Most destinations are easy for me to envision. Generally speaking, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m getting myself into. Google is a dear friend of the traveler, and I’m not ashamed to admit to using it with abandon. I don’t always love being far from home, so knowing what I’m up against without compromising the experience or the unexpected circumstances that can accompany the unknown is comforting. This is not to say I don’t embrace blindly hurling myself into adventure on occasion, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to appreciate preparedness and the comforts that come along with it.
Aside from being one of the most remarkably foreign and awe-inspiring landscapes these little eyes have ever seen, Iceland was NOTHING like I’d prepared for. For whatever reason, I couldn’t wrap my brain around this island. In the months leading up to our departure, I’d stared at photo after photo. I’d read all the blogs. I’d followed all the Instagramers. No amount of research could have prepared me for this trip. And I mean this in the best way.
From the second we stepped off of plane and onto the frigid tarmac at 7am, I was overwhelmed by a sense of wonder. Although the sun had yet to rise, the sherbet orange of first light was illuminating the landscape. And even from the tourist-laden airport, I could feel the magic permeating my being.
A quick shuttle stuffed full of humans transported us to the terminal. Customs consisted of a long, but fast line, a smiling agent, a passport stamp, and a warm “welcome to Iceland.”
Our travel partner beat us to the terminal so snagged our rental truck. We rented from Lagoon Rentals, a quick shuttle away. If you are going in the winter months and plan to head out of Reykjavik (which you absolutely should or you’ll miss some of the most amazing parts of the island), don’t skimp on your vehicle. Get big, get reliable, get wifi. Even if it costs more, fork over the cash. We chose a Toyota Land Cruiser outfitted with wireless (we also had T-Mobile providing us with pretty acceptable data throughout the trip) and I couldn’t imagine driving anything smaller or less equipped. More on the roads later!
Keflavik International Airport is about 50 km outside of Reykjavik. This charming city was the home of our first Airbnb. It was a relatively spacious apartment that smelled of stale smoke and sulfur, but was clean and comfortable for our first night after a whole lot of travel. We would have slept just about anywhere by bedtime, so having a bed was just a bonus.
Our first order of business upon arrival was sustenance. As luck would have it, our first meal at Bergsson Mathus was perfection. So good, in fact, that we came back the following morning for another breakfast on the way out of town. Breads, meats, cheeses, and the butter. All the butter. MY GOD THE BUTTER — perfect in every way.
Reykjavik seemed to have lots to offer. Not a lot was open while we were there (early morning combined with Sunday?), so after gorging, we simply wandered and window shopped. It was adequate for our tired bodies.
Be sure to stop into BRAUÐ & CO Organic Bakery to pick up a loaf or 12 of the sourdough. Mind. Blown.
The rest of our half day in Reykjavik consisted of a whole lot of wandering, a much needed car nap, a hearty vegan lunch at Gló Restaurant, and then a drive back towards the airport to visit the Blue Lagoon.
If you plan to visit the Blue Lagoon, you’ll need to make your reservation well in advance. Our hope was to head straight to the lagoon after our red eye (the lagoon is on the way from the airport to Reykjavik). But even three weeks in advance, we had a hard time finding a reservation. We had to settle for 7pm which meant driving to Reykjavik then heading back to the Blue Lagoon. Although not ideal, it worked out fine and ended up being worth the extra 30 minute drive (to and from).
A few notes about the Blue Lagoon. It’s VERY busy. It’s VERY touristy. It’s VERY expensive. It’s absolutely worth it. The facilities are modern and well-kept (I think they’re building a hotel now? Parts of it were under construction while we were there). The lagoon itself is large enough that you don’t feel like you’re in a bathtub with half of the island. The water is a brilliant, milky blue with the temperature of a perfect bath, so the colder it is outside, the better it feels. Did I mention it was cold outside? The 15 foot walk from the locker room to the bath is basically 10 seconds of pure torture. But the first toe into the water makes it all worth it. Stay as long as you can, grab a complimentary mud mask and a glass of champagne, and soak it all in. I recommend bringing your own towel or you’ll have to rent one. We brought Turkish towels and they were excellent (light and fast drying). Flip flops are also helpful.
If you’re into the city scene, give yourself some time in Reykjavik. It’s unique and quaint and likely full of treasures. The goal of this trip was not city time, so we only scheduled a short stay in the area before hitting the road. But I imagine it has a lot to offer and welcome the chance to explore more.
Next up: the road to Vík!