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Iceland Vacation

Putting the Sparkle in Your Champagne Birthday

Iceland Nature

For this special trip to Iceland, I’ll tell you about the classic countryside experiences and also get you off the beaten path to some lesser-known sights. You’ll do the traditional Golden Circle tour with a few extra stops thrown in, and you’ll take that soak in the Blue Lagoon – birthday spa day anyone?

You’ll also take a stroll through a lava field, see mystical black-sand beaches, visit a glacier lagoon, explore charming, coastal towns, take a self-guided tour through the most remote part of the country, and relax in another set of hot springs hidden in a vibrant valley. Since you’re keen on viewing the Aurora Borealis, I can set you up with tools and info that will increase your chances of a sighting. And while you’ve already got some plans for Reykjavik, I’m happy to give you some extra city suggestions, just in case you find yourself looking for a great flea market, the best place to try a pylsa (a hot dog) with remoulade and fried onions, or information on joining the runtur, a weekend-long pub crawl.

Jet lag!

After a red-eye flight, get acclimated to your new time zone with a whole lot of relaxation. Don’t worry about seeing the sights – you’ll be back here at the end of your trip!

The Golden Circle

Today you’ll do the famous Golden Circle tour, a scenic loop that will provide you with a great introduction to the Icelandic countryside. The first stop on your clockwise drive is Thingvellir National Park, one of the country’s two UNESCO World Heritage sites. The park is notable for being the location of the world’s oldest parliament and for being the place where the European and North American tectonic plates meet. On a pleasant day, spend some time exploring the park; you can pick up a trail map at the visitors center. The tiny town of Laugarvatn has a few lunch spots, the best of which is the charming Lindin Bistro Cafe. A more affordable option is packing a picnic; adventurous eaters can pick up dried fish and other local snack foods from the Kolaporti? flea market in Reykjavik. The next stop on your tour is Geysir, the vertical jet stream of hot water for which all other geysers are named. The final stop on the traditional loop is the Gulfoss waterfall. But don’t leave the area without a visit to the Strokkur geyser, which is more reliable and arguably more impressive than Geysir.

Accommodation: Reykjavik is the perfect spot to do some couch surfing! Other towns throughout the country won’t have as many host options.
Approximate Price per Person: $75

Water, Water Everywhere

Today you can appreciate water and its many forms by soaking in some hidden hot springs, walking behind a waterfall, and touching a glacier.

Take the Ring Road to the town of Hverager?i and pick up a village map at the gas station. Drive just beyond the horse stables to find a trailhead and car park. The walk to the Reykjadalur Valley hot springs is easy and takes about an hour. You’ll see the bathing pools – the ones by the waterfalls are the perfect temperature.

Lunch back in town before moving on to your next stop, the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Walking the path that goes behind the waterfall affords you an incredible opportunity to view this natural beauty from every angle. Just down the road is another waterfall with a different look. Skogarfloss, is pictureperfect – the quintessential waterfall.

Nearby is the Solheimajokull glacier. Guided hikes across the ice are offered, or you can just walk right up to it and touch its tongue.

Continue on to Vik, a charming, seaside town known for its black-sand beaches and mysterious rock formations. Explore the basalt columns, and enjoy dinner at Halldorskaffi in the center of town.

Accommodation Recommendation: Options in Vik are limited. The Youth Hostel offers good rates and a fun environment. Guesthouse Steig, located just outside the city center, is more relaxed.

Approximate Price per Person: $125

A Hidden Canyon and an Iceberg Lagoon

About 45 minutes east of Vik, off of route 206, you’ll find one of Iceland’s most hidden treasures. Though small for a canyon, Fjadrargljufur’s breathtaking landscape is filled with interesting spikes and arches. Take a little time to enjoy this unique view.

Continue on to Vatnajokull, the largest National Park in Europe. Pick up a trail map from the visitors center, and spend some time exploring. A recommended walk is along the 1.5 km Svartifoss Trail, which leads hikers to the picturesque Black Waterfall.

Just down the road is Jokulsarlon, the country’s stunning iceberg lagoon. Here, the Jokulsa River chips away at Brei?amerkurjokull, a once inland- residing glacier. As pieces of the massive ice block crumble, the force of the river pushes runoff sediment downwards, creating a giant and continually growing basin. The result is an iceberg sculpture garden floating on a lake of electric-blue glacial water. Enjoy lunch at the onsite cafe, and consider a boat tour, which will bring you up-close and- personal with the basin’s main inhabitants: playful seals.

Accommodation: The nearby Hali Country Hotel offers a good dinner and reasonable rates. There is also at least one couch-surfing option in Hofn.

Approximate Price per Person: $130

Volcanic Voyage

Get an early start today; you have a lot of ground to cover before your next stop. The first part of your journey will take you through the far eastern part of Iceland. On your way to lunch in the artsy town of Seydisfjordur, take in the stunning and remote scenery of the eastern fjords, keeping an eye out for reindeer herds; this is the only part of the country where they roam in the wild.

Once in Seydisfjordur, take a little time to enjoy the pleasant surroundings. With its charming architecture and position at the mouth of a beautiful fjord, the town is considered one of the most attractive in Iceland. Stretch your legs on one of the lovely walking paths, and appreciate the local art. Exhibits are also on display at Skaftfell, a space that doubles as a bistro and makes for a great lunch spot.

In the afternoon, you’ll voyage through Iceland’s volcanic region. Stop at the Krafla, where you can take a walk through the lava fields. This unusual “moonscape” feels otherworldly, and navigating it is a one-of-a-kind experience. End your day with a relaxing soak in the Grjotagja, a stunning underground lava cave with a warm pool fed by hot springs.

Spend the night in the tiny town of Reykjahli?, and unwind with dinner and drinks at Tivoli.

Accommodation Recommendation: Hotel Reynihlid

Approximate Price per Person: $150

Horses and Turf Houses

Start your day with an invigorating visit to the Hverfjall volcanic crater. You can take an easy hike around the symmetrical rim of this 2,500-year-old geological wonder.

Once on the road, your first stop should be at Godafoss. While you’ve likely already seen some spectacular waterfalls during your time in Iceland, this thunderous sight is still worth a stop.

Stop for lunch in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest “city.” Explore the streets and settle into the Blaa Kannan Cafe where you can enjoy tasty sandwiches and yummy pastries.

You’re in the heart of Icelandic horse country, so you may want to take a ride on one of these fast and friendly animals. A good place to do so is atHestaSport, just outside the tiny town of Varmahli?.

You may have been noticing the grass-covered houses scattered throughout the country. The Glaumbaer Museum in Skagafjordur allows visitors to pay a visit to a historical turf-house colony. A tour through these fascinating structures will give you interesting insight into Icelandic rural life of the past. Enjoy the hot tea and traditional Icelandic pastries at nearby Askaffi, where the staff dress in traditional clothing.

Accommodation Recommendation: Hotel Varmahli?

Approximate Price per Person: $130

The Home Stretch

You’re nearing the end of your epic road trip, but there are a few sights left to carry you along that final home stretch. The first is Borgarvirki, an ancient fort from the Viking era that rests on top of a volcanic plug. Climb to the top of this massive structure, and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views over the region.

Next, take a detour to the Glymur waterfall. Another waterfall?! Yes – it’s Iceland’s tallest, and seeing it requires a beautiful one-hour hike, which will take you up cliff faces and through a cave. You’ll love it!

Back in Reykjavik, celebrate your return to civilization with dinner and drinks!

Approximate Price per Person: $75

A Birthday Spa Day

After trekking through the mud and ash and braving some chilly conditions, you’ve earned a champagne birthday spa day at Iceland’s famous The Blue Lagoon.

Most of the sights you’ve visited up until this point have been free, which means you might be able to splurge on spa treatments and a tasty dinner at the lodge’s Lava Restaurant. Plus, you can save on admission by buying your tickets ahead of time online. Do it up – you only get one champagne birthday!

Note: if you have a flight to catch on this final day of travel, consider going to the Lagoon on day 1 or 2, as a side trip from Reykjavik.

Approximate Price per Person: $175

Days 9 and 10: The One and Only City

Ísland 🇮🇸 Photo by @arnarkristjans_photography! #MyStopover

A post shared by Icelandair (@icelandair) on

After a hazy first day, now is your time to really dig into Reykjavik Iceland’s one and only city. This quirky capital is full of colorful architecture, interesting eateries, and crazy nightlife. Enjoy some self-guided exploration, and consider visits to the following:

– Harpa concert hall: The interior of this award-winning, architectural masterpiece is even funkier than its jagged exterior.

– Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach: While you’ll have the opportunity to soak in a number of hot springs during your visit, consider checking out this popular local hangout. The complex features heated pools sitting directly under the nearby airport’s flight path.

– Hallgrimskirkja church: This recognizable landmark offers great views over the city.

– The Icelandic Phallological Museum: Hhhmmmm…

While it can be expensive to dine in Reykjavik, there are some cheap eats serving up delicious fare. Favorites include:

– Baejarins Beztu Pylsur: Though touristy, this is the spot to try a pylsa, or a hot dog with remoulade and fried onions.

– Nudluskalin: A Thai noodle shop that incorporates Icelandic flavors.

– C is for Cookie: Warm up in this cozy sweet shop with a cup of their delicious hot chocolate.

– Sjavargrillid: More of a “splurge,” this rustic bistro dishes up local seafood with a modern flair.

The key to drinking on a budget in Reykjavik is happy hour! If you’re here during the weekend and are interested in joining the runtur, a weekend-long pub crawl, head to Laugavegur Street on Friday or Saturday evening.

Approximate Price per Person: $75

Accommodation Recommendation: Your Icelandic couch surfing guests in Reykjavik will be missing you by now. Pay them another visit!

Takeaways

The key to drinking on a budget in Reykjavik is happy hour! If you’re here during the weekend and are interested in joining the runtur, a weekend-long pub crawl, head to Laugavegur Street on Friday or Saturday evening.

Stay informed… about the best viewing dates for the Northern Lights by tracking this Aurora Forecast.

You only need… your national driver’s license to rent a car in Iceland… though a good map would be a smart add-on.

Pack for… the varied terrains and weather conditions that you will encounter. Sturdy shoes, warm clothes, and beach towels are “must-bring” items.

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