Have you noticed that Iceland’s popularity as a travel destination has spiked in recent years? We have + we’re not surprised as to why! With incredible hot springs, breathtaking glaciers + waterfalls, along with tons of delicious bites, it makes for one adventurous getaway (or epic elopement location!)
Miss Mandee Johnson, one of our beloved GWS Wedding Artists, toured the gorgeous country (while bringing her camera, of course!) and put together this savvy guide for us. Focusing on Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland), as well as the southern, western, and eastern regions (where all the waterfalls + glaciers are), she put together this detailed guide for us! Including tips, places to eat, visit, and see — we’re wanting to plan a trip immediately! In the chance you’re feeling particularly adventurous, check out Mandee’s guide to Tuscany + Cinque Terre, Italy here!
The capital of Iceland is the perfect place to start or end your trip – a day or two here is all you need to explore its beautiful sites and eat at some amazing restaurants.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur // Translation: The Town’s Best Hot Dogs
Hot Dogs are a big deal in Iceland – they could almost be considered the national dish. They are sold everywhere, but the best place to go is Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Open since 1937, almost every resident in Iceland has eaten at this little stand! Order it like a local: with everything (aka raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard and remoulade). Then, enjoy al fresco on the picnic tables!
WHERE: Tryggvagata 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
TIPS: Bring small bills for payment.
Bókavarðan // Translation: Librarians
Get lost in this curious Icelandic bookstore – filled with rare books, art books, and cartoons! Many of the books are often organized by color — a photographer’s dream.
WHERE: Klapparstígur 26, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
TIPS: There’s also a chess board in the back.
Brauð & Co.
A delicious bakery focusing on quality ingredients — we can get behind that! Everything is baked in an open kitchen – one can get mesmerized watching the artists form their beautiful creations.
WHERE: 16 Frakkastígur, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
TIPS: Ask the bakers any questions – the open kitchen is meant to allow communication between bakers and customers.
Grótta Island Lighthouse
If it’s a clear night, head out to check out the Northern Lights at the lighthouse. (This is definitely on our bucket list!!)
TIPS: Bring a flashlight/headlamp.
Hólavallagarður // Translation: Hillocks Valla Garden
The largest cemetery and garden in Reykjavik is filled with a century worth of flourishing trees and well maintained paths. A great place for bird watching and the perfect place for a pre-bakery stroll.
WHERE: Suðurgata, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
TIPS: Good for bird watching
Matur og Drykkur // Translation: Food and Beverage
Embracing traditional Icelandic cuisine with a modern twist, this restaurant gets its name from a traditional Icelandic cookbook first published in the ’50s (with the family’s blessing, of course). With three different pre-set menus, everyone can enjoy this boutique restaurant tucked inside the Saga Museum. Be prepared for a well-paced dinner, with ample time to drink and stare into each other’s eyes.
WHERE: Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
TIPS: Get the drink pairing. It’s beyond perfection. Portion sizes are all small plates but the entree is on the larger side.
Mikkeller & Friends
After enjoying your hot dog head over the Mikkeller & Friends for a well-deserved beer. Mikkeller & Friends took up shop in one of the oldest houses in Reykjavík. Built in 1910, designer Hálfdán Pedersen was let loose inside to create a fun and vibrant vibe.
WHERE: Hverfisgata 12, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
TIPS: All of their beers are amazing but try some of the crazy sounding ones that you can’t get outside their tap rooms.
Southern Iceland is home to some of the most iconic waterfall, hot springs and beaches in all of Iceland.
If you drive around at night in the Golden Circle, you will see the pockets of light – which without context look like alien test sites, but they’re really greenhouses! The southern region uses the hot spring to heat and power greenhouses for 17 hours a day. Fridhimar Farm was purchased in 1995 and consists of 4 greenhouses – 1 of which is open to the public, with a café where they use their produce to create simple, delicious meals.
TIPS: Order anything but still get the soup. Make sure it get some jam on your way out.
Mýrdalsjökull – A Glacier Hike with Arctic Adventures
Being able to walk on a glacier is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and it’s something that you might not always be able to do. From the beginning, Arctic Adventures and their staff were warm, fun and knowledgeable. Within moments of the hike you are adjusted to the crampons and using an ice pick/walking stick like a pro.
Note: Exploring a glacier without a guide and gear is dangerous.
TIPS: Bring water but not too much. You can fill up your bottles with fresh, amazing glacier water.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
The hike to this thermal river is not for the faint of heart. It’s a difficult journey through the hills, but with a well-deserved reward at the end!
TIPS: Bring food, drinks and pack towels with you. Go early in the busy season and plan for a 90 min hike each way.
One of the oldest geothermal pools in Iceland is located in the small town, Fluðir. After checking in, head to the bar + snag a drink, then get yourself a floating noodle (or 2) and climb into relaxation.
WHERE: Hvammsvegur, 845 Flúðir, Iceland
TIPS: If you’re going in the fall/winter, get a later booking and soak in the pool under the stars.
Of the iconic falls in Iceland, Seljalandfoss is at the top of the list. Memorizing from far away and interactive up close, you can even walk behind the falls, into a cave. A small path leads you close to the falls, but beware you will need a rain jacket – as you get closer it will feel like an insane thunderstorm!
TIPS: Walk the full loop of the falls to get all the views. When you’ve taken in all you can, head down the road to Skógafoss.
-Good hiking shoes
-Quick dry towel
Down a small country road, before you reach Vik, sits the infamous Reynisdrangar Cliffs. The cliffs are the perfect backdrop to an epic moody seascape. Combined with the black sand beach, it feels alien and breathtaking.
TIPS: Come early to miss the crowds. When you’re done at the beach, head up to Vik i Myrdal Church and see the cliffs from above Vik. Also, be careful of sneaker waves. They’re a real thing.
On the edge of Vatnajökull National Park lies a beautiful glacier lagoon filled with floating chunks of ice from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Perfect in its simplistic beauty the lagoon flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Diamond Beach – named for the pieces of iceberg that dot the black sand beach. Take a stroll under the bridge to the beach and find a cozy spot for a picnic on a nice day.
TIPS: There are lot of options for boat tours in the lagoon during the summer months but there is still plenty to see from the shores during the winter months.
Although its steep to start the hike is quick to the top. Don’t stop half way – go all the way to the end. The majestic moody beauty will envelope you – transporting you to another era.
TIPS: Go an hour or so before sunset to you can see the warm rays filter through the canyon.
Snaefellsjoekull National Park
About 2.5 hours NW of Reykjavík Is the Snaefellsjoekull National Park and it’s worth the drive. The park sits on the edge of a peninsula with black sand beaches (above is Djúpalónssandur) that are otherworldly.
TIPS: Swing by Kirkjufellsfoss + Kirkjufell just outside the park on the northside of the peninsula. Make sure to stick around the park for sunset if it’s a clear day. There is a toll road on your way to the peninsula – it’s a very long tunnel.
Go to the Blue Lagoon. It’s worth it.
TIP: Take the earliest morning booking. Enjoy hours of peace and quiet before the lagoon gets too busy. Swim up to the bar for a drink or smoothie and just relax. Then shower and have lunch on-site.
Have you been to Iceland, or are you planning a trip? We’d love to hear all about your favorite finds, restaurants, and more in the comments below!
A huge thank you to Mandee Johnson for all these photos + wonderful tips! Happy adventuring, folks!