Over the past few year, the land of Vikings…Iceland, has become a must-visit destination. With a population of 300,000 people, during the spring and summer months, the population cumulatively grows to about 2 million.
The first time I went to Iceland, I took advantage of the extended lay-over offered by Icelandair en route to London. I did the Blue Lagoon package and, lucky for me, I arrived right when the Lagoon was opening and didn’t have to deal with the now oft-over populated hot spring.
On this most recent trip, I went with a group of 25 friends, all to celebrate my fiancé’s birthday. We had been planning this trip since January, and it was as epic as you might imagine. Friends spanning from all over the US and a couple from Australia, we all convened from our respective flights in Reykjavik on Friday April 27th, around 5AM…early.
We had rented two houses in Reyjavik and, all with the logistical help and support from Wake Up Reykjavik, our fearless tour guides and Viking leaders, our first adventure kicked off at 11AM. We had a full-size bus taking us all over, but focusing mostly on some of the natural attractions around the Golden Circle. Just as it sounds, the Golden Circle consists of three main sights – the Gulfoss Waterfall, the geothermal area in Haukadalur and the Pingvellir National Park. Our guide, Pietr had such deep knowledge and a true love for his country. His commentary throughout was full of tales of trolls and Vikings, but also of a beauty anyone can quickly see exists only on this incredible island.
Our tour of the Golden Circle ended at the Secret Lagoon – a much more secluded hot spring that has not yet become as much of a tourist destination as its Blue counterpart. We spent a good two hours there and it is quite good recuperation from a flight. Mind you, with their very permissive drinking in the pool rules, you have to be mindful not to get dehydrated and overheated.
Our meal that evening was at Kopar – a new Icelandic restaurant overlooking the harbor. Its quaint chalet feel was complemented by an elegance of service and exquisite food. Our group of 25 people were happily fed a series of appetizers, from rock crab soup, duck spring rolls and seared tuna. We also had a few orders of their larger dishes, the cod and risotto were both sublime. Iceland knows their fish.
A few bar spots were where we wandered next. The Lebowski Bar ended up being a surprise hit with a subterranean dance party going on, not to mention an entire menu of white Russians.
The following day (most of) the group heroically performed a 7-mile hike, including crossing current-crazy rivers, Iceland’s tallest waterfall, summit crossings and a pathless descent. It was definitely everyone’s greatest achievement of the day…and weekend.
Dinner that evening was at Bryggjan Brugghus Brewery (say that ten times fast!). We had bar bites and lots of drinks, crashed a wedding dance and then headed to Austur for a night of bottles and belligerence – which it very much was, but in the best possible sense.
On our final day, we visited a few bakeries, Braud&Co. is a must, as is Reykjavik Roasters. Most of the shops open at 1PM on a Sunday, so there weren’t too many things open, but you have to leave something for next time.
And what else did we leave for next time? Trying puffin, visiting the glaciers and one of our guests’ passports. Skal!