The air space above Iceland has been frequented by millions of Transatlantic flights, but in the last couple of years more and more travelers have started to explore what is hidden below the sheet of clouds. With numerous waterfalls (each one more beautiful than the next) and a myriad of natural hot springs and glaciers, it’s no wonder Iceland’s picturesque scenery has been the backdrop for some of Hollywood’s most visually stunning hits, from Game of Thrones to Star Wars – and even two of Justin Bieber’s music videos.
Whether you have the luxury of being able to stay for a while or only have a couple of nights for a stopover before continuing on to a final destination, the North Atlantic island is certainly worth checking out. While we encourage a longer stay to venture farther than the southwest area near the country’s capital Reykjavik, even 48 hours on the Nordic paradise will leave you breathless.
From New York City, the flight time is under six hours and IcelandAir flies from 12 US cities including Chicago, Denver and Orlando. The airline, which allows visitors to stay up to seven days in the country before traveling elsewhere, even offers a Stopover Buddy Program to help with the travel itinerary. The special runs until March 31, 2017 and the free service even will help organize a special birthday, anniversary or any other celebration.
In 2016, the Kardashian-West gang jetted to Iceland for Kourtney’s birthday and Sophia Bush visited in November for a “spontaneous 60 hours.” And while we followed their trips with envy, the wanderlust of it all was just too real for HELLO! to not witness the majestic beauty first hand for a couple of days.
We arrived into Keflavík International Airport at 6:45 a.m. and were greeted by our buddy Huginn R, who works in the Business Intelligence Department at IcelandAir. Immediately, we were whisked away on a short 20-minute drive to the famous Blue Lagoon to refresh and recharge after the overnight flight.
Though the geothermal spa is man-made, it is situated in a lava field making it feel as though you are immersed in the mountains that surround you. After changing in the main building, visitors can either enter the lagoon from the inside – like Kim Kardashian did when she was there – or brave the freezing temperatures and leave your robes hanging before plunging into the jacuzzi-like temperatures. (We did as the Icelandic do and stepped outside).
Once in the water, there is a station set up to distribute the mineral-rich clay that the lagoon produces. With our face masks on, we then waded our way to the bar for a spiked apple cider (think a swim-up bar at a tropical resort – just nestled in between mountains instead!). After watching the sunrise around 10:30 a.m. and making a quick visit to the steam room, we showered and changed to continue on to our next stop.
With heavy stomachs and lunch time around the corner, Huginn brought us to Bryggjan in nearby fisherman village Grindavik so we could taste what Sigourney Weaver has called her favorite lobster soup. The restaurant had a line out the door and after a couple of emptied pots, it was finally our turn. The chunks of lobster in the broth were exactly what we needed to warm us up from the inside.
No time to waste and quite a distance to travel between all the sites, we hopped in the car to trek nearly two hours to Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which happens to be featured in Justin Bieber’s I’ll Show You video. Despite the snowy weather and gray day, as soon as we pulled up, we were transfixed. After taking our Instagram-worthy snap at a lookout point, we didn’t let the hail and rain stop us from venturing behind the waterfall. Quickly realizing that wasn’t the smartest idea due to the combination of the wind and water, we hightailed it out of the cold and were ready for the next destination Huginn had planned.
A 45-minute drive later, we arrived to Dyrholaey peninsula near the town of Vik that is also featured in the pop star’s video. Walking up to the lighthouse with its red top, our eyes quickly shifted to the black sand beach below. Huginn pointed out the cliff that Justin sat on during the video, so naturally the Belieber in us wanted to imitate the move.
With sunset quickly approaching (during winter months sunset starts around 3:50 p.m.), we got back in the car for the last place of the day. Even though going to Iceland in the winter gives visitors the best opportunity for seeing the Northern Lights, our chance was hindered because of gray skies and snowy conditions. To make up for it, our buddy planned an impromptu surprise visit to a cave. The cave, which is situated on Huginn’s family friend’s property, was built by Celtic monks around the 900s. Inside, once we scattered candles all around, we were able to see an original cross etched into the side. No photo would do the visual justice of this unofficial landmark.
With not even 24 hours in Iceland under our belt and so much already accomplished, it was time to unwind and enjoy a good meal with great company and even better wine. Making our way closer to our sleeping accommodations for the night – an IcelandAir modern cabin in Fludir – we stopped at the Fosshotel in Hekla for a bottle of red and one of Iceland’s staples – lamb steak. Fosshotel is a great option if you want to stay outside of Reykjavik and near volcanoes including Eyjafjallajökull and Fimmvörðuháls.
After a good – no scratch that, an amazing night’s sleep – with not a peep to be heard anywhere, we were ready to get a move on for yet another packed day. Looking outside, the snow fell overnight making the landscape that much more serene. Once the car was packed, we drove to Fridheimar Farm, featured in an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, to check out the greenhouse that produces tomatoes year round despite the long, dark winters. We also couldn’t resist a quick photo opp with the horses nearby. (Fun fact: Icelandic horses are smaller but stockier and can be mistaken for ponies).
From there, it was time to see a couple of highlights along the Golden Circle, which is a ring road that encompasses the country. Sorels on, hats and gloves in place, we got out of the car and walked the short trail to Gullfoss waterfall. More massive than Seljalandsfoss, this iconic destination has several lookout points to give the optimal experience and was one of the reasons the Game of Thrones location scouts chose Iceland for many of the scenes. Down the road, visitors can also stop to experience the Stokkur geyser, which shoots water every four to eight minutes.
We then opted to drive the hour to Thingvellir National Park so we could get to Reykavik with plenty of daylight left. In the park, Huginn showed us the Silfra rift that separates the North American and Eurasian Plates. Looking at the water, we thought we saw seals but it turned out that this location is world famous with divers, even in the Icelandic winter temperatures.
Having experienced a great amount of nature, it was time to get to the capital to explore. The most populated city in Iceland, this coastal town did feel much like a ski village with its rows of colored buildings and cold-weather shops. Unfortunately, the Hallgrímskirkja church tower was closed for renovations, but we highly recommend taking the elevator up to see the city from above. We then walked to Harpa Hall, the city’s main concert venue. The most mesmerizing parts of this building are the windows and ceiling. Just wandering around the town and popping into the shops including Geysir (a store like Intermix with clothes and custom candles) was a perfect end to a whirlwind trip.
We did work up quite the appetite shopping and browsing so it was only fitting we tried the original location of David Beckham’s favorite London burger place, Hamborarabúlla Tómasar (Tommi’s Burger Joint). To toast a successful trip, we finished with an old fashioned at Slippbarinn before retreating to the Centerhotel Plaza. Other hotels within walking distance we recommend are the Borg Hotel and the 101 Hotel that hosted Kim and Kanye West.
In Iceland, a country that looks like a heart on its side, it was easy to fall in love with everything about this island that is more green than icy.