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5 highlights when traveling to Iceland

Written by 12 November 2012 17 Comments

When I told people that I was going to Iceland I could always rely on one thing – wide eyes. There is something about Europe’s most northern country that has people instantly fascinated. Iceland is unrivaled in its stunning variety of incredible landscapes, nowhere else in the world will you find this enticing mixture of wild shores, dramatic coastlines and impressive glaciers, no place else experience this enigmatic loneliness and exertion into nature at its rawest.

I only spent about 4 days in Iceland but they were enough to show me that every day in this incredible country was actually full of unique experiences, i was literally on a natural high for the entire time. While it is pretty hard to pick favorites, I do think that certain things have left a really deep impression on me and i therefore want to share them with you as things you must not miss when coming to see Iceland.

1. The Blue Lagoon

I loved the Blue Lagoon right away. The moment I slid into that bathtub warm water, glimpsed at the smily people around me, each one of them happy to be part of this surreal setting. I spotted a few folks with plastic glasses filled with wine and beer when I noticed the swim-up bar to one side of the pool – a swim-up bar! At a natural thermic pool! In that moment I mentally high-fived the person who came up with that idea. With a plan of getting my boozing on – nevermind the fact that it was only noon – I water-walked over to the large pot full of volcanic ash that people rubbed on their faces giggling. Totally thrilled at the idea of combining spa and fun I piled on the mud, already feeling like an Icelandic Cleopatra and the royal feeling would last since right after and out of the blue (lagoon – har har) someone handed me some much appreciated red wine.

Something else I loved about the lagoon was the water massage, provided by a handsome therapist, though let’s face it, pretty much every guy in Iceland qualifies as handsome. I had never heard of water massage before and as I was to find out it was actually invented at the lagoon. Here’s how it works: In a separated pool area you lie down on a floating mat while another mat lies on top of you covering your privates. Underneath you take off your top and the therapist massages your back and legs as you lie on your back. In my line of work I get to test many different types of massages and I might vote this one as my favorite. It was incredibly relaxing and felt amazing!

Definitely enquire about a massage when you go to Blue Lagoon. They’re 10 to 60 minutes long and cost between €20 and €95 – totally worth it! For a full list of treatments on offer click here.

Depending on how much time you’ve got do consider trying out the Lagoon’s restaurant Lava as it’s got a great reputation for meat dishes in particular. Its setting is spectacular as well.

2. The Aurora

When I first saw it it hit me like a hammer. I actually screamed and just could not believe my luck when right in front of me in the night sky there they were – the Northern Lights. It was around 8pm, we stopped the car immediately, got out, walked onto a field where the roadside lights  weren’t shining as brightly and just stood there in awe. The aurora moved much faster than I would have thought and there were streaks of color in every direction I looked at. I took out my camera, set it on the highest possible ISO and snapped one picture after another. While the auora we saw with our own eyes in the sky did not appear to have a proper color (it seemed to be a mostly distant white) on camera they were green. Bright shining green.


3. Roadtripping

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Roadtripping is the best way of traveling any country in the world. In Iceland it’s almost a necessity if you wish to see the country as, apart from the one in Reykjavik, there are no airports, no train system and only limited options for bus travel. But even if you’re not the best of drivers like myself, given that there is next to no traffic on the streets, Iceland is a great place for driving. With  an estimated population of only 320.000, most of which lives in the capitol, you are mostly alone out on the road (very romantic and adventorous), with small villages here and there but always stunning nature to admire.

As we drove, we came past herds of horses and sheep, waterfalls, dramatic cliffs, wide open fields, gorgeous mountain ranges and more than one beautiful rainbow. Here and there a road sign will indicate a small settlement after the turn – be sure to check out all of them, you never know what gems you might find. As far as I was concerened every kilometer felt like a gift.


4. Helicopter ride over Reykjavik 

It was a beautiful morning. Around 12°C, blue skies, next to no clouds. An ideal day for a helicopter ride! We stayed at the Icelandair hotel which was conveniently located right next to Kevlavik airport where we met with our pilot who would take us on top of a mountain for the most incredible view over Reykjavik. This was my second time in a helicopter and once again I had a blast! I have a bit of a fear of heights and even flying planes makes me uneasy more often than not but something about helicopters just totally relaxes me – maybe because they remind me of toys. We stayed on top of the mountain for about 15 minutes, took an insane amount of photos and flew back to the airport. The experience – if you’re interested – costs $220 per person and can be best arranged with Norðurflug. I highly recommend it!


5. Food in Reykjavik

I should have known that I would be in for some amazing food, having never had anything below awesome in any scandinavian country but after careful consideration I think restaurants in Reykjavik take the cake. Every meal we had here was outstanding, special and full of flavor. The specialty tends to be meat and fish but while vegetarians may have to look a little harder for a good meal they will still find many tasty options.

There are a ton of great restaurants in the Icelandic capitol but my big favorite (and dare I say one of my top 3 international favorites) was the Grill Market. There is so much to say about it – the athmosphere is sexy yet vivacious, the lights are dimmed to perfection and the interior is edgy yet homey. And the food! Oh my god the food. If you come here for the first time don’t even think about not trying the so called tasting menu – a selection of 12 – you have read that correctly – 12 courses of divine food. Everything from lobster over whale to the finest lamb will be served and by the time desert rolls around you will curse the chef for making such great starters and mains that you have no space left for the even more incredible sweet treats at the end.

Other amazing dinner options are Dill or the Fish market and Laundromat Cafe for breakfast and lunch. Mind you, none of those are ideal for the low budget backpacker but I guarantee they’re worth saving for.

Have you been to Iceland? What were your highlights?

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  • Contiki Rulz said:

    Iceland is a fantastic place to visit..in fact in winter is also very cool…sit in the blue lagoon while surrounded by snow…bliss!

  • Carina said:

    lovely pictures and nice hints! As it happens I wrote a post about my Iceland top ten just two days ago– I added your post to the helpful links at the bottom! :) ( http://crriena.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/my-iceland-top-ten/ )

  • jaklien said:

    I’m going next month!! Can’t wait to do all these things!!

  • Julie McNamee said:

    Thanks for tips Katja.

    I’ve been once and loved the place – the landscape and the people way made up for the not great weather I had. I’m going again in March and I’ll take a list of those restaurants with me. One I can recommend that wasn’t too expensive was Fish & Chips – a healthier version of your classic fish and chips and very tasty indeed, with their own version of mayonnaise – skyronnaise – here’s their website http://www.fishandchips.is/eng_menu.htm

    And my own post about the country http://www.quirkytravel.com/miscellaneous/lovely-reykjavik/

    Thank you!

  • Sonya said:

    Iceland is such an unforgettable travel destination. Fab post, I would definitely add horse riding Icelandic horses the next time you go back.

  • jess said:

    Iceland is such an incredible destination and everyone that goes there seem to fall in love with it! It was too cloudy when I was there to see the northern lights so I’m jealous of you!

    I wrote about my experience in Iceland here, http://travelingponytail.blogspot.com/2013/02/iceland.html

  • Molly said:

    I’m going this summer! Can’t wait after reading this:)

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  • Patty said:

    What a wonderful article. I am going to Iceland at the end of September and these tips are such a huge help! Looking forward to it. Thanks, Katja!

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  • Jenny said:

    Which month were you there?

    I am planning a trip and would like to go in the summer but I would also like to see the Northern Lights. It seems you were there at the perfect time as by looking at the pictures the weather was beautiful.

  • Kathi said:

    Hey Jenny, I’m not entirely sure when Katja was actually there. I lived in Iceland from January until May. For Northern Lights you would have to go between November/December until February/March. To see them there needs to be the right sun activity, it has to be cold enough, dark enough and most of all clear sky. However the endless days of summer have their own appeal and make a holiday to Iceland even better (in my opinion). Of course, as anywhere, you can’t always predict when it’s sunny and when it’s rainy…

  • Christel said:

    + horseback riding of course :P

  • Tag Along Deb said:

    What wonderful photos! I too fell in love with Iceland when I visited a few years ago. You certainly did hit on most of the top spots. I would add the stunning Glacier Bay. I also adored all of the many sheep on our road trip as well as some amazing waterfalls.

  • Bex said:

    Going for 3 nights as a stopover back from the States in August. Going to stay in an AirBnB and also hostel for one night.

    Can’t wait! Thanks for these tips.

  • Gemma said:

    I went to Iceland in February this year. It was amazing! I used airbnb to find somewhere to stay in the centre of Reykjavik. When we arrived we found ourselves in a snow storm for the first 2 days. But we didn’t let that stop us. There’s plenty of things to still see and do.

    I must say though that everything about this trip was extraordinary. The blue lagoon was fantastic. We did the Golden Circle tour. The places we stopped at were amazing – the Geysir, Gulfoss Waterfalls and Thingvellir National Park. Such beautiful places.

    We were lucky enough to see the northern lights. It was bitterly cold, the coldest i have ever been in my life but being out in the middle of nowhere in minus 14 degree temperatures and seeing them is something i will never forget. And to the end the trip we went hiking up a glacier on the side of a volcano.

    I love this country!

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