The best girls’ getaway ever

February 2015 – To many, it seemed an odd, unusual place to mark a 40th birthday.

After all, we live in Canada, and when your birthday is at the end of January and you’re contemplating a trip, most minds slip to somewhere sunny, sandy, and free of snow.

We could’ve done that, but didn’t – and it took us on a great, out-of-the-ordinary adventure to Iceland. In February.

A friend of a friend who loves going to Iceland to bird watch – albeit at warmer times of the year – had sent a link last fall to a “Northern Lights” package being offered by Iceland Air.

What cooler way to mark this milestone birthday than by witnessing a natural phenomenon that none of us girls had ever seen?

We were in.

From Toronto, the flight to Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik is less than five hours long.

We stayed at a cute hotel in the Harbour called Marina, which was easily within walking distance of downtown with all its shops and restaurants.

Its fabulous breakfast buffet of breads, meats and cheeses, fruits and yogurts, potatoes, eggs, salads, smoked salmon, juices and coffees was enough to keep you going most of the day – or at least until dinner!

It was only a four day trip, so we had to prioritize how we spent our time. Here are our top four (not in order):

Reykjavik city tour

The hop on-hop off tour takes about an hour and gives you a general sense of where everything is, as well as a little overview about the history of the city.

After we did the whole tour once (the buses only come around every hour in the off-season so plan carefully!), we decided to stay on until we could get off at the Hallgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland at 73 metres high.

Not only is it a landmark in its own right with its unique architecture, it also provides amazing views over the city from the top of its tower. Definitely worth the 700 Icelandic Kroners (about $7 Cdn) for the elevator to the top.

Church and Ericson

Hallgrimskirkja with the statue of Leif Ericson in front

In front of the church is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson, which was a gift from the United States on the 1000th anniversary of the first Icelandic parliament in 930.

Also known as Leif Ericson, he is widely regarded as the first European to land in North America, about 500 years before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.

Blue Lagoon

This was a must on the list, one of the 25 wonders of the world. A hot spring formed in the 1970s when a nearby power plant was built, the Blue Lagoon is well known for the health properties of its water and silica mud.

Not to mention that it’s just spectacularly beautiful: the steam rising off the turquoise blue water, the mountains in the background, and when we were there, snowflakes gently falling on our faces.

Blue Lagoon

View over Blue Lagoon from the observation deck

They offer a series of different packages – we had opted for a bus and entry combo package the day before at the tourist office in Reykjavik, which meant we didn’t have to stand in ticket line at the Blue Lagoon when we got there.

We did upgrade to a higher level Lagoon package though when we arrived, that gave use an algae mask, little Blue Lagoon sample products and a drink while we were in the water.

It pays to come early – the line ups were lengthy by the time we were done and ready to leave in early afternoon – and the ride from Reykjavik was about an hour by bus.

Golden Circle Tour

In an effort to get out of the city and see a bit of Iceland beyond just the capital, we booked a day trip with Reykjavik Excursions called Golden Circle Tour.

It included a stop at the Geysir geothermal area, where the Strokkur geyser shoots water into the air approximately every four to eight minutes.

Thermal area

Hot water bubbling out of the earth is one of the things Iceland is famous for

We were there at lunch time and unfortunately we weren’t the only ones – the visitor centre, restaurant and gift shop area was crawling with visitors, which made it difficult to shop or have lunch properly. The geyser was spectacular though.

Geyser

Strokkur geyser

We also visited the famous Gullfoss waterfall, and Thingvellir National Park, which is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly moving apart from each other a few centimetres a year. Every stop included a small visitor centre, washrooms and the chance to buy Icelandic souvenirs.

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Where the plates shift

The divide between the continents

 

Northern Lights

Our original vision for this trip had been centred on seeing the Northern Lights – an excursion by boat was included in our flight and hotel package.

Sadly, however, due to bad weather (a snowstorm one night and heavy cloud cover the next), the closest we came to actually seeing them was when we did a short tour of the Aurora Borealis museum while we were waiting for the city tour bus to come around.

We can only imagine how spectacular they would have been in real life, but that will have to wait for the next trip to Iceland.

The company we had booked our boat trip with offered us a refund or to enjoy a nine course Icelandic tasting menu at Kopar, a restaurant in the harbour. We opted for the food…

Food and drink

There is no shortage of restaurants in Reyjavik to enjoy delicious food and drink. We didn’t have the budget to enjoy some of the top recommendations (Iceland isn’t the cheapest place around to visit!), but here are some of the places we did eat at:

Kopar – deliciously prepared local foods with a focus on Icelandic ingredients. The nine course tasting menu was absolutely divine. Granted, some of the items we likely wouldn’t have tried if they weren’t part of the menu (horse tartar and deep fried cod tongues spring to mind), but it was all part of the experience.

Kopar

Kopar Restaurant in the Reykjavik harbour

Reykjavik Fish Restaurant – funky fish lamps are part of what makes the ambience in this fish restaurant near our hotel. The seafood soup and freshly baked bread that I had were delicious.

fish lights

Funky fish lights at the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant helped set the ambience

Tapas Husid – another restaurant in the harbour area near our hotel, this one serving Spanish-style tapas with an Icelandic twist (perfect if you love seafood!).

Tapas

Some of the seafood tapas we enjoyed

Prikid – billed as the oldest café in Reykjavik, it pulled us in on our first afternoon in the city as we were valiantly fighting off our jetlag. In the shopping area, it was a great stop for coffee and cake, beer and a burger or whatever you think might help you stay awake on that critical first day.

Prikid

Prikid, which calls itself Reykjavik’s oldest cafe

 

About the Author

Lilian

Professional food and farming writer from Canada with a travel habit that I can’t seem to shake. Fascinated by people and places and the thrill of discovering something new – whether around the corner or around the globe. These are the tales of my travels.

http://www.travellingcanadian.ca

2Comments

Lilian 27 February 2015

It would definitely be worth it, Kim – especially in the summer when the sun is up practically all the time. The photos I’ve seen of that are stunning. Thanks for reading:)

Kim 26 February 2015

Looks like a beautiful place to visit… Perhaps I’ll add it to my list of places left to see!

Thanks for sharing…
Kim

Comments are closed.