I’m a big fan of Scandinavian style murder shows – the slow burn, the dramatic locations. I recently watched the last episode of the first season of The Valhalla Murders on Netflix. The drama takes place in Iceland (and is shot entirely in Icelandic with English subtitles) and to my surprise, I was able to recognize a couple of shooting locations used in the show from my travels in Iceland.
My time is Iceland is usually spent in the middle of Keflavík Airport running from one flight to another. I use Icelandair for flying to Europe and back – I find their flight times convenient and they’re the nicest people about avoiding problems with layovers and delays. Keflavík is also one of the most efficiently run airports that I’ve experienced and it’s always neat and orderly. In case you didn’t know, Icelandair has a program for stopovers that allows you to extend your time in Iceland by a few days to explore the country on your way to your final destination. I’ve had the opportunity to use this program twice now (and spoiler! – it’s worth it!)
My first time exploring Iceland was with my parents in the summer of 2016. We utilized the stopover on our way back from Sweden. My parents came to visit as I finished my time studying abroad near Stockholm and we spent a few days in June exploring Scandinavia. We stayed in Reykjavík and branched out from there. My second time utilizing Icelandair’s stopover program, my mother, my grandmother, and I explored on the way back from London in August of 2018. Both times, despite knowing our plan to stay in Iceland, we didn’t pre-schedule anything, choosing inside to pop into tourist information storefronts in Reykjavík on the day of/day before. If you’re staying in town, it is super easy to wander down the main street and pop into one of the information stores that line the street. They’re usually really nice and really knowledgable.
Any of the tours will take you to amazing locations. I’d personally recommend anything along the Golden Circle, especially if it includes Gullfoss. It’s also worth visiting Geysir for a mini Yellowstone experience. Reynisfjara, Skógafoss, and Thingvellir National Park are also wonderful spots to visit.
You really can’t go wrong, but my biggest piece of advice is to leave Reykjavík. Don’t get me wrong – Reykjavík is a lovely little town (and yes I did have to Google how to spell it…). But the beauty of Reykjavík is beyond the borders of this little town. An afternoon could be spend wandering the shore of the bay (there’s a little nice little path that’ll lead you to Sun Voyager). You can also go for a walk through the cute little houses, seeking out the murals on some of the walls, maybe even making your way up to the iconic church on the hill, Hallgrímskirkja. Heck, you could even enjoy a meal at Hlemmur Mathöll, a wonderful little food hall (can 10/10 recommend grabbing breakfast from Brauð & Co), or grab some fries from Reykjavík Chips (I’d recommend trying out one of their different sauces in addition to your classic ketchup). But there’s so much more to explore beyond Reykjavík!
You really cannot go wrong. The people are extremely friendly (and very used to tourists at this point) and even on the gloomiest, rainiest days the country is magical. That being said, my two trips to the country took place in the summer when the days are long and you have nicer weather to explore.
One common concern I’ve heard from friends and family is that everyone has been to Iceland and everything is a tourist trap – to which I say, and? Iceland is just as gorgeous as the Instagrams you’ve seen or the blog posts you’ve read. Yes, the sites are busy, but they’re also grand enough that if you aren’t there at the same time as a tourist bus, you can’t miss them. And there’s a reason they’re so popular – the country is freaking beautiful.
My arguably most controversial opinion is that I really enjoy the Blue Lagoon. Is it super busy? Yes. Is it the lushest thing I’ve ever done? Also yes. Fight me. 10/10 would recommend.
(I also feel I should note that despite my love of Scandinavian crime shows, Scandinavia is a safe place to travel and Iceland is relatively crimeless. In case you were worried….)