I'm cold and I'm not alone. My two shivering friends, Lori and Ashley, are just as chilled. This is not the warm, sunny weather we’re used to. Fat clouds hang low in the sky, full of snowflakes. Wind blows down from snowcapped peaks, then cuts between buildings. We’ve only just arrived in Iceland. Walking through Reykjavík’s maze of cobbled streets and pitched roofs should be piquing our curiosity, beckoning our wandering spirits. But our feet are numb. Our down coats are warm — but not warm enough. We’re not ready to explore yet.
We are eager for something new, though. Each of us has logged plenty of beach time on balmy islands. Now we want an adventure into the unknown — to the last island on earth anyone would expect us to go. We want to trek snowy wonderlands and bathe in hot springs, to explore like Vikings and scamper like elves. Together we want to discover a real-life fairy tale. Iceland promises all of that. But first, we need wool sweaters.
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By Ashley Fraxedas
From the ISLANDS Best Travel Guide: Iceland.
Day 1: Explore Reykjavík
Fly direct from New York and even Sanford, Florida, on Icelandair into Keflavík Airport. Rent at least a midsize SUV (the snow requires bigger tires), and drive 45 minutes northeast to Reykjavík. Check into the centrally located Hótel Borg. Warning: I couldn’t find a solid map of Iceland, so be ready for the crazy-long Icelandic street names. Walk around Reykjavík to take in the quaint city. Start up Skólavör∂ustígur Street, stopping along the way to buy wool souvenirs, like pins and sweaters. Then head to the 84-foot-tall Perlan (“Pearl”), one of Reykjavík’s landmark buildings, and take in the panoramic views of the city from the viewing deck. For lunch, go to the Fish Market. I suggest the satay-marinated ocean catfish, bought directly from the country’s fishermen for sustainability and freshness. Dinner at Silfur, located in Hótel Borg, is a must. It’s modern-day-meets-traditional-Iceland cuisine. I highly recommend the lobster appetizer (mini-lobster tail, mini-lobster burger with chorizo and a lobster egg roll).
Day 2: Drive Ring Road
Drive to Thingvellir National Park, where you can actually snorkel and dive in 35-degree water. Make sure to spend a few hours exploring — the surrounding glaciers, grasslands and twisting streams are impressive. Then head toward the iconic, must-see Geysir. Stop to eat clam chowder at Restaurant Lindin along the way. The Geysir is about 30 minutes from here. Every other geyser in the world is named after this one. Drive to Europe’s biggest waterfall, Gullfoss. Put an extra layer on — the mist is freezing. Check into one of Hotel Rangá’s 51 comfortable log-cabin-style rooms. Dine on Icelandic lamb and lobster at the restaurant in Rangá, where three glass walls let in the majestic view of the Eystri-Rangá salmon river and surrounding grasslands. After dinner, grab a glass of wine and put your bathing suit on. Rangá has outdoor hot tubs that will keep you toasty warm in the cold air. And it’s the most romantic spot to see the northern lights. If you’re too tired to wait for the lights to come out, usually around midnight, ask the front desk to put you on the “Northern Lights Wake-Up Call List.”
Day 3: Glacier Skidooing
Drive east on Road 222 and then up the side of the mountain to meet the fearless guides of Arcanum at their snowmobile-rental hut on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. They will give you a crash course and a jumpsuit that keeps even this Floridian warm. Wear waterproof boots and a very heavy scarf. And stay balanced over the two front “sleds” so you don’t tip your snowmobile over, like I did. After, stop at Selfoss, another beautiful waterfall. There you can climb 376 steps to the top. Dinner tonight is at Rau∂a Húsi∂, or Red House, first built in 1919, in Eyrarbakki. Order the beef tenderloin. It’s the quaintest, coziest dinner you’ll ever have.
Day 4: Relax at Rangá
Arrange with Rangá to go horseback riding around south Iceland with nearby Hestheimar. Spend the rest of the day relaxing and taking in Hotel Rangá. The river behind Rangá is said to be one of the most salmon-rich rivers in the world. Watch as fishermen take in the day’s catch. One even offered me a pick of his hard-caught fish. If this happens, Rangá will gladly cook your salmon for dinner.
Day 5: Helicopter Tour
Check out of Rangá and drive back to Hótel Borg in Reykjavík. Nor∂urflug will pick you up at the hotel for a helicopter tour. You can choose one where you’ll land on a glacier to get ice cubes for your drink. Eat dinner at the Fish Company. The building was actually moved from the old harbor, so part of the original harbor wall still remains in the restaurant. It’s your last night, so stay out late. Reykjavík is quite a party town on the weekends. I highly recommend anything with Reyka vodka. It is bottled at the source, filtered through lava rock and made using geothermal energy.
Day 6: Spa at the Blue Lagoon
Check out of Borg and head toward the airport. But before you get all the way there, stop at the milky, fluorescent-blue, natural healing waters of the Blue Lagoon. Book a room in the Exclusive Lounge, where you’ll have private access to the outdoor lagoon. You can also book an in-water massage and buy a celebratory bottle of champagne. Allot 40 minutes to get to the airport from the Blue Lagoon. When there, go to a duty-free store to buy a souvenir bottle of Brennivin vodka. All that’s left is warming up for the trip home.