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I’m here today to tell you: you all need to go to Iceland.
Go ahead, say it. “Iceland?!” It’s the same response I got multiple times when friends asked where I was going on vacation. It’s not a crazy response, as people tend to associate vacation with warm locales. But here’s the thing, I really wanted to go somewhere different. Somewhere that was like nothing I’ve ever seen. And wow, did Iceland deliver!
Speaking of wow, I have WOW Air to thank for this trip. Both literally, for comping me and my husband’s tickets, but also just for their existence. It was their unbelievably affordable flights that gave me this idea in the first place. With the bare minimum of date flexibility I can get from Los Angeles to Reykjavik for less than it costs for me to get to the east coast. Seriously.
And if I can be superficially honest for a moment, their flight crew is very easy on the eyes. Men in suits, women in retro hot pink uniforms; I felt like I was in a Mad Men set! I approve.
So, off to Iceland we flew…
After an easy 8 hour flight, we landed at 5am at the dark and calm Keflavik International Airport. Because I feverishly/obsessively research things, I knew that bus transportation was the way to go. (TIP: don’t take a cab. It will be super expensive and you need to save that money for booze.) Keflavik is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik. I prearranged our transportation on Flybus, but buses don’t start picking up until 7:30am. Luckily, duty-free is HUGE and filled with Icelandic delights, and Joe and the Juice is delicious.
(Airport Food TIP: Their Serrano ham, mozzarella, avocado, tomato and pesto sandwich on grilled flatbread was so good, I actually looked forward to going to the airport again! Check out my 2nd Iceland post next week for all the foodie details about this trip…)
The Blue Lagoon
We didn’t go straight to Reykjavik. We decided to stop just 20 minutes from Keflavik at the Blue Lagoon. And proceeded to have our minds blown for the first time of many.
The Blue Lagoon looks like a natural wonder; milky blue water surrounded by dark lava rock. But it’s actually man-made. The water is the run off of the Svartsengi geothermal power plant just down the road. It’s renewed every two days, filling the rock pool with water rich in silica and minerals. The water temperature is 37-40°C (98-104°F), year-round.
We couldn’t have cared less that the Lagoon is man-made. Because this place is beyond amazing! The combo of flight exhaustion, bobbing in warm mineral-rich water and beers purchased at the swim up bar put us straight into a state of euphoria that we will reminisce about our whole life.
A bit of planning is necessary, because pre-booking a ticket is required. Because the Blue Lagoon is so close to the airport, scheduling your visit in relation to your flight is what makes the most sense. And you can arrange your bus to drop you off there, then pick you up and take you either to the airport or Reykjavik.
We chose to visit at the beginning of our Iceland trip for two reasons:
- We couldn’t book into our hotel until 3pm. And the thought of roaming around Reykjavik for 7 hours after being up for over 24 hours was not appealing.
- I’m the type of person who stresses about missing flights. I didn’t think I could properly relax while scenarios of flat tires or long security lines played through my head.
The other factor you need to decide is what level of a ticket you’re going to buy. A Standard ticket will set you back around 50 bucks, and all that’s going to get you is entrance and a mud mask. Higher priced ticket will add on towels, robes, even your first drink. We decided we wanted to splash out on the Luxury ticket, and were so glad we did. (TIP: if you can afford it, you absolutely should purchase a Luxury ticket.)
We paid around $485 for two Luxury tickets (you can only buy these tickets for two people, so if you’re traveling solo you’re out of luck.) So, it’s no bargain. But it was SO worth it!
The main perk for this splurge is entrance into the Exclusive Lounge. Only 12 people are allowed into the Lounge at one time, in 4 hour intervals. And within the Lounge you have your own private, locking changing room, complete with a huge rainfall shower, hairdryer and amenities. You’re are literally above the common folk, both because they are in a group changing room and have to put their suitcases in lockers, and because this Lounge is on the second floor and offers a sweeping view of the Lagoon.
There’s an outside deck with lounge chairs, and an inside fireplace, fruit, coffee, water and a phone to call for whatever you may desire. It’s incredibly civilized!
Once we entered the Lagoon from our private entrance (which eases you into the water indoors) we applied our silica masks, watched the steam rise into the crisp winter air and pinched ourselves multiple times that this was really happening.
Hair TIP: Pack a deep conditioner for your post-Lagoon shower. There’s a lot of online talk about the water doing a number on your hair. Which is understandable, who wants their hair filled with clay? But I had zero problems. I slathered my hair with conditioner, as recommended by the staff, kept my hair out of the water as much as possible, and used a deep conditioner afterwards to remove any minerals that may have splashed into my hairline.
We adored EVERY moment at the Blue Lagoon. It’s a must-visit for any trip to Iceland. Make sure to check out my 2nd post next week to see what we ate while we were there (spoiler alert: It was delicious.)
Hotel Eyja Guldsmeden
We were pretty delirious by the time our Flybus dropped us off at the Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel. It may have been all that magic water, or perhaps being up 30 hours, but we floated into the lobby and felt like we were in a dream.
The whole place has a rustic, yet modern Scandinavian bohemian vibe that I found utterly adorable and cozy beyond belief. The lobby has a mix of light and dark wood, fluffy sheep pelts and pillows that invite you to curl up in its every corner.
The lobby bar has happy hour every day and the hotel’s breakfast buffet was unlike any I’ve ever had; stocked with delicious fresh, local and organic items. (I’ll have complete foodie details on it in the 2nd post coming next week.)
We were upgraded to the Superior Triple room, which carried through the bohemian vibe. We loved the four poster bed, rock sink, oversized hotel amenities and the delightful Icelandic mini bar, filled with things like organic Elderflower soda.
We were lucky to have a balcony off our room, with a seaside view of mountain Esja. (TIP: The slightly more expensive sea/mountain view rooms are very much worth it.) We noticed an interesting house, sitting on the water’s edge and couldn’t wait to explore it the next day, after a much needed night’s sleep in our comfortable and charming bed.
Turns out that beckoning house was the Hofdi House (Höfði), the former home of a French consulate and the site of the legendary Reykjavik Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. Today it’s known as The Ghost House amongst Icelandic locals, who shared with us stories of both a young girl who haunts an upstairs bedroom and Viking ancestors who frequently raid the liquor cabinet. We explored it before we headed out into Reykjavik for the first of three days in the city.
What to do in Reykjavik
Hotel Eyja Guldsmeden is a only a 5-minute walk to the sea (as is the case with pretty much all of Reykjavik hotels.) So on our first day we walked along the beautiful North Atlantic Ocean to our first stop, the iconic Solfar Sculpture (which translates into Sun Voyager).
An ode to the sun and a nod to ancestors who first walked on the Icelandic shore, it was hard not to feel a bit Viking-y as we stood on the shore and admired its majestic beauty.
And if we hadn’t felt like ancient explorers in the day, we surely would have when we ended up back at Solfar later that evening in the midst of a snow storm. (TIP: The weather in Iceland changes in an instant; be prepared for anything. We had sun, rain, sleet, hail and snow within a half-hour period one day!) It was otherworldly, to say the least.
Next stop on our sea-walk was the Harpa Concert Hall, which has to be one of the coolest modern buildings I’ve ever seen. The entire thing looks like a glass honeycomb, which reflects the colors of the day from the outside and provides a gorgeous frame of that day from the inside. It’s free to tour, has a great design-centric gift shop and is a good spot for coffee or drinks.
We spent a lot of time on Laugavegur, downtown Reykjavik’s main street. Shopping, restaurants, bars; you’ll find most of them on Laugavegur or on a street just off of it. We used it to keep our baring when navigating the city (which honestly, was pretty easy.)
Another way to navigate the city is to use Hallgrimskirkja Church, with its giant tower visible from most of downtown. Inside you’ll find a beautiful 25 ton pipe organ and you can buy a ticket to ride an elevator to the top of the tower (about $9). The elevator only takes 8 people at a time, but the view is worth the wait and admission price.
Also worth a visit is the Kolaportid Flea Market, which is only open on weekends. If you’re in the market for a wool sweater, this is the place to shop. There’s a ton of selection (I swear, almost every vendor had them) and it will be way less than you pay in a retail shop.
Foodies take note: this is just around the corner from the famous hot dog stand Baejarins Beztu Pylsur…which you pretty much have to go to. Adventurous foodies take special note: this is also the place to sample fermented shark. If you’re brave enough…
Reykjavik is an art and design lovers delight. From the random brightly painted houses, to the murals that greet you as you round corners; there’s beauty everywhere.
Stay tuned for part two of my Icelandic adventures next week. I’ll talk about my Golden Circle tour and share my foodie highlights (spoiler alert: I REALLY went for it!)
Check out WOW Air if you want to have you’re own Icelandic tale to tell. You won’t believe how affordable their flights are!
Stef is many things. Amongst them: editor-in-chief of we heart this, photographer, condiment connoisseur, Philly girl in the California desert, borderline hoarder and a hardcore beauty junkie.