Heilsa! That’s Icelandic for health – but is also used as a greeting. Pretty nice, huh? It’s also meaningful, given that health and wellness is seamlessly interwoven into Icelandic culture. Given that it’s cold a lot of the time, and half the year it’s also dark for most of the day, it would be easy to slip into the habit of staying indoors a lot and eating comfort food – yet many people in Iceland choose to live active and outdoorsy lifestyles, and the food is made from fresh ingredients with no nasties added.
I spent three days in Iceland recently and found it simple to eat well and keep active – my main problem is that I could have easily stayed a lot longer, as there’s so much to do! It’s unfortunately a very expensive place though, which is worth bearing in mind before you book your trip. Read on to find out my top tips for a healthy, fit and happy stay in Reykjavik – number one may just surprise you…
1. Don’t try to be TOO healthy during your stay.
I told you number one was a little left of centre! I was going to close out this post with this tip, but I feel it’s too significant to hide away at the bottom. You are going to be doing so much walking, climbing and exploring during your trip to Iceland, so don’t stress making sure everything that passes your lips fits your macros, or that it’s super healthy. As I’ve mentioned, it’s also a ridiculously expensive place, so you might end up spending money on food that could be spent on once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like going to the Blue Lagoon or seeing the Northern Lights.
That being said, don’t use it as an excuse to constantly eat everything in sight. There’s always talk of being “on” or “off” the wagon when it comes to diet and fitness, but if you don’t have a wagon and simply enjoy healthy living year round, there won’t be the struggle to get back on the wagon when you’re back home. Everything in moderation!
2. Walk everywhere.
I firmly believe the best way to explore places is to walk them, and Iceland is no exception. Reykjavik is a small city so it’s easily walkable and you’ll struggle to get lost – look out for giant street art and make friends with the city’s cats as you go. We hired a car and drove out to different places to walk – Þingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle route was my favourite as you walk on a submerged path between two rifts. It’s pretty epic.
A quick note on hire cars: they can be very expensive (unsurprisingly) but we found that SAD Cars were the cheapest option, with good service too. Just make sure you have a credit card for them to charge anything like speeding tickets back to, otherwise you have to leave a deposit with them. We hired a small car, which was fine for the summer, but in winter a 4×4 is definitely needed due to icy conditions. Book as early as possible for the best prices and to avoid disappointment.
3. Drink the water.
This goes against everything you’ve ever been told about travelling, but Icelandics are incredibly proud of their water, with good reason too. It really does taste pure and clear, it’s not chlorinated, and amazingly even the tap water comes from natural springs. The stuff you buy in the shops that say they’re filtered through volcanic rock? Yep, all cold Icelandic water is like that. It means that their coffee and even beer tastes delicious, so make sure you drink local when you’re there.
On the flipside, their hot water comes straight from underground and has a natural smell of sulphur, which seems a little weird at first but you get used to it. Make sure you visit Geysir to see this stuff in its natural habitat.
4. Climb Mount Esjan.
As soon as you arrive in Iceland you realise it’s a mountainous place – the country is on top of two tectonic plates, so earthquakes and volcanic activity have sculpted the island’s landscape. We were recommended by a Reykjavik local to climb Mount Esjan, which is around a 20 minute drive from the city, and this was my favourite part of our trip for sure.
Drive to Esjustofa hiking centre (little tip – download Google Maps as the iPhone map is pretty useless for Iceland) then there are a couple of routes you can take up the mountain. We chose Steinn-Varða route, which was challenging but manageable for us, and took us three and a half hours including lunch at the top. We began our hike at around 11am and as we climbed frost was evaporating off the ground, which was a mystical sight itself. The views were absolutely incredible, and the stretches of purple Lupin flowers were beautiful too.
We wore hiking shoes and took lots of layers in a backpack, which we felt was a sensible decision as the weather can change very quickly – you will see the Icelandics wearing trainers but we can only assume they’re more attuned to the weather and landscape!
5. Eat at Gló Restaurant.
I’ve already warned you not to be too focused on eating clean on your trip, but there are healthy options, too! Gló Restaurant was recommended to us by a local again, and I know that Fittest Woman on Earth Katrin Davidsdottir eats here when she’s home, so it must be a decent choice. We got all the food above for around £50, which sounds a lot, but that’s about average for a meal out in Reykjavik. You choose what you’d like to have on your plate and there were both vegan and raw options, as well as a few meat dishes, so you can be assured that any dietary requirement is covered here.
Another good option is Lemon, which is a chain that sells different sandwiches, smoothies, and salads – with a focus on avocado, which is weirdly cheap in Iceland – and on the other end of the scale there was Brauð & Co which sold the greatest pastries I have ever tasted. If you go to Reykjavik and don’t try their cinnamon swirl (get there after 11:30am for this) then we just can’t be friends. Sorry. And don’t forget to eat the high-protein Skyr Icelandic yoghurt!
6. Go to CrossFit.
Iceland is like CrossFit’s adopted home, with so many of the fittest athletes hailing from the island, so surely no CrossFitter worth their salt would visit the country and miss out on going to CrossFit Reykjavik. Um, well.. about that…
Yeah. I didn’t make it to a CrossFit class. I’m pretty gutted about that, but realistically we spent our entire time exploring stuff like volcanoes, geysirs and waterfalls, so it felt the right sacrifice to make. However, it just means when I go back (and that’s a when, not an if) I’ll definitely have to go to a class and update this post with a review. But you should definitely go, and let me know how it is! You might even end up training with Annie Thorisdottir.
7. Go to the beach.
This one’s a little more for your mental and emotional health, but still – yes, you can go to the beach in Iceland! You can even go in the sea, although you’d have to be much braver than I to go in any further than this. This place is called Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, and features a man-made lagoon with geothermal water heating up sea water. It’s still cold though as you can see the locals are able to enjoy it – I’m clearly just not tough enough. There’s also a spa area with a large hot tub – naturally heated from the geothermal springs – the opportunity to swim in the sea outside the lagoon, and different watersports, so it’s an ideal place to visit if you’re a waterbaby.
Having only been in Iceland for three days, I feel like we only just scratched the surface on this trip, but hopefully this post has given you some ideas to have an active and healthy holiday in Iceland. Just don’t forget to drink the beer and eat the pastry – you really won’t taste anything like them anywhere else in the world!