Although I have traveled all over the world, Iceland remains my favorite destination. Less than six hours on non-stop flight from JFK, Iceland boasts breathtaking scenery, delicious and trendy Nordic cuisine, geothermal spas and a non-stop nightlife.
When most people think of Iceland, two things instantly come to mind: Bjork in her quirky and memorable swan dress and Jon Snow investigating the area north, in Game of Thrones. Both are a perfect depiction of Iceland, and yet, there is something more. Iceland is unlike any other place in the world. And this is the best time to visit. Unlike the euro, the Icelandic krona is a bargain. The prices there have never been better!
Land of the midnight sun, Iceland has nearly 24 hours of light in the summer and the opposite in the winter. Whether dark or light out, I have constructed the perfect itinerary to fully experience and savor this exotic and beautiful land.
Day 1: Sightseeing, whale watching and Icelandic cuisine:
Most people arrive, from the states, early in the morning. As it is too early to check in most hotels, I usually leave my luggage with the hotel and grab my travel bag and head out the door. This changeable climate requires layers of clothing. Even in the middle of July, the wind and the sea be very cold, so gloves, scarves and polar fleece is essential.
First, stop at one of the many coffee shops in town. Enjoy a strong cup of coffee, some Skyr, the delicious Icelandic yoghurt that is full of low fat protein, a wonderful pastry and a huge bottle of refreshing Icelandic water. One of the best ways I keep myself energized, while on a short trip, is to drink plenty of water and eat some protein. Pushing through the urge to nap is key to maximizing a three-day European trip!
After coffee, enjoy the 15 minute hike on the east side of the city, over to the Church of Hallgrimur. Hours of operation is 9am to 5pm. The architecture of this building is stunning. For just $2, take the elevator 244 feet up to the bell tower and get a good look–and some photographs–of this beautiful city! There are shops, cafes and interesting buildings to check out as you head towards the waterfront for a whale watching tour. Stop and pick up a pylsar, the popular Icelandic hotdog with ketchup, mustard, fried onions and potato salad.
The early afternoon is a great time to go whale watching, and there are excursions available throughout the year. The staff is friendly and informative. The boats are comfortable with restrooms and a cafe inside. In my own incredible whale watching experience, I saw humpback whales, dolphins, harbor porpoises and puffins. I imagined the Vikings taking their boats across the waves, into the unknown. This was pretty incredible. Tours start at $75.
After freshening up, it is time to head out and enjoy some real Icelandic cuisine. Nordic cuisine, with local ingredients is the hot food trend and Laekjarbrekka serves traditional Icelandic food with an artistic flair. Centrally located, the restaurant decor is a trip back in time, but the food at Laekjarbrekka is modern. I enjoyed the most amazing Cream of Langoustine Soup with Cognac and an entree of Grilled Salmon. My culinary daring friends sampled Puffin with Blueberry Chutney, Fermented Shark and Birch Glazed Whale. They also serve flavorful and modern vegetarian dishes. Prices start at $15 per entree.
After dinner, burn off some of the short walk towards the old harbor and visit the free museum at the Volcano House. There, you can touch volcanic rock and read about the active volcanos in Iceland. There are also two twenty-minute documentaries on the 1973 and the 2010 volcanos shown at the cinema. For just $11, you can view both films. Open 10am to 10pm everyday.
If you are still feeling energetic, hit one of the many cafes, bars or clubs spotted along the harbor area or the main drag.
Day 2: Circle Trip, Icelandic cuisine and clubbing:
I rarely suggest an organized tour, but I do recommend any of the tours in Iceland. First, many of the roads can be hard to navigate and the signs are few and in Icelandic. Second, because it is cost effective to take a tour and see many natural sites in a short period of time. I have taken several tours and this is the one I recommend this 8-hour tour because it includes the most spectacular Icelandic natural scenery. This includes the stunning waterfall, Gullfoss, the steamy Geisers and Thingvellir. Thingvellir is amazing! This is where the continental drift between the North American and the Eurasian plates is located. You can see the visible separation in the huge rift. The cost starts at $91 with a stop at a cafe for lunch on your own. Bring your camera and get ready to see the most incredible sights of your life!
After a full day touring, visit Fiskmarkadurinn, “The Fishmarket” for some amazing fresh sushi, fish or Icelandic specialties. One of the hottest restaurants in Reykjavik, and written about extensively by the American foodie magazines. Chef Hrefna Rosa Saetran is hailed as a culinary genius. This is a restaurant worth returning to for a sushi lunch and a more elaborate dinner. Sushi starts at $15, entrees $25.
If you still have energy, visit one of the many local bars or go clubbing. In Reykjavik, people are expected to dress up, otherwise, they could refuse you entrance. Some of the more popular clubs to visit include Kaffibarinn, Thorvaldsen Bar and Icelandic Bar. Each establishment attracts different people, has different themes and all are a lot of fun. Most close way into the night, as late as 5am. What is also fun about the nightlife in Iceland, is the mix of Americans, Europeans and Australians all visiting and partying in this unique city. Each location has an admission fee from $5 to $20.
Day 3: The Blue Lagoon, gallery, shopping and nightlife:
Start the morning after a late night with a rejuvenating stop at the amazing Blue Lagoon. Set in a lava field outside of the city, the silica, minerals and algae of the Blue Lagoon is therapeutic. I have been there in all seasons, and admit it is rather fun to be in the 100 degree water on a 25 below zero day! $44 admission fee, but I do suggest taking the tour rate, ($66) as the Blue Lagoon is about an hour from city center and this is less expensive than taking a cab. Instead, use the savings to buy yourself some of the special Blue Lagoon silica masks and face creams.
After a luxurious late morning at the Blue Lagoon, this is the perfect time to head into town, grab a light lunch and enjoy some shopping and stop at the National Gallery of Iceland and look at the art gallery there. There are cafes dotted along the harbor and along the main street, but one of my favorite stop is Icelandic Fish and Chips. They feature a variety of fish fried crisp in a spelt and barley batter and served with rosemary chips. This is an absolutely delicious find. Meals start at $12.
There is time to do stop at the National Gallery of Iceland and check out the collection of art, including Edward Munch and Pablo Picasso. Open 10am to 5pm, everyday but Monday. Free admission.
There is still some time to pick up a unique Icelandic gift, including blankets or sweaters made of the gorgeous and warm Icelandic wool, with Viking designs. Black licorice with chocolate or marzipan is a favorite in Iceland, so pick up plenty of candy for yourself and for gifts.
At the end of a busy day, there is time to get home and get dressed up and go out on the town to one of the bars or clubs in town for a meal and some dancing. You can stay up all night and sleep on the plane ride home. Between October and April, if the conditions are right, get on an evening tour just out of the city lights, to see the amazing Northern Lights. (Prices start at $50) No matter which way you end your trip, it will be sparkling and magical, like this beautiful and unique city.
Suggested Hotels and transportation:
There are many buses that take passengers from the airport to the hotels and I always recommend purchasing a hotel and transportation package through Icelandair. They have always been organized, friendly and cost effective. I have enjoyed saving money by purchasing a package via the airline or the hotel.
Hotel Borg is a sophisticated hotel that is all about elegance and service. Located next to the cathedral, this hotel is in a central location to everything. The rooms are all individualized and have heated marble floors and Phillippe Stark fittings. Rooms start at $199.
CenterHotel Klopp is conveniently located near the city center of Reykjavik. This 46-room hotel has a clean, Scandinavian-style decor with private full bath. Although there is a breakfast bar, restaurants and bars are within walking distance of this hotel. Rooms start at $139.