Sunday, 22 January 2012

Reykjavik, Iceland: The Perfect Escape

Iceland's capital is a progressive, vibrant city despite its provincial village-like appearance


My favorite trip of 2011 had to be my weekend escape to Reykjavik, Iceland, the world's northernmost capital city.  Reykjavik is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in Iceland. Despite it's provincial appearance, Reykjavik has been dubbed the "the nightlife capital of the north", with clubs that stay open past 4 a.m. Don't be put off if you aren't much of a raver, the city and its surrounding areas offer a mixture of nature, adventure and relaxation. The solo female traveler should feel more than comfortable in Reykjavik, the city is virtually crime free and almost everyone speaks perfect English.

Since Iceland is so far north during the winter months Reykjavik gets about 4 hours of daylight, where the sun doesn't rise till about 11:00 in the morning. In the summer there is almost 24 hours of daylight in some parts of Iceland. I visited Reykjavik at the tail end of winter, in late February when it was abnormally "warm". The days were starting to get longer so I had a ton of time to explore the city center and beyond. 

A girl can wear heels even in the winter! The sidewalks are heated in Reykjavik, so no ice!


On my first full day in Reykjavik, I went on the Golden Circle Tour. The Golden Circle refers to the popular route that goes from Reykjavik to central Iceland covering some of the most beautiful natural features of the south.  The tour took me to  major tourist attractions in Iceland, ├×ingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Haukadalur, a geothermal valley.

Mid Atlantic Ridge where North American and Eurasian Plates Meet in  ├×ingvellir National Park
Me and the beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall, it was really slippery and FREEZING!

Active geysir in geothermal valley, Haukadalur

The tour lasted for about 11 hours covering 300 km in the southern region of Iceland. Once back in the city center, I went to a restaurant recommended by a friend. I wanted to be adventurous and try a whale meat burger. It tasted like a fishy gamey steak, yuck. The super friendly waitress, who happened to be a TWA (teeny weeny afro) rocking black American, let me return it. Everyone thought we knew each other because she was talking my ear off instead of working :/ She gave me the lowdown on the nightlife and even invited me out to where she was going after work. Making connections with perfect strangers is one of the highlights of solo travel.

Thar she blows....right on back to the kitchen.

The following day proved to be my best travel day to date, from beginning to end it was total perfection. I booked an excursion which included riding a 4x4 along the coast and then relaxing in the Blue Lagoon. As a city girl, I have to admit that was scared crapless.


Regulators: Mount up!    MOMMY!


I had no idea how to ride a 4x4 and initially lagged behind in the group. I actually started doubting myself, thinking I had a made a mistake. The other two girls on the trip were speed demons, going almost 120 kph on those damn things. I kept getting stuck in the mud, landing in ditches and the leader of the tour had to keep coming back to get me. At one point he instructed me to follow directly behind him and the other riders could go at their own pace, taking pictures and catching up when they needed. I finally got the hang of it and soon I was going close to 100 kph, I was so proud of myself, that I started crying. Never in my wildest dream would I have imagined that I would be in Iceland off roading. Solo travel gives you the freedom to try new things and push your own boundaries in your own time.


One of my best travel moments, off roading and dressed like a Power Ranger

The only thing more exhilarating than driving up and down the coast was the view. We saw some of the most beautiful landscapes, moss covered lava rock, black sandy beaches, and even a shipwreck! Iceland is only 3 hours and 30 minutes from Berlin but I felt like I was transported to another planet.

This totally looks like that scene from the Goonies, right?
 


There is a cool story about this shipwreck...


Roads, where we're going we don't need roads.

After spending about three hours on the open road we were transported to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is the most popular geothermal spa in Iceland. The water is rich in silica and sulfur and contained in a natural lava field with a rough and uneven floor. (Be careful) The lagoon is said to have amazing healing powers for skin ailments with water temperatures ranging from 37–39 °C (98–102 °F).

Looks beautiful but smells of eggs due to the high amount of sulfur

Before entering the Lagoon you have to shower first. (Warning: leave your prudish attitudes towards nudity on the plane) It is also best to protect your hair. Although the minerals are good for your skin, your hair will get totally stiff from all the minerals. I took precautions but the Lagoon totally stripped my hair of the hair dye I had. It took weeks for me to condition my hair back to normal.

Inside the lagoon, it's steamy due to the high temperatures
Once in the Blue Lagoon, you can find silica mud in buckets at stations or on the bottom of some of the rock formations. This mud is said to have amazing exfoliating and cleansing capabilities. You can use it in the Lagoon but you can't take any out, they sell it in the gift shop though, go figure. They are serious about their mud. There are guards around the perimeter making sure people don't sneak any out. 

Getting my rejuvenation on.

I just wanted to sleep for days after the excitement of the off roading and then relaxation in the Blue Lagoon. I must have marinated in the water for about four hours. The day was perfect, it ended with an amazing meal at the Fish Company. (I highly recommended it!) If I had enough energy I would have caught a late tour to see the Northern Lights. Apparently they were great that night with blue and green flares and I missed them

I have no regrets, though. 

I will be heading back to Iceland in April during my Easter Break and I plan to venture out beyond the southern region


Useful Tips for your Reykjavik Visit:

  • Three days should be enough for a crash course on the capital city and the natural features around it
  • Purchase alcohol at the duty free when you arrive. Booze is super expensive in Iceland, pre-partying in your room might save you a small fortune.
  • Reykjavik locals have a  very open mind towards sexuality, interpret that as you wish.
  • Don't worry about transport in the city, all eateries, clubs and bars are within walking distance around one main road in the center of town
  • There are many cheaper and sometimes free geothermal hotspots that locals use, just ask!
  •  Take care of your hair in any geothermal pool! Saturate with water and slather it with conditioner, a cap might not be the cutest but it might be the best bet to save your hair.
  • On your next trip to mainland Europe from America, try and arrange a stop over in Reykjavik for a few days you won't regret it!  Iceland Express and Iceland Air allow you to arrange a stopover of up to 7 days for FREE- (thanks Oneika for the caveat in the comment section!)


Have you ever been to Iceland? If not would you ever consider a visit?

59 comments:

  1. You pretty much summed up my exact same 3-day weekend in Reykjavik. Except replace the 4x4 with horseback-riding.

    Also, I went to a restaurant recommended by a local but my friend and I chickened out about ordering the whale. We spent 20 minutes trying to decide whether we'd order it or not (for environmental reasons) but it didn't end up mattering b/c the restaurant was out of whale meat anyways. I'm still not sure if I would eat it now if (when?) I go back.

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    1. @adam how was the horseback riding, i am just not into riding animals. i tried it once in highschool and never really got into it.

      i also thought about the envirnomental reasons but meh, when in rome. i dont think i would ever eat shark fin soup though no matter where i am. i mean the whale meat might be interesting to try, i just dont like wild tasting meat. not a fan of deer or wild boar. just give me some chicken

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  2. Ugh @ a whale burger.

    I've never even thought about going to Iceland before. This is definitely giving me YET another place to add to my ever-growing list!

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    1. @britni glad i could help :P we always joke about the perfect city for a blogger meet up. maybe next year!

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  3. Great post! I've been debating whether I should do Iceland or the Czech Republic for my Easter holiday break. Been trying to find tips on when is the best time of year to travel there (Iceland), but haven't found any really good advice yet. Being in Oslo where it's snowing a lot and freezing, I'm a little hesitant about travelling to a place where it's likely to be even colder, but it's definitely a trip I'm going to take at some point this year. Thanks for sharing your tips and experiences. I'll be sure to avoid that yucky looking whale burger when I go there!

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    1. @shells ooh i love me some czech repulblic. been to prague two times. man i need to make a post on that as well :) prague is beautiful!! not sure what the weather will be like in april but yeah probably comparible to where you now. mmm go to crotia, it will be cheap and WARM!

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  4. Heated sidewalks? How do they do that?
    There use to be a Navy base in Iceland. Every one I know who was stationed there said that it was one of the best places to be. I'd love to go there. I just hear that it is so expensive there.
    A whale burger. You are brave. How did it taste?

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    1. @follow you hart hey buddy :) well energy is SUPER cheap there since they have so much of a geothermal source. no one is caring about lights or consumption. LOL so they find cool stuff to do with it like run heating elements under the city streets. you cant really feel it thru you shoes or anything but its enough to keep the sidewalks free of ice and snow. it is expensive but much more affordable since their financial crisis. their economy really suffered so they have many incentives to drive traffic to their country

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  5. Reykjavik looks interesting, you always have a blast on your trips! I really enjoy reading your blog!

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    1. @nadeen thanks so much!! i am really luck in that regard. even if there are hiccups on a trip, you can still make the best of it. to be honest this trip was an emotional one and i was dealing with man issues but i somehow still enjoyed me trip. haha

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  6. I've been aching to go to Iceland for years. I plan on doing some volunteer work at the end of this year!

    Your trip looks amazing!

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    1. @r.c gray ooh sounds like a great time. too bad my fulltime job gets in the way of me doing long term travel or volunteering. i hope you share your adventures so i can live thru you!

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  7. Sounds positively amazing! I love how you pointed out the virtues of solo travel. Iceland is up there for me...one day.

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    1. @rhona i think many people just think solo travel is for losers, just like eating alone or going to the movies. i mean, travel can be social but it also be about discovering things on your own pace and doing the things you really want to do.

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  8. Had an awesome time in Iceland. Details on my SamsPlayground.com blog. Drove half way around the island in a rental car. Slept beneath a glacier, visited waterfalls...

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    1. @sam i visited your blog and saw your post, you have some amazing photos. are you on stumbleupon, its a shame that post isnt more popular. i love it. i will share it on twitter when i get a minute!

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  9. Thanks so much for the tips. There is a strong chance I might be going to Iceland later this year.

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    1. try anything once terri be sure to hit me up if you have any questions. tourism is a way of life there so you can find a lot of information on the web but still let me know if you want suggestions!

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  10. I so want to go to Iceland!! I love that the sidewalks are heated. My plan is to have a stopover there en route to Europe ... just like you suggested. :)

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    1. @dtravelround yeah. IT WORKED. LOL i want to lure people to as many destinations as i possibly can. haha. iceland is such an amazing place and I think more and more people should make an effort to discover it. iceland express offers flights to europe that stop over in reykjavik and they are really affordable. they then service copenhagen, london and berlin! check them out!

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  11. This sounds so liberating. Hopefully one day I can get back into the traveling swing.

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    1. @caribbelle
      the swing of travel is not easily forgotten. this was challenging and eye opening and a lovely time. i am getting nervous about japan and being so different. i think i will feel like a super foreigner there and it gives me a bit of anxiety, the sort of anxiety i felt before moving abroad

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  12. I swore I already commented on this post, don't know why it doesn't show, grrr! Anyway, I'll say it again, this is a great post that demonstrates both the virtues of visiting Iceland as well as the joys of solo travel! I also went to Iceland on a two day break two summers ago and loved it- we defo need to do a blogger meetup there. The scenery is absolutely stunning and the abundance of tours makes it hassle-free to get around! I also wanted to mention that for those travelling from North America to Europe (or vice versa) on Iceland Express or Iceland Air you can arrange stopover of up to 7 days for FREE- no additional charge! Yet another reason to go to Iceland!

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    1. @oneika i will add the for free bit to the post!!

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    2. Now you have the wheels in my brain spinning to fit in a stop over in Iceland on the way to London later this year! I always say I'll take a few days in a city vice never going there.

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  13. Iceland looks absolutely incredible. It's fast working its way to the top of my destinations I must visit in 2012!

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  14. The sidewalks are HEATED?! Incredible.

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  15. Nicole, this is an awesome post! I've never tried riding a 4x4 either...and I'm a country boy haha! (but born with the mind and tendencies of a city boy!)

    Whale meat - brave for posting that you tried it on here, I imagine some will be quick to criticise. Your description of it isn't exactly an endorsement though LOL!

    I could do with hopping into that lagoon right about now....

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    1. meh, i tried it, sure some will criticize but what can i do? i wonder if i will win points if i tell folks it was free range whale :)

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  16. How fantastic!! I've always wanted to visit Iceland - looks like such an awesome place

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    1. It is an awesome place. Next time I go i hope to see more of the island! i am realyl excited

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  17. Iceland has been on my wish list for a while now...thanks for posting this and giving me some ideas for a short trip there, should we ever get the chance!

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    1. no worries. i didnt think of iceland as a destination until my coworker totally fell in love with it. i think in 2010 he went to iceland 5 different times and recruited many of us to go. iceland needs to give a commision

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  18. Great tips! I'm hoping to go in May and your post definitely makes me want to go!

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    1. May should be aMAYzing. yeah im corny like that. LOL but seriously the days should be creeping up on more sunlight so its awesome but not 24 hour daylight which i find a bit daunting

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  19. Great article and beautiful pictures! I never really considered going to Iceland, but I have to say this makes me think about it. I'll see if I can make a short trip in the spring. No 4 hours of light in a day for me! :)

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    1. this means so much to me. i am happy that my adventures inspire new adventures. if you have questions srsly, just ask!! i cant stop raving about iceland!

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  20. Wow, you really opened up the appeal of Iceland to me. I have a friend who goes every year and I never understood why but this gives me an idea. Heated sidewalks and geothermopools? Sounds like fun to me.

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    1. its bananas. many people dont break iceland down because they dont want it to spoil. its almost selfish. once you get them to open up about why they go you usually cant shut them out. iceland shouldnt be a secret though. i have a coworker who last year went about 7 times. i think he should just move on up there LOL

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  21. Wow. Iceland looks amazing. I've found a new blog to stalk...er...read from now on.

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    1. stalk away stacie and tell your friends and family too. lets make nicole is the new black a household name :) thanks for checking it out

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  22. Iceland wasn't really on my radar until I started seeing a lot of travel shows and blog posts about it. A lot of possitive comments as well. That is usually my cue to check a place out. I'm going to fit a side trip to Iceland in this year. Thank you for the tips!

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  23. Iceland is definitely high on our destination list. Very informative post. Now, we want to go even more!

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  24. LOVE, love, LOVE, you're blog! I've been a lurker for the longesttt. When you travel to different places (like this Iceland trip for ex.) do you have specific sites in mind that you want to see or do you just go with the flow?

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  25. Really, heated sidewalks? Is this thermal heat? Finally a place I can wear my 6 inch heels and not freeze. ;<)

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  26. I wanna go!! However, I am not going anywhere near a whale burger.

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  27. This sounds amazing! I just found out I'm gonna have a week off work in February and this may just have to be my last minute vaca spot. Really great and inspiring post! I really want to try a geothermal pool. On the island of Pag, in Croatia, I slathered on healing mud before. I'm not really sure if I felt it's powers but maybe I didn't have it on long enough! p.s. I loved your back to the future quote ;)

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  28. Great tips regarding Reykjavik. The Blue Lagoon is on our "to do" list -- will keep in mind about the conditioner.

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  29. OMG after reading this I want to go so, so badly!!!! Next trip to Europe Reykjavik is on the list!

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  30. Whale burger makes me think a little of liver! Uggh. The rest of it sounds brilliant - would love to get up there! The closes I have been is seeing Iceland from 30,000 ft on a flight to Prague! Can't wait to try the mineral rich waters....amazing pictures...you have certainly inspired me! Another one for the bucket list.

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    1. its totally a bucklit list destination!! the whale burger was a mistake. i have seen the err of my ways

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  31. As a fellow solo female traveller, this is such a great blog! Love the tips, stories and pictures!

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  32. I am sold and looking for tickets!!!!

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    1. you know who to call if you need tips, you are traveling with the family right? kids would love it. it might be good to rent an apartment on either roomara or airbnb

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  33. Your visit sounds awesome. Iceland is close to wear I live (~4 hours by plane) and I've always wanted to go but was scared away by the previous unfortunate experiences of other black visitors. Were people friendly?

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    1. people were totally friendly. i even made friends with a few folks on facebook. didnt have a problem although i interacted with many visitors. the locals seems just as cool. what unfortunate experiences have you heard about

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    2. Thanks for the reply. A few years ago I was checking out a travel forum and a black traveler had started a thread asking about traveling to Iceland and wanted to know what the experience of other black travelers had been. About 3 separate black people replied to say that they had gone to Iceland and been given the cold shoulder. Too make matters worse other people joined in to say that they weren't interested in having black people visit Iceland and an Icelandic guy who is now living in Canada went on an rant. It was really awful. Anyway, I really appreciated your blog posting. I've decided to give Iceland a shot in a few months. Thanks!

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