3 Days In Iceland
With a serious case of wanderlust, I tend to avoid returning to a place I've already visited. For Iceland, however, I made a rare exception. I first came to Iceland about ten years ago. While that may seem quite recent, when you factor in two volcanic eruptions, the economic crisis of 2008, a boom in American tourism and the impeachment of the prime minister, the country I first visited might as well have been a far-off galaxy. Moyan Brenn, @_camillaruth_ A New Sense Of Namaste: Landing In Icel
With a serious case of wanderlust, I tend to avoid returning to a place I've already visited. For Iceland, however, I made a rare exception. I first came to Iceland about ten years ago. While that may seem quite recent, when you factor in two volcanic eruptions, the economic crisis of 2008, a boom in American tourism and the impeachment of the prime minister, the country I first visited might as well have been a far-off galaxy.
A New Sense Of Namaste: Landing In Iceland
There's no such thing as an ideal time to travel, but if you can swing it, I’d recommend going to Iceland in the summer months, during white nights where the sun shines until the wee hours of the morning, or in the spring, where if you’re lucky you just might catch the Northern Lights. The trip to Iceland is a manageable hop across the Atlantic for an extended weekend that feels like you’ve landed on the moon.
Moon Landing: The Waters Of Iceland
There's only one direct flight from NYC to Reykjavik and it runs overnight, landing around 6 AM local time, so get the adrenaline pumping and prepare for a very full day. Travel companies in Iceland can arrange for transportation, but I find the best way to really take in the vastness of the scenery is to rent a car (ideally with four-wheel drive) and helm your own adventure.
Pro tip: Rent a GPS and portable wifi device through any rental car agency. This helps make the driving smooth and entertaining.
Polar Bear Plunge: Relaxing In The Blue Lagoon
There is no better way to dive into Iceland and refresh from the flight than plunging into the Blue Lagoon. Yes, it’s a bit touristy, but if you get there when it first opens at 9 AM, you’re likely to be among only a handful of swimmers. Reservations are a must. The newly-launched exclusive lounge experience, which is still somewhat undiscovered, allows you a private portion of the lagoon, lovely showers and changing rooms, free drinks and mud masks in the lagoon. A splurge, yes, but definitely worth it. The hot springs have magical healing powers.
Pro tip: Don't dunk your hair in the water. Just trust me.
The Legend of Langoustines: Lunch In Vik
Now that you’ve had a chance to unwind and get pampered at the Blue Lagoon, it’s time to venture down the south coast from Reykjavik to Vik. You will have worked up an appetite at just the right time to stop for lunch at Fjöruborðið, my second favorite meal in Iceland. You'll find it in a charming lobster shack in a town that seems all but abandoned. Be sure to snag a table by the window to take in the breathtaking views. The mission here is simple: two offerings of lobster soup and a bucket of lobsters by the kilogram, sautéed with white wine, garlic, lemon, and parsley. It's perfect because it’s simple and simple because it’s perfect.
Pro tip: In Iceland, “lobsters” refer to what we think of as “langoustines.”
A Haunting Vision: The Sólheimasandur Crash Site
From here, the notable road trip stops include the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, the Skógafoss waterfall and the ever-elusive Sólheimasandur. Sólheimasandur is a massive stretch of black sand beach where a US navy plane once crashed. All passengers thankfully survived, but the spot has been left as a mecca for photographers and interactive works of art. The odyssey to find this hidden treasure is worth the trek, and image of the haunting plane wreckage against the other-worldly black sand makes a stark and unforgettable contrast. Your GPS will really come in handy to find this point off the main highway.
Pro tip: If you can, it’s best to get a car through the entrance gate. Otherwise, it's a 3.5 mile walk each way from the main road; an hour round trip walking or hiking. You can also do an ATV tour, which is another adventurous way to go. If you’re not feeling completely exhausted, continue on the journey to Dyrhólaey black sand beach and catch a glimpse of the cherished local puffins.
A Sustainable Oasis: The Luxury Ion Hotel
At the end of the day, head to the Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel, located inside the spectacular Thingvellir National Park. An oasis filled with thought-provoking contradictions, this hotel lives up to its tagline: where everything meets nothing. Settle into the spartan but trendy accommodations and indulge in a local burger and artisanal cocktail while immersing yourself in the untouched natural surroundings.
Glacial Impact: Snowmobiling At Thingvellir
Within the Thingvellir National Park, there are endless activities to pursue. Ring Road is where most tourists visit the massive Godafoss waterfall and Strokkur geyser, but I found it best to check those off your bucket list efficiently while on your way to snowmobiling on one of Iceland’s tremendous, world-renowned glaciers. There is nothing more exhilarating or mind-clearing than racing around the plains on pure white snow as far as your eyes can see.
Pro tip: Arctic Adventures is a great local company that can help you sort out the details if you prefer to book separately from the hotel concierge.
Arctic Snorkeling: Silfra Tectonic Fissure
The Silfra Tectonic Fissure is another fantastic Iceland adventure. The fissure is formed by the American and Euro-asian continental plates pulling apart, and running between the plates is the purest, most crystal clear freezing glacial water you can imagine. After being securely suctioned and harnessed into your massive gear, you can take an hour-long dip and glide through a magnificent underwater paradise while vibrant coral shimmers all around you.
Pro tip: Remember, you stay dry except for your face. Don’t be shy—drink the water along the way! It's the freshest tap water you'll ever gulp.
After freezing a bit, it’s time to rejuvenate in a local hot spring like Laugarvatn Fontana or Grjótagjá. The latter is a true trek into the wilderness, but if you embrace the challenge, a mystical volcanic cave awaits you. The cavern houses a steaming pool in which you can unwind and bathe, soaking up the magic of the very same location where Jon Snow was deflowered in Game of Thrones.
Bistro Breakfast: Reykjavik's Snaps Bistro
The flights back from Reykjavik to NYC departs in the early evening, so make the most of your last day at the end of the earth. Head straight to Reykjavik to explore the city. Start the day with brunch at the Kex Hostel, which is essentially Iceland’s interpretation of the venerable Ace Hotel. A hipster haven where explorers from every corner of the world can rest and revel, the Kex is curiously intriguing, painfully cool and strangely eerie. It has something for everyone, including solid home-cooked food that won’t disappoint.
Keep your car parked near the Kex while you explore the inner city. Next up: get caffeinated. Pulling shots of Counter Culture coffee half-way across the earth from New York City, Reykjavik Roasters is a must for your daily fix, particularly the Kárastígur location where effortless quirky Nordic design and youth culture abound.
Pro tip: Buy some Omnom chocolate bars for the road (or as gifts for loved ones back home). There’s just something special in the Icelandic dairy that makes these chocolates irresistible.
You're now a stone’s throw from the newly opened Braud & Co., where it is imperative that you indulge in whatever sumptuous creation the bakers are pulling out of the oven.
The iconic Bæjarins Hot Dog
Fueled up on baked goods and coffee, you’re ready to set out for the hilltop to see the Hallgrímskirkja cathedral with its soaring, minimalist buttresses and sterling gilded organ. Walk through the main street of Reykjavik to see the Harpa Concert Hall, an architectural feat on the harbor with expansive city views and alluring rooftop cocktails. As you explore the waterfront, it’s ritual to stop by Baejarins Beztu Pilfsur (translation, "best hot dog in town"), famous for serving former US President Bill Clinton. This spot has timeless cult status. Order the classic hot dog with the works. Next, saunter further along the water to the westernmost tip of the city where the Grotta lighthouse stands tall, proudly watching over the locals.
Pro tip: Timing is everything—if you go at low tide, you can walk across the beach, collect mussel shells and explore the lighthouse up close.
Salt Cod Fritters & Halibut Chowder At Matur Og Drykkur
As you make your way back to the harbor, indulge in lunch at Matur og Drykkur, which is hands down my favorite meal during my visits to Iceland, past and present. Despite the quaint, unassuming open kitchen, cookbooks from around the world on display and simple wooden tables, Matur og Drykkur is anything but casual. With elevated, innovative interpretations on classic Icelandic dishes and warm, thoughtful hospitality, you’ll be dreaming about this place long after you’ve landed back home.
I’m not sure when I will return to this land of cultural contradictions, expansively wondrous natural beauty and exhilarating adventure, but I know one thing for certain. There is simply no place like Iceland, where the earth simultaneously begins and ends.
Bidding Farewell To The Land Of Ice & Snow
Photos: Flickr/ Moyan Brenn, @_camillaruth_