Travel Blog: Healthy and Happy in Iceland

by Courtney on November 1, 2014

housebyriver

Hi friends! I have returned from almost a week in Iceland and am very excited to blog about it. Sarah and I decided to go as Iceland has been on both of our travel lists for a while. I was particularly excited because I had not ever left the continent, and have really not been many places outside the USA. I have been to Montreal and also a bit over the border into Mexico, but that’s it!

I wanted to go to Iceland because I am very outdoorsy and really love nature, and I knew Iceland was a haven for those kinds of activities. I have always found it an intriguing place, stunning to see in pictures, and anyone I’ve met who has been there only had good things to say. I knew ahead of time that Iceland is not known for being a place one can easily find healthy food, or to be vegan (which I am). So, even though Iceland was most definitely not a food-motivated trip, my blog is, after all, about health and nutrition, and so I’m going to write from that angle.

We took a direct flight from Denver and were a bit tired the first day, so decided to stay in the city and explore.

acrossthepond

Reykjavik is a super cute city, particularly the downtown area. The buildings, stores, houses all look quite Scandanavian and are very charming. The harbor is lovely and the people are friendly. Though we were there in late October, I had fun imagining what it was like in the summer when it is super green, and also what it is like around Christmas/New Years — Reykjavik often makes travel lists for great Christmas towns to visit.

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The next day, we woke up and took a trip to do what has turned out to be one of my favorite activities we did in Iceland: hiking to the “hot river” in Hveragerði. We took the local public transit to the town (we decided not to rent a car on this trip), and then used a map to walk through the town and out of it into the mountains, and then continue into a true wildnerness hike.

bluepool

All in all, after about 3 hours we arrived at the hot river! This is literally a steaming, geothermally heated river in the middle of the mountains. The higher you go to the source, the hotter it is (to the point where you could burn your skin off!), and of course the lower you go, the cooler it gets. We found a spot that was like a really nice hot tub!

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After soaking there for a while, we started the descent in hopes to beat the sunset (which was at about 5:30). A nice traveling couple from Poland and Spain offered us a ride once we were at the top of the town, which was very nice since were quite tired by that time, and it was getting super dark. Took the bus back, had some hostel-kitchen dinner and it was a day!

icelandichorses

This brings me to a point where it probably makes sense to talk about the food situation. So here’s what I gather about Iceland: it has a strong tradition of eating lots of animal products (including tons of meat), and also bread. Despite the country’s ability to grow lots of veggies with the already existing (though few in number), geothermally-powered greenhouses which employ incredibly high-quality soil and water, the country hasn’t really caught on in a big way. In fact, I was intrigued to read a story about this very situation in an issue of Atlantica Magazine. You can actually read a bit of the article on Iceland, health, and fruit and veggie consumption by clicking here. Here are a few pics of the magazine article to give you an idea of the situation.

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So as you might gather, Iceland is on the incline in its veggie and fruit consumption, but it’s not where it could be–yet. And that’s what we found as healthy eaters and vegans there. Let’s start with talking about the restaurants. We personally were looking for vegan food, and as healthy that we could find. Most of the vegan food we found was what you’d probably call ‘whole foods’.

There are no all-vegan restaurants/cafes in Iceland. Anyone want to open one? One of the two restaurants we went to is an all-vegetarian restaurant with vegan options, called Garðurinn, also known as Ecstacy’s Heart-Garden. They offered different kinds of the same combo: soup with salad and bread. Here was our lunch there one day, and dessert we shared.

The other eating-out meal we had was at a restaurant called Gló. It is not a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, but has primarily raw, vegan options. I don’t eat all raw, but try to have a majority of my diet be raw food. Most of our meal was raw vegan, aside from the ‘tortilla’ on the wrap and the hummus, and the desserts were all raw. The food at both restaurants was good.

lunchatheart

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rawatglo

chocolatetorte

Raw "Snickers" bar.

We had decided ahead of time we were going to try to grocery shop rather than eat out a lot. Grocery shopping in Iceland is interesting. Outside of Reykjavik, all the small towns we visited (generally about 2400 population or less), had nearly no health food at all. Obviously we didn’t visit all the towns in Iceland, but I imagine it probably doesn’t vary hugely. It was really like grocery shopping at an American gas station. And in fact, in some little towns, the only grocery store was the gas station. There were many times a bus we were on stopped to allow people to get food at one of these places and there was pretty much nothing for us to get.

In Reykjavik, the grocery shopping was better. The produce sections were generally a pretty small part of the store compared to American grocery stores, but we got as much as we could.

Health food store. Mostly fruit juice - I need my greens!

Iceland doesn’t seem to have an organic label, though my understanding is most of the produce they do have is relatively high-quality. GMO’s are not allowed in the country, and I understand they often use little to no chemicals to grow things. We got apples and oranges, and they did have some pretty delicious salad greens, actually. We ate a lot of hummus and vegan crackers, as those were some of the only more substantial things we could find in grocery stores.

salads

The health foods stores also had very small produce sections, but we did find more there. One of our favorite finds was local, Icelandic dulse. And let me tell you: it was the best-tasting dulse I have ever eaten. Normally dulse is my least favorite seaweed (and I’m a seaweed junkie), but this dulse? I craved it.

dulse

I had also brought some protein bars, and that helped for most of my breakfasts. Iceland allows you to bring 3 kg of food into the country (about 6.6 pounds), and for anyone going there: I’d recommend maxing that out. In case anyone is reading this blog for serious healthy-travel-in-Iceland tips, here are some things I’d recommend bringing:

-Chia seeds (to make chia porridge/pudding)

-Nuts and dried fruit (they have that there, but it’s a lot more expensive)

-Green powders (I’d bring both spirulina to make my spirulina salad with, and a whole foods green powder to put in water for an alkaline kick)

-Some kind of protein bars you can use for breakfast or snacks.

-Stevia packs (I like the Sweetleaf packets) for sweetening chia porridge, tea, etc. This is really helpful if you want to avoid sugar (which I would recommend!)

groceries

Overall, I felt I ate pretty well. I didn’t have as much fresh produce as I normally eat at home, but I was able to find calorie sources that were nutritious and hearty. So when I came home, I was definitely craving green juice and smoothies, but I did not feel bad in my body whatsoever. I think the key is that if you’re a serious healthy eater, or a vegan, or both, and you’re going outside of Reykjavik for part of the day or all day, you really need to pack all your food and snacks. In the end, I was really glad we stayed at a hostel with a kitchen rather than a hotel. I think that actually helped us be healthier.

There is something else that is huge that I want to talk about in regards to health, and that is Iceland’s water. All of Iceland’s water is spring water, and it is insanely pure, with lots of healthy minerals. The water that goes into the showers and tap, and everywhere else does not get treated with flouride or chlorine, and everyone drinks from the tap there. The water there was the best I’ve ever tasted, and I also noticed a huge difference showering in such clean water versus the steam-bath of chlorine, chemicals, and re-used water that most of us have in the USA. It was just really inspiring to me.

icelandicwater

Ok, so that’s probably about it for health, how about some other fun stuff? Here are some highlights from the rest of the trip:

On Day 3, we took a bus to see the Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Geysir area, with tons of geysers.

Gulfoss Waterfall.

On Day 4, we took a bus to see two more of the famous (though smaller) waterfalls in Iceland, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. And also, to do my other favorite activity of everything we did in Iceland: visit the ‘glacial lagoon’ called Jökulsárlón.

The south of Iceland was still so green!

Me at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall.

The Jökulsárlón glacial lake.

Jökulsárlón is a lagoon created by the melting Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. As amazing of an experience as it was to boat around glacier chunks and just have the experience of seeing a huge glacier, it was definitely sobering, since the only reason this huge lake even exists is because the glacier, which used to extend right up to the ocean, has receded and melted so fast.

I ate a piece of 1000-year old glacier! It tasted good.

Sunset on Jökulsárlón.

On Day 5, we were burnt out from our 16-hour trip the day before, and we opted to stay in Rekjavik. We explored more places and relaxed.

This grassy hill had a path spiraling up. Amazing views on top.

Day 6 was a half-day, and we woke up and took a bus to the famous Blue Lagoon. A lot of people want to hear about that in particular, so here is my take: it is definitely touristy, and I can imagine during the summer, when tourist season is really in swing, this place would get super crowded. The time of year we were here, the amount of people was fine and we really enjoyed it. The water feels great and they have unlimited self-applied silica mudmasks available. What was cool is that was right in the middle of a volcanic lava field, and so it was very picturesque. If you go, try to spend a couple hours at least there. P.S. We didn’t eat at the Blue Lagoon restaurant, but the cafe/to-go area didn’t have many vegan options.

Blue Lagoon.

Overall, I absolutely loved my trip to Iceland and wished I had longer. I absolutely want to go back one day. Though I personally don’t have much to compare it to since I’ve done little international travel, I have a feeling even if I had I would still feel this way. And particularly if you are a nature-lover, Iceland is a must-see!

Feel free to ask questions in the comment section below! :)

Courtney

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

mia November 1, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Loved this! Have to show it to my coworkers! Not sure if you knew this, but you can get Icelandic water at Sprouts!

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Courtney November 1, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Thanks Mia!

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Barbara December 12, 2014 at 5:04 am

Great blog post. We love Iceland and we also visit Boulder for Christmas every year to see family. :)
Someday we hope to be snowbirds and be in Boulder during the summers.

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Courtney December 12, 2014 at 7:39 am

That sounds like a fun plan! We certainly live in a beautiful place already and Iceland was a gorgeous country to visit!

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Shauna December 13, 2014 at 10:23 am

Great info- we’ll be there over New Year’s Eve!

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Courtney January 4, 2015 at 11:32 am

Hope it was awesome!

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Janet January 4, 2015 at 10:45 am

Thank you for the great insight!! I am going Feb 19th….so all this information definitely came in handy!!

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Courtney January 4, 2015 at 11:31 am

So glad to hear it! :) Have a great time!

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Alana April 27, 2015 at 12:29 am

Beautiful photos of Iceland! I visited about 10 years ago and had a very hard time finding vegetarian options at the restaurants we visited. Glad to see things have changed a bit!

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Courtney April 27, 2015 at 8:36 am

Thanks! Yes 10 years makes a big difference. :)

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Marissa September 2, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Although I am not vegan, I am 100% for the non-GMO, no chemical, raw and natural vibes. I’m excited to drink the water! I find this post very fascinating as Iceland is next for me!

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Jenny April 11, 2016 at 7:55 am

Hi, thanks for your blog post. I’m copying down some of your info for our summer trip. A lot of what I’ve read says to bring water proof outerwear and hiking boots instead of regular tennis shoes…do you think those things are necessary? And you wouldn’t recommend booking dining at the lagoon, I see? Are there any animals/ snakes etc (haha) you have to be worried about when swimming in the hot river? :) Thanks!

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Courtney April 11, 2016 at 8:36 am

Hi Jenny, awesome! Yes I completely agree you need good waterproof, maybe even insulated hiking boots and other waterproof gear rather than regular tennis shoes. It’s seriously rugged terrain that’s often wet and muddy. When I was at the lagoon dining area there was nothing vegan that I could see, but that could have changed since I was there. There are actually very few creatures in Iceland; no need to worry about snakes or even bugs really.

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