I still can’t believe we went to the most beautiful country in the world. Last spring I heard of an airline called Wow Airlines. They were starting nonstop service from LAX to Reykjavik and there was a special sale in October for $99 one way fares. The dates happen to synch with Olivia’s school October break so it sounded too good to be true. At first I was skeptical. I read some horror stories on Facebook about Wow having issues with flights leaving on time but then again, at that low rate, it wouldn’t bother me. To be fair, those delays were due to weather and no airline can control bad flying conditions. Let me disclose, our fare was $99 per person flying to Reykjavik, but our return fare was $189. This didn’t include meals and if we wanted to bring additional luggage, it cost $58.99 per bag, per flight. I knew there was no way I could go anywhere with just a carry on with a maximum weight of 22 pounds so I would definitely have to pay for our luggage. If we wanted to pre-select our seats in advance, that cost $12.99 per person, per flight. So when I priced the entire fare with all those extras the cost for the three of us came to $1,300. That is still less than ONE plane ticket we paid for our trip to Europe back in 2014. This was a deal I couldn’t resist.
They don’t have any in-flight entertainment (TV Screens) but that helps keep costs low and there are plugs for your devices. They also rent out iPads with movies and games loaded on them. We bought a few sandwiches and of course we brought candy for our sweet flight attendants so we got unlimited free drinks! The flight was a short eight hours and I was surprised at how roomy the seats were. When I bought the tickets, it felt like a just say yes and figure out the rest later moment. I wasn’t even sure about our itinerary and was concerned with our lack of a warm wardrobe but I booked the flight nonetheless!
I knew we didn’t have any warm clothes for the trip so I took advantage of the spring clearance sales and bought heavy coats and hiking boots for all three of us. Nordstrom Rack was the perfect source to find 70% off North Face boots and jackets. I also recommend picking up some Hot Hands from Amazon. I was so happy I had these during our long hikes in the rain.
Here’s the best part…I didn’t have to pay for our accommodations. Last year I joined a house swap website called Love Home Swap. At first I wasn’t sure about having strangers stay in our house but after a few people stayed in our house while we were out of town for a weekend, I realized it wasn’t an issue. Since I listed our house, we have had over 50 requests to swap with people from all over the world. It’s such an easy process, you search for the city you want to swap in, then you can filter by neighborhood, the size of house and you look through who is available to swap on your dates. There are three different ways to swap. You can do a direct swap, which means you go to the person’s house and they come to yours. Or you can swap for points, which means you can go to the person’s house but you use your points so they don’t have to stay at your house. They can then use those points to stay in your house at a another time or use their points for another house. The last option is a traditional cash rental which is similar to Airbnb. We ended up using our points because the person who we swapped with owns a house in Reykjavik, but she lives in Portland, Oregon. I became friends with her on Facebook so we could get to know each other first. I wanted a more authentic Icelandic experience so it was helpful to find a house. We saved so much money and stayed in a lovely three bedroom house in Reykjavik for a week!
I would say it’s definitely better to stay in a house than a hotel in Iceland. Let me also say that I didn’t find a diverse selection of rentals in Reykjavik on Airbnb. A majority of the rentals were small, Ikea furnished and looked like a typical Los Angeles boring apartment. Due to the surge in tourism (thanks to the cheap airfare) most hotels are booked up to a year in advance. Personally I don’t enjoy being around hordes of American tourists while I’m on vacation. I found it more pleasant to have a house with our own kitchen to cook in, we were able to wash our clothes and it was heaven sleeping in our own beds and having two bathrooms. Most Icelandic hotels are small and expensive but if you are looking for a hotel in Iceland, I do have an excellent recommendation but I’ll get into that later.
So once I covered where we were staying, next I needed to figure out what to do. Lucky for me I have a few friends who have traveled to Iceland so it was easy to put together an itinerary. I also follow When in Iceland on Instagram so their photos were a huge source of inspiration. I must say “Takk” (thank you in Icelandic) to my sweet friend Christina, who sent me her itinerary so I had an inside source of great places to stay, see and eat. Her photos are mesmerizing! I really crammed a lot of places into our six day trip.
Here is a list of my Must See & Do:
Admittedly this is Iceland’s biggest tourist attraction but a must see wonder. You must book tickets well in advance and I recommend going early or late due to the heavy crowds. We booked the Comfort Package for 9 am when they open. It wasn’t terribly crowded but the women’s changing room was packed. The best thing about the lagoon, once you get used to the smell of sulfur, the space is huge so you can swim away and have a whole section to yourself. Don’t worry about the weather. We went in October and even though it was forty degrees outside the water is set at 100 degrees year round.
The shipwreck museum/Hopsnes Lighthouse in Grindavik
Our flight arrived at 4 am and if you are flying into Reykjavik on Wow airlines, so will yours. However, I was happy for the early start because by the time we took the shuttle to pick up our rental car and stopped for an early morning meal, it was already 7 am. We had some time to kill before the Blue Lagoon opened so we drove into the town of Grindavik. It is so surreal seeing the sheep everywhere you look. We were in awe watching the strong waves of the Atlantic ocean crash into the rocky beaches. There is a cute lighthouse that we stopped at for some photos and I gotta say it was worth the brutally cold winds to get the shots.
Icelandic horseback riding
There is an interesting fact about Icelandic horses, they are the only breed of horse in the entire country. There is a law saying that if an Icelandic horse leaves the country it is not permitted to return. They are committed to keeping the Icelandic horse breed pure. We booked a private two hour tour and it was the highlight of our trip. I cannot emphasize enough that you have to ride an Icelandic horse during your stay.
Thingvellir is an absolute must-see! The park is enormous so anywhere you choose to go, you will find waterfalls and endless nature hikes. The park is about five times the size of Griffith Park in Los Angles so it would take days to see everything. The most popular attractions are listed here. Most of the filming of Game of Thrones is located here. We would drive around and pull over every time we saw a picturesque spot. You can purchase day passes at the entrance.
Iceland has an unique and diverse landscape. On the southern side of Iceland is a small town called Vik. It is home to the black sandy beach and a cliff called Reynisfjara/Reynisdrangar rock formations. This is the best viewing point during Puffin season. We just missed the puffins but it was still worth a visit because during low tide you can climb the incredible basalt columns. Be sure to hurry and book your trip because the town of Vik is endangered by local volcano Katla that is over due to erupt by ninety nine years!
Not too far away from Vik is the magical glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón. Depending on the time of year you visit you will find the bluest icebergs you have ever seen. Be careful when driving on the Ring Road, there are one lane bridges that gave us a heart attack playing chicken with the on-coming traffic.
It should be mandatory that if you are in Iceland you must dine at the Fridheimar tomato farm. You guys, I don’t even like tomatoes but it is sooooo good! Christina highly recommended it so I called to make a reservation. Turns out the day I wanted to go was the only day they closed the farm for annual maintenance. How is this my luck? Fortunately I was able to shift our schedule around so we could get a reservation (the last one of the day!) We devoured the endless tomato soup bar. Everything had tomatoes in it, even the water. Be sure to make reservations, it’s always booked!
We met the owner of the farm, Knútur. He was kind enough to explain how the farm operates and gave us a mini tour. We loved everything on the menu. I even brought home a jar of green tomato jam!
The city of Reykjavik is similar to Los Angeles but more colorful. There are trendy restaurants, bars and coffeeshops. Alcohol is terribly expensive. Parking can be tricky but not as bad as a Saturday night in West Hollywood. A good place to begin a city tour is at Hallgrimskirkja Church which is in walking distance to Laugavegur street. There you will find gift shops, restaurants and the infamous (random) Chuck Norris Grill. It’s the Icelandic equivalent to the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. You keep walking and soon you will end up at the harbor where you will find the iconic Sólfar (Sun Voyager sculpture).
So there you have it, my top must see locations in Iceland. Now, I have barely scratched the surface of this vast and unbelievable place. Thus I say, do your own research. There are some things we couldn’t do with the kid in tow that I would love to do on our next trip. For instance, scuba diving at the continental divide and riding a snowmobile. I suggest going during the fall. Prices are lower and you have a better chance of booking a cool rental in September or October. The summer months means 24 hours of sunlight and music festivals but also means you won’t have a true Iceland experience due to the crowds. The weather was cold enough to wear a coat but not miserably cold. I hope to catch some snow on our next trip.
Book your flight today before prices…gain altitude!!!