Out and About: Iceland, the Land of Fire and Ice
It’s been a dream of mine for a very long time to visit Iceland. Like a lot of people, Iceland was on my radar after I first heard The Sugarcubes (Bjork’s band before she was a solo act). After talking to an Icelandic friend and reading some books on Iceland in the mid 90s, I began plotting and planning to visit one day.
Last year, I came into a little bit of inherited money. I wanted to use it to pay our taxes, but (thankfully) my husband intervened and told me to spend it on something I always wanted. Within just a few seconds, I had zeroed in on visiting Iceland. Now that I live on the East Coast, it’s a really manageable and affordable 5-6 hour flight away. We booked flights and an apartment through Airbnb and started planning our trip.
At the very beginning stages of planning, I found out I was pregnant! We decided to plan our trip as a babymoon and enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation before we had our son. Like I mentioned in my hygge post on Tuesday, I love traveling in winter, and I think the colder temperatures helped make it a more relaxing babymoon full of warm meals, gentle traveling, and a lot of down time.
We had heard that Iceland can get crazy expensive once you arrive, so we were careful to book reasonably priced flights and an Airbnb with a kitchen to cut down on costs. We flew with Wow Airlines, a new budget airline. We saved almost $1500 on our trip just by avoiding the more expensive IcelandAir.
Once everyone was booked, we boarded our plane and took off! Wow Airlines was far, far nicer than I would have thought considering it was a budget airline. Yes, you have to pay for every last thing, but the service was great, the flight attendants were very professional, the food we bought was tasty, and the plane was brand new. I love flying and once dreamed of being a flight attendant, so all these little details make a big difference in my trip.
We arrived very early in the morning and had quite a few hours before we could check into our Airbnb. During January, the sun generally rises around 11:30am and sets around 4:30pm, so it was pitch black, icy, and cold walking around the city. It was a Sunday and we were able to find a mass in Christ the King Cathedral. There’s something I love so much about going to mass when we travel: it immediately takes away that tourist feeling and plugs you into a little community the minute you arrive. In my faith, the Christmas season extends into January, so this gorgeous cathedral was full of candles, evergreen boughs, and cheery decorations. The timing worked out for us to attend the mass in Icelandic, which is a very special experience. The Christmas carols during the service had many melodies I recognized, so we were able to kind of sound out the Icelandic while we sang. It seemed like the mass was maybe half in English and half in Icelandic, so we were able to understand most of it. What a perfect start to our day!
After mass, we went from coffee shop to coffee shop, staying warm and trying to limit the amount of trekking we did on our first day. Coffee shops in Reykjavik are absolutely everywhere and so delicious. Iceland has somewhat of a ban on foreign-owned chains, so there were no Starbucks coffee shops around. This actually made our trip better! Everywhere we went, the coffee shops had delicious drinks, personal service, unique menus, and that special touch that an independent coffee shop brings. We did enjoy Kaffitar, which is a small chain of shops in Iceland. One thing to pay attention whenever you eat or drink in Iceland is just how expensive it is! For two coffees and two pastries, it cost almost $40. We tried to be really judicious in our food purchases and mostly ate breakfast in our apartment, so that cut costs a lot.
Once our Airbnb apartment was ready for us to check in, we headed that way. The location was right in the heart of Reykjavik. It was such an easy walk to everything we would want to do there. There are a million Airbnb rentals in Reykjavik, but we were absolutely delighted with ours. Perfect size, stylish design, great location, heated floors (so important in January!), and a useful kitchenette. One funny thing about apartments in Iceland is that the water comes from geothermal sources, so hot water has a distinct light sulfur smell to it. Our shower had plenty of water pressure and hot temps, but it took awhile to get used to the scent. If you’re drinking water, once the water clears from running it, the water is fresh, delicious, and full of beneficial minerals.
When we booked our apartment, I had no idea we would spend so much time there! I ended up getting an awful cold in the middle of our trip, so I spent one entire day inside while my husband explored the city. I was grateful for someplace warm and cozy to watch the snow falling outside. Free wifi helped too! While I was stuck inside one day, my husband ventured out to photograph the city and went to the Kogga Ceramic Gallery and Studio to buy me a little present. He found what looks like a dragon’s egg with a natural, matte, clay finish. It’s gorgeous and fits so nicely in our “ceramics from many lands” collection. He also brought back some delicious vegetarian pho from Noodle Station. Hot soup and natural cold remedies from Lyfja Pharmacy were just the right cure for everything that ailed me.
When I was up and about it Reykjavik, we did a lot of shopping and eating. One tourist site we really enjoyed was the Reykjavik Museum of Photography. It’s just one tiny floor of the city library, but it was full of such interesting photographs. I love portraiture, and there was a series of photographs of political movers and shakers in the 1970s. All The President’s Men is one of my favorite movies, so it was interesting to see the real people behind the film. There was also an exhibition of slices of life photographs from Cuba. It was interesting seeing photos in one of the warmest, brightest, most tropical places, as I was glancing out the window at ice, snow, water, and a sea of grey, misty air. I was so happy we made the time to visit this hidden treasure.
We did a lot of shopping, and one of my favorite stores was the children’s boutique Iglo & Indi. It’s an Icelandic designer that sells in some boutiques in Europe. We visited their “flagship” store and bought a few items for our little guy. They had some of the most stylish baby clothes I had every seen. I love that most of their outfits and prints were gender-neutral (or at least gender-light) and mixed and matched with most other things. Speaking of babies, I was surprised to see so many little ones in Reykjavik! Most Icelandic parents had stylish city-friendly strollers and brought their children outside and everywhere. I was inspired to bring my little guy everywhere I went, rain or ice or shine! I loved their attitude about parenting: don’t let being a parent stop you from living a full, vibrant life.
One of Iceland’s biggest movie stars, Anita Briem, wrote a book about parenting and pregnancy that I was excited to look at in one of the bookstores we visited. No, I don’t read Icelandic, but it was a lot of fun flipping through the pages and seeing an active, pregnant woman who was preparing all kinds of delicious, nutritious foods for her family. That kind of thing really inspires me! I also found a cookbook that I thought was written by an Icelandic woman, only to find out it was Ella Woodward of Deliciously Ella. I was excited that I could find English language recipes and tips from her once I got home.
One of the highlights of our trip was a half-day bus tour of the some of the most popular natural tourist sites in Iceland. We booked a half-day bus tour because I was about 7 months pregnant, and we wanted to take things a little easy. The landscape, views, and each stop were so unique. I am especially glad we visited in the winter because I feel like we got a glimpse of Iceland at its very prettiest. We both watch Game of Thrones, and it was fun picking out some of the scenes we recognized on our tour. At one of the stops at Geysir, we had lunch at Supa, a fast casual soup restaurant that had vegetarian soups and stews with accompanying Icelandic breads.
Before I write more, I have to mention the breads! So so delicious! They were mostly rustic loaves, dark breads, and a lot of sourdough. This might seem like such a strange thing to notice, but each bread we tried was like an entirely new dish. When in Iceland, eat every slice of bread you can!
After lunch, we had another hour in our tour and saw some of the most famous tourist areas in the “Golden Circle.” It might not have been the most adventurous tour of Iceland ever, but it was just right for our trip.
One night we enjoyed dinner at Snaps Bistro and Bar in Reykjavik. I had some of the best fish I’ve ever tasted in my life! I am a big fan of seafood and it was delicious how they combined so many seasonal flavors together in each dish. I was happy with every restaurant we visited, but this was a particular favorite. For lunch, we visited Sandholt Bakery in Reykjavik a few times. It was kind of pricey, but every meal was delicious! The breads, unsurprisingly, were some of the best I’ve ever eaten. I loved simple meals with a hearty bread, a latte with oatmilk, a few spreads and butters, and a wonderful date! Their open faced sandwiches were also delicious and full of bright greens and pickled root vegetables. The butter and cheeses in Iceland were big another treat.
Our last stop on the way out was Joe & The Juice in Reykjavik’s airport. There’s nothing like fresh juice, hip hop, and coffee to get your ready to head home after a vacation! There is a Joe & The Juice in NYC now, and though I haven’t been to that specific location, I loved the Joe & The Juices we visited in Iceland so much I’m excited to try it out in the states.
We had one of the very best vacations I’ve ever had in Iceland! It was so full of interesting things to see, delicious food, friendly people, and cozy nights in front of a record player watching snow fall outside. We absolutely want to go back and bring our son when he’s a little bit older. Other than the cost, it’s really a perfect family vacation. If you love being outside in the snow and cold, you’ll love January in Iceland. If not, there’s always summer…
What places do you dream of visiting? Have you been to Iceland before? What are your recommendations for delicious food when you travel? Comment below!