Journeys with Juliana: Reykjavik, Iceland
Written by Juliana Chen.
After a couple weeks of adjusting to London life, my friends and I finally decided it was time to plan our first trip. At the beginning, there was considerable debate: should we go somewhere that was a classic tourist destination, like Paris? Or maybe we should go somewhere closer to home for our first trip, where we were more comfortable with the culture, like Scotland or Ireland? But, with a little more research and a little more of an adventurous spirit, we realized that the tail end of the summer season was perfect for traveling to one place, and one place only: Reykjavik, Iceland.
Reykjavik is one of the world’s fastest growing travel destinations, with something for everyone- but since it’s still comparatively lesser known, you also don’t have to deal with any massive swarms of tourists everywhere you go. So, we decided to opt for this unconventional gem for our first trip that, admittedly, carried slight risk- but as we pleasantly discovered, carried infinitely more return.
Planning and Packing
Round-trip flights to Reykjavik are decently affordable from London, but not without some proactive research. I recommend booking WOW Air, a low-cost carrier airline based out of Reykjavik itself, that will fly you right into Keflavik International Airport. Try to buy your tickets at least two weeks in advance, and on a Tuesday if you want the best deals!
After surviving several Ohio winters, I consider myself reasonably comfortable with shoveling snow off of driveways and enduring some harsh windchill. However, quickly after touching down, I found that even after my years of experience, I was vastly under qualified to handle the piercing cold and intense Nordic winds. Needless to say, I felt pretty bad for all my LA friends who had never experienced anything like this before- what a crazy concept that seasons exist, and contrary to popular belief, the freezing temperature is actually 32 degrees Fahrenheit, not 60! So, although it sounds intuitive, do not underestimate the cold. Multiple layers are key, and make sure a heavy-duty rain jacket is one of them! Hats, scarves, and gloves are always a plus, and if you already own hiking boots, bring them. Otherwise, just wear comfortable walking shoes- if you need a pair of boots, they’re often available to rent for cheap at the beginning of hiking tours.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal hot springs and spa, is one of Iceland’s top attractions. The milky blue waters, mystical fog, and volcanic rock backdrop make it highly instagrammable, so there’s a high chance you’ve seen it on social media (check @khloekardashian, @beyonce, and @justinbieber’s profiles just to name a few)!
However, people visit the Blue Lagoon for more than the photo-ops- it is a full pampering experience complete with two sauna and steam rooms, a swim-up bar, and silica mud masks available for your use. Unsurprisingly, these luxuries come at a price, but pay attention to the following trusty tips, because I promise there are other ways than selling your kidney on the black market to afford them!
Simply give yourself plenty of time to book ahead on their website, and choose the basic Comfort Package that gives you a towel, one free drink, and one free mud mask, which I found to be more than enough. Online, you also have the option to pick time slots, and it’s worth noting that most people want to visit during the middle of the day, which is why those time slots are gone the fastest and are also the most expensive. If you arrive in the evening, the sunset can look great in photos, and you’ll enjoy a much less crowded setting, all while saving money. Follow these tips, and your grand total will be reduced from almost 100 euros to literally half the price- thank me later!
Exploring the City
After soaking in the Blue Lagoon water, soak in all the sights and sounds of Reykjavik’s town center. You’ll find vintage boutiques, magnificent churches, and colorful street art, and discover that Iceland has an effortlessly cool feel- though I mean that in more than just a literal sense. Stumble into any café and you’ll discover a warmly lit open area with various ornaments and handmade decorations that seem to have been accumulated throughout the years. Vivid pink, yellow, and blue doors of old-fashioned houses line the streets, and the traditional, cozy interiors of restaurants will have you feeling like the world around you has been frozen in time.
A structure that embodies this magic is the Hallgrímskirkja Church, the cultural heart of Reykjavik. Towering over the city at an impressive height of 244 feet, it seems to proudly stand guard over Iceland and its people. For a small price, you can enjoy the incredible view at the top and peer across the multicolored rooftops, to the distant mountains in the horizon.
What I Wish I Knew
After leaving the Blue Lagoon, fair warning that your hair will probably feel like straw. But before you have a freak out like I did- I am here to assure you that no, your hair is not permanently damaged, so no, you will not have to pull a 2007 Britney Spears and shave your head. The only reason your hair feels crusty is because of the mineral buildup- all you have to do is wash it out and recondition, so make sure to bring your favorite hair conditioner, along with your body and face lotion of choice!
Admittedly, I had been warned several times before my departure that transportation in Iceland was difficult and expensive. Unfortunately for me, I had to learn the hard way just how expensive it was- a one-way taxi from the airport to our AirBnb costed 200 bucks! So learn from my mistakes, and rent a car ahead of time. It’s more affordable, more comfortable, and you’ll ultimately be able to have infinitely more flexibility with your itinerary.
After everything, I still have to say that I could not be more proud of my friends and I- traveling independently is no easy feat, yet we managed to somehow put everything together from start to finish for the very first time. Iceland was an incredibly successful trip, so don’t let the cold weather or the abnormally long words with weird spelling scare you away- if twenty 18 year olds can do it, so can you!