The Adventurous Girl’s Guide to Iceland: 9 Things to Do, Eat + See

First things first, if you haven’t been to Iceland, I have three words for you: “Just do it.”

  • The breathtaking scenery that makes you feel like you’re stepping into a painting…
  • The amazing mix of geological quirks (from very long or very short days and ginormous glaciers to hot geothermal springs and active volcanoes) you’re likely to come across only in Iceland…
  • The how-can-they-make-something-so-simple-so-delicious meals.The friendly residents who will stop on their way to work to point you in the right direction when you’re lost while trying to find your Airbnb
  • The non-stop flight from several U.S. cities…and the fact that you can stop in Iceland for up to seven days on your way to or from Europe for FREE. No joke

For these reasons and many more, your trip to Iceland will be worth every penny.

If you need more convincing, here are three adventures my BFF Sam and I did, three things we ate and three landmarks we visited that made the birthday trip beyond memorable.

To DoIMG_2672

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1. Climb a Glacier

There are few places in the world that you can see, let alone hike and climb on, a glacier. With Iceland’s ice melting more and more each passing year, we figured the sooner, the better. Sam and I spent about four hours hiking across Sólheimajökull glacier and learning about the volcanic ash that covers it, as well as the moulins (AKA crevasses) that you definitely do not want to fall into. Our trek also included one rock wall-like climb, which involved a rope, harness and some rockin’ ice axes to act as your hand grips.

Approximate cost: $200 for the 8-hour tour.

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IMG_2800 2. Hike to the top of Skógafoss and Gullfoss waterfalls

On the way back from the glacier to Reykjavik, our home base in Iceland, we had 45 minutes to explore the breathtaking 200-foot Skógafoss falls (pictured above) and the lush environment nearby. Another day, we stopped at Gullfoss, which is somewhat similar to Niagra Falls in setup. When you arrive at both, you can view their epic scale and beauty from the ground level. Or you can climb flights and flights of stairs for the completely worth it views from the top. The leg workout is a bonus!

Approximate cost: Just fees for travel to/from the waterfalls. These waterfalls are often included as stops on other tours.

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3. Lounge at the Blue Lagoon

Fun fact: Geothermal water acts as the heat source for 9/10 homes in Iceland and since the country has a never-ending source of hot H2O, water heaters are unheard of. Thanks, close-to-the-surface magma!

Icelandic locals take advantage of this toasty water at indoor and outdoor  man-made pools around the country and at natural spas, like the post Blue Lagoon. It’s a popular stop to ease tired travel muscles on the way to or from Keflavik International Airport, as it’s located in between downtown Reykjavik and the largest travel hub in the country. Silica and sulfur lend the blue hues (and healing properties, some say) to the water, which stays around 100° F regardless of the air temperature.

Approximate cost: $48 to enter, plus transportation fees to and from the lagoon.

 

To Eat10338824_10101819741171070_6971812952146380085_n

 1. Icelandic Yogurt

Low in fat and high in protein, Icelandic yogurt is even thicker than its Greek cousin. The dessert-like dairy product is sold as Skyr overseas, but you can get a taste in America, too! Just look for the naturally low-sugar Siggi’s at your supermarket.

Approximate cost: $2.50 per cup.

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2. Lamb

Icelandic people seem to treat their land like another family member. Pesticides and herbicides are rarely, if ever, used on crops, and antibiotics and other hormones are never given to animals. The result: Extra-flavorful, super-nutritious food. Traditional delicacies include sheep’s head, horse, shark and reindeer(!).

We steered clear of those particular more frightening items and indulged in some lamb shish kebabs at a cozy and charming Reykjavik restaurant called Meze. I consider myself somewhat of a flexitarian since I eat meat, and mainly white meat, just a few times a week. This lamb really hit the spot, though. Tender yet lean, this is what every red meat wishes it taste like. (Or so I would guess.)

Approximate cost: Varies based on preparation, cut and location purchased. The Lamb Shish Kebab dinner pictured above was about $23.

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3. The Grill Market

One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new place is be a prying visitor and ask as many locals as possible where we must go and what we must do to get the locale’s most authentic experience. No less than five Reykjavik residents included The Grill Market at the top of their dining list, which is how we ended up eating a big celebration dinner there on our final night in the country.

After a quick glance at the menu, you might notice that the prices are slightly steep compared to other establishments around Reykjavik. It’s clear that the cost translates into the quality of the food, from the first sip of wine and first bite of the bread that comes with each meal. It might sound strange, but don’t forego the black lava salt they recommend adding as a topping for the whole-wheat slices. No words.

For my main dish, I opted for the Peanut Steak, which was a blend of beans and nuts shaped into a patty and grilled. The savory, meat-like concoction was complemented perfectly with an herby pesto sauce, fresh salad and sautéed vegetables.

The waitress caught wind that we were saying “cheers” to my birthday as we were finishing our wine, and instead of bringing out the bill immediately, she came bearing a ridiculously decadent dessert on the house. Vanilla ice cream was covered in a chocolate shell (with The Grill Market’s logo etched on it in gold edible ink!), and surrounded by raspberries and chocolate crispy rice cereal treats. And then covered in a healthy pour of warm caramel sauce. Mind. blowing.

Approximate cost: $35-65 per entree, including bread appetizer; $11-20 per glass of wine.

 

To See

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1. Hallgrímskirkja Church

For the best views of Reykjavik, look up! This church’s tower, which began being built in the 1940s, can be seen from nearly every corner of the capital city. And nearly every corner of the capital city can be seen from the worship space’s 244-foot tall lookout tower.

Approximate cost: $5.25 fee to access bell tower observation area.

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2. Þingvellir National Park

Have you ever seen a more idyllic landscape? No special effects were used on that photo. Promise!

This area holds special significance for Icelandic people for a couple reasons. First, it was home to the law-creating national assembly from 930-1738. As such, this space is one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country. Second, the land itself is located right along the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The con: It’s a high-risk earthquake zone. The pro: The fissures, shifting apart at a rate of about an inch each year, make for some very unique terrain.

Approximate cost: Free to access the park, and a quick guided tour is often included in the price of any Golden Circle package (~$80).

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3. Haukadalur Geothermal Area

Remarkably hot (257° F!) and shall we say “fragrant” (ahh, sulfur), the active geysers at this geothermal field are certainly worth a visit. The older one, Geysir, shoots into the sky every six to eight hours, while its younger cousin, Strokkur (above), spouts about 100 feet into the air every five minutes. Other smaller geysers and geothermal ponds dot the area.

Approximate cost: Free to access the park, and a quick guided tour is often included in the price of any Golden Circle package (~$80).

DSC_0064The trip of a lifetime.

Approximate cost: Priceless.

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Comments

  1. Oh…my…ICELAND. What an epic adventure you ladies went on! I can’t get over the gorgeousness of the scenery. They say photos can’t do justice but honestly these must come pretty darn close. I’m swooning over here! Your glacier adventure looks like a blast and I love their food philosophy. It was very similar in Ireland. You just feel good when you know people care about where their ingredients come from and try to avoid chemicals and antibiotics at all costs. So cool! Thanks for sharing. :)

    • It was unreal, Jenn! Thank you SO much for the kind words about the trip, and I’m so happy to hear that Ireland was similarly fabulous. I can’t wait for the full recap from you very soon!

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