I really don’t know how to do this. I mean, yes, I know how to write, but as for a travel blog? I will give it my best shot!
I was overwhelmed by the number of people who were interested in my impromptu, solo trip to Reykjavik, Iceland. Seriously–I never anticipated not only the curiosity about what I did and where I went, but the outreach about shared experiences. It turns out far more people than I knew have been to Iceland. I heard from some in the short time span between when I booked my ticket and I walked to the gate to depart (I was clearly not prepared or very informed for my trip), and from others while there and after. I will share everything I have learned with you, which isn’t THAT much with only three days spent in country, but hopefully you can know more than I did going into my visit.
First of all, Iceland was a “bucket list” destination for me, and in all honesty, I figured just getting to Reykjavik was good enough to fulfill my objective. I quickly learned that wouldn’t be entirely true. While it is a beautiful city with restaurants, shopping and plenty of sights, if one REALLY wants to experience the Iceland you see in photos, you’ll want to venture well outside of the city. Fortunately, that isn’t very difficult to do. You can rent a car or take any number of guided tours. I was only there for a weekend, traveled alone and was fairly unprepared, so I opted to take a day tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides and I am very glad I did. More on that later. I think a day in Reykjavik is plenty if you are limited on time.
I think your next consideration should be what you want to see and do. There are any number of breathtaking natural sights: waterfalls, geysers, geological formations, glaciers, wildlife, northern lights. The availability of the attractions will vary based on the time of year and the weather conditions. For example, if you want to see the puffins, you’ll want to visit in the summertime. If you’re after the northern lights, you’ll want to be there November-March.
Next, you will want to consider how much time you have to explore. While I did the Golden Circle tour (which was recommended to me as best considering I had ONE full day to tour), had I wanted to walk on a glacier, I would have needed another day as travel time from place to place can be a couple of hours or more. I have spoken to people who feel really satisfied with what they accomplished in Iceland in 5-6 days, having the ability to see the city and travel south and east. Some of those same people felt like while that time period allowed freedom and flexibility and a great cross-section of activities, that some of the experiences felt repetitive and by the end they were just checking boxes. In retrospect, I would have done more homework on exactly what I wanted to see in person and dedicated two full days to sightseeing.
Here are some random notes as they come to me that I hope you find helpful if you visit Iceland:
I flew Icelandair from Chicago. It was a direct flight and it was really easy and comfortable. The flight left in the evening and arrived the next morning. It’s only a 6-hr flight from Chicago, but with a 5 hour time change it felt longer upon arrival. The service on the airline was great.
I asked a flight attendant to suggest some places to eat and drink before falling asleep and drooling on myself, and when I awoke I found a note from him with a list of places (and a drool stain on my shirt)!
The immigration process was VERY easy, and I was ready to head to the city in a matter of moments. KEF (Keflavik) airport is modern and nice. but it appeared MANY flights arrived at the same time and it was busy and hectic. Be prepared for that. Most of the travelers flew all night and walked around like zombies. I was right there with them.
Side note: If a dedicated trip to Iceland isn’t justifiable, their stopover program might be of interest, where one has the ability to “layover” for up to a week.
It a 45 minute drive to Reykjavik. There are a couple of bus services that will take you there. I am glad someone told me ahead of time that cabs are VERY expensive. In the States we would arrive in a new city and take a cab or Uber to the hotel, for example. In Reykjavik, the cab ride from the airport will be $150+. The bus transport, round trip, was well less than half. Even though I hate strangers for the most part, I chose FlyBus and saved some money. Every seat was taken, and some passengers had to transfer buses at a central depot in the city, but it was clean and there was Wi-Fi on the bus, which was helpful as I didn’t switch over my data to an Icelandic carrier. I only had to take one bus and they dropped me right in front of my hotel
Side note: They take credit cards everywhere, I never exchanged any cash. If given the choice, take the US conversion option on the handheld credit card machine. Gratuity and service charges were included everywhere.
Another side note: IF you are a big drinker, buy duty free booze. Being a drunk in Reykjavik ain’t cheap.
I stayed at the Fosshotel Reykjavik, which I later learned was the largest hotel in all of Iceland. It is a chain there and I found the room sparse, but clean and well maintained. The bed was comfortable, and the bathroom was pretty large. I spent very little time in the room, so it didn’t really matter. But they offered free Wi-Fi, had a restaurant (with a breakfast buffet that was underwhelming for $32) and a bar. They don’t guarantee a room until 4pm, and I had to negotiate to get one around 2p. Considering I arrived somewhat early in the morning (and it appeared many others did as well), I was initially a little frustrated that I didn’t have a place to at least freshen up, change, or even take a short nap. This policy isn’t much different from any other hotel, so I can’t complain that much. It did leave me with no other option but to hit the ground running and explore, which looking back was probably a great thing. Had I been able to nap, considering the time change and flight, I may have wasted more of the day than I would have wanted sleeping. I am a snooze button monster.
The location was about .8m from the downtown district, but not far from most of the shopping and a quick walk to the waterfront. While downtown was not right outside my door as it is with the Hotel Borg or the Radisson Blu (a couple of more central examples), I found that the walk from the hotel to the places you’d want to see and visit in Reykjavik was reasonable and easy and there was plenty in between. I think I walked 10m while there.
Seeing as my room wasn’t ready and it was a beautiful day (a little chilly), I set out for a walk. This is when I realized that most of what I had seen online of Reykjavik I could check out in a few hours. I initially walked to the Reykjavik Art Museum as a starting point, and after initially meandering to another branch of the museum system that wasn’t exhibiting anything, I hailed a cab and landed at the more central, contemporary museum. The cab driver asked me if I was lonely. I wasn’t. Ever.
The museum building was very cool, but the art was limited at the time of my trip. An exhibition by a very famous Icelandic artist Erro was being built so much of the space was dedicated to that pending showing.
I kept walking, saw a ton of tourist shops, restaurants and bars. My exploration began around 10a, and I got the impression most of the city came to life a little later in the day. I continued down the waterfront, saw the harbor and a few city monuments, before mistakenly stumbling upon Solfar, when I was really just trying to take a great selfie in front of the spectacular water and mountains along the waterfront (no selfie stick). When you travel alone, you have to accept that you’ll be taking a bunch of selfies.
I was warned that the food and drink was expensive, and it was. An entree could be $40-50US+. A drink could be $25. While I didn’t get to try all of the street food that Reykjavik is known for, I did try an “Icelandic hot dog.” A chef at a high-end restaurant where I dined for dinner told me the hot dog isn’t really a “thing” with locals, but it was pretty good. If you’re wondering what’s on this dog: “[it’s] served on a warm, steamed bun topped with raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs.”
I ate a quick lunch at a cafe before taking a nap and heading out for dinner. Another friend referred me to her tour guide from when she visited (shout out to Shelly and Steinar) who recommended Grillmarket for dinner. I had a gin cocktail (a lot of gin there), grilled king crab and a grilled filet.
In fairness, I initially asked the server what I HAD to have, and she suggested two entrees for which they are well known: whale and horse. At first, I disregarded her picks, but after talking briefly with the chef and having him reiterate her suggestions, I ordered the grilled whale and thought it tasted like an oily, tender beef filet. I couldn’t live with myself had I not tried a local dish and I don’t regret it. My meal was around $140US.
Lunch and dinner the following day were provided on the tour. We visited a local tomato farm for lunch (unbelievable tomato soup and fresh bread) and dined on lamb chops at a small, regional restaurant while on the tour. More on that, next.
I had a beer (Gull beer, an Icelandic beer, and it’s delicious) at a place called ROK which my flight attendant recommended. I only wish I’d had time to eat there as the tapas-style fare looked delicious.
More than one person messaged me about Braud & Co. and their cinnamon rolls. As you can see by their TripAdvisor page, these things are tried and true and DID NOT DISAPPOINT (click here)
I am SO glad on my only real full day that I took a tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides. They knew my circumstances and offered me three day tours from which to choose, while really encouraging one: The Golden Circle tour. I’ll let you check out the details.
This is NOT a 60-person tour. We were on a much smaller bus with approximately 10 other people and a guide. The tour was intimate and engaging and everyone in the group got along well. Fortunately, everyone stayed focused and the tour moved from place to place with ease.
This tour had a great mix of sightseeing, food, culture, a visit to a geothermal bath, and a hunt for the northern lights. While we didn’t see the lights that night (I got lucky and caught a glimpse from the Reykjavik waterfront the night before), I give our guide “Thor” a TON of credit for his efforts to appease our group and search for them while many of our 10-person group slept on the 16-person bus. It’s a long day when you partake in this tour. We started at noon and went until midnight, but I was satisfied with the balance of experience and the usage of time. Sure, there are SO many other things I’ve seen in photos that I would have liked to see, but I had to be efficient with my timeline and I was very grateful for this opportunity.
I highly recommend Icelandic Mountain Guides and “Thor.”
The FlyBus ride back to Keflavik was pretty painless. When I booked a roundtrip at the airport on day 1, they gave me a return ticket and all I had to do was let them know when I wanted them to pick me up at the hotel via email. There was a bus stop right by the front door (12), and the bus was on time. I did have to transfer on the trip back, and the busses were completely full again, but overall it was a seamless process.
The airport (KEF) is a madhouse. Or at least it was both times I was there. I recommend self-check in to avoid some of the lines, but they were ALL long. I did fly Icelandair’s Saga Class (similar to domestic first class) which provided a slightly shorter line and access to a special waiting area in the airport. The Saga Club made the up charge worthwhile: it was above the general waiting area and was quiet and stocked with food and drink. I was grateful after a whirlwind trip for a place to take a breath before boarding and leaving for Chicago. The immigration process on exit is a breeze, as well.
I didn’t go to Blue Lagoon. I know, I know. The tour I took included a geothermal bath and I was afraid the place was too “commercial” (which I have confirmed, it is). But. in retrospect, it is a signature Icelandic experience, and given more time, I would have gone. There is also a fine dining restaurant there which I hear is excellent. It’s near the airport, so, plan to go on your way from or to the airport. Just do it.
I wish I’d had one more day. I feel confident that just one additional day of sightseeing would have rounded out the experience, and left me with fewer iconic Icelandic selfies missing from my Instagram feed.
I would like to have eaten at Fish Market.
I also regret not flirting with my insanely attractive Icelandair first officer on my trip to KEF. A beautiful blonde woman who is also an airline pilot? I may have missed my opportunity at lifetime fulfillment. ♥ ♥ ♥
I recommend Iceland. It was an easy trip (especially from airports which provide a direct flight like Chicago), the people were as a whole very friendly and accommodating, the sightseeing is magnificent, and the food and drink is good. As a solo traveler, I always felt safe and there was plenty to do. Leave this one on your bucket list and make an effort to get there. I can’t wait to get back in the summertime when the puffins are in residence. In the meantime my little stuffed puffin toy (for sale everywhere you look) will serve as a reminder of another Icelandic adventure.
View this post on Instagram
🔊 One of our fantastic guides, Borgþór Stefánsson (@borgthorstefansson), took Fred from Fred and Angi In The Morning (@fredangi) on the Golden Circle & Magical Nights tour last Saturday. They had such an awesome time that Fred invited Borgþór to call in and chat on their radio show. It is a hilarious and insightful interview. You can listen to the full version on our Facebook page. For our Golden Circle & Magical Nights tour check the link in bio. #icelandicmountainguides