I have been following Stephanie and Adam since they started their blog in 2015 so it’s been great to have them on board! They have both spent the last few years travelling to places like South Africa, Rome and Indonesia (to name but a few!) and the main premise of their blog is to inspire others to put their vacation time to great use!
They both work full-time and don’t want to quit their jobs, but that hasn’t stopped them from maximizing their time off and seeing some incredible places! Today they chat to me about spending the new year celebrations in Iceland, which I am totally envious of as this destination is high on my list of places to go!
Hi Stephanie and Adam – seeing in the new year in Iceland must have been great! Can you tell us a little more about why you picked this destination?
We came to Reykjavik to ring in the new year with some great local traditions. We were there for just a few days- we arrived after Christmas, and headed home after the New Year so we could get back for when the business year starts again. We chose Reykjavik in part because of the great deals we found on airfare and lodging – although the price of food, drink, and tours is more than we spent in most other destinations (due to its location, expect to spend a bit more here!). The city was still decorated for Christmas, so there were festive lights everywhere which look quite magical when the snow fell! Also, there weren’t a lot of tourists during that time – Iceland seems to be much more popular in the warmer months, so we are enjoying the quieter streets and restaurants with shorter wait times!
I imagine it to be REALLY cold at this time of year? How did you find it?
They have a saying here in Iceland- if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. That is absolutely the truth! In just a few days we saw sun, rain, snow, and wind- and several times the snow had fallen fast for just a few minutes before completely clearing up. Iceland is incredible in the winter- cold, but not as cold as we expected (temperatures right around freezing, though the wind makes it a bit chillier). We were expecting a lot more in terms of snowfall, but for the most part we haven’t seen much in terms of accumulation. We did encounter our first time watching New Year’s Eve fireworks in a blizzard, though!
Where did you stay?
We stayed at the City Center Hotel, which we chose primarily for its location. It’s on one of the main streets in Reykjavik, very close to restaurants and nightlife. The rooms are small but comfortable, the staff are very knowledgeable and friendly, and we loved being able to walk outside and be close to everything happening in the city.
What activities did you get up to during your stay?
A major highlight of this trip was visiting the Golden Circle, which we missed when we were here two years ago. It includes the Gullfoss waterfall, the Strokkur geyser, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Þingvellir National Park. We also spent lots of time walking through the city – we visited the Hallgrímskirkja church both during daylight and at night. And, of course, we loved New Year’s Eve! We spent the evening at bonfires, watching the city’s many fireworks displays with the locals – an incredible experience to ring in another year!
Reykjavik is a great walking city, so if you have a map and a guidebook you can skip some of the pricey city tours and see everything on your own. Although it’s certainly touristy, don’t miss the Blue Lagoon- it does make for a relaxing afternoon, and everyone who has heard of Iceland will ask you about it when you return home. Check out some of the thermal pools in and around Reykjavik- they cost a lot less and provide a similar (though less luxurious) experience. The Golden Circle is worth seeing as well, but to be honest, renting a car and trying to do it yourself might not be the best option. We happened upon some pretty difficult driving conditions due to the snow and were grateful we opted for a bus tour – we got to each destination safely, and we passed many cars that were stranded or had slid off the road!
Can you recommend any places to eat/drink?
A lot of people who visit Iceland quickly discover something the locals are raised to know – they have some of the best hot dogs in the world! Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is a quick walk from the main shopping street, and you can’t miss it because there’s always a long line. A couple of hot dogs and a drink will only set you back 1000 ISK, which is about $8 USD and is a great deal in this city. We also love Grillmarkaðurinn, which is much pricier but has a wonderful menu with great cocktails. When you’re here, drink local! Gull beer is light and refreshing, and the best price we’ve seen is at Icelandic Fish & Chips where it will only set you back 550 ISK (a bit more than $4 USD). And while you’re there, of course, the fish is delicious – a great lunch or dinner option!
Any other travel tips or advice for anyone planning a trip to Reykjavik?
Don’t worry about carrying cash in Reykjavik – just about everywhere you go will take credit or debit cards. If you have a card that doesn’t charge international transaction fees you’ll save a lot of money by not converting your home currency to krona! English is widely spoken here as well, so if you don’t speak Icelandic you’ll be just fine if you know some English. Also, the people here are very friendly – we’ve had great conversations with strangers all week!
One other thing worth mentioning is that many parts of the island smell like sulfur, which is an unmistakable rotten egg scent that is the result of the volcanic activity in Iceland. You’ll absolutely notice this at the Blue Lagoon or other thermal pools, but we were surprised when turning on the hot water in our hotel shower to have the whole room immediately fill with the smell – in fact, many hotels add extra sulfur to protect their hot water pipes! No one talks about this – it’s not in guidebooks and the locals don’t even notice the smell – but if you’re not familiar with it you’ll recognize it at least once or twice when you visit. Don’t worry, though – you get used to it quickly, and the cold water here is perhaps the most pure in the world, so it’s perfectly fine!
Where are you off to next?
We start planning our trips right around new years as we figure out how we want to maximize our vacation days, and we have a few in the works right now! We’ll be in Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro in April; the Netherlands and Belgium in June; Peru (and hopefully Bolivia and Ecuador) in October; and we’re hoping to spend next new years eve in Antarctica! We also have a few trips throughout the USA planned, including Denver, Colorado; Augusta, Maine; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Eugene, Oregon.
Wow it sounds like you have a lot to look forward to! What would you say has been your favourite destination so far?
Our favourite destination was Easter Island. We went to see the Moai, but we left with such an incredible appreciation for the culture and the history of the Rapa Nui. The weather was perfect, the food was fresh and delicious, and we never got tired of gathering with locals and travellers to watch the sunset at Ahu Tahai. One of the best parts was how friendly everyone was – the locals treated us like welcome guests (or family!) and we constantly made new friends on our tours or even just waiting for tables at restaurants. Easter Island is hard to get to, and it takes a long time, but for us it proves that it’s worth the extra effort to travel off the beaten path – you’ll be rewarded by experiences you never dreamed you could have!