Saturday

How To Visit Iceland For A Weekend

I've always wanted to go to Iceland, and it seems I'm not alone. I've had more questions and requests for recommendations in the last week than ever before so I thought I should get cracking on the post - particularly as I know a couple of you are heading there very soon. As a prerequisite can I just say that we were incredibly lucky in that not a single thing failed us. Everything from the car (decision to rent cheaply from Sadcars and not get a 4x4) to the weather (the whole place was covered in snow) worked in our favour... NB - there is a quick hit-list itinerary at the base of this post.

outfit details = coat, Parka London / boots, Monsoon (amazing find for cold weather, and in the sale!) / jeans, Topshop / scarf, The White Company / sunglasses, Jimmy Choo

We decided to go Sunday to Wednesday as the weekend flights were much more expensive. We arrived after the heaviest snow fall ever in a February so everything looked pretty, damn beautiful. It's a bit of a lottery going at this time of year, had we taken the weekend flights we'd have been stranded due to the weather so do bear this in mind! We flew in to Keflavik which is the equivalent of flying into London Luton, hopped in the car and arrived in Reykjavik. After a quick pizza and a beer our apartment...






We decided to stay in an AirBnB as the hotel offering was either super expensive, or super basic. It was such a good decision. For £100 a head we got this 2 bedroom apartment for 2 nights bang in the centre of the city. From looking at the listings the home offering are all great - very Nordic in styling (think Hygge) and really well equipped. Our bathroom was better than most hotels I've been to (although I'd forgotten about the sulphur in the water so I had a bit of a shock when the eggy smell came out of taps - which is the case for the whole island).




We set out to explore the city and watched sunset go down over the harbour. Reykjavik itself is pretty industrial; it feels a little bit like a mix of Berlin (concrete, graffiti) and Stockholm (wood clad houses, furnishings). It's also very small, at the least the parts you need to see. We'd been recommended going to Kex Hotel as happy hour was a tourist favourite, and weren't disappointed. Drinks in Iceland are phenomenally expensive, so half price beers for two hours went down very well. It's obviously quite a "place to be" as everyone seemed to be descending on it as we left for dinner...




Next we head to Fiskfelagio which we'd read up on (and booked) before arriving... Hidden under a bridge in the old town,  you don't need to be smartly dressed, but it is a nice restaurant so you won't want to feel scrappy in there. It's got a very "cool" vibe and it's pretty romantic (hate that word, but it's low lighting and soft music kinda vibe) and as with the whole of the country the staff are lovely and love talking through the menu (which the foodies in our group loved). Most definitely order the "Iceland Smoke" starter and the "Denmark - Pear" main - and ask for the tarragon butter that comes with the bread... (Do make a reservation here in advance as it is super, super popular).




Given how beautiful the sunrise was we wanted to get up and out first thing the following morning. I'd heard a lot about Icelandic coffee, and being the caffeine fiend I am I went straight to Reykjavik Roasters for my AM-fix. I don't really know how they manage it, but everything just oozes cool in the city - this place being no exception. Paying the equivalent of a fiver for a flat white fades into the background when you're enjoying it as much as I was...




Ooh and you can't not stop at Braud and Co. They do the most amazing cinnamon croissants in the world. We happened to be there during Icelandic Bun Day (or were we lied to?) where the tradition goes that the children admit their sins to their parents, and for every whip they get for them, they get a bun. I'm really unsure that this is a thing, but we bought the entire contents of the shop so the staff certainly told the story well...



Next, lagoons. It's an obvious thing to do and the expression "when in Rome" comes to mind. We toyed over the idea of doing the Blue Lagoon and I'm very glad we didn't. The Blue Lagoon is like going to a theme park version of the natural springs, from what I understand - and if the Secret Lagoon is the "natural" one then I dread to think what the Blue Lagoon is like. We drove from Reykjavik to it in 45minutes, down an amazing road which is half the fun of it. I pictured it to be in the remote hills and very natural, which it isn't. It's sort of like an outdoor leisure centre...



It is an incredible experience but very touristy. I did enjoy it, but if we did it again I'd probably plan around finding a remote one in the hills (options here) rather than coming here. I also noticed my skin really enjoyed it, the following day it looked super supple and I might be going crazy but I'm sure my scarring on my stomach (I've had 4 operations so I look like a shark attack victim) have reduced and gone down in colour... It's supposed to be amazing for psoriasis so I guess it isn't out of the question for other skin ailments too... For £20 (rather than the Blue Lagoon's £80) it was brilliant. Don't worry if you have forgotten towels and swimwear, they have them there (for a price, but still) and the changing facilities are ace.



I guess the lagoons were our first foray into Iceland's geothermic/volcanic offering. From here we drove 20 minutes to Strokkur Geyser, which I'm not going to lie - wasn't very impressive. You kind of have to do it (and you may as well because it's on the way from the lagoons to the waterfalls coming up) but I had visions of these enormous eruptions. They aren't all that. The highlight was the fish and chips in the cafe, sorry...




So, as mentioned we then went to the waterfalls at Gulfoss (details in the round up at the base of this post) and having done more research on them since I came home I've realised we really saw them at a special time with the snow. I am not a good tourist, I'd rather be scrolling Instagram most of the time and freak at the idea of no wifi/signal (it's a sad truth but thats what enforced museum, country home and National Trust trips as a child do to you...) and it takes a lot to impress as having been brought up with Pembrokeshire and holidays in the Highlands. Here however, I sort of forgot I even owned a mobile. It was SO beautiful. The drive home that followed was equally stunning...





After a full day of driving we were pretty shattered when we got back to Reykjavik, so we head home for showers and then popped out to the much recommended Svarta Kaffid. This place is a cafe that just serves soup (one meat, and one veg per day) served in a loaf of bread. If you're gluten intolerant this isn't the place for you - but if you're after a solid cheap-eat in the city I'd really recommend this place too. The guy behind the bar (who is from the Netherlands, not Iceland) is lovely and gave us some great recommendations for the following days.


The following morning we repeated the coffee and bun runs and then popped to see the Harpa (the city's Opera Hall) which was surprisingly incredibly fun. It basically shows up all of London's museums/galleries - it's the Barbican done properly. Next we defended on Iceland's best known restaurant, Matur and Drykkur. It's pretty much just about to get it's first Michelin star. Bear with us, it's in the car park of an industrial estate and also has a Viking Museum inside it (do spend 5 minutes dressing up for a photo, because... yolo). 





Order carefully, there is some weird stuff. We tried a lot of the menu between us and our favourites were without a doubt:  the Halibut soup (starter or main), and the lamb. Although the trout baked in sheep's dung looked very appealing, the reality is it tasted of poo (sorry chefs, you're awesome but that was not for me). The rhubarb crumble however, was incredible. Hands down on of the best dessert's I've ever had.



outfit details = sweater, Whistles

So onto the next chapter; staying in the great outdoors. George and Malin had found the ION Hotel through friends and since we've come we've discovered it really is the place to go. That said, it got absolutely panned on Trip Advisor which I just cannot understand. One berk (a blogger, sadly) reported that it wasn't "anything like the Mandarin Oriental." Come on. It's all about the experience, and whilst we would perhaps remove the "luxury" from the hotel's description it has to be remembered that it is the highest starred accommodation on the island - so give them a break.





The hotel is built into the hillside like something out of a Bond movie, and the drive to it is incredibly impressive. When we arrived we were greeted with champagne and showed around our rooms. Perfectly lovely, big comfy beds. But the whole point of this place is the outside - that is the luxury. Their outdoor geothermic pools, sauna and completely glass bar is incredible! We had a brilliant dinner in the bar, then head out to see the Northern Lights (which we saw, but it was impossible to photograph).





The following morning we made the most of our last day and got up to see the sun rise from the pool. Definitely holiday highlight! We were still buzzing from seeing the lights the night before so decided to scrap plans to return to Reykjavik for lunch, and instead decided to drive back towards the airport. We didn't realise we'd see the most impressive sights of the whole trip.




We finally gave Malin her Icelandic Horse fix and pulled over to take some snaps of Eric, Hans and Thor (made up the names). Eric was far keener than the other two... The horses are SO cute (don't call them ponies, it's rude, but they're the size of Shetlands) with bear-like fur all over them. They're everywhere. Couldn't figure out which ones were wild and which were "working" though. Regardless, damn cute.


We then drove towards Selfoss (there is nothing worth seeing there but good for petrol stop and the road itself is breathtaking)and on to Reykjadalur (30 or so minutes down a beautiful road) which are hot springs.

outfit details = coat, Parka London / boots, Monsoon (amazing find for cold weather, and in the sale!) / jeans, Topshop / scarf, The White Company / sunglasses, Jimmy Choo



Quick walk up the mountain, then drive on for 5 minutes to the viewing point to see the black lake. Absolutely incredible, ridiculously so. These two things were the most impressive of the whole trip yet only have 6 lines between them in the Lonely Planet guide, go figure.  All in all, Iceland was one of the most incredible places I've ever been, we'll be back!



Basic Itinerary For You To Follow
So it's easy for you to break down, here is a simple overview of the trip. Please note you must book the lagoons and restaurants in advance.

Day 1
Arrive in Keflavik (airport) in the morning, collect car from Sadcars and drive to Reykjavik (30/40 minutes). Arrive in the city, have a wander around the old town and visit the many interiors and homeware stores in the area. Settle into your apartment, we rented a place with Air BnB and there are a tonne to choose from, here). 

Go to Kex Hotel for happy hour, where drinks are half price (worth it, trust me) then walk through the town to dinner at Fiskfelagio which is exceptional. You don't need to be smartly dressed, but it is a nice restaurant so you won't want to feel scrappy in there. Most definitely order the "Iceland Smoke" starter and the "Denmark - Pear" main - and ask for the tarragon butter that comes with the bread...

Day 2
Get yourself up and out, and over to Reykjavik Roasters for coffee in the main town, then head two doors down to Braud and Co for a cinnamon croissant (or five). Then in the car and drive out of town to the Secret Lagoon (make sure you are there before 3pm when it is coach tours only), then on to Strokkur Geyser just to tick it off (10 minute trip) then on to the incredible waterfalls at Gulfoss, here. Drive back to Reykjavik (all in all, four/five hour trip including lagoon), back to Kex for a swift pint then fill up on soup (served in a loaf of bread) at Svarta Kaffid

Day 3
Walk to the cathedral at Reykjavik and take the elevator to the top to see the views of the city, then take a stroll down the harbour to see the Opera House and the Modern Art Museum. You'll go past numerous coffee shops and cafes on the way for breakfast. We then had lunch at the infamous Matur and Drykkur which is pretty much just about to get it's first Michelin star. Bear with us, it's in the car park of an industrial estate and also has a Viking Museum inside it (do spend 5 minutes dressing up for a photo, because... yolo). Order carefully, there is some weird stuff. We tried a lot of the menu between us and our favourites were without a doubt:  the Halibut soup (starter or main), and the lamb - and Rhubarb Crumble for pudding (my favourite dessert ever).

Get in the car and drive over to the ION hotel... Make sure you get there before sundown so you can lie in there outdoor hot pool to see sunset. Relax in the hotel until nightfall, the bar is great (perhaps advise taking some booze with you to drink in your room as it's pricey), eat in the bar - then drive 20 minutes away from the hotel to hopefully see the Northern Lights. 

Day 4
Set an alarm and get in the hot tub for sunrise, it's beautiful. Breakfast there is worth it - buffet style and not mind blowing but varied and decent selection. Also, you probably won't have lunch if you follow this guide so fill your boots. Get in the car and drive towards Selfoss (there is nothing worth seeing there but good for petrol stop and the road itself is breathtaking). 

Drive on to Reykjadalur (30 or so minutes down a beautiful road) which are hot springs. Quick walk up the mountain, then drive on for 5 minutes to the viewing point to see the black lake. Absolutely incredible, ridiculously so. These two things were the most impressive of the whole trip yet only have 6 lines between them in the Lonely Planet guide, go figure. Continue the drive to the airport and fly back to London in the evening...
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2 comments

Anonymous said...

Great pictures! Looks like you had a lovely time. Can't wait to go to Iceland too! X, liesa

Angie Silver said...

Saving this as Iceland is on my bucket list too!! I'm so glad that you liked the Ion Hotel in the end!

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