For my 30th birthday, the Mister organized a surprise trip to – drumrolls please – Iceland! I was not expecting such a bucket list-level destination and when I found out – about 30 minutes before landing – I could not believe it. Luckily, I had instructions to pack for cold weather and not to bring fancy clothes but rather comfy ones, so I was happy I followed those rather closely.
What was also really exciting, was the fact that he managed to keep the destination a surprise until very late into the flight. To be honest, it didn’t take too much effort for me not to find out. I simply didn’t look at the screens when boarding and was also listening to music until after take-off to avoid hearing anything. It was only shortly before landing that we got some water and the “Icelandic water” bottles gave the destination away. But it was perfect timing since I was so excited to find out and know more about our trip. I have to say that the views upon landing looked otherworldly. The landscape in Iceland is so unique, and even more so in winter. It’s truly an amazing destination. But more on that below.
We stayed in Reykjavik, though we booked some trips outside of the city to explore a bit more. Neither of us has a driving license so we had to rely on sightseeing tours. That is not a problem though since there are plenty of options available. Also, given the weather conditions when we travelled – icy roads and strong winds – we felt much more comfortable with an experienced driver behind the wheel.
There is a lot more to see than what I will share below, but I thought I would share a few of the highlights from our short trip:
What to pack
Now, a short word of advice when it comes to packing for a place like Iceland. Contrary to what you would expect, the cold is not your worst enemy. The rain is and also the strong winds. In Iceland it rains quite a bit, and if you want to make sure you make the most out of your trip, you should pack accordingly. If you expect to do outdoors sightseeing, which most probably everyone does while in Iceland, make sure to pack waterproof shoes (the most important part in my opinion) and also a waterproof shell jacket (comes a close second in importance). You can also pack waterproof pants if you are planning to go all in and e.g. get really close to the waterfalls.
We stayed in Reykjavik, in an apartment hotel right in the “old” city centre. Reykjavik has small town vibes when it comes to the city center. This makes walking around the city center area fairly easy and without a need of taking public transportation. We didn’t do intense touristic activities while in the city aside for walking a lot and trying to get to know as much as possible. A few spots we visited are the Sun Voyager steel sculpture, the Hallgrímskirkja church, and of course just strolling around town and in between stopping for coffee to warm up.
Since neither of us drives, we couldn’t rent a car and explore the island on our own. However, I am quite happy about it as this time of year the roads are super icy so it felt much safer to be in expert hands. For one of the days, the Mr. booked a day trip to the southern coast of Iceland and we had a great time. We packed a few snacks and sandwiches for the day though we had plenty of stops and access to buy snacks and food on the road too (2 coffee break stops and one lunch break).
Our first stop of the trip was Skógafoss, a picture perfect 40m tall waterfall on the southern coast of Iceland. The waterproof shoes came in really handy for getting closer to the waterfall. Although we had water resistant jackets on, we ended up pretty soaked after getting a tad too close to the waterfall. But definitely no regrets about that. So as I said above, waterproof shoes and jackets are highly recommended for such a trip.
Our second stop was Sólheimajökull, a 10km long glacier. We “hiked” in the rain for about 10-15 minutes to be able to get closer to the sight, and it was fully worth it. Especially because in winter the ice reflects the light and it has a beautiful blue shade.
We stopped in the town of Vik for our lunch break and afterwards we drove to the nearby Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, one of our favourite spots from the trip. You might have seen pictures of this beach since it’s the most popular black sand beach in Iceland. However, we actually learned from our guide that in Iceland many of the beaches have black sand due to the island coming from volcanic rock that forms when the lava cools down and solidifies. The beach is extremely beautiful, though it also is very dangerous due to the strong and unpredictable waves, so we were warned by our guide not to get too close to it. In the pictures below you can also see some rock formations in the water. According to an Icelandic folklore tale, they were formed when two trolls tried to drag a ship to land but were turned to stone as daylight broke. Iceland has a very rich folklore with tales of elves, trolls and monsters.
Our final stop of the day tour was Seljalandsfoss, another beautiful 40m tall waterfall. It’s a little smaller than Skógafoss but equally beautiful and surrounded by stunning landscapes.
The blue Lagoon is yet another one of our trip’s highlights. We spent my birthday at the Blue Lagoon and oh, what a wonderful experience it was. We’re not much for spas and things like that, but this one really delivered. We spent half a day there but could have easily stayed the full day or more. The water is comfortably warm inside the lagoon – with different zones with temperatures ranging from 38 to 41 C degrees – and despite the cold outside, the combination somehow really works and you are not cold at all.
You can book tickets that cover both the transportation and the entrance, so it’s really easy to get to and about one hour drive from Reykjavik. They also have different tiers to the tickets, and you can choose the level of pampering to your liking. We got the basic tickets which covered towels (you can get a new one whenever you leave the water, which is already a very premium service if you ask me), a free drink and a face mask. For our liking that was more than enough, while in the water. The amenities are are also very well organized and you have access to pretty much anything you need, from renting a bathing suit to having a fancy meal.
Where to eat
Iceland doesn’t have a strong reputation for good food – at least that’s what our guide told us. But we thought you can eat pretty decently nowadays. The brunch and coffee shop scene in Reykjavik is pretty solid. You can find plenty of coffee shops and small eateries just by walking down the street. We tried a few and none disappointed us. Aside the street food, Iceland also has a fine dining scene. One dining experience to highlight is definitely my birthday dinner at a Michelin star restaurant. For a special treat for my birthday, we ate at DILL, the first restaurant in Iceland to get a Michelin star. We had a wonderful experience there with exquisite food and amazing service. They draw inspiration from the Icelandic landscape and use locally sourced ingredients to design amazing dishes around them. We had a 13 or 15 course dinner with exquisite dish after exquisite dish. Some of our most favourite dishes were the cod fillet with nordic wasabi; potatoes, chicken skin and truffles; leg of goose, mushroom and roses; and goose breast with red cabbage, brown butter and billberries.
Thank you so much for reading and let me know, have you been to Iceland? If so, what did you like the most? Otherwise, is it a bucket list destination for you too?