If you share our love for unique experiences and breathtaking landscapes, then Iceland is a destination that should top your travel list.
Our trip to Iceland in September 2018 was nothing short of extraordinary. From the Blue Lagoon's mystical allure to Reykjavik city's cosmopolitan charm, Iceland's scenic splendors left us spellbound at every turn. And now, we're thrilled to share our experiences and tips with you in this comprehensive travel guide. So, whether you're an eager first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler planning a revisit, this blog post is the perfect pilot for your Icelandic adventure.
Join us as we reminisce about our Icelandic travels, providing insights on remarkable places to stay, must-see attractions, and the best places to eat.
Where to Stay
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon, a staple of Icelandic tourism, cemented its status in the luxury travel space in 2018 when it completed its new high-end accommodations. No longer just a serene geothermal spa (which was iconic in and of itself), but is now also a hub for luxury lodgings with two distinct hotel offerings: the Retreat Hotel and the Silica Hotel. Both hotels provide unmatched luxury experiences, but cater to different tastes and budgets. Traveling from Reykjavik or Keflavik airport is just a short scenic journey, 45 and 20 minutes, respectively.
The Retreat Hotel
Best for Wellness Retreats
The Blue Lagoon has positioned The Retreat as one of the country's most sought-after stays, with a Japandi design aesthetic that effortlessly complements the lagoon's natural beauty. The 60-suite oasis is replete with a private lagoon and a Michelin-starred dining experience that celebrates the rich culinary heritage of Iceland. With unlimited access to the Retreat Spa and the private lagoon, every day is an opportunity for relaxation and rejuvenation. Note that a minimum stay of 2 nights is required for weekend bookings.
Best For Honeymooners Looking For A Private Oasis
Impressively close to the Blue Lagoon yet distanced from the throngs of daytime tourists, the Silica Hotel presents a perfect luxury escape for those seeking an immersive stay, balanced with the comfort of exclusivity. The smaller scale makes the Silica Hotel a haven of tranquility, further amplified by the hotel's exclusive private lagoon. Despite the somewhat lower price range than the Retreat Hotel, it offers an equally captivating experience of Iceland's surreal geothermal landscape.
Best for making the most of the Golden Circle
A family-run enterprise, Hotel Geysir sits a stone's throw away from the astounding Geysir and a mere ten-minute drive to the famed Gullfoss waterfall, making it a dream hotel for natural spectacle seekers and travel enthusiasts alike. Paired with an incredible restaurant (the langoustine soup is to die for!) as well as a shopping center and golf course, this hotel is the perfect home base for adventurous souls looking to explore the Golden Circle in style.
Þingholt by Center Hotels
Best for city-centered stays in style
Tucked away on a quiet side street just a short stroll from Reykjavik's main shopping district, the boutique-styled CenterHotel Thingholt effortlessly blends chic vibes with Icelandic, nature-inspired design. The hotel, a transformed 1940s printing factory, offers 52 intimate rooms, soothing spa facilities, and cozy bar to relax after a long day of roaming the region’s treasures. Our stay here was the perfect way to kick off our Iceland adventure, and is perfect for other travelers seeking a central yet serene stay in luxury.
What to See & Do
Iceland has a seemingly endless supply of wonders, which provide tourists with an entirely different experience depending on the season. For summer travelers, the midnight sun will be your constant companion, while winter brings a chance to glimpse those elusive northern lights. To help you narrow down your options, here are a few of our favorite things to see and do in Iceland.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle route is a trio of equally impressive places in southwest Iceland: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss waterfall. The Golden Circle is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland, and for good reason. These three places are full of natural beauty and history and are within a two-hour drive of Reykjavík, making them perfect for a day trip. If you only have a few days in Iceland, this should definitely be on your itinerary.
Thingvellir National Park
The first stop is Þingvellir National Park, home to some of the most beautiful Icelandic landscapes. The first thing you'll notice is its sheer otherworldly beauty: dried magma fields covered in Icelandic moss sit carved by glacial springs and surrounded by ancient mountain peaks. Here, you can see the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates where they meet and even scuba dive between them!
Geysir, located in the Haukadalur Valley in Iceland, is a renowned hot spring and geological phenomenon that has captured the eye of visitors for centuries. Known for its impressive eruptions of scalding water and steam, Geysir has given its name to all other such geothermal wonders worldwide. Although its eruptions have become less frequent, the nearby Strokkur geyser provides consistent, spectacular displays approximately every 10 minutes.
Gullfoss is a breathtaking natural wonder in southwest Iceland, where the Hvítá River takes a dramatic plunge into a deep canyon. The two-tiered waterfall drops a total of 105 feet, producing a mesmerizing mist and, often, stunning rainbows as sunshine catches the spray. Combining captivating beauty and immense power, Gullfoss is an essential stop on any Golden Circle tour.
Pre-booking this excursion is essential.
Set in the heart of a volcanic landscape, the Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland's most cherished geothermal spas and a bucket-list destination for many travelers. We opted for the 'Comfort' package, which offered entrance, a silica mud mask, use of a towel, and the first drink of your choice at the in-water bar. You'll choose a time slot when to enter the spa and then have an allocated one-hour window to arrive within. There's no rush, though - once you're in, you can soak to your heart's content.
The Blue Lagoon is conveniently only 15 minutes away from Keflavik Airport and less than an hour from Reykjavik, making it a lovely first or last stop on your Icelandic adventure. And if you're planning to stop by either on your way to or from the airport, you'll be glad to know that you can easily stash away your luggage here for a small fee.
Trust us, this is an experience you won't want to miss!
Ice Cave Vik
Embarking on an Ice Cave tour in Vik is a truly magical experience, as you'll witness firsthand one of Iceland's most spectacular natural wonders. Our guide was incredibly informative and fun, and the entire experience was breathtaking. If you find yourself in Iceland during the colder months, braving the crisp weather to explore these caves is an absolute must-do.
Black Sand Beaches
Vik's black sand beaches are among Iceland's most visually striking attractions. The dark, volcanic sand, contrasted against frothy white waves, creates a dramatic and unique coastal scene. Walking along these ebony shores, with jagged sea stacks and often moody skies as the backdrop, is an iconic Icelandic experience.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
Just an hour's drive from Reykjavik, in the active geothermal area of Reykjadalur Valley, is an incredible hot spring river. This Icelandic gem isn't just handed to you, though - it's a treasure at the end of a 3 km hike that will take you about an hour to reach. The path is steep and narrow, so if you're visiting in winter, be sure to equip yourself with crampons. The river is free to enjoy year-round but is busier in the summertime. The closer to the top, the hotter the river gets, so you can choose the perfect spot depending on your tolerance for heat. Bring snacks, a towel, and a change of clothes to ensure a comfortable hike after a soak in the river.
The trail might be a bit of a challenge, especially for those who aren't avid hikers, but trust us, the reward of bathing in the natural hot river, surrounded by some killer Icelandic views? Priceless!
Seljalandsfoss & Gljúfrabúi
Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi are two of Iceland's most captivating waterfalls, both boasting their own distinct characteristics. Seljalandsfoss, with its graceful 196-foot plunge, allows adventurers to walk behind the cascade, offering a rare and refreshing perspective as water plummets into the pool below. Just a short stroll away is Gljúfrabúi, the hidden gem tucked within a cliffside crevice. Accessible only by wading through a shallow stream, Gljúfrabúi rewards those brave enough to visit with an up-close waterfall encounter in an enchanting, moss-laden cave.
Skógafoss is an arresting waterfall located on Iceland's south coast and is one of the country's largest falls. The sheer volume of water creates a perpetually radiant rainbow in fine weather, adding to an already powerful experience. With its unbeatable beauty and ease of accessibility (you can walk right up to it!), Skógafoss is a quintessential stop for anyone exploring the southern coast.
Other Notable Things To See & Do:
Explore the Snafellsness penisula - Ytri Tunga beach, Arnarstapi, Vatnshellir Cave, Kirkjufell Mountain
Diamond Beach & Jokulsarton Glacier Lagoon
Chase the Northern Lights
Witness the beauty of Iceland's wildlife: Whale Watching, Puffins, Icelandic Horses
Explore the city with the Reykjavík City Card
Where to Eat
Ice Cream Barn // Íshlaðan
On the way to the Geysir hot spring, make a pit stop at Íshlaðan, a charming, family-run ice cream barn that utilizes the freshest ingredients (from dairy cows only steps away!). The family also owns a restaurant, guesthouse, and horse rental on the property, and it's become a popular choice for sightseers craving a cold, homemade treat along the scenic Golden Circle tour.
Who would have thought we'd stumble upon such incredible Italian food in the heart of Reykjavik? Primo truly amazed us with its freshly made al dente pasta and high-quality homemade dishes. With a diverse menu in an intimate setting, it caters to Italian food enthusiasts as well as those who are generally picky eaters struggling to find something other than seafood on the island.
The Steak House // Steikhúsið
We had a fabulous dinner here. The food was outstanding, and so was the service. I had a perfectly cooked ribeye with delicious roasted asparagus and fries. Considering the adventurous offerings like horse and whale, an extensive drink menu, and reasonable prices for the quality (a steak will run you about $40), it's definitely on our list for a revisit when we're back in town.
Seabaron // Sægreifinn
Lobster soup. Fresh fish skewers. Bread.
Seabaron is as close to a hole-in-the-wall eatery as you'll get in Reykjavik. This quaint, unassuming wharf-side restaurant has some of Reykjavik's best grilled seafood with a reasonable price tag to boot. We ordered the famous lobster soup and a few skewers (whale, salmon, and potatoes) and found them the perfect meal after a stroll through the windy city. The smooth lobster soup was a comforting delight that we'd definitely return for, making it a top pick for an unhurried lunch or casual dinner.
When in Reykjavik, make sure to stop by Brauð&co. for their delectable homemade cinnamon rolls - trust us, it's crowded for a reason!
The Town's Best Hot Dogs // Bæjarins Beztu
Though we don't typically go for hotdogs, Bæjarins Beztu in Reykjavik truly lives up to its name, "The Town's Best Hot Dogs." Made with a unique blend of lamb and topped with a popular local choice of 'eina með öllu' or 'one with everything,' we can see why even former US President Bill Clinton couldn't resist grabbing one here!
Our trip to Iceland was truly a one of a kind adventure, and we can't wait to return. If you're looking for a trip where you can see some of the most beautiful natural landscapes on earth, we highly recommend visiting Iceland. Stay tuned; we might even be arranging a hosted trip in the not-so-distant future, so you can join us as we venture back to this extraordinary island!
Looking to plan an Iceland Adventure? Reach out to the expert planners at Travel Queen LLC! As experts in all things luxury travel, we know what it takes to create the ultimate vacation. Let us help create your most memorable getaway yet!
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