From exploring waterfalls, swimming in geothermal lagoons, snorkeling between tectonic plates and watching the northern lights dance around the night sky… Iceland was a bucket list dream.
As you can imagine, we went through just about every type of weather – rain, sleet, snow, hail, wind and just plain cold. But it was all worth it in the end to experience the wonders of Iceland. Our journey began the minute we landed in Reykjavík. We got amazing flight deals by booking through WOWair and flew out from Newark, NJ. Just a relatively short 6-hour flight across the Atlantic ocean, this was our first time flying WOWair and overall it was an average airline. For those wondering, it was perfect for cheap flights to Iceland. Keep reading as I take you through every little thing we did and saw during our trip in December.
Our first stop in Iceland was landing in the city of Reykjavík, known for being the capital and largest city in the country. It’s home to museums that trace Iceland’s viking history, famous churches, shops and restaurants.
What To Do in Reykjavík:
- Perlan Exhibit – This “Wonders of Iceland” museum is complete with ice caves, a planetarium and a 360° observation deck with views of the city (where I took the picture above at). See more here.
- Shops on Laugavegur Street – If you go to Iceland during the holiday months like we did you will see an abundance of Christmas lights and trees adorning this street and its shops. This is the perfect stop to find a unique souvenir. Known for being one of the oldest streets in Reykjavík, it is also home to a bunch of restaurants and bars. See more here.
- Church of Hallgrímur (Hallgrímskirkja) – This is the iconic church is the cities main landmark that can be seen everywhere in the city. It’s architectural details are incredible and although it gets crowded (tourist spot) it also has an observation deck with views of the city. See more here.
- Ingólfstorg Square – During the holidays the square puts up a beautiful ice skating rink that has a million string lights hung everywhere. It’s so fun to ice skate under the twinkling lights with christmas music playing in the background. *There was also a hot chocolate/hot beverage stand! See more here.
- The Sun Voyager – Resembling a Viking long-ship, the sun voyager is a striking landmark making it the perfect opportunity for a viking photo-op. However, to be clear this landmark is not a viking ship and wasn’t intended to resemble one. See more here.
- The Sandholt Bakery – This is the cutest and quite possibly the yummiest bakery we found! We liked it so much we came back for breakfast croissants and macarons three times. This is a must try! *Pictures below. See more here.
✈︎ BLUE LAGOON
Best way to beat jet lag? Swimming in the one and only geothermal Blue Lagoon. We did this on our second day and it was the perfect way to ease into our vacation. I had no idea what to expect upon arriving. I heard many things but nothing could have prepared me for how amazing it was. Bobby agrees with me on this, this was perhaps the highlight of our trip! It was so relaxing to swim in the heated baby blue water, in crisp 30° weather as the sun rose. Even better, you’re offered a complimentary beverage at the swim-up bar and a mud mask. Keep in mind it is a super touristy spot however, we went at sun rise in December which is their off-season. (ps: an alternative to the Blue Lagoon is the Secret Lagoon. However, we checked it out and were not impressed.) *Tip: make sure you make your reservations ahead of time online or else you could be turned away due to high capacity. Check it out here.
✈︎ ION ADVENTURE HOTEL
I’m sure there’s a lot of great hotels you could stay in Iceland but staying here, at the Ion Adventure Hotel for our trip was pretty great! It’s just outside the city of Reykjavík and right in the middle of all the popular day excursions. This location is also perfect for spotting the northern lights since it is 45 minutes outside the city lights. In fact, we got to see the northern lights twice during our stay! It was the most magical thing I’ve ever experienced. Not to mention this hotel has its own geothermal heated outdoor pool with a sauna and spa lounge. One of our favorite hang out spots in the hotel was the Northern Lights Bar which overlooks the beautiful snowy mountains.
✈︎ EXPLORING WATERFALLS
Iceland is known for its ever changing terrain and landscapes. During our visit we mostly explored the west, south and south east regions since the north was pretty hard to get to due to the weather and roads being closed. But that didn’t stop us from chasing all the waterfalls on this island! Some of the most notable ones we explored were: Pórufoss, Skogafoss, Gullfoss (the Golden Falls) and Selijalandfoss. All of them were different in size but magical nonetheless. The Pórufoss waterfall was actually frozen the day we went to explore it because the night before we had a crazy blizzard. I would suggest wearing a good pair of snow boots with grips on the bottom while exploring these waterfalls. Some waterfalls you have to hike up to so wearing proper snow gear is a must!
✈︎ DC-3 PLANE WRECK
While driving along the “Golden Circle” route to see all the waterfalls and geysers we also stumbled upon the infamous DC-3 Plane Wreck. Many don’t know this but in November of 1973 a small plane ran out of fuel and crash landed alongside Iceland’s Sólheimsandur beach, with no harmed passengers. If you’re into planes or just anything resembling science fiction you have to check this out. Although you can’t see the plane from the road, it is about a 2 mile hike out. The path is clear and very visible so don’t feel like this is impossible. The day we went, we got lucky with some great weather and no winds. It was a pretty cool, yet eerie, thing to see and experience. You can learn more about this plane wreck here.
✈︎ ICELANDIC HORSE RIDE
One of my favorite things about driving through Iceland was seeing all the Icelandic horses. I tried convincing Bobby that we should adopt them all and bring them back to the states with us but he just laughed haha! I kept wanting to pull over and pet them every time I spotted one. So therefore, for one of our excursions we decided to do an Icelandic horse ride through the countryside at the Eldhestar Farm Vellir. During our ride we experienced almost every type of weather… it was wild and fun! Our horse guide was super friendly and she even made it a point to stop and take our pictures along the route.
✈︎ BLACK SAND BEACH & SNORKELING
Further down the “Golden Circle” route along the south end of Iceland we made the hike to see the Black Sand Beach or ‘Reynifjara’ to the locals. It was around 3:30 p.m. when we arrived so we got to see the sunset over the ocean. The beach is incredible and world famous because it’s known for having these huge basalt stacks sitting on the shoreline. According to local folklore these large stacks were once trolls trying to pull ships from the ocean to the shore. I have never seen such rock formations alongside a beach before, so it truly was something incredible. Check it out here.
On another day we built up the courage and went snorkeling in Iceland’s silfra clear 30℉ water between the two tectonic plates. I have to be honest I was really nervous about this whole thing. Swimming in freezing cold water while it was snowing outside, and I had to breath out of my mouth through a tube? I was really skeptical. I had never snorkeled before, so I didn’t know what to expect. However, once we got there I let my fears and worries go! We met the snorkeling crew at the Thingvellir National Park and to my surprise they had wet suits waiting for us. These suits were a gift from God haha. They kept us so warm while being in the cold water that I rarely felt cold. Underneath the suits you keep your regular thin clothing on (I had a sweater, fleece lined leggings and socks on), so you know I stayed pretty warm. Once we got in and put our heads into the water it was like nothing I had ever seen before. Everything was so colorful and clear! It was perhaps the coolest thing I’ve ever done. We booked our tour through Dive.IS and had the best/funniest tour guides who swam alongside with us. If you like adventure you definitely need to try this! Check it out here.
✈︎ CHRISTMAS VILLAGE
Since our trip was in December during the holidays, we got to experience all the glory of Christmas in Iceland. Fun Fact: Iceland’s Christmas culture believes in the 13 Yule Lads. Think of it as 13 different Santa Clauses (or trolls to the locals) that represent different things. Learn more about them here. We heard about this Christmas Village that takes place during the month of December in Hafnarfjörður. It was so cute to see all the holiday shops, Christmas décor, live entertainment and the Yule Lads running around. We walked around, shopped, drank hot coco and ate the yummiest caramel glazed churros. This is also a great spot to find a unique souvenir. Click here for more info.
✈︎ 8 TIPS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
- Iceland is expensive. On average a meal for two people costs anywhere between $50-$100. Meanwhile gas is about $7.50 a gallon.
- Currency is the Icelandic Króna which translates to $10 USD = 1000 Króna.
- Due to the sulfur used in the Icelandic water, it often times smelled odd (rotten eggs). Don’t be alarmed however, many locals told us this was normal because of the sulfur. Just be aware when you turn on the sink or shower.
- The winter months are in fact, cold! I suggest purchasing a pair fleece lined leggings. Have a look at my Iceland packing list here.
- During the winter months the sun is only up for about 4-5 hours a day. December is the darkest month of the year.
- Check road.is every hour/before you head out to your destinations. It is an updated site for road closures, hazards and weather advisories for the country which helped us navigate around things very well.
- If you’re an American, you’re in luck! Iceland drives on the right hand side of the road. Phew!
- Get rental car insurance. The weather changes so quickly and you never know what you could be dealing with. We were advised to get the windshield/dent protection and we were glad we did. Driving through some tough snow and hail can definitely scratch up a car.
In the end we did so much in just eight days that I feel we were able to see everything we wanted too. It was such an awesome experience to snorkel between the tectonic plates, swim in the blue lagoon, explore all the waterfalls and marvel at all the beautiful landscapes that Iceland has to offer. We had an amazing stay at the Ion Adventure Hotel as well, and definitely recommend staying there. I hope this travel guide serves as just that… a guide for your adventure to this amazing Nordic country.
Feel free to ask me any questions in the comment section below!
Thanks for reading!