09 Feb Traveling Iceland
I realize I am not a travel writer* and this is not a travel blog… BUT I would be remiss if I didn’t write an in-depth blog post about my amazing time and beautiful wedding in Iceland in July. This post is a LONG time coming. Once I got back from my whirlwind wedding/honeymoon, I had to get back on the horse and plan my stateside wedding in October which led right into my busiest season. So here I am, on the other side of 2016, finally writing this long awaited entry.
First off, my crazy Icelandic journey started 3 years ago (maybe even further back but I can definitively say 3 years ago I wrote in my 101 in 1001 Challenge to go to Iceland) I have been obsessed with this place for awhile. My (now) husband and I, who have been together 7.5 years didn’t do a lot of traveling after our first two years together. We decided to forego travel to save up for more practical things like a house and paying off bills #ADULTING! But in the back of my mind was wanderlust. I am well-travelled, in my twenties I spent my time road-tripping (20 states so far) and backpacking through Europe (16 Countries and counting) and it’s something I was absolutely itching for. We discussed our plans after we were able to get our home about marriage and travel, he wanted one (marriage) and I wanted the other (travel) so why not both!
After he popped the question in September of 2015 and we briefly looked at the insane price tag of a California wedding, it was decided for us that Iceland was now in the cards for our destination wedding. This blog is not solely about my wedding in Iceland though, it’s more about preparing, my unique experience traveling and meeting up with friends and family there, and of course traveling with my spouse. As a side not if you have stumbled upon this post and you’re looking at Iceland as a possible destination for your nuptials I highly recommend Pink Iceland, they MADE our experience!
Now without further ado, let me share with you some vital tips for preparation when traveling to Iceland in the summer months!
Tip # 1: CELLPHONE SIM CARDS!
Ditch a roaming plan… they suck! Pick up a SIM CARD in the Keflavik airport or at a convenience store (Iceland 7/11) in Reykjavik!
Obviously we can’t completely ‘unplug’ while in Iceland. Having decent access to internet is really important. Our group had a total of 14 people, between T-mobile, AT&T and Verizon we were a great test group of what worked best. Swapping your SIM Card worked wonders. Those who went the Roaming plan ran out of data within a day or two! I’ve now swapped SIMS in 5 countries and I will say… it’s the best method. PS: AT&T iPhone users, make sure your phone is UNLOCKED before heading abroad or another SIM won’t work. Go to AT&T several weeks before you travel to get your phone unlocked. For more info on swapping your cards go HERE
PREP NEEDED: Paperclip (for swapping your sim) and a ziploc (for storing your card while not in use).
Tip # 2: Book Ahead of Time!
Going to Iceland means a definite trip to the Geothermal Pools.If you miss this, you’re not getting the full Icelandic experience. We visited TWO spots; Laugarvatn Fontana (pictured above) and The Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is the quintessential tourist SPOT! When you see photos of Iceland in ads or on social media, 9 times out of 10, it’s going to be of this place. It’s a place locals avoid, but as a tourist, I LOVED IT! Book this at least 2-3 months ahead of time if you’re going in a large group. Getting there is quite easy in Reykjavik as they arrange shuttle service from most major hotels to the Blue Lagoon. Although most of us stayed in AirBnb’s we had no trouble getting there by car and by shuttle, just be at the hotel 30 minutes early because those busses run like clockwork and even tend to be early! Laugarvatn Fontana is far less populated and has many different pools at various temperatures including a cold dip and a sauna room. It was great for a relaxing night under the midnight sun.
Tip # 3: Rent A Car
I cannot stress this enough! I recommend Blue Car Rental, honestly the best rental experience I’ve ever had. Long story short: My husbands cards didn’t work when he checked out, so he gave them $100 dollars (our total rental for the week was $360) and they allowed him to drive back to the airport with the car to get cash from the ATM and come back! WOAH! Who does that?
Renting a car gave us far more time and freedom to head out and explore all of what Iceland had to offer. I mean, check out this BEAUTIFUL view in Thingvellir National Park I was blown AWAY by the majesty of this place. It was otherworldly.
We hiked down this trail, over to the waterfall in the far right and back. I had to take this shot before leaving. How many waterfalls do you see?
Tip #4: It’s July, but it’s still cold!
Although somedays only required a light jacket, always come prepared. We travelled to many different parts of the island, and everyday we experienced different weather. I had no complaints about the weather. We were lucky to have little rain, and pretty nice weather but as we headed north towards the glaciers our snow gear was needed!
Tip #5: Go On A Guided Tour
We loved exploring on our own, but having 14 people with us in Iceland, we wanted to spend more than just our wedding day with our friends and family. We selected the ‘Game Of Thrones’ Tour through Gray Line for our excursion. We definitely saw places we never would have visited on our own and learned things not only about Iceland but of course about the show. My only gripe was that we spent quite a bit of time on the bus, and the time at each stop was short. (also I didn’t see Jon Snow!)
Tip #6: Eat The Local Food! Adapt to the culture.
Ok… ok… I can hear you saying ‘What is local icelandic food?’ In short it’s mostly seafood and lamb and its delicious. Avoid tourist traps near Hallgrimskirkja (the big church) and go off the beaten path. The following is a list of some places we ate and what we experienced.
The Laundromat Cafe: 4/5
I got the special that day; Seafood Stew. It was easily one of the best meals I had in Iceland. Hearty, flavorful, and was universally liked among my travel companions. I’m deducting a point due to service. In Iceland, be absolutely READY to order when you sit down (we didn’t know this) because once you send them away, they never come back! We had to wait quite awhile and eventually walk over to the waiter to get our order in.
Aktu Taktu: 5/5
Ok, please realize this is based on typical fast food standards. Was this our best meal in Iceland? No. Was it the some of the best fast food I’ve ever had? YES! There are 4 Aktu Taktu’s on the island. With the all too familiar red and yellow fast food colors we all know and love, we were expecting a subpar McDonald’s-like meal. We were wrong. The meat is fresh, the sauces are delicious. All in all my chicken burger or Kjuklinga Borgari was fresh tasting and I’d compare it to something I’d get at a cafe or diner here at home. Most importantly Aktu Taktu is relatively cheap in comparison to the price of most of our meals out in Iceland.
Disclaimer: This place is EXPENSIVE! My husband and I had some issues with our flight to Iceland, and the airline comped us by sending us to this restaurant with a gift card. It was THE perfect honeymoon meal. Since most of our meal was paid for we went ALL OUT and did the Gourmet Set Menu and with cocktail we were looking at about $200 for our full meal! That being said, we had 8 courses. YES 8! And I could barely WALK to our car afterward! This is one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my LIFE! They blended uniquely Icelandic ingredients with new cooking trends. If you can afford it… SPLURGE! Also their Lunch Menus start at around $28/person which is far more affordable!
I sure am giving out a lot of 5 stars! Gandhi was the place we chose for our wedding dinner! Instead of a traditional reception hall, we rented a tour bus designed JUST for our guests! We toured around Iceland taking photos and listening to our amazing guide Ziggy tell us about the history of Iceland and some little known facts. At the end of our day, famished… we made it back to Reykjavik where we were dropped off at Gandhi Restaurant in the heart of downtown. This place was not only hospitable, but they worked with us beforehand on a pre-fixed menu for our guests. From braised lamb, grilled seafood and beef/chicken (for our pickier guests) we had a FEAST! Traditional Indian spices flavored the meats and vegetables. The fragrance was INCREDIBLE! I’m still dreaming about the lamb. Seriously eat lamb in Iceland, you won’t regret it.
Bonus Supermarket: 4/5
Eating in Iceland is NOT cheap. Considering the climate, and the fact that it’s an island means a good majority of their produce and spices/grains are imported by air and sea. This means everything is inflated. This is why opting for an AIRBNB is a great way to save some cash. We rented a house for all of our guests to stay in, and cooking at least one meal per day when we were traveling around was a great way to save. Bonus is similar to Winco here in the states and you can get food at a huge bargain and pack meals for day trips.
The famed Icelandic Hotdogs. Counting clientele like President Bill Clinton, Beyonce & Jay-Z and The Kardashians we couldn’t really pass it up. Something you should know before this… I hate hot dogs. I HATE THEM! So I only took a few bites of of one of my husbands dogs. It was FAR better than any hotdog I’ve had at home but not enough to make me want to sit in the long queue of people for one of my own. Still, if you’re a fan of hotdogs, or at the very least do not loathe them as I do, definitely try it. It’s also the cheapest meal in Iceland you can get at about $8 for 2 dogs.
We also frequented many cafe’s, pubs and bars while in Iceland. I honestly cannot remember every single name, but all of our experiences were positive. From cozy couch filled cafe’s with coffee and beer on tap, to loud pubs with live bands. Reykjavik has a great nightlife scene that’s small but eclectic.
Oh The Places You’ll Go!
We visited many places (but still need to go back and experience more) while in Iceland. Here is a sampling of our awesome sights!
And now… a few scenes from our wedding!
Courtesy of our FABULOUS Photographer Christina Barnum Photography
All in all our time in Iceland was AMAZING! I was so jealous of my amazing Photographer Christina, getting to shoot a wedding in Iceland that I actually set up a photoshoot of my own!!!
Here is a little sneak peek of an upcoming blogpost!
After 8 days we headed off to our honeymoon in Europe. More on that later!!!!
*I did actually write several entries from Lonely Planet and other travel sources about my 2007 trek around Europe. So maybe I am a travel writer after all!