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What We Did In Iceland

Iceland has been on my travel radar for a long time now, but for some reason I found myself pushing it to the back burner again and again. In my mind, Iceland was a destination that’s more for the type of person who enjoys hiking 20 miles in the rain and then sleeping in a tent than for those (like me) who consider themselves outdoorsy in the sense that they enjoy reading books on blankets in fields and inhaling fresh air. Still, Jake is the former type of person, and I had been wanting to surprise him with a fun trip for a while… so my mind kept going back to Iceland. I knew Iceland was expensive (because of how isolated it is, restaurants/bars/drinks, etc. are notoriously $$$), but I thought I could do it relatively inexpensively if we cooked our own meals and I used credit card points for the flights. It turned out to be a relatively budget-friendly trip compared to some of our other vacations lately, and it felt really doable for a long weekend (though be warned: it will leave you wanting more — but more on that in a bit). In retrospect, I truly don’t know what took me so long to book a trip to Iceland. The flight is ridiculously easy compared to getting to other European destinations, and the country is way less intimidating than I thought. No matter what your level of outdoorsy-ness, you need to see this place. Trust me.

We’ll go over all the specifics of where we stayed and what we did below, but in general, the only negative aspect of Iceland I could identify is the fact that there is so much to see and do that you will feel like there isn’t enough time if you spend less than a 7-10 days there. Having said that, do I think it was worth it to spend a long weekend there? Absolutely. Now onto the details!

Getting There & Getting Around

As I mentioned above, I used credit card points to book our flights (I have a Chase Sapphire, but beyond that… I am not very travel credit card savvy so I can’t help you much if you have specific questions about that, unfortunately) which were through JetBlue (Philly to Boston) and IcelandAir (Boston to Keflavik Airport, which is outside of Reykjavik). Flights are pretty straight forward, obviously, but the one thing you should be aware of in Iceland is that you absolutely need to rent a car and you absolutely need to rent one before hand. The earlier you can rent one, the better rate you’ll probably get. Pretty much everyone coming to Iceland is renting a car, so making sure you get the type of vehicle you want becomes easier when you book it further ahead of time. It’s easy to find SUVs, automatic cars, etc. but the prices go up the closer you book to your travel date (or you lose options altogether). It is *not* cheap, but it is 100 percent worth it. The main highways in Iceland are really smooth, easy to navigate, and beautiful, so it’s worth it.

Where We Stayed

I was debating staying at an Airbnb or these glass cabins for our visit, but it was this Airbnb that finally sold me. It is one of the most spectacular, quaint, clean, and thoughtful Airbnbs I’ve ever visited. I could go on and on, but honestly the reviews and photos on the listing say it all. The value was incredible. The only thing I’d note is that the bed is lofted and a bit of a (quick but steep) climb up a ladder, so it might be a problem for really little kids or people with mobility issues. If you stay here, the Airbnb host, Kristjan, basically provides you will all the information you could possibly need (and more) about the area and property, but just know there is an endless amount to explore and see nearby. Though, to be honest, my biggest problem with the Airbnb was that it was so comfortable and gorgeous that it made it very hard to leave to see other places. But, you know, a good problem.

What We Did

Day 1: After we got a shuttle at the airport, we picked up our car at the rental place, and drove into Reykjavik from Keflavik (~45 min). We parked (parking was easy to find and pay for) and got some coffee and pastries in downtown Reykjavik while exploring. We also got our first Icelandic hot dogs, which you’ve probably already heard me talk about on Instagram a lot, so I’ll spare you. In short: Order them with everything, but be cautious if onions don’t agree with you. After that, we stopped at a grocery store and stocked up on essentials for our cabin (more on that later). We drove to our cabin, settled in, met the neighboring Icelandic horses, and finally got to sleep after a 30+ hour travel day.

Day 2: After getting some much-needed rest, doing some work, and making breakfast, we drove into the nearest town to explore, got some last-minute supplies and another hot dog, and then drove to a local, completely free hot spring. You can find info on that here. We also got a flat tire which was… a journey. We also did another short nighttime hike around our cabin (the benefits of endless summer sun) and watched the sun “set” until 2 a.m. AKA drank wine and watched the colors of the sky change but… never get dark. A perfect memory.

Day 3: We woke up late on this day, but given the endless sun, we decided to have a road trip day. We drove to Husavik (yes, the town in Eurovision) in Northern Iceland on a gorgeous, sunny day and it was one of the most spectacular drives I’ve ever been on. It was 5 hours there and 5 hours back, but again… the endless sun makes everything seem possible. There isn’t a ton to do in Husavik, but we did get very good fish and chips at a place called fish & chips and visited the GeoSea thermal baths which were phenomenal… just a wonderful experience. We even saw a whale while we were here! There are a lot of whale watching tours in Husavik, but we didn’t have enough time.

Day 4: I was craving a day to just hang out our cabin and read outside in the sun, so we stayed at the Airbnb and had a chill day all-around. I felt a bit guilty because, again, there is *SO* much to see in Iceland and everything is just a drive away, but I’m glad I listened to my gut. Jake went on some more hikes and I just enjoyed the sun and cool breeze.

Day 5: We went back to Reykjavik, stopped at Braud & Co. for pastries as everyone on Instagram insisted we did (worth it), and then explored the city a bit more before grabbing lunch at Rok (very expensive as everything is in Iceland, but very good) before heading to the airport.

And that was it! The cool thing about Iceland is you could drive around all day, every day in the summer and never run out of daylight and things to see. It’s hard to explain until you’re there, but there is something gorgeous around every single corner. We didn’t visit one major waterfall and still probably say 100 of them throughout our various drives.

What To Bring

I had a lot of trouble packing for this trip because I wasn’t sure what to expect. We got insanely lucky with 3 full days of bright, sunny skies and no clouds, but this also meant I got pretty sunburnt which wasn’t great. Anyway, here’s what I’d suggest bringing:

  • Good hiking boots // You don’t need fancy footwear in Iceland. Some classic, comfortable hiking boots will be good for all terrains (and there are a lot of different terrains). My favorite are these Columbia boots.
  • Sunscreen // If you go in summer and end up with endless days of sunshine like we did, you’ll need to reapply throughout the day. The sun is VERY intense and it surprised me. Never have I ever reapplied sunscreen at 10:30 p.m., but there’s a first for everything.
  • A multi-tool // This is something Jake wished he had when we got our flat tire, because one of the tools we had in the car ended up not working correctly. We figured it out, but the multi-took would have been helpful.
  • A bathing suit // A bathing suit might not be the first thing that comes to mind when packing for Iceland, but there are thermal spas and pools everywhere and most of them are open year-round. Also: you can use my code OLIVIA15 for 15% off your Andie Swim order!
  • An eye mask // Jake luckily thought to bring eye masks, but it was still very strange watching the sun just… no set. Definitely pack one if you’ll be in the country in spring or summer.

Beyond that, I would suggest just packing basics… jeans, leggings, comfortable tops, hats. Nothing too fancy, and layering is key.

Tips/Tricks

As I like to preface every travel post with, I am not an expert on this place, but here are some things that would have been helpful for me to know…

  • If you go in summer, the sun will really not set. We drove until 1 a.m. on one evening and it was completely light out when we got home. This makes time seem a bit different and it does give you more energy for longer. Worth keeping in mind if you want to see as much as possible in a short period of time.
  • A LOT of people seem to rent camper vans in Iceland and see the country that way. While we were there, the weather was so perfect that I can imagine it being an incredible way to save money (combining rental car + accommodation budget) and see a ton of the country. If we visited again, we might do things that way.
  • Bring binoculars! There is stuff to see everywhere in Iceland. Definitely suggest bringing a pair no matter how you’re exploring the country.
  • As I mentioned, we got a flat tire while we were there , but we also ran into a family dealing with one a couple days after that (and on a day where the car repair shop was closed). That is to say… if you’re driving a lot (and you will drive a lot in Iceland), flat tires are a possibility. Luckily, Jake knew how to change one to the spare, but I didn’t so… just worth keeping in mind if you’re not an experienced driver, etc.
  • I did a little research on how to spend less money on groceries when we were there, and it turned out the answer was pretty much the same as it is here… opt for frozen options, vegetarian options, and avoid meat/seafood, etc. Keep things simple. We spent maybe $150 total on groceries for five days, including 3 bottles of wine and 6 or so beers.

On The Radar For Next Time

Since we planned most of our trip around our Airbnb’s location, we ended up spending most of our time in west/north Iceland, but we still didn’t even scratch the surface of just that area. If I were to visit Iceland again, I would consider the camper van option (yes, even as someone who is not a fan of camping) and spend a week or so traveling around the outer perimeter of the country (this is a common itinerary), stopping at all the beaches and mountains and sights that we missed this time around. I also wouldn’t hesitate to visit in late May again. It was absolutely stunning, stunning weather.

For such a quick trip in a fairly concentrated location, I don’t know how much this post will offer you if you’re planning a more comprehensive visit to Iceland, but maybe there are some tidbits in there that will make your journey a little easier! The truth is that it’s really hard to go wrong in Iceland. You could show up with nothing more than a car rental reservation and a place to stay and have the trip of a lifetime. It really is just that beautiful.

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