Plus, we were separated into beginners, intermediate and expert groups, so there’s no need to worry if you’ve never ridden a horse or haven’t done it in awhile.
About 5 minutes into the ride, our beginner group was split into two groups – the beginner beginners (that’s the group we chose) and the more “advanced” beginners. The slow pace of this ride was ideal to really soak in the beautiful scenery.
After horseback riding, we headed into the city to get tickets for a Beyonce jazz-style cover band concert later that evening. Before the concert, we stopped at a cafe to sip on some “miracle” hot chocolate, which sadly was far from a miracle.
We were supposed to do a snorkeling tour this day, but it was unfortunately cancelled due to the terrible snow and wind. All roads outside of the city were closed, so we went to a cafe for breakfast and then did some shopping.
We bought tickets for a symphony concert at the Harpa later that night and also had a nice dinner out!
On our last full day, we headed to Reykjavik Spa for a little pampering! If you’re booking with several people, take advantage of their group packages with discounted rates.
We each received a body scrub (I went for coconut, the wifey went for lavender and citrus) and a facial, followed by time in the hot tub, sauna and steam room. I’ve probably never been so relaxed. Next, we headed to the Kolaportid flea market for the second time (we also went on our first full day in the city) for some shopping.
There were samples of hákarl, also known as rotten shark, an Icelandic specialty. Even though I’m a vegetarian, I tried a small piece of shark because this trip was about #noregrets. Verdict: Terrible. Just terrible. But now I can say I’ve tried it!
We took Wow Air on the way back home. Our flight was delayed, but overall, a smooth trip back to the US!
Iceland was quite the adventure. Everyone is ridiculously friendly and welcoming. They all speak English (children start learning English at a young age) so communicating is very easy. I met some memorable people, saw some phenomenal sites, and learned a lot about myself in the process.