Index of Thoughts

Friday, February 2, 2018

5 Day Iceland Itinerary in Winter


I've been back from Iceland for 2 weeks and I'm still cruising on those vacation highs. I've wanted to visit Iceland for some time especially during the winter and this year was my 40th birthday in January so it was a perfect fit. So many people think I am crazy for wanting to travel in the winter but it is truly magical.  You are never sweaty, you get the real country/people, no crowds and everything glows and is sparkly. I booked our trip in October and the cost was very affordable.

Icelandair - non-stop round trip from Denver was about $500.  2 checked bags $220. When flying there you lose a day. We flew out on Saturday and got there Sunday morning and flew out the next Saturday.

Accommodations - Booking.com was so awesome and easy. Each place ranged $120-$220 a night with a fabulous breakfast.  You have the choice to pre-book and pay later or book now and pay less.

Tickets - You need to buy your hot spring tickets and tours ahead of time.  They only sell so many for certain time slots.  I had a friend try to show up to the Blue Lagoon and was denied because it was sold out.  She was crushed.  We got tickets to the Blue Lagoon (basic was around $60 each), Secret Lagoon ($18 each) and Extreme Iceland jokulsaron glacier cave tour ($200 each).

Car - We rented a 4wd suv with studded tires from rentalcars.com.  It was about $400 for the week. Gas cost us around $300 for the week.  A couple of things that I would recommend. Budget and Hertz are actually in the airport and all the others you have to be shuttled to. I would try to go with the two above.  Also, the SUV's are still pretty small. I would also recommend getting one that is diesel.  Our friends got one and their gas was about $100 for the week. Gas is expensive in Iceland!  We lucked out on weather and all the roads were fine for traveling.



This was our road map for the week.  We really only had 5 days since two were travel days.


Day 1

We flew into KEF airport about 6:00am.  We made it through the airport easy breezy and went straight to Duty Free and loaded up on Icelandic vodka, beer and wine.  It is way cheaper in the airport.  I would recommend getting screw top wine and beer at duty free in the US and getting the Iceland vodka and Brennivin in Iceland.  We hopped on our shuttle to our rental car place (I had to call them to let them know we were there).  Then, we headed to the Blue Lagoon right in time for opening at 8:00am which I am glad because when we left around 11:00 there was a huge line to get in.  We were able to watch the sunrise and the swim up bar was perfect. I got a green smoothie.  The blue lagoon was mesmerizing like a dream. 




We then headed into Reykjavik and had lunch at Saegreifinn.  It was phenomenal!  The seafood soup was incredible and we all picked out a different fresh caught fish that was skewered to be grilled up. We ordered a bottle of wine and sat at their little community table with buoy seats.  I highly recommend!  We went back before leaving Iceland.


We checked into Treasure B&B which was perfectly located and adorable as can be.  We bundled up and went on a walking tour and headed to Hallgrímskirkja church and rode the elevator up to the top to soak in that amazing view of the city.  The architecture of the church is inspired by the Basalt Columns at Vik.  (see above 1st Photo for view).



We walked around town and the famous Laugavegur street and ate pastries, shots of Brennivin, Harpa, viking ship sculpture and by 4:00pm we were so tired from staying up all night on the flight plus all day that I thought I might cry.  So, we started to walk back to our B&B but we made time to have a famous hotdog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.  So good!

Day 2

We woke up super late but luckily in time for a great breakfast and got on the road for the Golden Circle.  We gassed up and went to Bonus (grocery store) and loaded up on snacks and lunch food and ice spikes for your shoes (some of us didn't bring any). Since we got a late start we had to nix a couple of things on our to do list.  In January we had sun from about 9:30am til dark at 5:00pm. We headed first to Thingvellir. I felt like I was in Game of Thrones. 


We then drove by the Geysir. It happened to go off while we were slowly driving so we kept going. After seeing Old Faithful, it was less than impressive but still cool.  We were supposed to have lunch at Fridheimar (cafe inside a tomato greenhouse - everything is made with tomatoes) but we were pressed for time with daylight and our hot springs appointment.  I would have also liked to stop for ice cream at Efstidalur farm and cafe. Next trip, we'll make time.  We got to Gullfoss and you can feel the energy coming off these waterfalls.  What a rush!  We made our way into their cafe/gift shop and bought great souvenirs for the kids and I got a gorgeous Icelandic wool sweater.  Make sure you have their lamb stew. It is $25 a bowl but I practically licked the bowl clean. 


We left Gullfoss with just enough time to drive to the Secret Lagoon hot springs. Our bodies melted into the water after the big day yesterday and being in the car today. This hot spring reminded me of the ones that we go to locally in Colorado.  This is one of the oldest ones in Iceland.  Afterwards, We drove to Selfoss and stayed at Guesthouse Nordheimar which is out of town a little bit hoping to see the Northern Lights. Our host was super helpful and made us a reservation at The Red House in town which specialized in Lobster.  It was really good.  No northern lights that night.  They are very elusive. Our host said that he hadn't seen really good ones since October. Boo



We had to stop and see the Icelandic horses. Their coat is incredibly thick.

Day 3

Woke up earlier today to a fabulous breakfast spread.  We then headed to our first waterfall Seljalandsfoss then to Skógafoss. Both beautiful and uplifting.




We had a picnic lunch at the tables at Skogafoss and then headed to the Skogar Museusm which was impressive!



Skogar
We travelled through incredible landscapes to get to Vik where the Black Sand Beach is.


The Black Sand Beach and Basalt Columns were awe inspiring.  We watched the sunset there and played on the beach as long as possible.  We were all giddy and totally on a natural high.  The waves had such power and the surf would sneak up on you in a heartbeat!




 We left the beach reluctantly and made our way into the picturesque little town of Vik.  We stopped at the megastore of Icewear which had a huge gift shop, cafe and grocery store. We stocked up on a few more souvenirs and lunch food. We then had to get some motivation and drive the rest of the leg in the dark to Hotel Laki.



Hotel Laki is the spot for viewing the northern lights.  It is literally in the middle of nowhere. They will even wake you up and serve hot beverages on their rooftop viewing area. But no northern lights for us.  We ate in their restaurant for dinner which was delicious and the breakfast served the next morning was probably the best of all the places that we stayed. They served us all Brennivin shots with the fermented shark.  I thought it was delicious but two of our friends almost threw up.  haha! Everywhere we did stay all had super high end espresso machines so we filled our travel mugs for the day each time! Delicious.


Day 4

We had a nice leisure morning and late check out to enjoy breakfast and lounge in our rooms because we just had to be at our ice cave tour at 2:00pm.  It was about an hour drive away.  We met at Skaftafell visitor center.  Our original ice cave tour was canceled but they rebooked us with another cave tour.  Apparently, the melting and freezing of the caves during the day and night causes major shifts in the caves themselves.  Our guide showed us caves that were toured last year that were completely blocked now.  This tour was worth every penny!  We hiked up on Jokulsaron glacier and went into an ice cave.  It was created actually where two outlet (fingers) of the glacier meet each other.  The color of blue is exquisite.  Of course we brought some glacier back with us for our evening cocktails.




The beefed up rides were super dope.
We made it to our next hotel Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon and were blown away. So modern and luxurious!  It was the crescendo of the hotel stays.  When I go back, the Fosshotel brand will definitely be my go to place all over the country.  We ate dinner at their restaurant and the food was exceptional and artfully plated.







Cocktails without glacier ice just aren't as good.

Day 5

We made it to Jokulsaron Glacier Bay to see Diamond Beach at Sunrise after a magnificent breakfast at Fosshotel.  It was like a dream.  The sun shining through the glaciers are really like diamonds.  After getting in the full sunrise we hopped back in the car and made the long trek back to Reykjavik which took us about 5 hours.





We checked into Hotel Fron for our last night.  It is a budget hotel but the location is perfect for our last night on the town in search of live music and good eats.  Don't bother with the restaurant in the hotel - it wasn't good.  We trekked down the street and found some good soup served in bread bowls and a dark beer.  It hit the spot!  The soup in Iceland is where it is at.  Our friends headed back to Saegreifinn for more skewers and for some fish & chips.  We took a nap and then headed out on the town around 9:00pm.  During the weekend in Reykjavik they party all night long.  Some places don't even start til 10:00pm and most go until 6:00am. We loved listening to a cover band at Dillon which is a little tricky to find.  You go into the whiskey bar and then find the back stairs that go into the attic.  It was awesome!  We tried Hurrah which is a dance club but we felt 20 years too old.  We then went to Gaukurinn which was next door.  That was a cool place but alas the band was a no show.  Bummer!  By this time it was 2:00am so we went on the hunt for street food.  We found a little square with three food trucks.  We got fares from them all - lobster soup, lobster poboy, cheeseburger, fries and waffles.  YUM!  There was a small chance to see Northern Lights tonight but we were all too tired and looked for them til almost 3:00am.  The next morning we heard that people who took the cruise out to sea from Reykjavik saw them.  

Reykjavik graffiti art is awesome and everywhere

WAFFLES
We spent the last day walking around town experiencing whatever we all needed to get our fill. Then we had to head to the airport and rental car drop off around 1:00pm.  It was a trip of a lifetime and we are all figuring out how to go back.  I absolutely love traveling in the winter and getting the feel of a place and the people. Icelandic people are some of the friendliest and happiest people.  They also said that they feel more American than European and everyone speaks English.  Next time, I'd like to head onto the Northern side.

Sidenotes:

-food and drinks are crazy expensive. $25 bowl of soup. $22 vodka soda. $13 beer. $13 wine.  You can be frugal if you seek it out though.  
-the water tastes amazing here.
-don't be set on seeing the Northern Lights. It's never a sure thing to see, so if you do, then know that it is very special.
-everywhere we went felt so surreal like a dream.
-traveling with friends makes things even more special
-be flexible, tours are often canceled or rescheduled
-I had major jet lag and was just getting better before having to leave.  Next time, I would either get sleeping pills to help or bring Tylenol PM. There is nothing worse than laying in bed so tired and not being able to sleep.
-you can bring any food item back from Iceland to US.  I brought hotdogs, butter, etc...
-when you get back to US, download a customs app so you don't have to wait in the most ridiculous line.  We didn't know this until it was too late.
-check out Icewear and 66north - it's their outdoor clothing/coat gear. Incredible! also, the long underwear there is top notch.
-most hotels have twin beds, when you book as a double they just push them together.
-we used what's app to talk and text for free
-highly recommend getting the wifi hotspot for your car
-everywhere you go is like an Ikea catalog even the gas station bathrooms are lovely



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