The Ultimate Iceland Adventure
Sharing my tips and tricks for an unforgettable stay in the land of ice
Iceland in a word? Transformative. It is truly one of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever been. I had planned this trip as a gift for my husband’s 30thbirthday as ever since we started dating he mentioned it would be his dream vacation. I had personally wished for other destinations before Iceland, but I knew for this big b-day it would be the perfect gift for him. It turned out that now I am completely obsessed with this destination and can’t wait to go back again one day. I was so surprised by the epic natural beauty that was everywhere you looked, and also by the food! I must admit, before looking into this trip I had the misconception that the food in Iceland would not be that great, mainly because of the fermented shark I heard so much about. But I am here to tell you – it is excellent!
Iceland is also a very easy destination. I mean that in the sense that it is not hard to get around via your own rental car, mostly everyone speaks English and almost every single place we visited accepted Apple Pay! The currency is in Icelandic Krona, or ISK, and was about 124 Krona for $1 USD when I visited. Prices are what you might expect for an island in the middle of the ocean, some things are a bit more than you might expect in the states but not exorbitant by any means.
I also loved how focused the country is on sustainability. They have robust recycling programs, utilize geothermal energy in many locations, grow much of their produce in greenhouses and encourage keeping your footprint a small as possible. They even had a ‘pledge’ for travelers to ensure they respected the environment and their own safety no matter where they explored.
So, are you currently rushing to Google to type in, “how to plan a trip to Iceland”? If so, I’d be happy to help! Trip planning is one of my favorite things to do and I spent countless hours researching the best things to do in Iceland – and I’d love to pass the knowledge along to you!
Getting there and getting around
We booked IcelandAir for our travel and flew direct from Orlando International Airport.
It was originally supposed to fly out of Tampa, but they unfortunately canceled that service which tacked on an extra couple of hours worth of drive time to and from MCO from Tampa. Several airlines fly direct to Reykjavik including Jet Blue, Delta and Air France. I used Google Flights to help me find the best deal, like I do with all my trips, and IcelandAir was definitely the most affordable for my late September plans by far.
The rental car was a must for us- and I highly recommend booking one unless you are planning on doing a fully hosted tour. With the car, we had the freedom to move at our own pace and explore everywhere we wanted, even if it was a bit off the itinerary. Also, I would suggest securing a 4x4 vehicle in case you do want to go to certain areas with more difficult terrain. We booked in advance through Cars Iceland, and also paid for a mobile hotspot which allowed us to have wifi wherever we went- it was only about an $80 additional charge and well worth it. Another tip, when you pick up your car, make sure to go over it with a fine tooth comb for any damages, dings and scrapes. I read some horror stories online regarding some rental companies charging $500-$1000 for damage to the rental car- so be sure to pay attention and also take pictures if they don’t mark something on their records that you see before you leave!
I am so pleased to report that each of the hotels we stayed at were amazing! The first two nights we spent of FossHotel Reykjavik. It was a beautiful property with comfortable, clean rooms, and was within walking distance to several shops and restaurants, as well as a short drive away from the main downtown center. The customer service was excellent and the parking was street, so no need to fuss with valet. They also had free breakfast daily, which was in the form of a delicious buffet!
The next two nights were spent at another FossHotel property, Glacier Lagoon. This hotel was EPIC! Located about 5 hours away from Reykjavik (don’t worry about the drive- you can make lots of stops along the way!) the hotel was perched on a grassy hillside next to a waterfall overlooking an expansive plain filled with not much but wandering sheep and the ocean beyond. It felt so cool to be practically in the middle of nowhere, but still have all of the modern comforts of being in a big city. I was so surprised by the amenities, service and food here (I detail the restaurant below and they also had a free breakfast buffet daily)! The room had soaring ceilings, a large comfortable bed and modern bathroom with heated floors. The location was excellent for the activities we had planned in the area, which included a visit to climb the Vatnajokull Glacier and the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Our final night we decided to splurge a bit and booked a room at the Silica Hotel at the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is one of the most famous attractions in all of Iceland, and they have two resorts on property. The day before we checked in, we got an email that we had received a complimentary upgrade to their 5-star property, The Retreat. We were pumped! The Retreat is currently the only 5 star resort in all of Iceland, but we had no idea what we were in for. Upon arrival, you are greeted with a chilled glass of champagne while your paperwork is presented to you in the lobby lounge. Then, your host guides you through a tour of the resort before dropping you off at your room. YOUGUYS. This room was insane! A giant, plush king bed overlooking the lava fields and an inviting vessel tub off to the side with the same view. When staying at The Retreat, you also are granted access to the private Retreat lagoon as well as The Retreat Spa where you can indulge in the ultimate self care perk- The Retreat Ritual. Here, you visit three different chambers where you can scrub and mask yourself to your heart’s content. The complimentary breakfast served in the lobby was also a dream, a gorgeous buffet, à la carte items and bottomless coffees, mimosas and more. I will do whatever it takes to get back here one day!
Activities are endless in Iceland – so many things to do based on your mood for the day and the area you are visiting. Of course, there are the big famous stops that you must see, but below I have listed out the items we did specifically in the southern region where stayed during our trip:
Akranes Lighthouse- beautiful lighthouse overlooking the sea. They permit you to walk out along the rocks to the point so you can get close to the water, and you can also climb to the top of the lighthouse for gorgeous views.
Reykjadalur Hot Springs – a challenging yet gorgeous 1 hour hike (each way) to a thermal river. We ended up not going for a dip, but the hike was beautiful and invigorating.
Game of Thrones Tour- This was a full day tour we purchased through Viator via Gray Line Tours and took us to lots of stops including Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lake Thingvallavatn and Thjorsárdalur valley. We loved our guide and had an awesome time.
Vatnajokull Glacier Hike – One of my favorite adventures we had! We also booked this tour through Viator via Troll Expeditions and it was a great way to see the glacier up close and take in the beauty of the surrounding area. We booked the 11 am 3-hour hike and I thought it was perfect.
Dyrohaley (The sea arch/black sand beach)- This was a gorgeous view point but so scary to get to! We had to go up a skinny, winding mountain road and once we got to the top the weather was awful – so windy and freezing rain! Despite all that, it was a gorgeous sight to see.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon – So beautiful! Giant floating icebergs over a misty lagoon with seals frolicking all around. We didn’t stay for long because again, freezing cold rain, but the time we did spend was lovely.
Dverghamrar- We made a very brief pit stop here on our way back to Reykjavik but it was worth it- it was about a 10 minute hike from the starting point back to the car to look at the interesting rock formations.
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon- We were once again hit with yucky weather, but WOW. This is one of the most beautiful places we had the pleasure of seeing. The canyon is stunning with a roaring waterfall cascading down into a winding river. There is a great platform high above the rocks which gives you a wonderful view.
Resto – Located within walking distance to our hotel the first night, Resto was far and away my favorite meal of the trip. This small, cozy and inviting eatery was the perfect way to dive right in to the traditional cuisine of Iceland. They had fresh local fish and we each tried a version of the arctic char. It was amazing- do not skip this place if you go, you’ll regret it!
Forrettabarin – Another great spot right in the heart of downtown. Awesome local cuisine served tapas style and a great wine list. My favorite here was the langoustine soup!
Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon Restaurant – With this hotel being located practically in the middle of nowhere, we didn’t have much choice on where to eat dinner both nights. I normally like to get out of the hotel to eat, but I ended up being so glad we got to enjoy two nights here! The food was amazing and the service was spectacular.
Lava Restaurant – Located at the Blue Lagoon, this was an upscale eatery with a more limited menu, but featured tasty local meals and an awesome view of the Blue Lagoon.
And that’s it! I hope you don’t need any more convincing to get Iceland on your bucket list stat. If you have any questions about planning a trip, feel free to reach out here or on Insta!