Over Thanksgiving, my mom and I went on an incredible 11-day trip to Europe! Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post trip recaps for each country we traveled to – Iceland, England, Spain and Ireland. Our first stop was Iceland.
Our flight to Reykjavik was an overnight flight, so ideally we were supposed to sleep on the plane- obviously, that didn’t exactly happen. We were so excited to finally start our vacation that we barely slept! We even saw a sneak peak of the Northern Lights somewhere over Canada. Side note: IcelandAir was fantastic! I would highly recommend flying them not only for how inexpensive their flights were ($340 one-way Chicago to Reykjavik to London… take advantage of their free stopover!), but also the quality of the aircraft and service.
We arrived in Iceland around 7am and it was pitch black. Because the country is so far north and basically in the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t rise until close to 10am in November! We took the FlyBus from the airport to a bus stop just down the street from our AirBNB. It was super easy to use! We couldn’t check into our AirBNB until early afternoon, so we dropped off our suitcases with our host and went exploring.
True to its name, Iceland was pretty chilly. Not any worse than a Chicago winter, but because our fall was so mild, it just felt colder. It snowed a bit on and off as we meandered through the quaint town. Between the snow and the Christmas lights and decorations, it was a winter wonderland!
We mostly went in and out of shops and walked around the waterfront, but we also went to Hallgrímskirkja. This is a church that has the most incredible view of Reykjavik from the top!
Our AirBNB was a perfect location! While it was tiny, it was really all the space we needed and was a good deal. A comfy bed and warm place for a reasonable price.
Northern Lights Tour
At 9pm we set out on a Northern Lights Tour. Our guides took us out into the middle of the fjords to ensure there was minimal light pollution. They track the lights so they had a pretty good idea of where we could find them! The Aurora Borealis and stars were incredible.
They actually aren’t vivid green in person, but rather they are a misty white with green tints! The camera exposure makes them green. But it doesn’t diminish the majesty of this natural phenomenon.
It was pretty chilly out in the fjords, so we were glad we had rented down jackets from the tour company. They were very helpful with showing us how to set up our cameras and let us borrow tripods.
This was our favorite day in Iceland. We took a day tour through the South Coast and went on a glacier hike. I cannot recommend our tour company more!! Our guide Didi was great and our glacier guide Zachie was so entertaining, too!
We started the day at Skógafoss Waterfall where we were able to hike to the top! It was actually pretty tiring because the stairs were steep.. and there were so many. But the view from the top was worth it.
Black Sand Beach of Vík
Our next stop was the black sand beach of Vík. The sand turns black because of volcanic ash mixing with the sand. This was actually home to a few Game of Thrones scenes from Season 7, including the beach and cave at Dragonstone and the waterfront shots of Eastwatch by the Sea.
The bulk of our day was spent on the Sólheimajökull Glacier. It is hands down one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! The wind was crazy to get to the actual glacier, but once we were on the ice it was calm. Our guide showed us where the glacier used to be in 2010 and it was shocking to see the effects of global warming in person. I mean, obviously we hear about the polar ice caps melting, but it’s a whole different experience to actually see it.
I didn’t quite know what to expect, but the glacier hike completely exceeded my expectations. My mom put it best when she said it looked like waves just froze. The ice was the most brilliant and pure blue color. It was just so surreal we were actually hiking a freaking glacier!!
Our night ended with a stop at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. Usually you can hike behind this one, but it was getting dark and too cold to do so. We were pretty wiped from the hike, so we didn’t spend too much time here.
- Svarta Kaffið: This was our favorite place we went to! It’s simple, just soup and beer. The atmosphere is cozy and the food is delicious! I’d also recommend the Christmas beer, a local holiday favorite.
- Ostabúðin: We went here for dinner our first night. The meat soup was salty and delicious. My mom and I split the plaice and ended with their chocolate cake.
- Icelandic Street Food: Not our favorite, but the food was inexpensive. Again, just another soup place, but a decent choice.
We LOVED Iceland and both want to go back. I’d want to return in the summer so I could go hike in the highlands, but it seems like it’d be beautiful in any season. The food is definitely pricey, due to them having to basically import everything, so be aware of this when budgeting for a trip there. I’d also want to explore the town of Vík, as I’ve heard that it’s worth visiting! All in all, what an amazing kickstart to our Europe trip!