Iceland: An Overview

I spent Thanksgiving week in Iceland and I simply cannot wait to go back. There was this unique landscape that looked like something out of a movie, there was sooo much to see, it was really easy to get around, and it was really easy traveling solo. And even though it was incredibly cold outside, it was really easy to warm up once inside. There wasn’t that permanent chill that gets into your bones, and even your soul, like there is here on the east coast.

Note: this is the first of a series of 3 posts. This post is meant as a dairy of what I did and what I saw. I’ll provide more details and logistics in a subsequent post*. If you have any burning questions, please feel free to post them in the comments below and I’ll answer them as quickly as I can!

(*Update: all posts are now live! The other two posts can be found here and here.)

Day 1: Reykjavik

The plane landed around 7am after a 45 minute delay taking off and then a delay upon landing as the gate had been locked and no one could figure out how to open it. Seriously. After about a 45 minute bus ride, I arrived at my hotel. My goal was to stay awake until at least 4pm when the sun would set and the early darkness would (hopefully) reset my body’s internal clock.

I lounged in the hotel coffee shop until the sun rose (around 10am). I had avocado toast and a decaf coffee. I know, I know the avocado toast is such a basic bitch move but I was tired and hungry and the savory mix of salty avocado and crunch carbs was calling my name.

I then walked around Reykjavik. I have a pretty good sense of direction and had taken screen shots of google maps to save on my phone for walking around. I didn’t need them at all. First, it was hard to find street names in general. Second, it was very easy to just follow the lights and the crowds (it weirdly seemed like the only people walking around were tourists, like no one was just walking to work).

I didn’t want to buy anything on the first day because I wanted to scope things out first. And also, I was so tired my brain was barely functioning and I couldn’t make a decision or calculate the exchange rate to save my life.

I came across a very cute cupcake shop (actually I came across the sign for the cupcake shop and followed the arrows, marketing for the win!) and then had fish and chips for a late lunch/early dinner. The fish and chips were fairly good. It was a more of a beer batter style and I wondered if this was the traditional Icelandic fish and chips. They did have a choice of “dips” and I still regret my choice of the plain Jane tarter. It was good, I just wish I was more adventurous in my choice.

Day 2: Reykjavik…again

After scheduling all the tours, I ended up with my second day free. This was fine by me as I really wanted to do a walking tour in Reykjavik so I could learn more about the history and the city. Also, I had seen so many cute restaurants and shops the day before and now my mind was fully rested (I’m going to brag about my 16 hours of sleep for the rest of my life).

I decided to get a late breakfast at a nearby coffee shop. I got a flat white (which I believe is just a latte without the foam?) and a vegan sandwich. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a vegan sandwich but 48 hours into traveling and my body needed some vegetables. It was perfect and came with a side of the best hummus I’ve ever had in my life. I could have sat in that cute shop all day just staring out at the incredibly blue harbor but alas it was time to meet my tour.

Overall, the tour was good. I learned a lot about the history of Reykjavik and Iceland. The only thing that seemed strange to me was that when the walking tour stopped so that the tour guide could give us that location’s lesson it seemed like what she had to say had nothing to do with that particular spot. It was just a convenient stop for a crowd to hang out on a sidewalk for a while. So that was strange, but overall it was good. The tour was free so I left the equivalent about a $20 tip. I wasn’t sure what to tip and the woman standing next to me was holding a $20 bill. I don’t know how much the young tour guide got paid and it seemed like the least I could do.

I did do a bit of Christmas shopping. I’m not going to share the full details so I don’t ruin any surprises. There’s so much pressure when you travel to make sure you get authentic souvenirs. Here’s my two cents. Of course, I want to support the local business and the local industry and I don’t want to spend my money on things I could just get in the US. That said, I’m simply not going to go out of my way to meet extreme standards. If I like something and it reminds me of the place I’m visiting then I would rather buy that regardless of where it was made than to buy something truly authentic that I just don’t like.

After that I went back to my hotel for dinner. I know, I know I’m cringing as I’m admitting to a second meal in the hotel restaurant. BUT… the restaurant itself did have pretty good reviews and I wanted to check out the happy hour. And I’m really glad I did because in my research I learned it was influential in bringing the cocktail scene to/back to Reykjavik. I only wish I had more time and energy to try more of their inventive drinks.

That night was the Northern Lights tour which I was really excited for. I am going to do a completely separate post just on the Northern Lights so I will link that here once it’s up. Spoiler alert: I did see the lights!

Day 3: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

After getting in late from the Northern Lights, I had an early start for the Snæfellsnes tour. I also had an early anxiety attack. I was waiting for the bus and started talking to these two girls who were standing nearby who I learned from Chicago. They were going on Snæfellsnes Peninsula tour and I shared I was going on the South Coast tour AND seeing the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. However, these girls didn’t quite think that was possible since those spots were in different directions. But both of our tours had us eating dinner at a local farm.

We put two and two together that we were indeed on the same tour and I was really disappointed I was not on the South Coast tour. I felt like I had majorly screwed up my tour planning and was wondering how I could have been so stupid to book the wrong one. In my defense, the tour descriptions are very similar and I met a group from Australia who had been on the South Coast tour the day prior and didn’t see anything because the weather was so bad they couldn’t even see out of their tour bus window. So I felt better about my decision.

ALSO, the Snæfellsness tour was incredible. So am I bummed I didn’t see the South Coast tour? Of course! But I’ll just need to save it for the next time. My favorite part was of course the beach. The waves were incredibly fierce and dramatic but as always I could have stood there and listened to the waves crashing all day long. The jarring rock formations and the black rocks instead of sand added to the intensity of it all. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before (except it was used to film a scene of Game of Thrones so I guess technically I have seen it before…just not in person. And no, I don’t remember the scene but if I do find out then I will post an update here.)

I was so tired when I got home I forgot to have dinner.

Day 4: Golden Circle

I wake up and I am starving. I went back for another round of avocado toast as I know getting on a tour bus with an empty stomach is going to set me up for a disaster of a day.

To my surprise when the bus comes to pick me up I am greeted by a woman in a jeep. I figure she will eventually take me to the bigger bus. She asks me if I want to sit in the front or the back and so I ask her if I’m choosing my seat for the day. Turns out I was! Only 3 people had booked the tour and instead of cancelling it they decided to just give us what was basically a private tour. Incredible!

As we went to pick up the other couple, I was surprised to see familiar faces. The couple I sat next to on the bus on the Snæfellsness tour was on this tour as well. And to make the world even smaller, they were from Haverhill, MA which is about 30 minutes from where I grew up. So while our tour guide taught us about Iceland, we taught her about life as a Masshole.

I had another moment of panic as I realized with this small group there was not really going to be time to zone out and recharge my introverted self. I was going to need to stay “on” AND I was in the front seat. I felt a lot of pressure. But it all worked out. The couple was incredibly talkative so it was easy for me to find moments where I didn’t need to talk and could just listen.

While the Snæfellsness tour was dramatic, the Golden Circle tour was much more laid back. We had icecream cones, saw rainbows and waterfalls, and had lunch in a tomato greenhouse. This was by far my favorite part of the day. I think it was because of the lamps inside the greenhouse really perked up my energy. Everything on the menu was tomato based. I got the tomato soup (because it came with unlimited bread…mmmmm carbs) and I got what was called a Healthy Mary. I don’t really like to drink tomatoes (so I wasn’t going to order a Bloody Mary) but this was made with green tomatoes and also had honey and ginger. It was really refreshing. There was a huge basil plant on the table to add your own garnish to your meal. Fun! I also ordered a skewer of cheese…because it’s a SKEWER OF CHEESE. The other girl did the same. I ate my cheese with the bread. The other girl melted hers in her soup. To each her own.

That night I made sure to get dinner, especially since I had an early start the next day and was not going to have time for avocado toast. I went to the Icelandic Fish and Chips which was rated higher than Reykjavik Fish on Trip Advisor. I was disappointed. If I order fish and chips then I expect fried fish and french fries. This was baked fish with baked potatoes. Now, it was still delicious and certainly a healthier option which I’m sure my body was thankful for, but please don’t advertise yourself as fish and chips if that’s not what you’re serving. I did get a bit adventurous and ordered a trio of “dip” options. I got tartar, basil, and honestly I forget the 3rd one. The basil one was the best, especially with the roasted potatoes. However, the sauces were made with Icelandic yogurt and the texture was just off. Again, I’ll give it points for being healthy but I’m taking those same points away as it just wasn’t I was expecting.

Day 5: Blue Lagoon

The last day I went to the Blue Lagoon. This was the first time I felt awkward traveling solo the whole trip. Whereas the during the tours there was stuff to look at and do, here I was sitting in a geothermal bath by myself. Just sitting. Staring at the dark sky willing the sun to rise. It was certainly big enough to walk around and explore different sections though it all looked the same in the dark. I would find a spot to settle into and lo and behold some group would come up and have to stand right next to me. Even though there was plenty of space. So each time that happened I ventured on to find my next spot.

The water itself was incredibly warm. I did notice that when the water would start to dry on my upper back or shoulders it did become slightly itchy. The silica is supposed to be good for the skin and of course my skin would have a weird reaction to it. But as long as I stayed wet, I was fine.

I did pay for an upgraded package so I did have the option to try 2 face masks. This seemed like a great deal when comparing the economics of the options but I immediately knew this was the wrong decision once I got there. What if they interacted weirdly with each other? Also, I had no one to tell me if my skin looked better after the mask. I was planning to make a purchase to bring some home but alas I did not.

Overall, it was relaxing. Next time, if I were to go solo again, I think I would pay for the cheapest package and only plan to spend an hour or two there, and only do one mask.

And that was it! I was soon on my way home. I hope you enjoyed the pictures. I’ll post a separate post on the Northern Lights and then a post on the logistics and planning that went into this trip. If you have any questions or topics you want to make sure I touch in these upcoming posts, please leave a comment below!