The first thing you’ll notice when you step off the plane in Iceland is the landscape. The ride from the airport to downtown Reykjavik—the country’s coastal capital and the home for most Icelanders—is like a journey on the moon. Rocks and lava fields are scattered everywhere, and there are no forests in Iceland—nothing obstructs your view, which creates an immense vastness that goes on and on. Once in Reykjavik, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with affable locals and immerse yourself in the culture.

What You’ll See in Reykjavik

There are loads of excellent restaurants, coffee houses, and shopping within walking distance to the harbor. The charming, colorful buildings and rooftops, made out of corrugated metal, are stunning and worth a look-see. I recommend eating at Grillmarkaðurinn and Kopar and having craft cocktails at Slippbarinn. Plus, stay overnight at Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Marina for a trendy stay with a view or at Reykjavík Marina Residence for more luxurious space and amenities. Don’t miss the Hallgrimskirkja cathedral in the center of town—the panoramic views out of the windows at the top are incredible and Instagram-worthy. Reykjavik Excursions and Super Jeep both do an excellent job leading custom-made expeditions.

A Note on Shopping

I really wanted to come home with an Icelandic sweater. One of the tour guides said in jest, “There are two things that keep Icelanders warm in the winter: their sweaters and their women!” Unfortunately, the real authentic ones are about $400. So, needless to say, I didn’t purchase one. I could have gotten a much cheaper “fake” one for $170, but I didn’t see the point. Also, the airport is an excellent place to buy goods because you won’t have to pay a VAT (Value Added Tax) tax. I did purchase silica and algae mud masks at the airport from The Blue Lagoon brand—I love reliving the spa-like geothermal pool experience while relaxing at home.

Fun Facts

Iceland is the land of fire and ice: there is a volcanic eruption about every five years, and 11% of the country’s surface is covered with glaciers. What’s cool is that roughly 85% of Iceland’s energy is from renewable resources, and over 50% of that is geothermal. Icelanders enjoy really cheap heating bills! Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the tectonic plates of America and Eurasia are slowly spreading apart about 2 cm per year, and you can actually walk in between and see both sides of the plate’s boundaries—this is a must-do adventure!

In Iceland, you can see gushing waterfalls, moss-covered lava fields, the Aurora Borealis on a clear, dark night; the geothermal Blue Lagoon Iceland; snow-streaked mountains; ice caves; geysers; whales and puffins, and so much more. And, the best fun fact of all, Iceland launched a non-stop service from Chicago to Iceland  (only a 6-hour flight!) via Icelandair, so it’s super simple to go on the adventure of a lifetime! What are you waiting for?

Coffee at Efsti-Dalur II in Iceland
There are so many unique things about this just-south-of-the-Arctic-Circle country. Take Farm-hotel Efsti-Dalur II, for example. This family-run farm, located on the Golden Circle, has been operating since 1850! Here, you can spend the night, ride horses, eat house-made ice cream, pet baby calves and sip a ‎cappuccino with ‎coffee art while watching the dairy cows in the barn! Also, the fish is pulled out of the water from a neighboring farm and everything comes from the ‎local ‎community. It’s a true farm-to-table family business and a stellar example of one of the dining options you’ll experience.

Reykjavik Harbour
Reykjavík Harbor, where you’ll find beautiful views and restaurants and shopping within walking distance.

Hallgrímskirkja view
View from the top windows of Hallgrímskirkja—the brilliantly hued rooftops and buildings are a sight to see!

Icelandair Hotel Reykjavi_k Marina
Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Marina—trendy and affordable hotel within walking distance to everything.

Slippbarinn craft cocktails
Craft cocktails at Slippbarinn—delicious.

Standing on a glacier in Iceland
Such gorgeous nature—here’s me, standing on a glacier.

Wendy Altschuler at Gullfoss Waterfall
Stop at Gullfoss Waterfall, while touring the Golden Circle—it’s windy, but you won’t regret the views.

Eurasian_north American Tectonic Plate Rift
Eurasian/north American Tectonic Plate Rift—incredible!

Hiking the Eurasian North American Tectonic Plate Rift
Hiking through the Eurasian/north American Tectonic Plate Rift.

Just outside of the Blue Lagoon, moss covered lava fields

And, just outside of the Blue Lagoon, sits moss-covered lava fields under a rainbow.

Blue Lagoon
The infamous Blue Lagoon.
Photos by Wendy Altschuler

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Wendy Altschuler is a seasoned writer, editor and adventurer with many publishing credits under her belt. She writes regularly for several publications (print and web), churning out indelible lifestyle, travel, events and dining articles on the regular. Wendy spent over four years as a contributing writer and special correspondent for Sun-Times Media and while there she developed and wrote her own parenting column: Wendy City Mom. Wendy's stories have been published in: Tribune Brand Publishing, Forbes, TripSavvy, Chicago Parent, Blood and Thunder, Five on Five, Yoga Magazine, Yoga Chicago, Chicago Now, The Listen to Your Mother Show, The Association of Writers and Writer's Programs and more. Fun facts: Wendy was born and raised in Montana; while earning her undergrad in Chicago, she studied abroad in India; formerly, Wendy wrote itineraries and travel tips for a luxury, boutique travel company; and Wendy, A.K.A. Drew Grit, was an athlete and writer/editor for the Windy City Rollers—Roller Derby. She's always looking for an adventure — hello skydiving, trapeze, road trips, urban rappelling and parenthood — and she seeks out stories to write home about. Follow on Instagram: