when we were nearing Luca’s first birthday, my husband and I decided that for the first time ever, we’d take a trip just the two of us, without the baby. for some reason, with Luca being 1, we felt ready. a month after Luca turned 1, was Lu’s 40th birthday, so we wanted to do something new – go on an adventure! we’re such beach vacationers (we’ve done most of the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Bermuda, etc) that we wanted something different. something new – something to discover together!
as a mother to a 13 month old and entrepreneur (and wife of an entrepreneur), getting to take long vacations is tough. Lu’s birthday falls right before Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we couldn’t take a long trip, since we’ll be traveling for those holidays as well. plus, we’ve always loved quick weekend trips – they recharge you and when you come back to reality, you’re refreshed and inspired. it’s nice to break it up!
enter: Iceland. we’ve both heard so many amazing things about Iceland AND from NYC/NJ, it’s less than a 5 and a half hour flight! that’s like flying to California, and I’ve done quick weekend trips to California multiple times – for bachelorette parties, for work, etc.
if you live in the northeast and have been contemplating a weekend trip to Iceland, DO IT! it’s completely doable and an exciting, whirlwind of a trip! while you won’t be able to see everything, you’ll get to see plenty of Iceland’s beautiful country, their kind people, taste their local cuisine, and get a sense for their culture and lifestyle.
I say all of this, because this itinerary/post was created for a weekend trip. if you have the luxury of staying longer, that’s even better!
TIPS & NOTES
- this trip was a splurge for us, because it was Lu’s 40th birthday, after all. having said that, I didn’t find the prices to be much more exorbitant than NYC prices. thus, if you’re coming from a big city, you won’t be overwhelmed by the prices. the most expensive things are travel (like cabs), alcohol, and food that isn’t local to Iceland (so they’ve had to fly it in, which is then reflected in the price.) and keep in mind – there is no tipping in Iceland, so if you factor that into the prices at meals, it’s really quite reasonable (as long as you don’t order the reindeer, ha!)
- I have to pee ALL THE TIME (I’ve always been like that and postpartum, it’s much worse), so I was worried about the bathroom situation while traveling the countryside, but I was surprised/shocked by how many bathroom stops there are! I was never in an, “OMG I have to pee and there’s nowhere to go!”
- for cuisine, the Icelandic foods to try are the Shellfish Soup, any type of fish (we loved cod and arctic char), lamb, hot dogs (we didn’t have them – but apparently Bill Clinton said they’re the best hot dogs he’s ever had), dairy (the cheese was pretty spectacular), bread and butter, and Skyr (like a thick yogurt – we had it at breakfast and it was 10x better than any other yogurt I’ve had!)
- bring basic snacks, but don’t bring too many snacks. the whole point of traveling far and to exotic lands is to experience life there – and try their local foods and cuisines. I brought a bag of nuts and that’s IT. and I’m so happy I did, because there were times when I was hungry and if I had a snack in my bag, I would’ve just had that instead of trying something local. try to live in the moment! if you have major allergies or dietary restrictions, totally get it.
WHAT TO PACK
I read so many articles about what to pack for Iceland, and I still didn’t pack appropriately. here’s my ultimate packing list (aside from your toiletries, airplane outfits and underwear), now that I’ve visited Iceland in early November:
- a day pack to keep layers in – any backpack will do.
- snow boots with good hiking traction (these North Face ones I bought were AMAZING and comfortable)
- Blundstone boots for dinners and when we weren’t adventuring (like walking around the city)
- two pairs of thick socks (you’ll want to layer your feet – we didn’t do this the first day and our feet were freezing! I love these)
- an insulated wind and rain hooded parka: this is serious. it gets WINDY in Iceland and rains, you need something that wicks away the rain/snow, but also keeps you warm and insulated from the wind. we ended up not packing the appropriate wind/rain jackets (our typical big NJ winter coat didn’t cut it!), so bought Icewear jackets which were AMAZING and kept us perfectly toasty the rest of the trip.
- 2 long sleeve shirts for layering under sweaters
- 2 thick sweaters for the day time
- 2 sweaters for nighttime dinners (you will also want to pack long sleeeves/tanks/or t-shirts to wear underneath the sweaters for extra warmth if you’re doing a lot of walking to your dinners)
- ski gloves – these are the ones I used and was so happy I had them.
- a thick scarf that you can wrap around your face to block your face from the wind AND/OR a fleece neck warmer, like this.
- sunglasses and plenty of lip balm
- 2 pairs of thick jeans (I wore Express jeans and they kept me warm, but if I had brought my Madewell ones which are paper thin, I would’ve been miserable.)
- a really warm beanie with no poof on top (I learned this the hard way – it’s tough to keep your jacket hood on when you have a poof on your beanie!)
- optional: if you have the right jacket, this isn’t really necessary, but if you don’t, I recommend another layer like a thin down jacket shell, like this one. I used this the first day and a half, because I didn’t have my good Icewear jacket.
- optional: hand and feet warmers – if you’re doing snowmobiling or a glacier hike, I recommend these – our hands and feet got FROZEN on the snowmobiling trip and we wish we had brought some.
since the weather in Iceland can be unpredictable, we didn’t want to risk it by renting a car and since we wanted to see as much as possible, we hired a private tour guide instead of doing group tours. before the trip, I booked the private tour guide and gave him a list of the top sights I wanted to see each day and he built the route/tour based on that. the company we used was Guide to Iceland and have only positive things to say (they even refunded us for missing the Glacier Hike due to my breastfeeding fiasco, as you’ll see!)
- Iceland Air redeye flight left at 8:30pm and arrived 6:00am on Friday
Friday: Golden Circle + Snowmobiling
- Arrived at 6:00am
- Took a taxi ($127 for a 55 minute trip) to the pastry shop Braud & Co on Frakkastígur, known for their Cinnamon Roll Croissants (OMG they were the best pastries we’ve ever tasted!) FYI – for two coffees and two pastries, the total was $14. Not outrageous, right?
- Tour guide picked us up at the pastry shop and took us to see the Golden Circle, go snowmobiling, and have a late lunch at Tomato Farm (Friðheimar).
- Golden circle stops: Thingvellir National Park (to walk around), Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss waterfall
- From the Gullfoss waterfall, we were picked up for our snowmobiling tour on Langjökull Glacier with The Mountaineers. Probably our favorite part of the weekend – it was SO much fun! They provide you with the appropriate gear so you’re not freezing, since you’re snowmobiling on a glacier!
- Unfortunately, there was some winter weather and a few cars broke down on our bus ride back from snowmobiling, delaying us about an hour, so we didn’t get to go to the Tomato Farm for lunch 🙁
- The tour guide drove us to our hotel, Ion Adventure Hotel for the night. We changed and had some cheese and crackers and wine in the Northern Lights Bar which was magnificent (huge glass windows overlooking the terrain!) Then, we relaxed for a bit and then went to dinner. It was an incredible dinner! Lamb is native to Iceland, and so we ordered it and well, it was hands down the best lamb I’ve ever had in my life. We got a few other appetizers, like sunchokes, potatoes, and veggies, and needless to say, it was all amazing. The dessert was otherworldly, too! See more about the hotel in Hotels below!
Saturday: South Coast + Glacier Hike + Night in Reykjavik
- Breakfast at the hotel + then our tour guide picked us up at 8:30am
- If you follow me on Instagram, then you know that I had some #breastfeedingmama problems. Basically, I forgot my pump in the USA and I had been hand expressing Thursday night through Friday evening and it wasn’t cutting it, and I woke up extremely engorged. I was in a lot of pain and afraid of mastitis, a clogged duct, etc. The pharmacies didn’t open until 10am, and our tour guide driver was incredibly helpful – his wife was a nurse at a local hospital and he called her and she set me up with a midwife at the hospital and let me use their Medela hospital grade electrical pump. WHAT A RELIEF! After that, the pharmacy opened and I bought a manual hand pump, which lasted me the rest of the trip, thankfully.
- NEEDLESS to say, our itinerary changed as planned. We were off to a 2.5 hour delay, which meant we had to cut out the Glacier Hike, which I was sad to miss.
- Sights on the South Coast: Skogafoss waterfall, Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Reynisdrangar (Black Sand Beach – truly breathtaking, like nothing I’ve ever seen before), the town of Vik (where we stopped to buy Icewear jackets!)
- We wanted to see the Seljavallalaug pool, but it wasn’t open this time of year!
- It was raining this day, so we skipped seen Gljufrabui waterfall, because that required some walking through water and we didn’t want to be soaking wet for the rest of our trip.
- We had lunch at Suður-Vík, a restaurant in the town of Vik, before we turned around to go back to Reykjavik and it was outstanding – the BEST Cream of Asparagus soup of my life and some very fresh Icelandic arctic char.
- The drive back to Reykjavik was of course very scenic, we saw some of Iceland’s beautiful horses (they’re smaller and have longer manes and just look more exotic than horses in America – they’re very special.) Our driver stopped at Urriðafoss waterfall and it was a hidden gem!
- Checked into our hotel at 101 Hotels in Reykjavik (they upgraded us to the Presidential Suite, woot woot!) We washed up, packed, and got ready for dinner. We started with a drink at the hotel bar.
- Dinner at Grillmarkaðurinn, a gorgeous restaurant inside and out with a vibrant ambiance and great service. We had the Shellfish Soup, which was so fresh and flavorful. We ordered lamb, veggies, salad, and the dessert sampler, which is definitely meant to be for 4-6 people, not 2, haha. But, we finished it!
- We walked around Reykjavik and ended up at Kaffibarinn for a quick drink and then walked back home (it was about 11:30pm), hopeful we’d see the Northern Lights, but unfortunately, we did not!
Sunday: Spa stay at The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon + Flight home
- Lu and I were craving those Cinnamon Rolls from Braud & Co and luckily, they were only a few blocks away from our stay at the hotel, so we had a taxi driver pick us up and stop there first and then drive us to the Blue Lagoon.
- 9:15am arrival at The Retreat at Blue Lagoon. with 9:30am in-water massages (you’re floating in the lagoon – it’s all private – and covered by hot towels so you don’t get cold) which were so relaxing and just what we needed to end our trip.
- The Retreat was hands-down the nicest spa I’ve ever been to – it just opened in April and it’s a luxurious spa with beautiful facilities and amenities, amazing service, and it’s actually within a hotel, but you can purchase a day pass there, which we did. They give you a private locker room, which has a shower, robes, flip flops, towels, sink with products to use (like moisturizer, shampoo/conditioner/body wash, blow dryer, hair straightener, etc). The hotel/spa has a separate, larger area than the Blue Lagoon where you can swim around privately. There are no cell phones allowed, so you don’t see tourists taking pictures and videos – you’re able to relax and everyone respects one another’s privacy. If you want to go into the main Blue Lagoon, you can (it’s easy to get to from The Retreat Spa, since they’re right next to each other, you just go down some stairs), but after going into it myself, there’s really no reason to – there’s no comparison. The Retreat Spa is just so strikingly beautiful and the hot pools are nicer. There are saunas, steam caves, spa rooms, and at the end, you do “The Ritual” which takes about 30-45 minutes, where you go through a 3 step process of treating your entire body, starting with volcanic salt scrubs, then moving on to mud masks and algae basks. You rinse off in between each in these cave areas. I wish I had photos of it, but again, you’re not allowed to take photos. It’s just worth every single penny – the best money we spent on the trip, hands down.
- After the spa day, we had lunch at the spa’s Lava Restaurant, where I had an amazing Icelandic cod with avocado, tomatoes and broccolini. We had some sushi, drinks (I got a carrot-ginger juice which was amazing!) and enjoyed our last moments in Iceland.
- We took a taxi back to the airport, about a 20 minute drive.
- We flew home and got back just in time to put the baby down, at 7:30pm!
Night 1 (Friday): Ion Adventure Hotel: we knew we’d be exhausted on our first day and not in the mood to go out and party, and wanted the best possible chance of seeing the Northern Lights. We wanted something special and not in the city, so we chose the Ion Adventure Hotel, which is on the outskirts of Reykjavik (about 45 minutes outside). It was beautifully appointed, had the most amazing food, and a jaw-droopingly gorgeous back drop of the mountains. I can’t recommend this hotel enough!
Night 2 (Saturday): 101 Hotel: we wanted to check out the capital city of Reykjavik, so we opted to stay in the city center, at the 101 Hotel. It has a great location and was just a few blocks away from the restaurant we went to for dinner. It’s in the 101 area of Reykjavik with all of the shops, bars, and restaurants. The stay was great and as I mentioned, they upgraded us to the Presidential Suite, so we were very happy!