I love Iceland so much—so I put together this Iceland Travel Guide! The land of ice and fire is truly breathtaking. It’s like the winter version of Bali – with waterfalls and volcanoes and beautiful landscapes. Iceland has been on my travel list for the past few years, and I finally planned a trip to visit with my sister in March 2018. From the people to the nature and the ah-mazing geothermal baths….I’ll definitely be going back to there asap!
Iceland Travel Guide
Population: 334, 252
Money: Icelandic krona
Best time to visit: summer for hiking; Feb/Mar and Sept/Oct for Northern Lights (I went in March)
From Chicago, it was a ~6 hour flight to Iceland. The two main airlines from the States are Icelandic Air and WOW Airlines. My sister and I opted for WOW because it was cheaper. We booked round-trip flights for $200 (plus baggage fees + I need a window seat so paid a little extra for that). I was worried about what WOW would be like—but all in all, it was super clean, efficient and easy. Our flights were on time and the plane was clean. Definitely, bring your own snacks. And you can check in online 24 hours before the flight (just be sure you type in your info exactly how it is on your passport. We made that mistake!) And give yourself a little extra time on the way back to go through customs before you leave Iceland. It’s different than in the States because you check-in, go through security, wait to get your Gate, and then as you’re walking to the international gate, there’s another whole area for Customs. I was lucky enough to get picked for a special search on the way back. So fun! 😉
We debated whether or not to rent a car, and ended up taking a hard pass because neither of us felt confident driving in Iceland in the winter. This turned out to be totally fine! Reykjavik is super walk-able. All the tours we booked (South Coast Tour and the Blue Lagoon) picked us up directly from the hotel. We took the Flybus to and from the airport – super efficient and easy. My sister and I were both really impressed by how organized and efficient the buses were in Iceland. Much better than a CTA bus in Chicago—just sayin’!
22 Hill Hotel
I stayed in two hotels while in Iceland. The first was 22 Hill Hotel with my sister. This was a hot deal on Orbitz and it was super clean and nice. The front desk was awesome and very kind to us. The breakfast was included and a nice little buffet. There’s a restaurant attached for dinner and a grocery store right around the corner. It is about a 10-minute walk from the main downtown area of Reykjavik, but it wasn’t bad at all.
After the first 5 days in Iceland, I went on to the Faroe Islands and then spent one more night in Iceland on my way back. I decided to splurge and stay at the Silica Hotel at the Blue Lagoon. This was (hands down) my favorite hotel of all-time. The room was cute and clean and cozy. The bed was sooo comfortable. The bathrooms had heated floors. Breakfast was included and it was like a gourmet feast. So delicious with green smoothies and crepes and literally anything you could want. And the BEST part of this hotel is the private lagoon!!! So you can literally put your suit on in your room, throw on a bathrobe and walk down the hall to enter this secret lagoon and just soak…for as long as you want. It was HEAVENLY and like a total retreat from life. I would fly back to Iceland just to stay there. And probably will. Also pretty sure I completely dehydrated myself from spending too many hours soaking, but it was #worthit.
Must-See Places + Things to Do
South Coast Tour
There are two tours that most tourists take: the Golden Circle and/or the South Coast tour. After much deliberation, we chose the South Coast tour, mainly because you get to see more nature. And it did not disappoint! We say two waterfalls (both with RAINBOWS), the small town of Vik, the Black Sand Beach with a cool cave, AND we got to climb on a glacier. Here’s the tour we booked.
This place is heaven in water. There’s no wonder why it’s so popular. We got the package that included the algae mask. Words can’t even describe how much I loved this lagoon. It’s like taking the best bath of your life in the most beautiful scenery. The water is so warm and soothing, and we were there during sunset, so it was just gorgeous. We brought a disposable waterproof camera (you know, like from the ’90’s). Even though lots of people had their iPhones in the water, it seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. We ate at the cafe there too and it was super yummy! Make sure you book your tickets a.s.a.p.—I waited and there was super limited availability. We were lucky to be able to get in.
Top of the Cathedral in Reykjavik (Hallgrimskirkja) – the Best Views
This was one of the first things we did and it was an amazing way to soak up Reykjavik. It’s such a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and water. The views from the top were so incredible! I’m afraid of heights and had no issues up there because it’s all just totally breathtaking.
Sundhollin Public Baths
This is basically an outdoor swimming pool and hot tub that’s so warm and toasty and has geothermal water. There’s lots of locals and you have to take a shower without your suit on before entering, so prepare yourself for that. My sister and I ran out to the hot tub like it was the tundra and we’d never felt cold before. The locals casually stroll around the pool deck, so that’s how you can tell who is a tourist and who is not. But this place is super cool and I wish we had something like this during the winter in Illinois. If I lived here, I’d go every day. Definitely a super relaxing experience!
Sun Voyager Statue
It took us a while to figure out where this was (I blame jet lag), but it was a great place for a photo opp. We got a pic right as the sun was rising and it was really beautiful.
Massage at Reykjavik Day Spa
This was such a nice treat! The masseuses were so nice and friendly. Super clean and a great massage. Definitely a good vacay treat!
Bokin: the Coolest Book Store in Iceland (maybe the world)
When we first walked into this place, it reminded me of what Miss Havisham’s house (from Great Expectations) must look like. It had a very old and untouched vibe, with stacks of books EVERYWHERE. It’s so charming and we chatted with the owner. It’s one of the few second-hand bookstores in Reykjavik and it just feels like a book lover’s dream in there. So many vintage book gems, waiting to be found.
Street Art + Cute Stores
Walking around Reykjavik was a real treat because there’s so many cute stores and lots of funky street art. We had a blast just walking around and exploring. So do that! 😉
Drink at SKY Lounge
We had a drink (ok, two) at the top of the CenterHotel at the SKY Bar. There’s a beautiful view of the water (not sure if it’s a bay? Or a harbor? Either way, it’s really stunning). And the place was super swanky and cute. Sidenote: definitely go after 4 pm if you want to be around other people. We showed up at 3 pm and it was totally empty. Very peaceful though.
I’d heard a rumor that the food in Iceland wasn’t so great. I’m happy to say that we found some tasty places!
Sandholt Bakery + Eatery
This place is so cozy and cute inside. There’s tons of pastries that looked amazing. We had breakfast here twice we loved it so much. I had the pretzel with smoked salmon both times—so divine! Here’s the link.
Emilie and the Cool Kids – Cookies + Coffee Shop
We stumbled on this place when we were jet lagged af – but it was super quaint and adorable inside. The cookies were amazing. Here’s the link.
Juice: Joe and the Juicer AND Lemon (not pictured)
Joe and the Juicer is at the Keflavik airport and I’m now addicted to it. So good! Here’s the link. I had it 2x during my travels and it’s so, so yummy. Lemon is super cute too and tasty. It was nice to get a hit of green juice during travel days. Here’s the link for Lemon. Very impressed with the Icelandic juice options!
3 long sleeve shirts
1 “cute” shirt for dinner and drinks
3 pairs of leggings (the thick kind)
2 pairs of jeans (and tights and/or long underwear to wear under the jeans)
3 pairs of wool socks
Cute hiking boots (that look like Cheryl Strayed’s from Wild. Wanted to throw one into a waterfall, but needed it for walking)
Hat and gloves and scarf
Winter jacket – I brought a thinner one instead of my puffer jacket. Basically, you just want it to be waterproof.
1 bathing suit (and flip-flops)
International plug converter
Snacks: breakfast bars, nuts, chocolate, etc.
5 Day Sample Itinerary
Day 1: Land at 4 am; walk around Reykjavik, take a nap, visit the bathhouse, dinner, back to bed
Day 2: South Coast tour
Day 3: Brunch, Massage, Drink at the SKY Lounge, Northern Lights tour
Day 4: Blue Lagoon
Day 5: Travel Home
The locals are all really friendly.
Most of the buses have a USB plug to charge your phone.
Wear long underwear or tights under your jeans at night. It gets chilly.
Expect to have a magical time! Iceland is such a gorgeous place.
Iceland Travel Guide – Nomadic Matt
Wild Iceland: 15 Day Photography Road Trip – Renee Roaming
Guide to Iceland – Alex Cornell