As we did our daily scour through thriftytraveler.com for flight deals and steals, we saw one we could not pass up; Iceland here we come! This was an easy decision to make. Who doesn't want to go to an island known to have everything from volcanoes, geothermal pools, geysers, waterfalls... and oh did I mention the Northern Lights?
WOW that's a good deal
We booked our flights from WOW Air for $229...yup, you read that right. $229. Per person. Round-trip. Non-stop. For those of you unfamiliar with WOW Air (as were we 1 month ago), they are an international budget airline. They have semi-comfortable seats but offer no wifi, snacks, or even water. One small duffel bag is allowed and additional luggage costs approximately $51 if you book in advance online. If you plan ahead, pack some snacks and download a few movies, the 5-hour non-stop flight from DC to Iceland goes by pretty quick.
As this trip was planned 2 months in advance, we had plenty of time to prepare a complete itinerary full of beautiful landscapes and definitely no sleep. Here are 7 Iceland experiences not to miss:
1. The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is a natural geothermal pool charged with nourishing minerals, regulates to approximately 100 degrees, and self-cleanses every 40 hours. There are several packages you can choose from at the Blue Lagoon, we chose the 'comfort package.' This package entitles you to use a towel and two facial masks. The Blue Lagoon definitely has some of the best views of the geothermal area and worth the pricey entrance fee.
Tip: Bring flip flops and your own robe, trust me.
2. Europe & North American Divide
The bridge lets you step foot on both the Europe and North America continents at the same time. It's cool to see how a volcanic eruption can cause such grand repercussions on the island. The divide gets wider by 2 cm a year.
3. The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a must according to Guide to Iceland which is one of the best sites out there that focuses on everything Iceland. We made all the major stops highlighted on the route including the Flosagjá fissure, Öxarárfoss Waterfall, Geysir and Gulfoss Waterfall. Each one of these spots had breathtaking views, even though it was 20-something degrees, it was #worthit. You'll find plenty of detail on all the Golden Circle stops so I won't go into it, however, one of the best adventures we had was stopping along the road to get up close and personal with Icelandic horses. These friendly, yet small horses are found everywhere along the ride.
Tip: Start early, there are only 5-6 hours of daylight in November.
4. Reynisfjara Beach
The Reynisfjara Beach is also known as the Black Sanded Beach on the South Central coast of Iceland. After your four-hour road trip, a beautiful black sand beach (#duh) with wondrous cliffs await and infinite birds soar the sky. As it was 30-something degrees Fahrenheit it wasn't your usual beach day. We wrapped up tight with scarves, gloves, hats and thick jackets and joined the hundreds of other tourists.
Tip: There's also a cafe on site in case you didn't bring packed lunches.
5. Skaftafell Waterfall Park
The Skaftafell Waterfall is a four-hour drive from Reynisfjara Beach and if the weather is nice (the limited time in Summer) you can get up-close and personal to this waterfall. The trek up to the waterfall is nothing to scoff at. I had to stop quite a few times up the hill to catch my breath but in about 30 minutes you can be on a bridge a few meters away from it. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to get there. We looked at the icy bridge from the peak of the cliff and said, "yup, this is good" and started heading down.
Tip: If you are visiting in winter you may not be able to go down the bridge so plan accordingly.
Note there are walking tours available at the ranger station where you'd be able to get chains for your boots for extra traction.
6. Downtown Reykjavik
The stroll downtown will give you a hipster vibe complete with small cafés, street art, and classic pubs. A few places we would recommend include:
Also, if you get a chance walk along the waterfront and check-out the theater with great architecture full of souvenir shops (although pricey) and cafés. You can purchase tickets in advance and see a show while you are there.
7. The Northern Lights
No trip to Iceland would be complete without spotting the Aurora Borealis (northern lights). In winter the activity typically ranges from moderate to high. You have to find a spot that's dark and clear and you'll have a good chance and see them. During our trip, we had a span of several days where the nights were overcast. We hunted every day and even got up at 2 AM and went searching one last time and we were rewarded for our efforts.
Tip: Use this site to monitor the Aurora forecast during your trip.