Let the planning continue!!
January 27, 2012 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I asked this question a week ago and thanks to the wonderful answers I'm taking my girlfriend to Iceland for her birthday from February 10-15! We're both excited, but I'd love some more suggestions as to how best to fill our time in Iceland...

We get in at 7:00 am the morning of Saturday, February 11 and leave around 5:30 pm on Wednesday, February 15. Let me lay out my tentative thoughts below and I would love any suggestions as to restaurants, particular travel/expedition companies, places to see, etc. If you think the entire itinerary should be shaken up, I'd love to hear that as well.

Saturday, February 11: Stay in Reykjavik all day - explore the city, rest up a bit, go to some thermal baths in the city, have a wonderful dinner out, go out for some drinks, etc. Questions: Any can't miss sights in Reykjavik? Any recommendations for restaurants? For Reykjavik hotels? For particular thermal baths? We'll read the guidebooks but would love any tips.

Sunday/Monday, February 12-13: It would be great to work in trips outside of Reykjavik these two days, ideally ones that incorporate dog sledding, ATVs, super jeeps, etc. While I don't want to go too crazy, I can spend a significant amount of money if it's worth it. Note we're going to do the Golden Circle tour on Tuesday, February 14, so I'd love suggestions of other places to go for Sunday and Monday. If you have any recommendations for particular companies that can arrange personalized tours, ATVs, dog sledding, etc., I'd love to hear the recommendations. I'd even be willing to fly or stay somewhere else on Sunday night if that makes sense, though given our limited time I'm guessing staying in Reykjavik all four nights makes more sense.

Tuesday, February 14: Golden Circle tour during the day, followed by a good Valentine's day dinner. Any recommendations for a good romantic dinner spot at which I can get a table? Then some drinking - good bar recommendations always welcomed. I love great cocktails and energetic non-club environments.

Wednesday, February 15: I'm thinking maybe we'll do the Blue Lagoon during the day before flying out, though perhaps we can do that another day better - even the night of February 14.

Sorry for all the detail - it just got me such great responses last time around and I'm hoping for more.

tl;dr - Will be in Iceland with gf from morning of Feb 10-evening Feb 15. Recommendations as to hotels, restaurants, bars, sights in Reykjavik? Recommendations as to ATV/dog-sledding/super jeep outings to take over Sunday and Monday? Recommendations for particular guide companies? Thanks!
posted by slide to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in Iceland a couple years ago, I stayed at the Bjork Hotel, which was both nice and cheap. Nothing too fancy, but it got the job done.

For extra day trip suggestions, horseback riding on the Icelandic horse is one of the staple tours. Makes for a nice half day.

Finally, I'd really suggest doing the Blue Lagoon before your flight. You can buy Blue Lagoon/airport transfer combos where they'll pick you up at your hotel, drop you off at the Blue Lagoon (keeping your luggage safe), then drop you off at the airport. It will be the most relaxing flight you'll ever experience.
posted by sah at 4:53 PM on January 27, 2012

For a romantic dinner, Perlan was very very tasty, and had stunning views.

Definitely make sure to go to the Blue Lagoon, doing it before your flight home would end your trip on a sky high note, and you can easily spend 4-5 hrs there. Maybe arrange for massages? There are also "local" city hot springs that were fun (we went every day!). They were not touristed out, but we had a glorious time soaking in hot water and chatting with the locals.

There is lobster shack by the harbor that my friends raved about. In general, we found food either mindblowing or meh, there was no "average food".

see if you can arrange to walk on the glaciers (if you are outdoorsy its a pretty awesome experiance), or work seeing the northern lights into your tour. There is also horseback riding on the adorable furry icelandic horses- it looked like fun. I found the cathedral really peaceful and beautiful in a simple scandinavian way.

I stayed at the icelandair hotel loftleidir. It was nice and clean, but you probably want to be in the city. We showed up without anything booked and had the front desk sort out all of our trip stuff for us.
posted by larthegreat at 5:16 PM on January 27, 2012

Pick the hotel first (sorry, no suggestions, I used airbnb) and have them arrange for a romantic restaurant perhaps? Since it's a bit last minute for Valentine's Day.
I went to Fiskmarkadurinn recently and while nice, it's not terribly romantic so you might want to skip that if you've been considering it.
If you're into coffee then this cafe had the best coffee in Reykjavik.
I booked a Walk Through Ice and Fire tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides and found them competent and the tour fun, would recommend them for sure.
Definitely go see the new concert house Harpa and try the legendary hot dogs across the street.
Also, I might be wrong but I'm not sure how fancy and nice the thermal spas in the city are but YMMV.
posted by marais at 6:02 PM on January 27, 2012

I stayed at the Hotel Reykjavik (Best Western on Raudarstigur), which was fine - nothing fancy, just outside the city center, walking distance to everything.

I went on a tour (of the Snaefellesnes Peninsula) with GoEcco, which was mostly great - small group, amazing, out-of-the-way locations, Northern Lights, bathing in natural hot springs, we saw seals, GREAT dinner, and they took us to see some place from a Sigur Ros video because a couple on the trip asked. Really the only problem with it was that it was incredibly long (like, 14 hours maybe? a long time to spend in a minivan with strangers). They also do private tours but those are of course more expensive (the tour I took was ~$250 US per person).

The amazing lobster soup shack is Saegreifinn (aka Sea Baron, down by the waterfront on Geirsgata). It is really good.

A few years ago I had a really good meal (not super-fancy, but moderately fancy and delicious) in a restaurant adjacent to the tourist information center but I can't remember what it's called and I don't know if it's still open!

There is great shopping (window and otherwise) in Reykjavik. Lots of cool little design shops and galleries, some cool thrift/vintage/antique shops (one I so wish I had bought stuff at, Frida Fraenka).

Blue Lagoon is great to do on the way back to the airport, stick with that. It's closer to the airport than to Reykjavik, and the bus is very convenient.

Anyway, I am mad jealous, I love Iceland and I can't wait to go back!
posted by mskyle at 6:08 PM on January 27, 2012

I was only in Iceland for 45 min* (waiting for a connecting flight) at Reykjavik airport, but I had one of the best breakfasts of my life there:

Salmon and hard-boiled eggs

*really wish I could of stayed there longer
posted by littlesq at 6:38 PM on January 27, 2012

I went to Iceland in early May with my girlfriend and had an amazing time. We spent about a week and a half driving around the Ring Road. However as it will still be winter when you are going I'm not sure if conditions will be suitable for long road trips.

Reykjavik itself was probably the least interesting part of our trip. The Golden Circle nearby is great. About an hour from Reykjavik, there is a great seafood place in Stokkseyri famous for its lobster soup. Nearby in Eyrarbakki you can rent out an entire 1-bedroom apartment for a night, at hotel room rates. On the way to Vik (reachable in a day from Reykjavik) there are a lot of spectacular waterfalls. And if you go a bit further towards the southeast you can see Jokulsarlon (the famous glacier lake).

The Snaefellsnes peninsula is also reachable in a day from Reykjavik and has a lot of sights packed into a small area. The coastal hike from Hellnar to Arnarstapi is worth doing and there is some other neat stuff like the beach at Skardsvik and the fjords and lava fields around Stykkisholmur.

Have fun!
posted by pravit at 6:40 PM on January 27, 2012

We were just there for 4 nights and had a great time doing the "Golden Circle" tour (in July during the "midnight sun" period). BTW, you might want to see how much daylight will be there during your stay.

Here are some places that were great:

Self-serve and stylish apartments: Apartment K

Great "healthy" and "modern" fish and chips: Icelandic Fish and Chips

Icelandic "weekly" with lots of good reviews, etc.: The Reykjavik Grapevine
posted by rumbles at 6:40 PM on January 27, 2012

This is atlantica's husband chiming in because I was so pumped about this post.

For your main questions about Reykjavik, I am not suggesting, I am telling you that the answer to the exact question about a romantic, authentic Icelandic dinner is Vid Tjornina. If you don't go there I will be hurt. Honestly amazing. We went our first night there and after the meal our waiter totally broke us in by letting us sample the fermented shark (yes, a horrible experience, but you totally must), and a few shots of BrennivĂ­n. Please go here. Please.

I also loved a bar called Hemmi of Valdi which I still remember to this day. Mainly because of this beer. Another cool place for a drink was Prikid.

In general check out all of the museums and just walk around and enjoy Reykjavik.

We went in February of 2009 and it was awesome because there weren't many people around at all. We were going to huge waterfalls and other areas alone that would would normally be full of people.

We did ice climbing down south and loved it. We went with this place and our guide was amazing. http://www.mountainguides.is/


We stayed at these places:



Feel free to contact us for any more info. We loved it.
posted by atlantica at 6:52 PM on January 27, 2012

Just to be contrary I would say skip the Blue Lagoon...I enjoyed my experience at the cheap local thermal baths like this one far more. The one I've linked had 2 large swimming pools as well as four hots pots that were REALLY hot, and also sauna and steam rooms. I found the water at Blue Lagoon too cold and came out covered in sandy stuff--it just didn't seem worth the money when the local baths are uber cheap and so satisfying. But that's just me being backwards.

I second visiting the cathedral--really interesting architecture.
If you're into vegetarian food, A Naestu Grosum
was seriously awesome. As for bars....well... I can't really remember much about them except that they were all really nice. Reykjavik is famous for the all-night pub crawl with pubs staying open to 4 or 5 am....if you're up for that it can be really fun. Second trying the fermented shark.....then you can brag about that for the rest of your life.
posted by costanza at 7:53 PM on January 27, 2012

Seconding Icelandic Fish and Chips, along with this place. Great food, but they're also both kind of dark and cozy -- just the ticket for rainy winter nights.

We also stayed at the Loftleidir, now called the Natura... I'd stay there again, but it's a bit of a walk to the city center. (And that walk is a little less fun in rain and wind.) It has an awesome pool/spa area, though, and our room was huge and impeccable.
posted by ann_disaster at 8:41 PM on January 27, 2012

I have spent two weekends in Iceland, and made this google map based on the suggestions I found in other ask.me threads, then added info about what I actually did.
posted by jacalata at 10:37 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just got back. My tip is to do the blue lagoon on the way in from the airport. It's superbly organized and the ultimate post-flight relaxer. Book her an in-water massage and you're The Man for the rest of the trip.

Also, Tapas restaurant in the city for awesome small plates and incredible atmosphere. The kitchen staff are very talented and do a marinated puffin too.
posted by webhund at 8:07 AM on January 28, 2012

About the Blue Lagoon: if doing it on your way out, be sure that you wash the hell out of your hair and other parts when you're leaving the BL to go to your flight. The water has lots of salts etc in it that will want to stick to you and will make you feel uncomfortable if not washed off. (Also note, the protocol for thermal baths is that you wash yourself in the changing room *before* getting into the bath as well.)

The Blue Lagoon is neat, and such a canonical part of a tourist trip to Iceland that I would say do it (especially if you're not penny-pinching), but the suggestion above to do local thermal baths too is right on - the atmosphere is very different and nice to experience.

As for things to do in Reykjavik, the Icelandic Hand Knitting Association runs a shop that's a nice place to get souvenirs (sweaters, special Icelandic wool if you know any knitters, or my favorite gift: wooly colorful throw blankets).

The city is very compact, so it's easy to see most things just by walking around. I agree that you should pack so that you're ready to be outdoors in rain and wind, but don't get too worried. When we went in early March the weather was not worse than a cold-windy-rainy day in the US northeast coast; it's not like you're going to Greenland.

We had a bit more time than you and took the ferry to Vestmannaeyjar because I really really wanted to see the harbor and lava flows at Heimaey. The ferry ride suuucked - very turbulent, take Dramamine well before boarding and resign yourself to just lying on a seat for the duration. But visiting the island was great, probably the most memorable thing we did there, from a "hike around and get to see things of geologic/human interest" point of view. The island is tiny, and doesn't have much in the way of clubs/restos, so it's definitely not a major nightlife destination if that's more your speed.

I would also say, go to a grocery store and browse. Fish jerky, and other fun things that you can't get elsewhere.

If you like dairy products, try the skyr.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:17 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

First off: fabulous choice. We staged a Canadian/Danish wedding there this summer and visited for 12 days.

Hotels: We stayed at six, five of them in Reykjavik. Most were apartment hotels, all were just off the walking street. It's hard to go wrong, provided you're happy with the location and price point. The sixth hotel was Hotel Budir, which is where we got married. It's a 2.5 hour drive from Reykjavik, and if you're in Iceland for 4-5 days I'd suggest getting out of Reykjavik for a night. For reference, this photo was taken just behind the hotel -- the surrounding landscape is stunning.

Restaurants: Sjavargrillid and Fiskfelagid were the two best places we ate; a close third would be the simple little organic spot in the harbour that's been mentioned a couple of times, Icelandic Fish & Chips. I'd second the tapas and hot dog recommendations, and add Cafe Haiti and Laundromat Cafe as well. Solon Lounge, on the walking street, serves a dill cured salmon with mustard sauce that's almost worth the flight on its own.

Other Stuff: You should definitely seek out some horses, and a super jeep tour/hike as others have suggested is worthwhile as well. The golden circle tour... frankly, if you're renting a car, you can do it yourself. The history of Tingvellir is fascinating and geysir is similarly very cool, but if you're renting a car to get out of town for a night (which you really should do), doing it yourself might be more interesting. Lobstermitten's point about BL is spot on -- it's probably worth doing, but if you're at all put off by being at a place that's 100% tourists, you may want to pass and hit the thermal baths frequented by locals. Ditto sampling puffin: the birds are local, but locals don't actually eat it. Reyka vodka is fantastic.

One final thing to consider: if you're flying from NYC, you're gonna be pretty bagged on Saturday. Might want to build a nap into your schedule as Saturday nights can go *late*. Have fun!
posted by swillis at 1:25 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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