The next installment of intrepid interviews takes us again to the (sometimes) frosty north – Iceland! Okay, it’s true – I’ve written about Iceland before. Kind of a lot. But can you fault me? It’s one of those places I can’t get out of my head. Last summer when I jaunted off to Israel, my husband went on his own adventure to Iceland. He got to experience a whole different side of it – the sunny side. Ends up visiting Iceland in summer is a very different experience from when we were there in February and couldn’t stay warm! But that’s enough about the trip from me – after all, I wasn’t even there. I’ll let him tell you the rest in his own words.
Last summer you went to Iceland as a solo traveler. What was it like traveling on your own for the first time?
Well, it wasn’t that scary because it was a place I’d been to before. I felt like I knew Iceland and it’s a relatively small place. I also knew many people there speak English. It’s a very friendly place to visit.
One thing I noticed when traveling alone is that either I’m more approachable, or maybe it’s easier for me to approach other people. When I’m in a group, maybe other people don’t feel like asking me questions – or maybe if I’m alone in another country, I feel like it’s easier to ask for help or talk to strangers? I don’t know.
Either way, at a restaurant called Grillmarket (Grillmarkadurinn in Icelandic) there was another couple who sounded American. I didn’t remember the tipping policy in Iceland, so I politely asked them if they know if it was okay to tip or not, since in some countries it can be frowned upon or viewed as impolite to tip. They didn’t exactly know, but we got into a conversation. They were from Tennessee, I think? We started talking a little bit and had a good conversation. I don’t think we’d have talked if I had a travel companion. So, when you’re on your own you sometimes have the opportunity to have more interesting interactions.
You also planned the trip in about two weeks flat, maybe even in less time than that. How did you do that? What was that experience like?
I bought plane tickets and then contacted a travel tour agency that books everything for you called Eskimos. I picked the excursions, days, and order that I wanted and let them schedule it. Basically, I decided I was okay paying whatever cost and just letting someone else schedule everything.
Trying to book these excursions the week before I left still caused a little bit of stress with the time difference between here and Iceland, because Eskimos is in Iceland. Each email correspondence took about a day simply because their work hours are the middle of the night here. Ideally I would have had more time – a week was pretty short notice, but it worked out in the end.
Was it worth paying the extra? Would you have been able to do all that on your own?
I think it was definitely worth it. I wouldn’t have been able to do all that on my own and plan a trip in under a week.
When you travel abroad, you generally go to new places. This was one of your first repeat visits to a place, right? What was it like returning to a destination you’d been before?
Being to a place I’d been to before within the span of a few years meant it was all still fresh in my mind, so getting around felt fairly natural. I knew where the famous hot dog stand was, I could just walk there and didn’t need to look it up. I knew right where Grillmarket was… it was really nice because I knew where the things I wanted to do were, so I could just go straight there. That cut out some planning time. It also meant there were some activities I had already done, so I could focus on excursions and other things I didn’t do on my past visit.
The last time you went to Iceland it was winter (late February). This time it was summer. How did the two different seasons compare? What was your favorite?
Late February was wet, windy, and rainy, and I actually expected it to be snowy (but it wasn’t). It was very much like a Seattle winter, but windier – slightly worse. Once you got wet it was harder to get warm and dry.
Summer, it wasn’t really that cold at all, except when the wind picked up, and it was close to being light all day long, so I never saw it get dark completely. This was really strange, but really cool. It would be 11 pm at night and you would be expecting the sun to go down any minute but it would just hang there – it would feel like 7 or 8 pm. It was a surreal experience.
So the sun never went down?
It technically went down for about an hour, but it was really late so I was always asleep.
Where did you stay? How did you decide to stay there?
I really like the experience that AirBnB offers, so I stayed at an AirBnB right next to Kringlan, Reykjavik’s largest shopping mall. It also wasn’t too far from the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, which was good because I had all of my excursions depart from there.
I also never had to take a taxi – I could walk a couple miles to downtown, and because the sun never set while I was awake there was no reason not to, even when it was 10 or 11 at night. I also find one of the best ways to get to know a city is to walk around it, you never know what hidden gem you might stumble upon.
Did you like your AirBnB host?
Yeah, I met the son of the AirBnB host on the first day and talked to him a little bit. We didn’t really interact much otherwise. It was a nice place, a one-bedroom ground floor apartment in a small community. Staying there made me feel like a local, my very own Reykjavik apartment!
What did you do on the trip?
I tried to focus mainly on excursions, because on the last trip we did two photo tours but not much outdoorsy otherwise. This time I wanted to do some things that I don’t normally do on my own that were more adventurous, including a glacier hike, snowmobiling, and ATVing, all on back-to-back days. I also saw a show at Harpa, went on a walking tour through I Heart Reykjavik, and went back to Blue Lagoon.
What was the show?
“How to be Icelandic in 60 minutes”. I would recommend it, it was inexpensive and very funny. And at the very least I would recommend going to some kind of show at the Harpa. It’s a beautiful opera house and concert hall. Seeing it from the outside or inside is one thing, but seeing a show is another – it lets you experience the Harpa and not just observe it.
What was your favorite moment of the trip? Why?
Probably Blue Lagoon and eating at Grillmarket. Actually, I went to Grillmarket twice. Blue Lagoon is just so relaxing; I’ve never been any place quite like it. From the giant heated outdoor pools carved into the rocks, to the silica face mask, to the floating massage, it’s just a great way to spend a day.
The view from snowmobiling is also one of my favorite moments as well. The view from the top of the glacier was breathtaking.
What was your favorite meal on the trip?
Well… (laughs) probably Grillmarket and the Sea Baron. Grillmarket is my favorite restaurant in Reykjavik, their espresso martini is excellent! The Sea Baron is also one of my favorites. It’s not really a multi-course meal like the Grillmarket, but their lobster bisque is excellent and there’s always a line to the door.
What was the biggest surprise on the trip? Was there anything that caught you off guard or was unexpected?
How hard it is to drive a snowmobile! It’s very difficult to turn, and if you’re on a slope you have to lean into the slope—otherwise, you can potentially roll it over, which someone in our group did. ATVs are much easier to drive, and therefore much more fun.
Why should someone consider visiting Iceland?
Because it’s beautiful and there are lots of things to do. One of the best sights on this trip was when we got to our destination during snowmobiling. It happened to be a clear day, which it isn’t always – so don’t plan your excursion with that expectation. But the view was absolutely amazing from the mountain summit. Easily one of the best moments of the trip – maybe aside from the Grillmarket of course
Also, in Iceland you can go from black sand beaches, to a volcanic crater, to waterfalls, to a glacier hike, to snowmobiling, to the Northern Lights, to hot springs, to the city… the number of activities and changes of scenery are absolutely incredible. On our first trip, we also saw the Golden Circle, which was amazing – and almost universally regarded as a must do for first time visitors.
What tips do you have for people traveling to Iceland for the first time? What about repeat visitors?
For the first time: bring layers of clothing and see as many sights as you can. And go to Blue Lagoon, even though it’s touristy. You have to go there at least once. If you find it’s not for you… then that’s okay. But I like it!
For repeat visitors: Well, then you should already know what you like! Again, bring layers and dress for the weather. I liked doing things I hadn’t already seen. But also go to your favorite restaurants, try some new places – but for myself I couldn’t find anything that topped Grillmarket. Also, if I had more time or a car I’d try a different hot spring – one that’s more remote.
Anything else people should know?
If you see people with ice cream cones, try to find out where they came from. Icelandic ice cream is delicious. You never know, you may find a really delicious ice cream shop if you follow them. Oh, and “Turkish Pepper” flavor is actually licorice flavor, and it’s very popular.
Where can we find you on the internet?
All interview pictures courtesy of Jason Rost.
P.S. If you love the picture of the volcanic cone and waterfall at the top – it’s one of my absolute favorites from Iceland – I’m now offering it and a bunch of other Iceland photos in my print shop. You can check them out below!
- Reykjavik Recommendations
- Iceland Day 6: Blue Lagoon and goodbye
- Iceland Day 5, Part 2: Golden Circle – Geysir, Strokkur,…
- Iceland Day 5, Part 1: Golden Circle – Kerið and…
- Giantbomb’s Iceland Travelogue
- Iceland Day 4, Part 2: Snæfellsness peninsula photo tour
- Iceland Day 4, Part 1: Snæfellsness peninsula photo tour
- Iceland Day 3, Part 2: Phallological museum and hot dogs?…
- Iceland Day 3, Part 1: Icelandic horseback riding
- Iceland Day 2, Part 2: Reykjavik exploration, Kolaportið flea market,…
- Iceland Day 2, Part 1: Arrival at Keflavik airport, Rekyjavik…
- Iceland Day 1: Flight from Seattle