Nick and I have just returned from our Iceland getaway/babymoon and I am so excited to share my enthusiasm for this magnificent treasure of a country. Iceland has become a trendy destination in recent years as affordable airlines crop up and establish connections in major airports throughout the US. Last fall, I saw that discount carrier WOW Airlines was offering exceptionally inexpensive flights from Boston to Reyjavik and decided to book a trip as a surprise Christmas gift for Nick – I am so thrilled that I did. Iceland was the perfect place to relax, reconnect as a couple, experience new things and explore natural beauty, all within a short flight from home. Check out WOW’s best fares here.
I’ve been intrigued by Iceland for a long time on a personal level because they are a progressive, feminist nation, topping the World Economic Forum for gender equality. They rank number one year after year for political empowerment among women and closing the gender income gap. Iceland was also one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage. If you know me, you know these are matters of great importance to me and I feel strongly inclined to support the tourism of any country that is working this hard to do the right thing. They are also the most eco-friendly country in the world in terms of their energy sources. Nearly half of their electricity is geothermal and the rest generated by hydro power.
The effects of a well-run government are immediately visible in Iceland – both the city and the countryside are calm, clean and easy to navigate. We saw no homelessness, no evidence of crime, no litter or waste in the streets, no traffic jams or road accidents. People are healthy-looking and sincerely happy in Iceland! I don't often say I want to immediately return to a new place (I want to see as many countries as I can before I die - so why double up?) but Iceland left such a lasting positive impression on both Nick and I, we really can't wait to go back and to share it with others.
Where to Stay in the Countryside
We spent half our time in the countryside, at an AirBnB in the center of what’s known as the Golden Circle, a center of tourist destinations including the Pingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area and the Gullfoss waterfall. From here, we could drive to nearly everything we wanted to see and remained within an hour of Reykjavik. We would recommend this guesthouse to anyone visiting Iceland – it was clean, nicely decorated and secluded, just perfect for a romantic getaway or a family vacation. There were three small bedrooms and one bathroom plus a large kitchen and open living area with a cozy couch for watching movies at the end of a long travel day. For two nights we spent less than $400 and felt we had all the room we needed and everything we wanted to do at our fingertips.
Where to Stay in the City
We spent the rest of our Iceland trip in Reykjavik and stayed at the centrally-located Kvosin Hotel in their social suite. The room was cozy but beautifully appointed and came equipped with amenities like a sizable fridge, basic cooking facilities, an espresso machine and a towel-warmer in the shower. The Kvosin is smack-dab in the middle of everything you'll want to do in Reykjavik - you can walk everywhere and if you have a rental car, there's parking right outside the lobby.
Where to Eat: Lunch
We had an absolutely outstanding – and reasonably-priced – meal at the gorgeous Apotek Restaurant. They offer a two-course lunch for 2.990 KR ($30 USD) or three courses for 3.990 KR ($40 USD) which is a steal given the cost of things in Iceland and the gourmet dishes being turned out by their kitchen. I had slow-cooked Icelandic sea trout served on a Himalayan salt block with yuzu and truffle mayo, crunchy quinoa and green apple that I am still dreaming about.
On our way out of Iceland we stopped for a final meal at Matur Og Drykkur, a restaurant that came recommended by friends. A bit off the beaten path, MOD offers traditional Icelandic fare and delicious cocktails in a space adjacent to the Viking Museum. We had the pleasure of sitting beside the owner’s parents who made the experience that much more special. The lamb shank special they served the day we were there melted off the bone and was some of the best meat I’ve ever tasted.
We also had some delicious hot dogs on the street. As it turns out, Iceland is known for perfecting the hot dog and we agree with critics - they've got it down. The Icelandic version of our beloved hot dog is served with raw and crispy fried onions and this condiment called pylsusinnep which is a creamy and sweet brown mustard. They're sold in gas stations and throughout central Reykjavik and are one of the only "cheap eats" you can find.
Where to Eat: Dinner
We celebrated our first night in Reykjavik with a meal at the highly-lauded Grillmarket, just around the corner from our hotel. Focused on highlighting local farmers and Icelandic delicacies like lamb, whale, puffin, trout, quail and skyr (Icelandic greek yogurt), Grillmarket is owned and run by two world class chefs who hail from Michelin-rated restaurants. We ordered adventurously and the food did not disappoint – standouts were the puffin, lightly smoked and served with pickled blueberries and birch, grilled tender steak of whale with Icelandic wasabi and soya vinaigrette and the grilled rack of lamb with garlic potatoes, crispy kale and crumbled nuts (below).
The last dinner of our trip to Iceland was one of the most memorable of my entire life. I couldn’t wait to try the tasting menu at Fishmarket after reading about chef/owner Hrefna Rósa Sætran who began her career at the Michelin-starred restaurant Léa Linster in Luxembourg and became a member of the Icelandic National Culinary Team, competing twice in the Culinary World Championships. Her food is described as traditional Icelandic with a twist and we loved the dramatic presentation and gorgeous flavors of each dish. Favorites were Rock Shrimp tempura served with sweet melon, jalapeno dressing and onion sprouts, Lumpfish roe served with chervil, pickled onion, sea truffle and fermented potatoes and dry-aged angelica fed organic lamb served with creamy roasted mushrooms, confit lamb shanks, pickled beetroot and fried shiitake mushrooms. If you ever visit Iceland and can only have one dinner, please please promise you’ll eat here. It is not to be missed. The tasting menu is priced at about $110 USD per person and well worth every penny.
We loved wandering the streets of Reykjavik and popping in and out of their coffee shops and boutiques. There’s a nice blend of shops geared toward tourists (selling things like Icelandic wool sweaters, cold weather gear, gourmet salts from basalt rock, maps and bits of black lava) to stores and galleries featuring the work of local artists and designers. Residential neighborhoods are mixed into the shopping districts so you get a nice feel for local architecture and the way people live. Home design is minimalist but colorful and really appealing. We loved stopping to take in the iconic HallGrimskirkja Church which sits atop the highest hill in the city and pays homage to the natural landscapes of Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon
We drove straight to the Blue Lagoon from the airport (as it’s quite close) and our prepaid tickets for the 8 AM opening were perfect – we got to watch the sun rise while recharging in a geothermal spa, what is better than that? You must book ahead and we'd recommend getting into the first admission of the day - it's the least busy - and buying the premium package which includes a short line, bathrobe and towel and flip flops so you can move through the spa without being too cold! Drinks like champagne or fresh juice from the swim-up bar and silica masks are also included.
The Black Sand Beach
We made a three-hour drive to see the black sand beach in Vik and I was so happy we did. I grew up by the ocean and spent every day of every summer at the beach so for me, visiting the ocean in every new place I travel to is a must. The drive to Vik is a straight shot through miles of gorgeous fields where wild horses graze and rock formations and mountains with waterfalls abound. In 1991, National Geographic voted Reynisfjara (Vik) as one of the Top 10 non-tropical beaches to visit on the planet. Legend has it that the rocky sea stacks sitting off the shoreline were once trolls engaged in trying to pull ships from the ocean. One morning when dawn rose too quickly, those tolls were turned into solid stone. Whether the folklore is true or not (and most Icelandic people think it is - some 80% of them still believe in elves as adults!), the rock formations diving into the crystal blue water are truly something to behold.
There is something really remarkable about driving across flat land for some time to come upon a giant elevation with water pouring over it's edge. The waterfalls in Iceland are nothing short of awe-inspiring because of their size. This was the most spectacular of a few waterfalls we had the privilege of seeing while in Iceland standing at 65 metres high. Because we visited on a sunny day, we were able to see rainbows reflected off the water.
Throughout our exploration of Iceland, Nick and I agreed it would be a perfect place to take our children someday. While we couldn’t do some of the activities I’d originally planned for this trip - like snowmobiling on a glacier or horseback riding through the Westfjords – because they were deemed unsafe for pregnancy, we are looking forward to an extended return with children in tow. Iceland offers the perfect combination of natural beauty, outdoor activity, culture, shopping and food - all doable in just a few days.
Thanks to all who followed our trip on Instagram and gave us wonderful recommendations for eating and exploring. If you haven’t been to Iceland, now is the time!