Iceland!! ‘Arctic Circle Tripping’ (February 2022)
I started to think about this ‘Arctic Circle Trip’ in November of ‘21 while seriously hoping that Norway would reopen to American travelers soon & require no quarantine. Our 30th wedding anniversary was in March (we got married when we were 12! Jk, no, were just old!) & we knew that we wanted to go on a really nice trip. Since we’d just come back from the Maldives, we knew that we didn’t want to go to another warm destination. This trip would also end-up occurring literally on the heels of our extended stay in Montreal & Quebec. Whew!
I tend to start planning our bigger trips about 5-6 months in advance, & we didn’t have much time to plan this 1, but it still turned out phenomenally well! What actually sealed the deal was when Norway reopened for US tourists in late November/ early December. I was so excited & immediately began to plan.
‘Arctic Circle Tripping’ for us has always meant going to Iceland, Finland & Norway, & they all had to be done in the same trip. Iceland & Finland had been open for some time, but there was no way that we’d be taking that trip without doing all THREE countries.
Now traveling to more than 1 country during these ‘Covid times’ is challenging, but we did it (for the 2nd time in a year!) & made it look so easy! However, I was almost in tears when we missed our train out of the little town in Norway.
Flight: I found a good deal on one way tickets from Washington, DC (Dulles) to Reykjavik, Iceland via Icelandair that left on a Saturday evening & arrived in a little over 6hrs. Dulles is a very nice, seemingly low key airport. And on that Saturday, we had no issue or delay getting through the security checkpoint & onto our flight. The airport seemed somewhat empty. #winning
We had decided to drive from Raleigh to Dulles so that we could go to our favorite chili restaurant, Hard Times Cafe, in Alexandria, Va. Otherwise, we probably would’ve flown. (We usually always have ulterior motives when we travel, too, lol.) This cafe was discovered a couple of years ago when we gallivanted to Alexandria & DC for a weekend getaway, & it’s been an occasional thought & drool moment for the 2 of us since. It’s super delicious & we love the fact that they primarily serve their chili over spaghetti noodles!
I will say that for IcelandAir, we were surprised with the baggage fees as we paid about $225 total to check 4 bags. (We really did over pack for this trip…!) I think we’re always ‘surprised’ by baggage fees because Southwest always does us right with 2 free checked bags allowed & never a change fee. I try to pay for baggage fees a few days in advance of a flight, but I’d been so busy in the days leading up to it that I forgot. Anyway, surprise, surprise! There was also no meal served for that evening flight.
Car Rental: A rental car was needed for this destination as we knew we’d do a bit of driving around to see the sights. We’ve been able to find some really good deals for car rentals in various countries using Economy Booking(s). They rent cars through most of the name brand companies, & their rates have been very reasonable & competitive compared to other travel websites or even a direct booking. We’d loved ‘Economy Bookings’ up until we arrived @ the rental agency called FairCar Iceland.
FairCar has a shuttle from the airport to the agency & it was about a 15min ride. HOWEVER, FairCar was ‘not the business’, so to speak. Ends-up that they were going to put a $3000 hold on Floyd’s credit card as a deposit! That’s right, $3000. It was all pretty slick & shady, too. The representative casually mentioned what turned-out to be an unnecessary ‘package’ & when we realized what was happening, that’s when we were made aware of the deposit amount that she was getting ready to swipe Floyd’s card for. ‘Oh no, wait a minute. Say what?!’
Turns out that we were able to get a car with the typical deposit that we would expect to pay if renting a car here in the US. Needless to say, the car was 2yrs old & it had a huge dent on the side that was over a foot long & almost just as wide.
We will still use Economy Bookings for international car rentals, but if you’re going to Iceland, I’d highly suggest using Budget Car Rental as it seems that they’re the only rental company in Iceland that Americans are familiar with.
Another blemish to FairCar’s reputation for us is the fact that they moved their location sometime during the 3 days that we were in Iceland,
& it hadn’t been updated in our favorite driving app – Waze, Google Maps or Apple Maps. We also hadn’t been notified. On our last day, we left with plenty of time to return the car & take the shuttle to the airport, but with the change, it took us almost 30min longer to find the new location! Btw, Waze is an awesome driving app, not only when driving in the US, but other countries also. We also used it in Dubai, Montreal & Quebec. The directions are spot on!
Accommodations: After much thought & research, I booked 2 nights @ the Silica Hotel. It’s the ‘sister property’ to the much more expensive Blue Lagoon Retreat Hotel & Spa, & the hotel has its own beautiful lagoon that’s exclusive to guests only. I toyed with booking ‘The Retreat’, but just couldn’t justify the cost when Silica is a cheaper property on the same grounds. You’ll need to know that The Retreat is probably 3-4min away via the complimentary hotel shuttle, as you may want to book a table @ Moss for an unforgettable dining experience.
We were immediately in awe of the initial beauty of the Silica Hotel when we walked in. We booked a lava deluxe room that had a ‘lava view’. That isn’t the most basic available, but the extra money for the view wasn’t really worth it to me. The grounds that the hotel sits on is stunningly beautiful, but we didn’t need to pay extra to look @ lava rocks. Our room was small, but the heated bathroom floor made up for it!
Food: The Silica’s breakfast buffet was REALLY good, but I was highly disappointed in the much anticipated lunch @ Lava Restaurant. Our room rate included ‘lunching’/ dining @ Lava. The unique thing about Lava is the fact that you can have lunch in the bathrobes that you use @ the spa! I was so excited for ‘in robe dining’, but the food was a complete let down. Floyd enjoyed his meal, but I left there very hungry. Which then led me to later search for anywhere that would deliver food as Silica nor The Retreat has room service! You would think that for 2 pretty expensive hotels that they would have room svc… I just assumed that they would. Yet another disappointment.
So a 9pm pizza it was! There aren’t many places at all who deliver to Silica, but the front desk did make a suggestion: As expensive as it was ($45) for a medium ‘Icelandic Margarita, add pepperoni’ pizza, a small onion rings with a small order of wings, Papas Pizza is highly recommended & was some of the best pizza (outside of Chicago) that I’d EVER had.
The Retreat has a ‘2020 Michelin Guide’ recommended restaurant called Moss. You’ll need a reservation & the dresscode is ‘smart casual’. When I tell you all that the ENTIRE seemingly 7 course dinner was so good… Take me seriously because it was #delicious. You won’t be disappointed in the view either as it has views through several large floor to ceiling windows of the Blue Lagoon. The lagoon is somehow illuminated & its beautiful turquoise blue water is a sight to behold in the evening & eventual darkness of the night. You won’t be disappointed!
The Spa! – We booked only 1 treatment & the pick was the ‘In Water Massage’. It was very unique & likely something we’d never experience again. We also wanted to be sure we had enough time in the lagoon & to not use a chunk of time on treatments. The ‘Silica Hotel with the Retreat Spa’ exclusive offer that we booked for 1 night came with the following & a little more, but this is what we cared about:
5hr exclusive entry to the Retreat Spa ( this spa was located in the Silica Hotel
Private changing room for 1-2 guests (very nice room with a shower, Blue Lagoon skin care amenities for use)
Unlimited access to the Retreat Lagoon & the Blue Lagoon
A drink of your choice
**The 2nd night, we had another offer which included the not so great meal @ Lava restaurant.**
You’ll need to reserve your spa time in advance & I had no difficulty getting a reservation about 3wks in advance. The ‘In Water Massage’ was 45min long, $184 per person, & it felt uniquely amazing! That was our 1st time entering the Blue Lagoon ever & many have asked ‘Was the water cold?’, & some then stated ‘Well it looked cold!’
After 2 days @ Silica, we spent our final night @ the Eyja – Urban eco hotel. It was super cute & the boutique style that we love. We had a ‘double superior room’ that was small, but the bed was very comfortable. There was no included breakfast in the rate.
Other places where we dined:
- THE HUNGRY CHEF – simply amazing! It’s a new Hungarian restaurant & I’m surprised that they don’t have a website yet. We stumbled across this gem one night after souvenir shopping in downtown Reykjavik. What made ME stop & pull Floyd inside was the delicious looking chocolate cake on display. They were literally closing in a couple of minutes, but we were greeted by the owner who eagerly boxed the 2 cake slices up. His restaurant was so new that he hadn’t gotten plastic utensils in, so he gave us 2 metal forks to go! We looked @ the menu & though neither of us ever had Hungarian food, we promised that we’d be back on the next day to give it a try & return the utensils!
AND it was an amazing restaurant! I had ‘Hungarian spaghetti’, if that’s a thing, & Floyd had something else that he absolutely loved!
We will ABSOLUTELY eat Hungarian food again!
- REYKJAVIK FISH Restaurant for one of our favorite meals, fish & chips. This was our 1st meal outside of the Silica Hotel, & this is when we realized how very expensive Iceland was! ($55 for 2 fried fish baskets w fries & 2 canned Pepsi’s) Ketchup, mayo & mustard was free, but any other sauces were about $2.20 for approximately an ounce of sauce. To top it off, the meal wasn’t very good @ all. They also looked @ me like I had 2 heads when I asked for hushpuppies. Hey, this country girl loves those things!
- Himalayan Spice – This restaurant was noticed on a ‘drive-by’, & the name alone was intriguing! After a look @ the menu, it was definitely an ‘Oh yeah!’ moment! They serve Nepalese food & it was absolutely deliciously different. A must try if you’re in Iceland, & it was certainly worth every last penny!
**Side note: We may take a trip to Nepal just for the food!**
Iceland was relatively expensive, so do keep that in mind. For souvenir shopping, the best place is ‘downtown’ Reykjavik on a street called Laugavegur (Main Street). Here you will find dozens of shops on each side of the street & more. Laugavegur Street reportedly leads into 2 more streets that have a number of shops as well. It was way too many for me to even try & see in the approximately 3hrs that I was shopping around (on foot!). My only goal was to get a popular Iceland Hoodie with Puffin Bird on it & any other cute souvenirs that I liked… So we parked the car, Floyd went to a museum & I set off on foot! I got my hoodie and MANY other ‘souvi’s’, as I like to call them.
Also remember that if you permanently reside in another country & spend more than 6000 ISK on 1 receipt while in Iceland, then you’re eligible for a Tax Refund that you can claim @ the Keflavik Airport (KEF) when you’re leaving the country. Just remember to ask for a Tax Free Refund form @ the store where you’re shopping.
Then be sure to get to the airport in time to turn in the form. It actually only took me a few minutes to turn in the form after I located the place to do it. For Iceland, you don’t get your money back right away. It takes them a few weeks & they’ll credit it to the card of your choice.
The Blue Lagoon was so worth seeing. Iceland has amazing landscape along with miles & miles of barren land. I would definitely suggest being there for 5-6 days as opposed to the 3 that we were there. I say that also as you have to keep the weather forecast in mind there. We lost @ least a good ½ day of driving around to see various sites because of heavy rain & occasional sleet.
And that, my friends, is part 1 of another trip of a lifetime!
All the Best!