I’ve been back from Iceland for over a month now and I still can’t get that surreal landscape out of my brain. It’s a place like no other. In the short week I had there, I had the honor of visiting many unique and awe-inspiring places, yet I know I could spend a few more months (at least) exploring all the country has to offer.
This will be a somewhat general post–highlighting my favorite parts from my trip, yet I hope it can also serve as a guide for those planning their own trips there. I would consider the spots I’m going to mention not to be missed–some of them already very popular and some may pass as hidden gems.
- The Laundromat Cafe
This place has amazing food and a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. It actually inspired me so much that I decided I’m going to attempt to decorate a room in my house after it! The walls are covered in huge colorful maps and the bar is made of bookshelves. You get the feel of an old diner yet there are magazines and eccentricities hanging all around. The Cafe is actually attached to a laundromat, so you can grab a beer while waiting for your laundry to finish! It’s located right in the heart of Reykjavik, so don’t miss it as one of the best lunch spots in the city.
2. Gisli Eirikur Helgi
This was probably my favorite place I ate on the entire trip. It’s a cute little family-owned cafe in the town of Dalvík. They have a fish soup lunch which I think is the only thing served there for the most part and also what they’re known for. If you want to eat where the locals eat, make it a point to stop there. With mismatched china like your grandmother has and fish soup to die for (and I don’t even like fish!), the atmosphere is cozy like a tavern straight out of a fantasy novel. It’s quiet and embodies everything that is Iceland with its unassuming hominess and effortless deliciousness!
Although this is right by where the cruise ships dock, so can be pretty pricey, it’s definitely worth a look. Kolaportið is a very large “flea market” where the locals set up booths of items from the iconic hand-knit Icelandic wool sweaters to books and even food. This is the one place in Iceland where I felt the items were really local. Although I’m sure many of the items in other stores I came across were local as well, they felt more like high-end boutique shops full of highly overpriced faux “local” products–something you could find in a swanky shop at home. Even if you’re not looking to buy souvenirs, it was a fun place to walk around, chatting with the locals at the booths and flipping through children’s books written in Icelandic.
4. Black Sand Beach near Djúpivogur
Is the black sand beach of Vík one of the main reasons you decided to visit Iceland? Although that beach is beautiful with the rocks jutting out from the ocean and the “step” rocks reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, this one near the town of Djúpivogur seemed a lot nicer to me after having visited both. It wasn’t full of tourists (in fact, we were the only ones there) and the sand was a lot finer without all the pebbles. There are rocks you can walk up on for a great viewpoint over the ocean and it is located near a rarely used airstrip outside of the town. Thanks to the fact that our tour guide had grown up in Djúpivogur, we got the pleasure of seeing this off-the-beaten path black sand beach that hardly a tourist has laid eyes upon yet!
5. Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
Okay, so I might get some grief from my fellow travel bloggers for this one, but I couldn’t resist. Baejarins Beztu Pylsur is a famous hot dog stand in Reykjavik that is in all of the guidebooks, but for good reason I think! The lines are long because everyone has heard about it at this point. It’s known as a must-try in Iceland, a hot dog ordered “ein með öllu” or “one with everything”. Let me tell you something–the line is worth it! The hot dog is delicious, unique, and actually extremely cheap in price by Icelandic standards. The meat is mostly made from Icelandic lamb, along with some beef and pork. Toppers include raw onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called “pylsusinnep”, a unique sauce consisting of mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs, and fried onions to add some crisp below the dog. The line may have been long (I think I arrived immediately after a cruise ship docked which is very nearby), but I was in awe of the fact that the famous hot dog only ended up costing about $5 USD, whereas every other meal I’d had in the country was at least $30 USD. If anything, try it to say you did!
I’m not much of a partier, but Iceland has a tendency to get at least one good night out of you. The midnight sun and endearing locals can have that affect. The party usually doesn’t start until around 10pm, but grab a group of newfound (or old) friends and head to Húrra for a night you’ll never forget. I don’t even usually dance, but the music there was somehow hypnotizing. I’m pretty sure it was simple variations of the same electronica song all night long (some music snob is really going to get me for that one) but I can still here it now and it brings great memories rushing back. Smiles and drinks are some of my fondest memories of this trip–after spending a week getting to know a group of complete strangers, there’s just something about having an amazing meal and then letting the music take hold and take the night away. Don’t leave Iceland without getting your night taken at least once.
7. Borgarfjörður Eystri
I often say that it’s not really the places you visit that make them your favorite about a trip, but the things that happen there or the people you’re with. Maybe the fact that a fellow traveler felt Borgarfjörður Eystri was just the place to take a dip in the Arctic Ocean has lent to this being on my list of top spots, but regardless it’s a cool and unique place to visit even if you don’t plan on taking a drunken plunge.
There is only one road that goes into and out of Borgarfjörður Eystri (believe it or not I think I can pronounce that now) and it’s a gravel windy road through the mountains. Just getting there is an experience. In fact, on our way out of town we ran into a van that needed help getting off a precarious ridge so we lent a tow strap to help (not that would could have gotten past on the one lane road if we had wanted to). The town itself is an endearing fishing village, and is ideal for anyone wanting to experience the quiet and remote Iceland that has not yet been touched by tourism. The views are gorgeous and the puffin watching is some of the best!
8. The Blue Lagoon
This is another one of those “DUH!” ones. But believe it or not, I was chatting with someone on the plane, pulling up to the gate at Reykjavik Airport, who said he wasn’t going to visit the Blue Lagoon because it’s “too touristy”. Now look, you all know me, big time advocate for all things off-the-beaten path, but one of my biggest pet peeves is travel hipsters who refuse to visit something that is literally a natural wonder and phenomenon, solely for the purpose of being different–refusing to accept the fact that it’s absolutely amazing, and missing out on the experience of a lifetime because of it. There is a reason the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, and the Great Wall of China are some of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and it’s because they’re incredible. Hole-in-the-wall dives are an experience in and of themselves, but I’m a firm believer in including a diversity of attractions in your itinerary when visiting a new place. What better way to get the full picture of somewhere than by seeing a touch of everything?
But I’m getting off track here, as I often tend to do. The Blue Lagoon was the perfect way to end my trip before heading back to the real world that is the routine of life. It is well-organized, clean, and as relaxing as it gets. If you’re traveling with a group or a companion, I’d strongly recommend breaking off from the group for a bit here. Reach into your mind and think about your future, your goals, and reflect on your experience in Iceland or what you hope to experience if it’s the beginning of the trip. They say the Blue Lagoon has physical benefits for your body–rejuvenating affects and whatnot–but I felt it rejuvenated my mind. Breathing in the warm and clear air, floating around the quiet lagoon and taking it all in–the landscape that is like that of the moon and the otherworldly milky blue water–many other things become clear that maybe you were conflicted about before.
For me, it helped me to think about the fact that if there are places like this in the world that I had been deprived of experiencing until now, where else could there be that I’m missing out on? It made my aspirations clearer than ever and planted the seed for what I think will be a major step in my life toward the one thing I’ve always wanted to do but been scared to take the leap to–long term travel. A year from now I’ll be hiking in the Atacama Desert or exploring the Bolivian Salt Flats and look back on my trip to Iceland as the one that started it all.
Keep on Exploring,
CAITLYN WITHOUT A COMPASS