Where is Iceland even? Is the sun up all the time? Are the houses all pretty and colorful? Do they eat whale for lunch and shark for dinner?
If you are anything like me, you would have asked yourself those questions in the rare occasion someone mentions Iceland infront of you.
Well, I went and oh boy do I have much to tell you!
Was there to speak at a conference, and since it was so far away from Dubai, which is where I call home – for now- it was absurd to leave straight after. Also it happened to be midyear where Iceland is notoriously known for the midnight sun (and after midnight).
So here are a few things I need to warn you about the country at the edge of the world:
- It is super expensive
- Like really really expensive
- Man bun and skateboard are synonymous with each other as well as the city of Reykjavik
- Summer is sun almost all the time, and winter is dark almost all the time
- Each season has something different to offer – we will cover that off later in this story
- The people are so beautiful it hurts – no really OMG they are stunning
- Get ready for alot of walking
- One week may not be enough! Well 5 days could be if you plan it well enough – again details and suggestions below
- No unemployment no crime. They have 135 jailed -to a 300K population. That’s pretty low FYI
- Tap water has two modes: drinkable and sweet (cold), rotten eggs (hot). Don’t worry though that’s just the natural sulfur.
- People are super hot. Wait did I already say that?
So here is what we did and what made this trip so epic it makes “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” seem boring. Haven’t seen the movie? Google it.
1- Reykyjavik downtown: we stayed in Center Hotels Arnarhvoll. Right on the marina, amazing views, staff super friendly and their rooftop restaurant is good. It was pricey, so my buddies booked a sweet apartment through Airbnb. The Main Street is alive with shops, bars and restaurants.
2- Food: my buddies took a Food crawl with WakeupReykyjavik.com. Highly recommended. They tried all the interesting and weird Icelandic dishes. Yes shark and whale included. Me, I ew at such things. They are foodies. They ewed so hard at shark. You can smell the fishyness a mile away. My absolute favorite dining establishment was Apotek. Again, pricey but so worth it! The lamb rack was so good, service was exquisite, and the staff were super beautiful. But we established that the people here are a work of art.
3- Drinks and party: instead of listing out the cool places we visited do like we did: book a pub crawl with WakeupReykyjavik.com. You get drinks at a discount, skip the queues at the fancy clubs and the host (also cofounder of the company) takes you to the most famous hot dog stand – rumored to be a favorite of the Obamas.
4- Tours and adventures: I did the golden circle, west coast and inside the volcano. The waterfall Gullfoss in the golden circle was magic, they Geysir was meh – but still recommended if you have never seen one before and the west coast was nice. We drove there (took an hour and a half from the city) but Reykjavik Excursions does a good day tour there too. I regret not doing the south coast, apparently more waterfalls to see there. West coast boasted a village the alleged truly first European to reach America came from. Interesting story which I believe (sorry Columbus) read about it here.
5- The best adventure of them all: inside the volcano was so magnificent it is the best and most magical thing I have ever done and witnessed. It was around 400$ but worth every penny. The hike wasn’t too hard, and prepares you for your final destination. You walk through fields of lava (thousands of years in the making) in an almost non earthly terrain. Some compare it to Mars. Now I never been, so I can’t vouch for that but sounds legit. Then you reach base camp and get ready to get inside earths machinery. You strap in, hard hat on, and descend in window washer lift. Nothing prepared me for what I experienced. The air was different the colors so vivid. It felt I was one with Mother Nature, for she welcomed me into her heart. As we were taken back up, we played Prince’s Purple Rain and for the first time in my life I felt so invincible and alive. Here is a link to book.
6- Reykjavik site seeing: start with a walking tour, there are a few advertised online here is one, and definitely go up the church tower. The view is pretty cool. There are a few interesting museums, do as many as you can but my favorite part was street art hunting around the small city. If you are lucky you will snap a photo of one of the iconic wall arts with a man-bunned skateboarder crossing through.
7- What I would have done differently: I would have stayed 2 days in the city then took a proper road trip covering all key areas of the island. You need to rent a car for that of course. Stay in the villages, go secret waterfall hunting and more
8- What if I went in the winter?: the activities will have been very different. From aurora hunting to star gazing, snowmobiling and more.
Good luck on your trip! The people are super nice so reach out to local guides before you go they will help. And if you haven’t planned your Icelandic adventure yet, life’s short, do it!