Planning a trip to Iceland? Or maybe you’ve been and want to go back!? Either way, it is certainly a place worth visiting. We just recently returned from our first trip to Iceland, and we wish we could go back right this instant!
When we first told people that we would be vacationing in Iceland, we were met with a lot of confused faces, and people told us that it would be super hard to find and eat vegan meals there. We were certainly a little nervous; however, upon arrival (and a quick google search), we immediately realized just how EASY it was going to be to find plant-based food. In fact, not only was it easy, but arguably better than where we currently live (which has vegetarian/vegan eateries).
In addition to all of the great food we had, we had a blast exploring some different sites, and of course, checked out a yoga studio. But let’s start with the food, and then we can circle back to some more of our Iceland travel tips.
Where to Eat
Hands down our favorite! We ate here every day – even if it was just for a quick bite. It is currently the only 100% vegan (actually vegan and not just vegetarian) restaurant in Reykjavik. However, if you have little kids, keep in mind that Europe in general tends to be less shy about swearing and sexual images, and there is a very funny, but not kid appropriate sign in this place. Regardless, Kaffi Vinyl has delicious food and very large portions! They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and even have happy hour specials and plenty of drinks, wine, and beer available. Head here for breakfast after checking out a yoga class (link below), or for dinner and wine after a day of sightseeing.
Dinner at Burro was our “splurge” meal. Whenever we travel, we do not splurge on finer dining experiences every night, because we’d go broke. However, we always try to look for a fancier place where we can go once or twice, and Burro was it! Burro is a tapas place, and despite the fact that their full name – Burro Tapas + Steaks – has the word steak in it, it is very vegan friendly! We had the plantain chips with guac, an order of broccolini (really good for a simple veggie dish), two orders of tofu tacos (because why not?), and two orders of reykt sellerýrót (celery root) that was barbecued and tasted like a piece of pork. We were never actually fans of pork when we ate meat, but this dish was amazing and blew pork dishes we’ve had out of the water. For dessert we had their vegan ice cream, but they seem to rotate out different options. Bottom line, highly recommend, vegan or not.
We only stopped here once, but we heard that their carrot cake was out of this world, so practically the entire trip we were craving it! When we finally got a piece (okay, we bought two), it lived up to the hype! Since we’ve been home, I’ve been trying to recreate it. I’ll let you know if I get it right!
This place is a savior when you land at the airport! They offer exactly what their name states – cups of Joe and juice! Their juice and juice shots were just what we needed when we landed for a little pick-me-up at what was 3am our time. Just be mindful, if you are 100% vegan or trying to be, many of their shakes have whey protein in them, but you can ask to sub plant protein as they have it in some of their drinks.
We only stopped here once for breakfast, but they do offer some plant-based menu items. They also have shots (the juice kind), so it was nice to have a ginger shot, especially when traveling to help you stay healthy!
Gló offers vegan and vegetarian options for lunch and dinner. We stopped here twice to have sandwiches made (Mediterranean wrap) to take with us while we drove around and went sightseeing.
Places we did not get a chance to check out
We had this place on our list of places to check out, but for whatever reason, just completely forgot when we were there! However, you can see on their menu that they have vegan options and substitutes. We heard that their burger is really good!
This is mainly a coffee, ice cream and crepe shop. However, they advertise having vegan crepes and toppings, so we will definitely have to check them out when we go back one day…
I think we will have to go back to Iceland just to try this place! They are a brand new restaurant and were not open yet when we were there. They are keeping their Facebook page updated so you can follow them to see when they officially open. Once they do, they will be the second, 100% vegan restaurant in Reykjavik!
Where to Stay
When we travel, we usually opt for an Air B&B or VRBO rental. We absolutely stay in hotels when it is better or more convenient, but ultimately, when we travel, we like to have a nice space and a central location. The funny thing is that often times people see the rooms we stay in and think we spend a fortune, but we don’t! Vacation rentals can actually be cheaper, but, like I said, it all depends. In general, vacation rentals can be better because it is nice to have a kitchen and sometimes even laundry. We really like to be able to wake up and make coffee and enjoy breakfast at our rental. Sometimes we will go out for breakfast, but eating that meal in can help save time, money, and if you have a gorgeous view, why wouldn’t you want to enjoy it?
For Iceland specifically, we had an apartment that we found on Air B&B. The location was perfect as it was right near the main strip of downtown. When looking for a place to stay, map out how close it is to Laugavegur. That is the main road with most of the shops and restaurants, so everything can be walking distance.
Rental Car: Yes or No?
For Iceland, we’d say yes! While in Reykjavik, if you are staying near Laugavegur, then you will be able to walk to most places. However, Iceland is big! Actually, it’s huge! So for sightseeing, a rental car is highly recommended since many things are a minimum 30 minutes or more outside of Reykjavik.
What to Do
This list will honestly not fully cover all of the things you could do in Iceland. However, Iceland is just so scenic, that you really cannot go wrong. Keep in mind that we visited in winter and for only 4 days, so some activities might not be on here if they are more of a summer venture or take longer to do.
When you think of Iceland, you may think of hot springs and geothermal pools. And there are plenty of them! The secret lagoon, which is not so secret, was probably one of our favorite stops. Sure, people know about it, but it is still small enough that it is not overly crazy. Plus, there is a little snack bar that sells beer and wine, so you can enjoy a drink while you swim in the warm water.
Note – Towels and lockers are available on-site, and you can even borrow a swimsuit if you forget yours (but please do not forget yours – borrowing one just doesn’t seem right).
Yes, the blue lagoon is super touristy! Probably one of the most touristy things you will do – BUT, it is touristy for a reason. It is actually a pretty cool and chill place. When you first walk in and see the crowds, you may get anxious and overwhelmed; however, once you are in the lagoon, it is so large, that you forget how many people are there. We could easily swim around and find plenty of space and privacy if we wanted (unless you stand right next to the bar or entrance to the lagoon).
Note – If it is in your budget, we recommend purchasing the middle package (or if you want to splurge, the private room) so that you can skip the longer line and get a couple of masks (the second one helps sooth the dryness from the first one). To be honest, next time we go, we may just splurge and buy the top package. It is scary to think of spending that much money at first, but having been there, having your own private room and space would be nice if you want to make a full day of it. Obviously if you are only planning on an hour or two, then it is not worth it.
Another tip is to book in advance! Seriously! We waited a few days before we left to book, and 3 of the 4 days we were there were sold out. We were lucky to still get tickets, but we were unable to go the day we arrived as originally planned (most flights arrive super early, so the blue lagoon is the perfect way to kill time before you can check in to your vacation rental/hotel).
There are several public pools around Reykjavik, but this one – Vesturbæjarlaug – was the one we visited. A friend of ours had been to Iceland and visited a few of the public pools, but recommended this one. It appears to be the only one in the area that has several outdoor heated pools (basically giant hot tubs), along with a sauna and steam room. It is also filled with locals. We saw one other non-native while we were there, and the place was pretty busy! It was honestly really cool to see locals getting off from work on a cold day, and just heading to the pool to chill!
Reykjavik is just a really fun and interesting place. It is not too overwhelming and very walkable. We honestly just loved hanging out in the city, walking around and grabbing food and drinks.
My yoga students and I have a little running challenge – doing yoga poses at random places when we travel (safely of course – no cliffs or crazy daredevil things).
Hallgrímskirkja is the famous church you see in many photos of Iceland, and Reykjavik in particular. As long as there is not a mass going on, you can walk in and purchase a pass to take an elevator to the top. It does not take long and was an easy, but fun thing to do when we first arrived to kill time.
Yes, we went to the penis museum. It’s a quick stop, small, and you can get in and out fast 😉. It’s an easy way to kill time and have a laugh!
Golden Circle – Geysir and Gulfoss
The Golden Circle is a popular driving route in Iceland. It is an area that has beautiful landscape and natural wonders. Depending on what you want to do, you could be in the car for awhile. We chose to visit Geysir and Gulfoss as they are basically next to each other and close to the Secret Lagoon. Geysir is a hot spring that periodically spouts. You may have to wait a few minutes, but you will all of a sudden see the water swell up and erupt. Then, just down the road from Geysir, is the Gulfoss waterfall, which is just a beautiful sight to see.
Thingvellir National Park/Silfra
Although considered a stop on the Golden Circle, we chose to visit this park on a different day to help break up the driving. Thingvellir National Park is also much closer to Reykjavik. The views on the drive are truly breathtaking – the pictures just do not do this area justice. A popular stop at Thingvellir National Park is the Silfra. The Silfra is where you can walk (or snorkel or dive) between two continents! Yes, you read that right. The Silfra fissure is a rift that formed between two tectonic plates – the North American and Eurasian Plates – and the plates drift apart about 2 to 2.5 cm every year. The area has some of the clearest and cleanest water, and you can dive or snorkel between the two plates! We did not snorkel this time (although we could have, despite it being winter), but definitely have it on the list for a future trip.
The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) are pretty synonymous with Iceland, but, you are not guaranteed to see them. It really depends on the weather and solar activity. So you could have great weather, but if the activity is low, then you probably will not see anything. The good news is that you can stay up to date on the weather and check the aurora forecast here. If you book a tour, most tour companies will update you on whether or not they plan to go out that night as well. If you book a tour in advance and they decide not to run it due to low activity, they will usually bump you to the next night.
We are honestly so bummed that we did not discover this place until the last day! Sólir is a yoga studio offering many different styles, and we loved the power yoga! Just keep in mind that this studio usually teaches all of their classes in Icelandic. We were totally open to it and thought it would be an interesting experience. There ended up being a couple other English speaking people in the class, so the teacher taught mainly in English with some Icelandic thrown in (not going to lie, we were bummed when other English speakers came in, because we did not want the instructor to feel she had to change the language). Regardless, the instructor was so nice and welcoming. We will definitely buy a week of classes the next time we visit!
What we did not get to do: Lava Tunnel, Vik, and other parts of Iceland.
As previously mentioned, Iceland is very big! There is so much you could do, but also a lot of walking around and general sightseeing too. We did not end up visiting the Lava Tunnel, although we probably would next time. We also opted out of going to Vik, but that was because a.) we did not want to spend the whole trip driving, and b.) because we have seen black sand beaches, so we were not feeling the need to see another, but would go if time allowed.
Iceland was truly an amazing place, and since we have been back, I have been having a hard time truly conveying to people what it was like. Hopefully you get the chance to visit and enjoy the beautiful scenery, great eats, friendly people, and fun atmosphere. And for those who are interested, below is our day-to-day itinerary (we did not fully pre-plan this, but the way it ended up worked out pretty well).
Our Day-to-Day Itinerary
Day 1 – Arrived 7:00am – grabbed juice at Joe & The Juice
-Drove to Reykjavik and ate at Kaffi Vinyl
-Checked into vacation rental (took a much needed shower)!
-Visited the Iceland Phallological Museum
-Went back to Kaffi Vinyl for dinner and drinks
Day 2 – Golden Circle
-Ate small breakfast at rental and headed to Nat for a bonus round
-Drove out to Geysir
-From Geysir to Gulfoss
-Drove back to Reykjavik, dinner at Burro
Day 3 – Thingvellir National Park/Silfra
-Breakfast at Vinyl
-Grabbed lunch at Gló to take with us
-Drove to Thingvellir National Park to see Silfra
-Drove back to Reykjavik, hung out at Vesturbæjarlaug
-Grabbed carrot cake at Cafe Babalu to save for after dinner
-Dinner at Vinyl
Day 4 – Last full day
-Morning power yoga class at Sólir
-Breakfast at Vinyl
-Walked around Reykjavik
-Lunch at Gló
-Headed to Blue Lagoon (stayed there for a couple of hours)
-Headed back to Reykjavik for one more dinner at Vinyl (seriously, we loved this place)