“Did you know that 54% of the Icelandic nation believes that elves exist?” So reports the Elfschool in Reykjavík, Iceland, the ridiculously scenic Nordic island country which recently announced that it will open its border to vaccinated tourists.
This welcoming of tourism is exciting news, because it means we can start cautiously stepping back into the activities we loved, pre-pandemic, like travel (to places like Iceland that give the green light). But this is ~particularly~ exciting news for people who live inside a mossy log, and want to become a hot springs troll. Iceland has all that [gestures to glacial lagoons] and so much more. The folkloric majesty! The moonscape mountains, crater lakes, and steamy lagoons. There’s something so austerely enchanting about its landscape that makes it the perfect COVID-19 reset, be it with friends, a partner, or riding solo. In the (obligatory) words of Björk, “I never really understood the word ‘loneliness’. As far as I was concerned, [I’m] in an orgy with the sky and the ocean, and with nature." HELL YAH.
Chase the Northern Lights. Enroll in a crash course at Elfschool (they really do take their elves seriously; entire roads are constructed around their dwellings) under Headmaster Magnus. Propose to yourself by the Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall. Come to Skagafjörður during the magical, single fall weekend of the year when thousands of wild horses gather. Visit a museum of... mammal penises! (Why not?) Iceland isn’t just a vacation destination. It’s a brain bath, hand-poured by the cosmos.
It makes sense that Iceland is opening up to vaccinated tourists, given how much the nation's economy relies on tourism. Still, read the room: Stay up-to-date on CDC travel guidelines, and travel respectfully (and as eco-friendly as possible). Learn some handy Iceland phrases, like “Rúsínan í Pylsuendanum,” which is roughly the equivalent of saying “Well, that’s the cherry on top!” but literally translates to “the raisin at the end of a sausage.” Also: “banana” in Icelandic is “banani.” How cool is that??
Here are the steps you should take before hoppin' on a flight and reemerging in this aurora-laden wonderland. We’ve taken the liberty of re-zhuzhing your travel essentials for thine Icelandic needs, in matters of rugged terrain (new hiking boots) and the hot springs (bathing suits); for staying warm, dry, and inspired (new camera, ayyyyy); and for finding lodging for you and your buds that is both Pinterest-worthy and affordable (in an otherwise expensive place). Meet you at the glacier.
First: Get a deal on a flight
Never used Agoda? It’s a travel site with some juicy little flight deals to Iceland, with roundtrip tickets from, say, New York City to Reykjavík for a little over $300. That’s not even half the price of the giant crab chair from Design Toscano!!
Book a flight to Iceland on Agoda
Where should you stay in Iceland? Book your own elfen dwelling (plus sauna)
Remember Vrbo? It’s that rental site that preceded Airbnb, and it actually has some pretty awesome stays (many of which are on Airbnb, too, but with a [drumroll] better cancellation policy). We repeat: There are noooo charges if you cancel. Full refund. And honestly, that makes semi-spontaneously booking a trip to Reykjavík all the easier and exciting. This expansive villa (1,722 square feet) is just a 15-minute walk to downtown, sleeps up to six people, and has both an indoor and outdoor sauna—the latter of which is built to look like an 18th-century Icelandic turf house.
Reykjavík Villa (sleeps 6), $421/night on Vrbo
This cabin on the beach in Northern Iceland
Akureyri is the second-largest town in Iceland, and is basically a super cute fishing town tucked into a deeeep fjord. If you like folk art museums, the idea of visiting the world’s northernmost botanical garden, and some of the best thermal pools in the country, it’s worth a night. Stay in this fjord-front cabin, which is not only affordable, but feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere (in a good way, and don’t worry, you'll have the internet).
Ytri Vík (sleeps 4), $151.65/night on Vrbo
Sleep in a volcanic national park
If you’ve already done some of the bigger towns in Iceland, have a stay in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It’s filled with colorful lighthouses and Middle Earth-y landscapes. This ocean-front cottage in national park by ye olde Snæfellsjökull volcano is one “the most potent and enduring symbol of Snæfellsnes,” according to its hosts, “Many prehistoric eruptions took place in the glacier-covered crater at its peak, and its slopes are covered with lava.” Take someone here and break up with them, just for the lava makeup sex.
Jules Verne Cottage (sleeps 4), $191/night on Vrbo
Stay here to see the Northern Lights
There are 26 rooms in this boutique hotel, which opened in 2017 in Hornafjordur (think southern Iceland), by a kindly family (just us, or does their group shot feel like it was snapped by Robert Eggers? Into it). It’s perfectly situated for both Northern Lights viewing, and bopping around the parts of South Iceland that are packed with beautiful, natural tourist attractions for easy day trippin', like Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier. As a family-run guesthouse hotel, you’re situated on a farm where baby sheep frolic and the mountain views await.
Lilja Guesthouse (multiple rooms available), $151/night at Expedia
So, how do you rent a car?
It’s actually pretty straightforward. Expedia has a bunch of different models, budgets, and pick-up spots in mind for your crew, so you can get an SUV (for about $60/day) that will make you feel like you’re starring in one of those douchey car commercials we’ve secretly always wanted to be in, and that you can hop in right from the airport.
Book a car on Expedia
“Hey, that’s that famous Blue Lagoon place”
You know Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, even if you don’t think you do: It’s one of the most vibey schmibey spots in the country, needs to be booked in advance, and has been in more Getty images than we can count for a reason: It’s stunning, it’s soothing, and it’s a great first-timer place to visit as it’s right by Reykjavík’s airport. (Learn a little more about how it’s handling COVID times, of course.)
Book your spa time at the Blue Lagoon on GetYourGuide
You’re going to be outdoors, all the time
If you’re visiting this sumar, opt for a hooded windbreaker. If you’re planning for the Northern Lights in the winter, however, you’re going to need more bundling up. (Pssst: the North Face Saikuru jacket is 20% off on ASOS right now). It’s all about the layers.
Nicce Hooded Windbreaker,
$110 $38.85 at ASOS
...and hopefully in some hot springs
This high-tech bathing suit somehow makes you look like an Icelandic lifeguard. Dunno why. Maybe it’s the earthy shade of green. Pretty cool, how it comes with built-in UPF 50+ sun protection. Also love that the brand, Andie, is woman-engineered and tested for comfort and quality (no wedgies in the hot springs).
$95 $57 at Andie
“The best pocket camera we’ve ever made.”
You can schlep a $2,790 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, and it’ll be worth it for the sturdiness in Iceland’s rugged terrain. But according to Iceland Photo Tours, “a standard zoom lens is also handy for general purpose photography during your trip. You will use this kind of lens for shooting Icelandic horses or waterfalls from a safe distance.” The Sony RX 100 is a smaller, more approachable camera to take on your trip that the manufacturer says is the best camera they’ve ever made, because it’s the perfect everywhere camera. “Your photos maintain soft background defocus even when zoomed in, there's a pop-up electronic viewfinder for eye-level framing, and a 180ｰdegree tiltable screen for 20.1MP4 selfies. Lastly, the ultra-fast BIONZ X processor adds speed and accuracy for stills as well as beautiful HD video.” Perfect for shooting your own music video next to a geyser.
Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP Premium Compact Digital Camera,
$748.00 $598.00 at Amazon
Match the glaciers
We can’t explain this, but please pair this divine, regally blue hoodie with a pair of hand-knit wool underwear to ascend to your Highest Iceland Lord Self. Layering is key in this place, and the thick shoestring-like ties are the perfect subtle pop of pattern to set you apart from everyone else on the hiking trail.
The Goodee Hoodie, $100 at Goodee
A runner’s fanny pack will be less annoying to carry...
...Or a runner’s version of anything, honestly–even if you’re not running. Kind of a hot tip we’ve been living by for a while, with jackets and fannies, as runner’s gear will usually be more lightweight than that studded leather thrift store fanny pack. We love that novelty fanny, but it may start to feel like a cumbersome, third teat whence loaded up with your travel crap, swinging from your chest. Instead: indie running brand Janji makes highly sling-able, weather-repellent fannies that will expand up to two times their volume, have multiple secure pockets, and come in nine noice, matte colors.
Multipass Sling Bag, $50 at Janji
Walking under the midnight sun
Pebbles, ridges, roads, elf chases, puddles, more pebbles–our suburban feet have almost forgotten what it feels like to “trek” in unfettered nature. Do invest in a new pair of hiking boots for this trip, because that’s (probably) why you’re in Iceland to begin with: to walk around and see cool big vibey rocks and landscapes. This hiking boot by Columbia has over 17,000 reviews and a 4.6 star rating, making it one of the most popular kids at the Amazon dance, with peeps citing how truly waterproof and durable it is. “These boots went through snow and rain, lots of rain” writes one reviewer; “These are great!! Lightweight but offer me the support I need,” says another, “I like that they are a little wider to allow for a good hiking sock.”
Columbia Men's Newton Ridge Plus Ii Waterproof Hiking Boot Shoe, $64.41–$216.97 at Amazon
Escape with the wild horses
You book a horseback elf trail tour, passing the small cleft Alfakví and the old sheep’s house, the church of the elves, and the elfin hill of Einbui. You slowly raise your horsed hands at the tour’s end, when everyone else goes to eat a delightful complimentary Iceland lunch, and join the horses forever.
Horse Mittens, $25 at Etsy
Safe and steamy travels, friend.
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