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, Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Haukadalur, a geothermal valley.
Mid Atlantic Ridge where North American and Eurasian Plates Meet in  Þingvellir 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 4×4 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 4×4 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 drove 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. 


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?
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86 Responses to Reykjavik, Iceland: The Perfect Escape

  1. Adam says:

    You pretty much summed up my exact same 3-day weekend in Reykjavik. Except replace the 4×4 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.

  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!

  3. Shells says:

    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!

  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?

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

  6. r. c. gray says:

    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!

  7. Rhona says:

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

  8. Sam says:

    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…

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

  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. 🙂

  11. caribbelle says:

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

  12. @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

  13. @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

  14. @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!

  15. 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!

  16. @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!

  17. @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.

  18. @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!

  19. @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

  20. @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

  21. @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!

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

  23. Oneika says:

    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!

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

    • Efrutik says:

      This is great! I will try to do this when coming back from Europe to North America at the end of my stint in Berlin 🙂

  25. Heated sidewalks? I am SO sold!

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

  27. Candice says:

    The sidewalks are HEATED?! Incredible.

  28. Tom says:

    Nicole, this is an awesome post! I've never tried riding a 4×4 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….

  29. Andrea says:

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

  30. 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!

  31. Claire says:

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

  32. 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

  33. 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 🙂

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

  35. Carminelitta says:

    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! 🙂

  36. Fly Girl says:

    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.

  37. Stacie says:

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

  38. 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

  39. 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!

  40. 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

  41. 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

  42. Femmefab says:

    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!

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

  44. LovingMyself says:

    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?

  45. Kurt says:

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

  46. Monique says:

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

  47. Nikki says:

    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 😉

  48. Lane says:

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

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

  50. AnitaMac says:

    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.

  51. Cayce Bear says:

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

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

  53. Antoinette says:

    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?

  54. 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

  55. 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

  56. thanks cayce! i appreciate the comment

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

  58. Antoinette says:

    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!

  59. 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.

  60. TButler says:

    I visited Iceland solo for my 40th birthday in 2006 — what an amazing place! Though I didn’t see many black folk, I felt totally safe and agree that it’s surprisingly cosmopolitan. I stayed for 5 days and enjoyed every excursion. My travel agency — the Great Canadian Travel Company- was excellent and I recommend them. Even though I’m in NJ and they’re in Canada, it worked out well. What a tremendous, empowering experience it was — so far, the best trip of my life. Next on the list – Antarctica!

    • Nicole says:

      Wow Antarctica. My partner would love to go there. It is pretty expensive. Perhaps I can find a way to get him there for a milestone birthday!! He would be in heaven. The pictures seem so amazing although I have no wishes to go there. haha Well perhaps for a polar bear or penguins!

  61. Christina Elder says:

    AH! I believe I’m going to Iceland in October! I’d love to know the restaurant that you met that TWA girl at! I’m glad to know you had a good trip!

    • Nicole says:

      ah that restaurant was called…i cant remember :/ i just spent 10 minutes on google maps trying to locate it but there are so many restaurants. its was at the same place i got the whale burger..i will ask my coworker. he has been there 5 times 🙂

      • LA says:

        I’m also going to Iceland in October too!! I’m going with a couple of friends and we are renting an apartment for a few days. I’d love to know the name of that restaurant as well! I came across your post and your trip (and pictures) look amazing!!

  62. I’m so glad @efrutik shared this post with me. Love this post and love this site!
    Paige AllOvertheMap recently posted..Home is Where the World Is: DC Global Family Events, Summer 2012My Profile

  63. […] Long from Landlopers harassed some whales. And speaking of whales… Nicole is the New Black ordered a whale burger, but it didn’t go as […]

  64. Stuart says:

    We spent a few days in Iceland in April and loved it so much we’re heading back for the summer. Your post gives a great taste of Reykjavik and around and I’m sure it’s just the tip of an incredible iceberg of experiences and wonders. Love your spirit of adventure…
    Stuart recently posted..Working Party! Volunteers head out to fix the fellsMy Profile

  65. Carline says:

    Hey Nicole, Thanks for sharing your travels with us:)) I will be in Iceland for a week and was wondering where is a good place to stay?

  66. Kai says:

    I love this post. I’m planning on visiting Iceland in May 2013 for my birthday. I might stop over in Amsterdam too. Thanks for the tips.

  67. Iceland is a place that I’d totally love to visit! This is a fabulous post, and great tip about buying your booze at the duty free – and conditioning your hair before going in the lagoon! I think I’d wait until spring or summer for a visit there, though.

    The whale burger…eurgh that sounds vile. I’m glad the waitress let you return it (and that she gave you some tips on where to party).
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..A Real Head-scratcher: 100% Best Engrish!My Profile

  68. Dolores says:

    Hi

    Loved the review, hubby and i are planning on visiting, do you recommend any hotels or places to say, plizzz

    Ps: i’m a bargain hunter
    Many thanks

  69. Tex says:

    I am loving this blog! I’m going back for a month soon. I made some awesome friends there right out the gate so spent more time doing local stuff than not.

    @Carlin: Hotel Kex is very new and kind of trendy (hosted bands during Iceland Airwaves). Hotel Borg is Reykjavik’s grand, old hotel. Natura is nice and about a 10 minute walk from the main street. Hotel Holt is cool too. Both Fosshotel Barron and Lind are good too. Lind is very close to Laugavegur (main street).

    Flybus from the airport drops off and collects at most hotels but if you know where you’re going.

    If you know how to navigate Airbnb or Flipkey those are options for renting a flat.

  70. Tex says:

    Odd.
    “… if you know where you’re going.” should have also said “.. the shuttle bus drivers are usually cool enough to drop you at your address or really close.”

  71. talking about shipwrecks.. you should def check the Djupavik one!!!
    Some pics of it (and many others from our round the island road trip) here http://www.aworldtotravel.com/around-iceland-in-less-than-48-hours/

  72. Lance says:

    Wow! Great post! You really packed a ton in. Took us the better part of a week to do what you did (although we were going at a very leisurely pace!). Makes me want to go back and do it all over again!
    Lance recently posted..The Bosphorus Cruise, IstanbulMy Profile

  73. […] nights. Last year, blogger American expat Nicole of Nicole Is the New Black, blogged about her wonderful experience while on vacation in […]

  74. […] nights. Last year, blogger American expat Nicole of Nicole Is the New Black, blogged about her wonderful experience while on vacation in […]

  75. AByner says:

    GREAT POST….my third trip to Iceland is fast approaching…Let’s chat.

  76. […] Taking a warm bath outside surrounded by strangers is a total must do when you visit Iceland. The most well-known heated pool is located at the Blue Lagoon Spa, Iceland’s most popular tourist destination, located 45 mins from Reykjavik, Iceland. […]

  77. Loved this blog! LOL! I think I still have a few questions tho! LMAO! Ive been planning on going to Iceland. Im def going to the Blue Lagoon and Im going to try that whale burger! LOLOLOL! Nice blog!

  78. […] nights. Last year, blogger American expat Nicole of Nicole Is the New Black, blogged about her wonderful experience while on vacation in […]

  79. Patricia says:

    Hi Nicole , I’ll be going soon and would like to know where to purchase all the activities. do i do that online before i go or while I’m there. where they expensive.
    Is;and is a place i wanted to go for a while and finally decided to just do it.

  80. Maya says:

    I know this is an old post but literally the only thing I can find on the internet about black hair care in Iceland! My friends and I are headed next month and I’ve started deep conditioning and protein treatments more often due to my fear that my fro will fall out, off and dissolve into ash! If anyone has more information about black hair vs natural minerals- let me know!

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