Although this travel guide is a little late, I figured it’s still worth sharing! Nick (my amazing boyfriend) and I were lucky enough to spend a few days on a trip to Iceland in October 2017, and I can honestly say it’s a country that should be at the top of everyone’s travel lists. With affordable plane tickets (sometimes less than $200!) courtesy of budget airlines like WOW Air, a trip to Iceland is even possible on a student’s limited budget. So for those of us looking for a vacation that’s a little more adventurous than the average beach resort, a visit to Iceland may be just the trip to book this spring.
Our trip to Iceland was put together on pretty short notice, and it was booked mainly because I was feeling pretty restless and unfulfilled career-wise last fall. I chose this destination based on the fact that the country is relatively affordable compared to other European nations, the short travel time from Toronto, and of course the gorgeous scenery. I’m no travel blogger, but I’m happy to share some highlights and must-see attractions for any first timer’s stay in Reykjavik!
1. Relax at The Blue Lagoon
What would any trip to Iceland be without a stop at the world-famous Blue Lagoon? This actually happened to be our very first taste of Iceland, since Nick and I headed straight there to relax after our flight landed. We even got there in time to watch the sun rising over the turquoise-blue waters of the Lagoon – definitely an unforgettable experience. We made sure to book our spots in advance with their premium package that includes towels, a complimentary drink and face masks in the lagoon. We made the mistake of staying a little too long in the water and getting dehydrated when we go out, so I’d recommend taking breaks in and out of the water if you’re looking to spend an entire day relaxing.
2. Hike Iceland’s National Parks
Iceland has easily some of the most recognizable natural landscapes, especially since it’s risen to fame as the shooting location for HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones. What watching the show didn’t prepare me for though, was the way that the terrain still looked so rugged and untouched by humans. The best way to experience this firsthand is to spend some time outdoors in one of Iceland’s many natural parks – either book a guided tour, or rent a car and drive yourself out. Nick and I chose to go with the Golden Circle tour, one of the best and most recommended tours that takes you to several stopping points around Reykjavik on a full day’s tour.
3. Stroll Through the Streets of Reykjavik
One of my absolute favourite ways to get to know a city is by walking aimlessly and just taking in my surroundings. With its colourful architecture and Scandinavian design, Reykjavik’s streets are an Instagram photo-op just waiting to happen. Definitely stop by The Icelandic Opera to take in the stunning building before grabbing a meal at one of the many restaurants in the Old Harbour right up the street. Be warned though, meals are pricey.
The scenic waterfront does get a little chilly, so take it in during the day, and definitely pack a few extra layers if you plan on seeing the city by foot. If you’re opposed to full wandering, another option is to book a City Walk tour led by local guides. The trip that I took was super informative, and we gained some insider tricks to the city straight from our guide. The walks are pay what you can, and are definitely an affordable way to get some insight into the city.
4. Grab Coffee at One of the City’s Cafes
One thing I certainly wasn’t expecting about Reykjavik was just how many coffee shops we came across in the city. Maybe it’s the cold weather, or the near 24-hour darkness in the winter, but the Icelandic sure seem to love their coffee. Make sure to also pick up some pastries from Brauð & Co. because those cinnamon buns are TO DIE FOR.
5. Search for The Northern Lights
Finally, one of the things that I’m happiest to say I knocked off my bucket list is that Nick and I were able to see the Northern Lights in person. Icelandic weather is pretty finicky, and can change drastically from one minute to the next, so it did take a bit of luck to pull this off. There are apps and websites (we used this one) that can help track the best areas of the country to see the Lights, but the best time of the year to see them is between October and March. Just follow the weather tracker to a patch of clear skies, and away from the light pollution of the city, and with a little patience (and some blankets) you should be set.
Overall we had a great time in the short few days that we spent in Iceland, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a unique trip.
All photos courtesy of Kate Mendonca & Nick Pyren