Let’s talk hobbies for a hot second: The definition of a hobby according to Mr. Webster is “an interest or activity to which a person devotes time for pleasure.” In that case, my hobby is searching google flights and skyscanner.com for the next cheap flight taking me anywhere but here. I bring this up because my latest budget savvy snag included flights to Iceland ($200 ROUND TRIP!).
Budget airlines can be tricky. The “hidden” fees certainly add up in the end. Having said that, I was skeptical when I first heard of WOW Airlines. If you haven’t been introduced to WOW Air, you most certainly will if Iceland is your destination. WOW’s hub is Keflavík International Airport, about 45 minutes outside of the capital, Reykjavik. WOW offers great deals on airfare to multiple European cities, and almost every flight includes a layover in Iceland. For you east coasters out there: WOW offers direct flights out of BWI. There wasn’t great reviews on this airline when we did our research, but I don’t have a single complaint. The plane, the staff, and the leg room were comparable to most domestic airlines.
If you’re a budget savvy traveler, chances are you don’t waste money on fees to check luggage. I’m a huge advocate for traveling light and only bringing the necessities on a trip. We purchased carry ons from IKEA (yes, IKEA), last summer before our trip to Ireland and Scotland and these carry ons fit the exact measurements needed on most European budget airlines. I love when the flight attendant asks you place your carry on in the bin and it fits like a glove! Ah, the little things in life.
Below is part one of our four day trip in Iceland. While four days is nowhere near enough time, it is enough to leave you wanting more.
Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik:
In researching when the best time to visit the Blue Lagoon, we found either coming from or going to the airport to be highly suggested. If your destination is Reykjavik, this is perfect because the lagoon is situated in between the airport and the capital city. We opted for the day of our arrival, because the thought of having wet swimsuits in our carry ons for the trip home wasn’t ideal.
Book in advance! This is a huge tourist spot, and you don’t want to be turned away because they’re fully booked. Also, because the tourists swarm, we decided going first thing in the morning before the sun had even risen would give us more space and time to enjoy the lagoon without a crowd. That worked out in our favor, because as we were leaving the Lagoon was packed and the locker rooms were overflowing with people.
If you’re contemplating on whether or not this “tourist trap” is worth it…we thought it was. The water really is as blue as you see in pictures, the lagoon is the ideal steamy temperature, and the face masks are great on the skin. There are thermal pools all over Iceland, though, so if you want to opt for a less touristy location, you definitely have your pick. With only four days we didn’t have the luxury to thermal pool hop, but I could totally come back and make that a thing.
Tips for the Blue Lagoon:
- Purchase your tickets in advance. We purchased the premium package. Space is not a luxury when you carry on, and if you’re visiting in the winter the robe and towel are exactly what you need. Finally, you bypass the line—so win, win.
- Print your tickets. The Blue Lagoon will send you a nice email with all of this information, but they state to print your ticket and have it with you.
- Don’t be paranoid about “being naked”. Yes, you have to shower before getting into the lagoon. Yes, without your swimsuit on. There are stalls with doors, but seriously, no one is looking at you nor do they care. You’ll have peace of mind knowing we all had a wash down prior to entering the lagoon.
- Listen to the lady when she says to add conditioner to your hair. The high levels of silica make your hair stiff and impossible to work with. It was below freezing out so getting my hair wet was the last thing I wanted to do. I did however, add conditioner (and leave it in!) to the hair at the base of my neck and along my hairline. One way or another, your hair will get wet, and having the conditioner in it will save you a headache of tangles later.
- Layer on the silica mud mask and algae masks. The Blue Lagoon actually offers Psoriasis treatments because of the mineral rich seawater, and the healing powers it can provide to the skin. I am not kidding when I say my skin has never felt better. Unfortunately, at the age of 27, I’m still fighting with my 15 year old acne prone self, so you better believe when these two masks made me look like a photoshopped celebrity (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating), I bought myself a few bottles to take home. Cheaper to buy in Iceland than order online—trust me, I checked. Also, for the men, the lady told Gus that the algae mask would make his beard extremely soft and to really lather it on. She was right!
- Grab your free drink at the bar! They have so many options and the first drink is free with the premium pass. Whether you feel like champagne, beer or a skyr smoothie there’s something for everyone.
- Explore EVERY inch of that lagoon—because why the heck not? Our goal was to watch the sunrise from the Blue Lagoon so we had time to kill. You’ll hit patches of warm water and spots that are almost too hot to handle. And the sunrise was worth it.
- Pack a waterproof camera. BIG time fail on our part.
Once you’re relaxed and refreshed, you can hop on the bus transfer for an easy commute to Reykjavik. We were in some kind of Lagoon-induced coma and didn’t open our eyes until the bus hit the city limits.
Our bus transfer dropped us off right in front of our perfect airbnb. I immediately fell in love with our tiny, minimalist oasis. We had the best views of downtown Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja church, and Mt Esja. It was also right next to the main shopping street in Reykjavik, Laugavegur.
We spent the rest of the day exploring this colorful city with our eyes, bellies, and hearts.
Shopping in Reykjavik:
There are so many quaint shops in Reykjavik. We tend to look for the two types of souvenirs: an ornament and a coffee table book. But it never hurts to window shop and that’s exactly what we did in Reykjavik.
- The Handknitting Association of Iceland: This is the best shop for finding an authentic Icelandic sweater at a reasonable price. I’d say a reasonably priced sweater was typically around 1900 ISK or roughly 200 USD. While the price was a little steep for what I typically spend on clothes, it didn’t stop me from trying on a few.
- Ida Zimsen: Quirky, cozy, casual, book shop/cafe. It had an eclectic collection of funny gag gifts, home good items, and books to browse through. Add in their fantastic coffee and baking goods and I was sold.
- Kaolin Ceramic Gallery: Lined floor to ceiling beautifully crafted works of art. From bowls, to vases, to coffee mugs, each with it’s own unique design and craftsmanship, the ceramic pieces in this tiny bright space were truly works of art. The artists are local to Iceland and sell their work world wide.
- Little Christmas Shop: Christmas is my favorite holiday, so being able to decorate our tree with our love for traveling seems like a good way to build our inventory. Who doesn’t love a little Christmas spirit everywhere they go? We picked the perfect Icelandic ornament to place on our tree this year!
We stopped into a a number of bars to warm up as we made our way through the city streets. See below for some of our favorite drink spots in Reykjavik!
Beer was prohibited from Iceland until 1989! There is no longer a shortage of brews or happy hours in this city.
- Kex Hostel: The hostel is located inside a huge factory building. A gastro pub, Saemunder, and a DRINX bar is also housed within. I found Kex Hostel on several blogs as a dinner spot if a traveler is looking to taste authentic Icelandic food in the city. Unfortunately we weren’t able to try out the cuisine (book reservations in advance!), but we did hang out at the bar and really enjoyed the ambiance of this place. Even the view from the bar is superb. We were able to enjoy the views of the sea and Mt. Esja across the bay while hanging out in a hipster lounge bar sipping on some of their house wine and draft beers.
- Microbar: This tiny bar is a great place to try out Icelandic brews. It is located in a basement with dim lighting and speakeasy vibes. It isn’t a large bar, so seating is limited, but if you can snag a table, it’s a great way spend your evening. The flights are the selling point for a traveler to taste all of the many beers they have on draft. I really enjoyed the Viking stouts while Gus enjoyed their lighter beers.
- Stofan Cafe: My favorite low key spot for a glass of vino. If velvet sofas, mismatched antique chairs, wine and dessert is your thing, then so is Stofan’s. It was the perfect spot to wind down each night before heading back to our apartment.
- Reykjavik Roasters: As soon as we walked in, the smell of freshly ground coffee lingered in the air. They were roasting their coffee beans right in front of our table! It’s a no frill kind of coffee shop, but who needs fancy when your coffee is THAT good? I’m not sure what these Icelanders do to make their coffee so freaking amazing, but whatever it is, I hope they never stop.
- Reykjavik Fish Restaurant: On our walk along the water, we found several seafood restaurants. We are fish and chips fans, so this seemed like a good spot for us! I enjoyed some extra crispy fish and chips while Gus tried a more local cuisine of Plokkari, similar to a fish potato pie. The restaurant had a casual take on dining. You ordered first and then sat yourself. The menu was on an oversized chalkboard and there were several selections to choose from. It is a great lunch spot if you’re looking for substance, but quick food.
- Grillmarkaourinn: Our Airbnb host recommended this as a dinner spot. Like with most Icelandic words, I have a hard time just sounding it out, so just remember Grill Market, and people will point you in the right direction. The building itself was so unique and bright orange. When we walked in, they took us down a flight of stairs and into a rustic yet elegant room. If you’re an adventurous eater like us, this is the spot to try all the Icelandic food you read about prior to your trip. They have a tasting menu, for those indecisive folks out there! We first ordered the Whale, Puffin, and Lingoustine mini burgers as an appetizer. The Lingoustine, which tastes like lobster was my favorite of the three. Gus had the horse tenderloin for his main course and I tried the Fish gourmet, which was a perfect taster of three different fish. This was our ‘splurge meal’ as we like to call it. We are fans of keeping a budget, but we love trying new food, so one meal is always dedicated to nice dinner full of local cuisine.
- Sandholt: We had brunch here on our last day. It’s a bustling family owned bakery for locals and tourists alike. Between choosing from the selections of freshly made bread, to the assortment of chocolates and baked goods, it was hard deciding what to order. I cuddled up between a mountain of pillows and enjoyed yet another perfectly brewed cup of coffee and a delicious breakfast.
- Valdis: What’s vacation without ice cream or in this case gelato? As we perused along the water, my sweet tooth caught up to me and even though it was a mere 30 degrees, my husband found the perfect ice cream shop to indulge my cravings. There were so many selections of delicious gelato in this fun, vibrant spot. Definitely worth braving the cold for.
- Hallgrimskirkja: This majestic structure is the tallest church in Iceland. It overlooks the city centre in all it’s colorful glory. Be sure to check the openings and admission on the church website before going. If you want your instagram shot of Reykjavik, this is your place. With 360° views, it’s worth the wait and a crammed elevator ride.
- Old Harbour: Walking along the harbor allows you to appreciate the cargo ships, fishing boats, museums, and snow capped mountains in the distance. There is also a large selection of restaurants and bars in this area.
- Harpa: I really wish we would have had the opportunity to visit Harpa. We saw it lit up in beautiful colors each night on our way back into town, but never had the chance to tour the inside. We’ll just add it to the list of places to visit next time!
For a small capital, Reykjavik packs a mighty punch. Even if you’re only in Iceland for a stopover, don’t miss this diverse city and all it has to offer.
Stay tuned for part II and III of our trip in Iceland! We’re headed outside the city limits to the Golden Circle and Snaefellsness Pennisula!
Also be sure to check out my gallery for more pictures of Iceland!