What feels like a lifetime ago (but was actually a couple of weekends ago) Joe and I ventured over to Iceland for a couple of days. We've been wanting to go for years but a week in the sun or a few days in the Lake District always seemed like a better idea, so when Joe won employee of the year (so proud) and part of the prize was a weekend away in any European country we fancied, we decided it was time!
I fell in love with Iceland from the moment the plane landed, the crisp air and alien landscape captured my heart in an instant and I could not wait to explore more! I thought I'd put together a little city guide of what we did and what we saw, I already can't wait to go back!
Where to Stay
We stayed at Hotel Alda in downtown Reykjavik which is a gorgeous little hotel with amazing decor and a really warm feeling about it. It even has a barber shop and a chocolate shop on the ground floor, it is adorable. The bar is so worth a visit (maybe during happy hour at 4-7), there is an amazing sofa we've already decided to save up for so try and bagsy that if you can!
The room was so big and looked out over the sea, ideal for Northern Lights spotting at night with a glass of wine or two!
It was pretty pricey so it's definitely best for a treat or special occasion but if you're looking for more of a budget hotel, try the Icelandair Hotel down by the marina, I have it on good authority that it's a great base.
What to See
The landscape is absolutely crazy, like other world crazy. It's all volcanoes and lava fields, covered in layers of lichen and vibrant green moss. Around Reykjavik the landscape is so alien, there's not a tree in sight until you get into the city, you'll get to see it all on the bus from the airport.
Reykjavik city is so worth exploring, from the interesting architecture and cute little bars to museums (including a Penis museum...) and the Northern Lights if you're lucky! We spent a day in the city exploring, pottering around shops, heading to the top of the amazing church to see the view, soaking in the hotel hot tub, visiting a few bars and heading out for dinner. Possibly my favourite way to spend a day.
I'm not going to lie, Reykjavik is expensive, make sure you save up before you go so that you can experience everything that you want to. But happy hour is perfect if you are on a budget, between 4-7/8 most bars and hotels have half price drinks so you don't have to spend horrendous amounts!
Where to Visit
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular tours, and you can see why from the moment you arrive at the first destination. Þingvellir was the first stop, it's a world heritage site where the very first parliament was established in 930. We stopped by the largest natural lake in Iceland, it was huge! It is absolutely beautiful and totally worth a visit, the views are breathtaking.
Next stop was the absolutely amazing Gullfoss waterfall, it is fed by Iceland's biggest glacier Langjökull (which I am so visiting properly next time!) so the water is ice cold, and with a drop of over 30 metres when it hits you in the face, it's the most refreshing thing ever.
The last stop of the day was Geysir, the place that named all geysirs! Joe wasn't overly impressed by the whole thing but I kind of loved it, most of the time you're there is spent staring at a hole in the ground waiting for something to happen. But when it does, it's pretty spectacular, the hot spring water shoots up, sometimes over 40 metres like an explosion. Plus, the little cafe there is so cute, I'd totally recommend stopping off for a beer before you head home for the day.
We paired it up with a trip to the Blue Lagoon on this day tour, a geothermic pool hidden in the heart of the alien Icelandic landscape, you can see the steam from miles away! It's an incredible, idyllic blue pool carved into the volcanic rock with naturally hot water directly contrasting the chilly air.
You can grab a handful of face mask to smother on your skin or grab a drink from the bar without getting out of the pool, you can even get an in pool massage! I'd definitely recommend a visit to relax and soak away any stress, you can get an airport transfer from Reykjavik that includes a stop at the Blue Lagoon for around the same price as a bus ticket straight to the airport, well worth it. I'd recommend going first thing, we got there around 9.30 when it was lovely and quiet, but when we left around 12 it was getting pretty packed.
The Northern Lights was something we never thought we'd see so early in the year, so at around 11pm on our first night in Reykjavik we never expected someone to call us out into the street to look at the sky we ditched our drinks and ran out into the street to join a group of people staring at the sky. Sounds a bit mad but it was legit amazing, I've never seen anything like that in my life, it was magical and I'm so glad I got to spend it with Joe. Soppy I know!
Where to Eat and Drink
Eating and drinking is one of our favourite holiday past times, our days revolve around finding new little bars to fall in love with and restaurants to stuff our faces in. Iceland did not disappoint, I would gladly head back right now just for dinner.
Prikið is a gorgeous little coffee shop and bar based in the oldest house in the city, it's decorated like an old diner so the interior is very cute with historical photos of the city dotted around the walls.
Perfect for a drink before dinner if you want somewhere quaint, but it apparently turns into a pretty good hip hop club!
This is making me hungry just looking at it! We had spent the morning exploring Reykjavik and getting heavily rained on (not great when you've only got a blanket cape to protect you), so we stopped off at Icelandic Fish & Chips for some cover and hot food. Technically, they're not chips but the wedges are rather sublime and the fresh fish even more so. The menu changes every day depending on what fresh fish is caught, it is absolutely divine.
On the second night we headed to Fiskmarkaðurinn (Fish Market) for dinner, where quite obviously, the fish is amazing. The restaurant is set on two levels, we sat downstairs which felt like we were in the hull of a ship, a very stylish one that serves sushi and sourdough bread in canvas bags. Unexpectedly, the ribs I had to start were possibly my favourite thing in the world for a moment.
On our last night we decided to reign in the three course dinners and wine, instead choosing a couple of cheeseburgers and a diet Coke. We went to Tommi's Burger Joint near the marina, Tommi introduced burgers to Iceland in 1981 so they were bound to be good! Tommi did not let us down, they were pretty, bloody fantastic. They were the perfect size too, smaller than Five Guys so you don't feel like you want to die afterwards but the taste is even better.
Bravo was one of our favourite places for a drink (or two...), it's located on the main high street, is super cosy and has a lovely jumble of furniture, lights and decor. Happy hour is also from 4-8 so there's plenty of time for a half price beer!
We found Kaffibarinn on the very last night, it was where we had our last drink of the night and it was the perfect place to end our adventure. It was such a cosy little place with the nicest bar staff and a DJ who had pretty exceptional taste.
Where to Shop
Reykjavik is amazing for shopping if you are particularly interested in toy puffins or woollen items, seriously they have millions of both. Here is an example of said woollen items, my head was cold, I definitely didn't get sucked into it all...
Joe is obsessed with vinyl so we obviously had to venture to Lucky Records, it's the biggest record store in Iceland and I want to live there. Just look at it! It's full to the brim with records, posters, CDs and DVDs, dream land.
The moral of this story is: go to Iceland! It's like nowhere else in the world (apart from maybe Greenland...) and it's something you have to experience. You might even get lucky and see the northern lights!