Iceland is not a destination that was glaring on my radar. I mean, I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights but I am usually more of a sun and food kind of vacay girl. This was a different kind of trip for me and I am happy to be able to share my experience on TNL. Iceland is growing in popularity as a travel destination, so I hope this will be helpful and informative to those who may be pondering a trip.
My friend and I flew in to Iceland from Toronto on a Monday night. The flight is a short 4 hours and 45 minutes and it kind of trips me out that it is so close. There is a five hour time difference, so we actually landed in Iceland on Tuesday morning. This is a great setup because if you can sleep on the plane, you get a full day in Iceland. Or, if you’re me and chose instead to watch an Empire marathon and Iceland documentary on your flight, you will be tired and essentially delirious on your first day of travel…also an adventure. The airport is located in Keflavik, which is about 50 minutes away from Reykjavik, where we were staying. The Keflavik airport is VERY nice. It has a variety of shops and dining options and is beautiful and modern.
I geeked out at the dual washing, drying sinks in the washrooms.
It’s the little things…
Transfers were included with our package so we hopped on a bus and slept before arriving at the Cabin Hotel in downtown Reykjavik. When we arrived at the Cabin Hotel, staff was friendly and welcoming. They told us that they were overbooked (umm…how does that happen?) but that if we would be willing to stay at the nearby Storm Hotel then they would pay our taxi fare and the difference for a more expensive room. A quick Google search told us that this would be a wise deal to take (particularly because our room at the Cabin Hotel was supposed to be 107 square feet). So, we hopped in a taxi to the Storm Hotel and checked in there.
First things first, I think Storm is a terrible name for a hotel. Wouldn’t you want your hotel to have a happy, calming, positive name? Just saying.
The Storm Hotel Storm Hotel is a 93 room hotel in Reykjavik city center that promises stylish and comfortable quality accommodation. The hotel is centrally located between Reykjavik’s main business district and the popular Laugavegur shopping street.
Storm Hotel offers a Nordic-inspired design that is both welcoming and modern. The main lobby has a small bar and breakfast area. Daily breakfast was included in our stay. I forgot to take pictures of this (I was probably too concerned with guzzling down coffee and scarfing croissants) but it was decent. At first, I was unimpressed, but after seeing the price of everything else in Iceland, I appreciated the opportunity for free fuel every morning. The breakfast had boiled eggs, cold cuts, cheese slices, yogurt and croissants. There is also a computer in the lobby for internet use.
The room was cozy and modern with a sleek bathroom. The towels were on a warmer which was also super handy for drying them and our bathing suits. I am happy to report that there was a hair dryer. Speaking of which, let’s talk about how I brought the WRONG converter to Iceland. This is the one you need: I brought a similar one with two prongs, but it didn’t have the circular part. No bueno. Luckily, the room’s outlets had USB jack…amazing! I was able to charge all my devices this way. The room also had free Wi-Fi that we had no issues with. Beds were small but very comfortable.
I would highly recommend the Storm Hotel to anyone visiting Reykjavik.
Ok, so…listen carefully. Iceland. Is. Expensive. You feel like a baller with your thousands of Krona and then you realize that its not quite as much as it seems.
Generally things are two or three times as much as they might cost in North America. For this reason, we did not eat at many restos while we were there. Hot dogs became our best friend. Yes, hot dogs. Research we did before our trip taught us the surprising fun fact that hot dogs are huge in Iceland. Here is what the Conde Nast Traveler had to say about the street meat:
“Hot dogs are so ubiquitous and beloved in Iceland, they’re practically the national dish. They’re sold at every gas station and most convenience stores, at hot dog stands inside malls and at ferry landings, and even at the airport, but the most popular place to get one is in Reykjavik at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (which translates to “best hot dogs in town”). Seventy percent of the country’s 300,000 residents have eaten at the harbor side hot dog stand, which has been open since 1937 and has fed famous visitors like Bill Clinton and members of Metallica. ”
Traditional Icelandic hot dogs with the works, have raw and crispy onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard and a remoulade sauce. They are 500 Krona which is about $7.50 CAD. Pricey for a little hot dog, yes. But, that is a bargain compared to some of the other options.
Reykjavik Harbor is home of a number of fresh seafood restaurants. The Sea Baron is known for their lobster soup. When we arrived we were surprised to see how teeny it was. 2 cups of lobster soup and a skewer of scallops to share set us back about $57 CAD.
Downtown Reykjavik is very small. You can walk everywhere and we finished our entire list of places we wanted to see in one afternoon. Everyone says that the coffee shop Reykjavik Roasters is a must for coffee and pastries.
It was…ok. I think I am probably spoiled by the delicious and varied cafes and food options here in Toronto, so perhaps it was hard to impress me. But, I could find similar (cheaper) coffee shops with a stone’s throw here in my city.
On our last night we decided to bite the bullet and go to a restaurant. Primo Italian was delicious. We had a seafood pasta and eggplant pizza with wine. The meal was about $200 CAD.
The last price gauge we experienced was breakfast on the day we were leaving Iceland. We went to Iceland’s oldest restaurant Prikid, for their 8am opening only to be told that they wouldn’t have any food for an hour (wait, what?). We ended up at the cute grey cat café where we SPLIT ONE BREAKFAST and had two coffees for $50 CAD.
Muy expensivo. Food was always fresh and delicious, though and even the hot dogs were high quality as they are made primarily from local, free range, grass fed, hormone free beef and lamb. These quality standards make me feel a little better about the sky high prices, but it is hard on the old wallet nonetheless.
One of the most famous Icelandic delicacies is hakarl. This is rotten or fermented shark that has been called the most disgusting food on the planet. Anthony Bordain famously called it the most vile thing he has even eaten, and Gordon Ramsay spit it out. After watching countless YouTube videos or people trying unsuccessfully to stomach hakarl, I decided I would definitely be giving it a try for the sake of the blog. I would post the video, but I assure you it is entirely anti climactic. It wasn’t bad at all. It kind of tasted like a very strong smoked salmon but it reeks of ammonia.
As I mentioned, downtown Reykjavik is quite small and slow (what do you mean your restaurant doesn’t have food yet?). I would highly recommend either renting a car or taking a bus tour to get out of the downtown core and marvel at how beautiful Iceland is.
Here are some of my highlights:
Ok , so this attraction actually is located downtown. This Lutheran church is very beautiful to look at from the outside. But , what will really take your breath away is the view from the top.
You can take an elevator (for 900 Krona) to the top of the church where the bell is to look out and take pictures. Be warned of two things: it’s a little scary if heights aren’t your thing, as you have to climb a ladder up and down…and when the bell rings and you don’t expect the noise, it will scare you half to death when you’re up there.
The Golden Circle refers to the route to extremely popular tourist attractions in Iceland. Tours generally do the route over the course of a full day or afternoon. When we went, chose the half day Golden Circle with a trio of amazing stops.
Gulfoss is a waterfall located in a canyon of the Hvita River. The pictures do not do it justice. Absolutely breathtaking in person.
Haukadalur is the name of three valleys in Iceland that are home to two famous geysers. Geysir (the larger geyser) erupts about three times annually.
The smaller geyser Strokkur, erupts once every five minutes or so. Strukkur shoots a wall of water up to 30 metres. It was a very cool phenomena to witness and I have never seen anything like it.
Lastly we visited the Thingvellir National Park. This stunning area featured huge cracks in the land where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year.
The Golden Circle features some truly stunning sights and I would call this a must see for all those travelling to Iceland.
The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights are the result of electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing displays of bright, colourful dancing lights. They may be the first attraction that comes to mind when you think of Iceland. It was definitely what we were most looking forward to. The Northern Lights are said to be spectacular and Iceland is one of very best places to view them. Did you notice I wrote that they are “said to be” spectacular? Yeah. I wouldn’t know.
WE DID NOT SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS.
Conditions have to be absolutely perfect for the lights to be visible. They are unpredictable and at times elusive.
September to April are the darkest months in Iceland, making them the months when there is the highest probability to see the lights. In addition, this is apparently the best time in the last 11 years to see them. Alas, we didn’t. Bus tours drive about an hour from downtown Reykjavik then you just look up and hope for the best. On the night we went out, we didn’t have any luck with the lights. While it was still one of the most beautiful night skies I have ever seen, I am still bitter about it.
Let’s move on.
The Laugarvatn Fontana
Being the hotbed of geothermal activity that it is, Iceland is home to a number of natural hot springs. Some are full of boiling hot water, but others are the perfect temperature for a luxurious soak. This is a popular pastime for tourist and locals alike in Iceland. The most famous of the hot springs is the Blue Lagoon, but we decided to try another less popular option, The Laugarvatn Fontana. This is a complex is built over the hot springs at the foot of a black sand beach featuring geothermal baths. It was very relaxing to soak in hot water while it’s crisp and frosty outside.
It was very difficult to get pictures here as it was dark and steamy. Laugarvatn also has a café that offered a buffet dinner included with our package.
The dinner featured delicious rye bread that had been baked under the beach sand with geothermal heat! Nom.
While Iceland was an incredible trip. The people were sweet, the scenery was stunning and the food was ( super expensive but) delicious. I admittedly found it difficult to get used to the slower pace but I think that is a sign that I need to slow things down and take time to take it all in. I think with hectic go-go-go big city life , that is a valuable reminder. I would highly recommend Iceland and will likely go back at some point. This time, I had better see the lights!