- Airport – Keflavík International Airport (KEF)
- Currency – Icelandic Króna (ISK)
- Official Language – Icelandic
- Population – 329,000
- GDP – $17 billion (112th Overall)
Getting to Iceland
Volcanically active and less than 6 hours by flight from New York, traveling to Iceland makes for a great adventure, either as a standalone trip or on your way to another destination. While en route to Scandinavia I decided to take advantage of a three-day stop in Reykjavík to see the country and explore its terrain!
You know that we at AdventureDaze love to travel for free! Following the Icelandic financial crisis of 2008 (and the subsequent government decision to let their banks fail), the country has made a big push towards promoting tourism and Iceland travel. Icelandair, for example, offers a free stopover to anybody traveling from North America to Europe, providing the layover at no additional cost!
Is Iceland Credit Card Friendly?
While it’s always advisable to have some cash with you everywhere you go, I had no issues using credit cards in Reykjavik, including at hotels, restaurants, and stores. Apparently the hot dog stand downtown even takes credit cards! However, be prepared to experience more cash-only stores and restaurants as you make your way outside of Reykjavik, for example, if you decide to drive along the Southern coast.
Where to Stay?
As I will recommend in other posts, meeting locals with Airbnb or staying in a hostel is an excellent get to know a city even better. For $48 US per night, I had a private Airbnb room in a centrally-located Reykjavik apartment with an excellent host (Solveig) who taught me about Iceland and gave me great advice about what to do during my stay.
Airbnb Tip: Check the apartment details for pets if you have any animal allergies. The place had a cat and now I always avoid them going forward!
Explore Downtown Reykjavík and Hallgrímskirkja Church
Make sure to also wander around downtown Reykjavik and explore the shops. Check out the famous Hallgrímskirkja Church, a beautiful spectacle that was built in the middle of the 20th Century and is centrally located, making it perfect for any post-meal visit when downtown and experiencing Iceland travel.
Enjoy the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa
Iceland’s Blue Lagoon hot geothermal springs are definitely worth visiting. Located between Reykjavik and Keflavík International Airport (KEF), make your stop either at the very beginning or end of your trip (on your way to or from the airport). I chose to start my trip right by soaking in the rich minerals and relaxing in their saunas and steam rooms directly from the airport.
Once landing in Reykjavík make your way to any tourist counter and they will easily guide to the next bus to take you directly to the Blue Lagoon. Once there they provide lockers to store your luggage, change into your bathing suit and head right to the springs.
Note: the Blue Lagoon, which is about 20 minutes from the airport, opens at either 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. depending on the season (Blue Lagoon Hours & Info). My flight landed early in the morning in Reykjavik so I waited for about an hour before going, so keep this in mind when planning your arrival or departure time.
Golden Circle Day Tour
The Golden Circle tour is an excellent opportunity to spend a day seeing Reykjavik and meet other like-minded travelers. On this 8-hour bus tour you will experience the Geysir geothermal area, Gullfoss falls and Thingvellir National Park.
Our last stop was the Friðheimar Cultivation Centre, an organic greenhouse where fresh vegetables are grown using Icelandic geothermal heat. We capped the visit off with hot tomato soup made from the fresh organic tomatoes grown on-site!
While Iceland is known for its unique geography, hot springs, and glaciers, it also offers a delicious cuisine with a long history. Icelandic cuisine includes lamb, potatoes, fish and seafood, and the popular Skyr (similar to Greek Yogurt). Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Iceland brings in a variety of fish including salmon, lobster, haddock and other cold salt-water fish, as well as more adventurous dishes such as whale and ox.
Best Market: Kolaportið Market
Tryggvagotu 19 | Old Harbour | Reykjavík
Located in downtown Reykjavik, Kolaportið Flea Market is a great place to go if you’re looking for a unique handmade sweater, souvenir, or a nice bite to eat. In the market you can find great eats ranging from smoked and fresh fish to local meats. The market is a great way to sample different foods and explore the different shops. To the right, you can see the delicious Durian Fruit Ice Cream that was available that day.
Best Fish n’ Chips: Icelandic Fish and Chips
Tryggvagata 11 | Reykjavík
If you are looking for a memorable food experience you need to take a trip to Icelandic Fish and Chips. There are many fishes to choose from including some unique options like Wolf fish, Blue ling or Tusk. You can choose to get your fish oven roasted in pesto, or you can give the garlic-roasted langoustine tails a try.
With your fish, I recommend you try the garlic-rosemary potatoes cooked in lamb fat and sprinkled with sea salt. The fish is all high quality and there is a long list of skyronnaise dipping sauces to choose from including mango, tzatziki, basil and garlic, or coriander.
Best Vegetarian-Friendly: Gló
Laugavegur 20B | Reykjavík
Whether you are a practicing vegetarian, or just looking for a different or healthy food option, Gló in Reykjavik is where it’s at. Gló is one of the most popular health food restaurants in Iceland and they have a lot to show for it. There are many salads to choose from, vegan options and if you really must eat meat they have some delicious chicken dishes as well.
The spinach lasagna is great and among the dessert choices don’t miss out on the blueberry pie or raspberry mocha slice. The staff is wonderful and the food is both quickly and beautifully prepared.
If you are looking for an overall memorable dining experience during your visit to Iceland, it is recommended you go to Dill or Fiskmarkaðurinn
Hverfisgata 12 | Reykjavík
Dill can be described as a truly gastronomic experience. You have a choice of a 5- or 7-course dinner, both of which consist of a wide array of unique dishes. Notable dishes included the Icelandic dried catfish whipped with burnt butter, and the smoked lumpfish with dill.
In addition to multiple courses, you have a chance to pair each course of your meal with some exquisite wines. It is recommended you make reservations well in advance, as this is not an experience you want to miss out on.
Aðalstræti 12 | Reykjavík
Fiskmarkaðurinn is at the top of our list. The kitchen uses only the freshest ingredients and prides itself on purchasing all of their ingredients from local farmers and fishermen. There are many options to choose from ranging from starters such as the smoked puffin, or main courses like the grilled mountain lamb with sautéed Jerusalem artichokes, confit of lamb shank and pickled beetroot with fried mushrooms. Our recommendation would be to go for the tasting menu. The tasting menu includes unique combinations of dishes picked out personally by the head chef. All of the dishes are designed to be shared and are intermittently brought out to you over the course of the meal. In addition to the impressive food, the wine selection stood out as well. And don’t forget to try some of their decadent desserts like the licorice and raspberry lava mousse.
Best Coffee: Reykjavík Roasters
Kárastígur 1 | Corner of Frakkastigur | Reykjavík
If you are looking for a delicious cup of coffee to start your day or just simply want to sample the local coffee you should check out Reykjavik Roasters. The coffee is high quality and the baristas are fantastic. There are many options to choose from and there is also a wide array of cakes and pastries to accompany your coffee. The coffee is roasted in house and the staff is friendly and welcoming. It is a small and intimate setting that makes a great place to enjoy your beverage in peace and quiet.
Northern Lights Tours
My first evening in Iceland I went on a Northern Lights bus tour. You drive around for a few hours in the outskirts looking for the lights. Unfortunately, it is hit or miss and we were unable to see anything. If you don’t see them, most companies will offer to take you again for free until you see them.