Having lived in big cities (NYC and Berlin) for nearly the past eight years, I’ve had time to properly diagnose that unruly feeling of restlessness prompted by urban living, or perhaps by staying in the same place anywhere, really, for an extended period of time. The usual suspects certainly help — exercise, sunshine, quality time, shopping, and wine (I think we can bunch the lot under self-love) — but nothing scratches that itch quite like a literal mini-break from reality. Best taken every two months or so, and under no circumstances, should one go an entire season without a little vaca.
I can only speak for the northern hemisphere, but January and February are always the worst months. It’s cold and dark, there are no upcoming holidays to look forward to, and everything seems a bit squishier than before Christmas. Okay, than before Thanksgiving. While Iceland wasn’t the warmest alternative we could have chosen for a March holiday, it was surprisingly warmer than Berlin. Plus, it was incredibly breathtaking and almost other-worldly and I recommend it to all.
With our shared luggage in tow (holla, Wow Airlines) we left Berlin on a Thursday morning and arrived in Reykjavik just in time for happy hour. Well, first we picked up our rental car, successfully arrived at our Airbnb, and hit up Bonus, Iceland’s beloved discount grocery store, before checking out the town.
We tried a handful of bars, and Kaldi Bar, the one we discovered on our first night is definitely a favorite. It has a great happy hour, a friendly bar staff, and a cozy atmosphere. Also, Kaldi serves excellent beer from a brewery of the same name, and a number of other Icelandic microbrews.
Friday adventures began with a stop in at Perlan Museum to see their “Glaciers and Ice Cave” exhibition, before driving the Golden Circle Route. The museum itself is an impressive glass dome that offers panoramic views of Reykjavik. The exhibition begins with a guided tour of an accurately replicated glacial ice cave, and finishes with various interactive displays that illustrate the history of Iceland’s glaciers and their bleak future if we, collectively, don’t adapt to environmentally sound practices. It’s a special exhibition, and I would urge anyone visiting Reykjavik to check it out. Plus, it only took an hour, so we were back on the road by 10am to get started on the Golden Circle. Amongst other natural beauties of which names I’ve forgotten, we saw Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, Skógafoss waterfall, Kerið crater, the Geysir hot spring area, and so many Icelandic horses. Everything exceeded expectations, the most so being the unplanned hike along the fall-full river to Skógafoss.
The remainder of the weekend was spent hiking nearby trails and exploring Reykjavik. It’s a small city, and scattered amongst the less touristy streets are gorgeous viewpoints, charming architecture, street art, shops, and cafes. The sweetest cafe/bars (there seem to be a lot of these multi-functional establishments) we visited were Kaffihús Vesturbæjar, Kaffi Vinyl, and Stofan Café.
Overall, it really was an amazing trip, filled with beautiful, raw nature and genuinely friendly people. Going in March was a nice introduction, as it’s technically the off-season, even though there are still many tourists. I’d like to go back in both winter and summer and visit hot springs (the Blue Lagoon or any of the less touristy and less expensive alternatives), glaciers, and, mainly, to see the northern part of the island.
Perhaps helpful to some, I have a few tips for anyone interested in visiting Reykjavik. Granted, we were only there for four days, but it was enough to get a feel for things, namely the insanely inflated prices and sporadic weather.
- Rent a car: It’s absolutely necessary for sightseeing, hiking, and the likes.
- Grocery shop at Bonus: Comparable to Aldi, Bonus is really the only affordable way to eat in Reykjavik. And they have excellent hummus — who knew?
- Happy hour is king: A non-happy hour beer goes for about 11-15€, and wine can be slightly pricier. Most bars in Reykjavik have pretty good happy hours anywhere from 4pm-8pm, and offer house drinks for 50% off. Our favorite HH spots were Kaldi Bar, Stofan Cafe, and Kaffi Vinyl.
- Buy booze at Duty-Free: If you want to enjoy wine or beer at home, the cheapest place to buy it is at the airport.
- Do what I failed to do, and pack appropriate layers and clothing for impromptu hikes/adventures: The weather can change quickly and drastically, so be sure to have protection against cold, wind, and rain.
- Start your sightseeing early in the morning: You’re bound to stop along the way to your destination because it really is that beautiful and you’ll want to see as much as possible. Plus, leaving early will help you avoid the hoards of other tourists.