By Jackie LucasA few months ago, my best friend from college texted me on a whim, asking if I’d like to plan a long weekend in Iceland. Mesmerized by photos I’d seen of the Blue Lagoon, fangirling over Game of Thrones, and itching to go abroad, I jumped at the opportunity. We had been on several trips together and knew we traveled together well, due to our similar personalities and a “must see everything worth seeing” mentality when it came to a new place. By that weekend, we had booked our flights and giggled with excitement at the thought of another international adventure.
During previous trips, we had planned our itineraries well in advance, managing to fit as much as possible into a short span of time. While we anticipated this trip to be filled with outdoor hiking, we didn’t invest as much time planning our daily activities, instead relying on the word of Rick Steves’ Iceland, our trusty guidebook.
With Rick in hand and suitcases filled with everything from bathing suits to waterproof hiking shoes to winter hats, we jumped on our red-eye and arrived in Keflavik the next morning in a sleep-deprived daze. After obtaining our rental car, we made our way to the famed Blue Lagoon. While the Blue Lagoon had many rules and even more tourists, the sheer size, park amenities and light blue color of the geothermal bath were worth the fuss. We were able to bounce around the warm, shallow waters with sparkling strawberry wine in tow, mesmerized by the other-worldly mist and jagged volcanic rocks surrounding us. I won’t go into detail about every place we visited during our five-day trip in southern Iceland, but will say the trip was filled with stunning scenery and 21-hour sunlit days. Luckily for us, having a flexible schedule and plenty of sunlight allowed us to fully explore Iceland’s top destinations at our own pace. Below are some insights for those using Reykjavík as a home base for their Icelandic adventure.
Where would you take a first-timer?
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, which is located about a 2-hour drive southeast of Reykjavík. The iconic beach of imposing rock formations, basalt stacks and caves were featured in several movies and TV shows. I also recommend trying to catch a sunset at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall (pictured below) and dedicating a day to explore The Golden Circle and its namesake Gullfoss Waterfall (pictured above).
What is one thing that a first-timer must do?
Visit a natural geothermal bath. In addition to the Blue Lagoon, we visited Hveragerði Hot Springs. After an hour-long hike up and around the mountain, we came across a natural hot spring river nestled in the hills. It was the perfect way to relax after the hike and take in the scenery. According to Rick (Steves), hot sprin
gs are so prominent in Hveragerði that locals have natural geothermal baths in their backyards.
What is your favorite dish from here, and where might we find it?
Hot Dogs and Orange Soda! Icelandic hot dogs are made out of organic lamb, pork, and beef, accompanied by a soft bun and toppings such as fried onions and “sweet sauce”, a sugary brown mustard. The hot dogs are best paired with Appelsin, a soda somewhere between Orangina and Orange Fanta. Reykjavík Street Dog, serving hot dogs and not much else, is conveniently located on Skólavörðustígur – just south of Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík’s landmark church.
Tell us about the locals.
Icelanders are generally mellow and nice, with many speaking near-perfect English. With the relatively recent influx of tourism to the country, some Icelanders are weary of tourists but patient and often willing to chat.
What are five words that describe this location?
Fickle (weather), beautiful (landscape), healthy (lifestyle), nice (people), and peaceful (culture).
What was the best souvenir you took home from here?
The “Puffin Shops” or souvenir stores throughout Reykjavík are littered with puffin paraphernalia, including some adorable illustrations of Puffins screen-printed onto everything from keychains to mugs and dish towels. Stores often carry Icelandic wool sweaters and accessories – I brought home a set of knit wool slippers with shearling lining. With the island’s striking natural beauty, my favorite purchases were professional photos in the form of matted prints and a coffee table book.
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