So apparently Iceland is like, a hot country to go to right now. I went to Iceland in September of 2016 and have officially deemed it my favorite country. It was a country I had been researching and thinking about for roughly a year, when a friend of mine posted that she was going. Jealous, I told her I wanted to join, which she so very nicely told me I could. Promptly I bought tickets to join her the next month. So why did I love Iceland? Because the landscape is absolutely breathtaking and the locals are so nice! Reykjavik is such a fun city and in the future, I would absolutely recommend renting a car and touring the country yourself. This is also the country that I’ve had the most friends ask for advice on, so how did I officially spend five days there?!
Arrive in Reykjavik.
So, the original plan was to arrive in Reykjavik at 6 am, and get picked up from my hostel to take a Golden Circle and Silfra Diving Tour at 10 am. I had one day to myself before my friend arrived. I knew not to plan something important right away, in case of delays, but thought that 4 hours was plenty of leeway. Boy was I wrong. I will never plan anything important on my landing day, EVER, AGAIN. The Golden Circle Tour is one of the most famous tours in Iceland, and the Silfra Tour includes snorkeling/diving between the tectonic plates of Europe and North America. Pretty stinking cool. I was ecstatic to experience something like this, and then I found out my flight was delayed an hour. And then two. And then somehow five. And then I was out a non-refundable $250, an amazing experience, and was not covered by my travel insurance until my delay was twelve hours… leaving me pretty darn disappointed. So, I arrived in Reykjavik, at the Keflavik Airport (Oh by the way, this is the first time I had ever been alone in a foreign country!) and I had to make plan B. Might as well experience the city! I had already arranged transportation from the airport to my hostel via my hostel, and was able to catch the grey line bus straight from the airport for about $20-30. Once I arrived at my hostel, I was able to change my clothes and freshen up, storing my bag in the closet until I was able to check in.
Please, please, please, for your own sake and mine, never plan anything important or non-refundable on the day you arrive in a country. Your flight may be over-booked, or delayed, or cancelled. Transportation issues also occur. It is too stressful, and sometimes when you do make it, you are too exhausted or stressed to enjoy the experience (AKA Louvre in Paris, straight off the flight).
Walk the city.
Confident that I was able to walk the city and enjoy the sights, all by myself, I took to the sidewalk along the ocean and just figured I’d walk around it and see what I could find. I easily stumbled upon the Sun Voyager, which is an aluminum sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. The Sun Voyager is a Scandinavian art project, a dreamboat that is represented as an ode to the sun, containing the promise of undiscovered territory, hope, progress and freedom.
After a selfie (Oh yes, this is the first instance I bought and utilized my beloved selfie-stick), I continued to follow the ocean. Here I was able to find the Harpa Opera House. The Opera House is unique because of the different glass squares that encompass the building. The distinctive colored glass façade is inspired by the landscape of Iceland. The building has been seen in the Netflix series Sense8.
I continued on until I found the harbor. Once at the harbor, I realized how starving I was and stopped at a little stand that sold fish and chips. I talked with the owner for a little while before I found a unique “play” area titled Rockall Embassy. I put that in quotations because it was an area built completely out of wood and looked like a playground. However, there were lots of messages in it about if you were to build a society, how would you build it and what would the values be. There was a boat and a maze and a restaurant and everything was empty, leaving a creative but also eerie feeling to it.
Deciding to ditch the ocean, I wandered towards the main part of the city, seeking out the famous hotdog stand, Beajerins Beztu, because I like food. Icelandic hotdogs are famous because they use lamb, and the toppings include raw and cooked onions and some different mustard sauces. It was tasty, but it wasn’t life-changing.
After this, I toured the famous church, Hallgrimskirkja for the price of 900 kronur. This is the largest church in Iceland and one of the tallest structures in Iceland. The church is architecturally interesting in the way that it starts out wide and low, and then has a large tower in the center. The architect Guðjón Samúelsson designed the church in 1937 to represent the trap rocks, mountains, and glaciers of the landscape of Iceland. Inside, the church boasts a large pipe organ which has 5,275 pipes, at 15 meters tall with a weight of 25 tons.
I always love getting a bird-eye view of the city, and was able to see all the colored houses and the ocean from the top. I loved how quaint the city looked, even below the grey skies.
Mapping out where to next, I walked to Lake Tjörnin. The internet made this place look a lot larger than it was, but its literal translation is “the pond”. Everything in Reykjavik is so walk-able, I love it! In the winter, the lake freezes and is used for ice skating. The banks of the lake are paved and a park with statues adorns the south side. Daily reports of birds on the lake are posted on notice boards along the shore, as the lake is frequented by 40-50 species of water birds.
Enjoy the nightlife.
After finally feeling like I had seen a good portion of the city (spoiler alert-I basically saw it all), I was ready to check in. Once at my hostel, I was beat and wanted to take a nap, but chatted with a bunkmate. This lovely lady was visiting a friend and they were going out later for a drink, which she kindly invited me to. So there wasn’t much of a nap, before we went out for a beer. However, all three of use realized how much we all like beer and continued to bar hop and drink, going from hole-in-the-wall bars, to popular bars with live music, to empty bars. Finally, her friend needed to go, but we decided to continue to explore and met up with two other Icelanders in the street. This is where we found another bar and some more music to sing to, and I’m sure you understand how bar hopping works. The best part, everyone was shocked that this lovely lady and I weren’t best friends and had only met. Stay tuned-our friendship didn’t die after Iceland!
Golden Circle Tour.
So, day 2 of the trip and I was no longer a solo traveler, as I met up with my friend today! I’ll be honest, I slept about an hour before having to get up and meet her. She had scheduled a Golden Circle Tour for today and after I had my delayed plane mishap and missed mine, I was able to secure a spot with her. I don’t remember the exact cost, but I believe it was around $75. The bus company was again, the Gray Line, and it picked us up from our hostel at 10 am. The Golden Circle Tour is one of the more well-known tours in Iceland, and it includes Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Geysir. I utilized the bus drive time to catch up on some sleep, before we started with the park. It was so green and beautiful!!! I was a little bummed, as this is where Silfra (the divide between the European and North American tectonic plates) was, but I was happy to be doing the tour with my friend.
We were pointed to lots of different areas along the drive that hosted Game of Thrones before we made our way to the enormous Gullfoss Waterfall. Gullfoss is massive and I loved how many people were able to walk along the mist to take pictures next to it.
Finally we made our way to the Geysir, which erupts every couple of minutes. I had never seen a geyser before, so this was really fun to watch! There were also geysers of different sizes on the walk up to the geyser which was pretty cute. After watching it erupt, we tried to time a selfie, but unfortunately took 238723095 flattering photos of ourselves instead.
I would definitely recommend doing the Golden Circle Tour, whether with a group, or on your own! Awesome things to see! But of course, I would suggest the Silfra Tour because I will never get over the fact that I couldn’t do it.
Play with Icelandic ponies.
Something I was stoked to see was the Icelandic horses. Icelandic horses are a specific breed only found in Iceland. They are smaller than horses, often the size of ponies, but never referred to as ponies (except when I use the alliteration with play). No other breeds of horses are allowed into Iceland, and if a horse is exported from Iceland, it is not allowed to return. On the way back from our tour, our guide stopped at a farm, so we could meet and pet some. I loved every minute of this!
Eat a famous hot dog.
After returning from our tour, we decided to find the hot dog stand again for dinner. The stand is located across from the Opera House. This time, the line was around the block for Baejarins Beztu. To get the hot dog with everything on it (raw onions, fried onions, mustard, ketchup and remoulade), it costs about 450 kronur. This stand was made famous after US President Bill Clinton visited in 2004, and has been selected the best hot dog stand in all of Europe.
Revisit the Nightlife.
Tonight was a difficult decision. I was out all night partying and had gotten no sleep before participating in a full day tour. However, my friend wanted to go out and party. So, we went for a drink at the Laundromat Café and I started to perk up just a little bit. A little ways down the street, we find a club and decide to have some drinks and see what happens. Even though I said I wouldn’t drink, I lied. We made nice with the bartender who offered us shots of the local Brennivin among other drinks. Brennivin is often the liquor that washes down a bite of fermented shark. It was very strong. Around midnight or so, I made my way back to the hostel and let my friend club the night away.
I know what you’re thinking. 1) Dang, girl. You party a lot. The answer is no, when I travel, I do not go out a lot. I do not want to be hungover and miss out on activities and exploration, and it’s not always safe to be drunk in a foreign country as a female. But Reykjavik is known for its nightlife, so if that’s what I had to do for my cultural experience-you better believe I was going to do it. 2) You left your friend at the club so you could go to bed. Yes, again, Reykjavik is a small and relatively crime-free city. As I had already been out the night before, I felt safe enough to go home by myself, and trusted that she would be too. Plus this girl travels solo all the time, and was way more experienced than me, therefore if she was comfortable, I felt ok doing it. And guess what, it worked out alright!
Explore the local cuisine.
We had a late start this morning, can’t even begin to guess why… After spending some time journaling, we decided to have a slow, food tour of the city, starting at least after noon. Now Iceland is not known for its delicacies, but when I travel, I want to experience local cuisine! I did this by purging through my friend’s purse and all the chocolate bars she had purchased on her way home from the club. After catching up, we met up with some other girls from the hostel and went to eat at the Noodle Station. Iceland is expensive, but the Noodle Station is not. It’s glorified ramen, cheap and delicious! After this, we went to explore the Kolapartid Flea Market. There were lots of different souvenirs, sweater, clothing, etc. but food as well! Here we wanted to try the famous dried fish. Deciding that was good enough for us, we took samples of some cake and purchased Lava Bread and Moss Bread. Back at the hostel, we snacked on our breads, deciding that lava was the better choice. It’s hard to explain the taste, but it was good! For dinner we had the intentions of trying fermented fish, but after watching groups of people choke and gag, we just could not bring ourselves to do it. Instead, we had fish soup. Afterwards, we found a cute bakery and treated ourselves to carrot cake, so good!
Check out the famous nightlife you keep hearing about…
What’s on the agenda for tonight you ask? Go out drinking, again, I say! Back to the club for these two ladies! After dancing and sweating our booties off, we split up again, my friend staying at the club, and myself meeting up with the lovely lady from the first night. We went to the gay bar and continued to dance our booties off. Another late night as I headed for home about 4 am and stealthily crawled onto my top bunk.
Climb a glacier.
This was my favorite day of the trip. We had booked another tour, this time to climb a glacier. Again, I am unsure of the cost of this tour, but it was pricier, possibly $150-200. Good news is it was another long bus ride where I could nap. The glacier that our tour covered was Solheimajokoll. This glacier has been the focus of a documentary Chasing Ice and recedes drastically every year. As part of the tour, we suited up with a helmet, ice pick, and crampons. When hiking the glacier, we had opportunities to observe the snowmelt and how the fresh glacial water carves through the ice. At one point, we were even able to stop and drink the fresh water, being careful not to fall and get a “glacial facial” as our guides put it.
After hiking around the glacier, we stopped at a spot to physically climb the glacier. Suiting up in a harness, we utilized our crampons to shove our feet into the ice to support us, as you swing your arms and get leverage with your ice picks. Have you ever rock climbed before? This is only a bajillion times harder. However, I felt as if I conquered the world by the time I reached the top.
Absolutely do a tour of a glacier, and experience climbing one. It is so difficult, but you have a harness and the staff are experienced and amazing at what they do. I learned so much about glaciers and the research being done in regards to weather changes. It was also so beautiful!
Admire a waterfall.
On the drive back to town after our glacier hike, we stopped to admire Skullfoss Waterfall. I loved this waterfall because the grass in contrast next to it was so green and bright and the stream was so powerful. Our group took turn taking pictures in front of the falls, but decided against going behind it (which is possible if you’re interested). After our quick pit stop, we continued into town. Our guides discussed how the skies were supposed to be nice and clear, and there was a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights tonight. So, we all decided to meet back up on the edge of town, and chance the lights!
Seek out the Northern Lights.
After making some ramen in the hostel kitchen (student on a budget, thank you), our group met up and took a bus outside of the main city of Reykjavik to the edge of town at the Grotta Lighthouse. The lighthouse was right next to the water, and therefore it was very, very windy and cold. Typically it’s recommended that the lights are best seen between 10 pm and 2 am local time, but we were so excited we arrived shortly after 9 pm. We were nervous because it looked pretty cloudy, but we trusted our tour guides. After about 10:20, the clouds started to part and a glimmer of green light started to break through. The stars were stupendous. Over the next hour or so, more and more green lights began to wave across the sky. It was amazing to see how they moved and the stars twinkled through. Unfortunately, none of us brought capable enough cameras to film the experience, but we made friends with some people who did.
To learn more about sighting the Northern Lights, click me.
Just say NO to that pesky nightlife.
Finally, we decided we were freezing and it was about time to go, so we called a cab (as the busses were no longer running) and made it back into town. Thrilled with such a fantastic summary of Iceland for the day, we returned to our hostel sober, and went to bed.
Soak in the Blue Lagoon.
Iceland is known for volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, and hot springs, and as we had officially seen the first three things on that list, it only left us with hot springs! There are lots of different options, some for free, and some which cost. I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to spend the money on the tourist trap better known as the Blue Lagoon. I am very happy that my friend convinced me to do it, as it was such a great time. My friend and I were unbelievably sore after climbing and hiking the glacier the day before and therefore decided to book a nice package at the Blue Lagoon. In addition to unlimited time in the spa, we upgraded our choice for a silica mud mask, algae mask, free drink, plush towel and bathrobe, slippers, and sparkling wine at the restaurant. This costs 9500 kronor, which was about $60, although exchange rates change all the time.
Make sure to book in advance! The Blue Lagoon does have a set amount of reservations per day and will fill up quickly. They also do not provide tickets on sight.
To decide what package works best for you, check the website here.
Today was our treat yourself day! Therefore, we thoroughly enjoyed the thermal baths at Blue Lagoon. We caught a grey line bus which we purchased through our hostel out to Blue Lagoon, as it is about 45 minutes away from town, on the way to the airport. With our upgraded package, we took advantage of the silica mud mask, let it sit, washed it out, and then took advantage of our algae mask. We also had free drinks at the swim-up bar. It was so fun just to float around and take pictures, watching the steam rise up from the water around us. Although it was busy, I would not say that it was too crowded. We were free to move all around and had plenty of space around us when we were just relaxing. When we decided to explore, there were some different saunas we could swim up and sit inside. There were also massages offered, although we did not treat ourselves that well.
Finally we decided we were hungry, so we dried off, put on our bathrobes and slippers (let’s be real, they’re flip flops) and wandered into the café area. Here we bought lunch, before going into the LAVA restaurant. At the LAVA restaurant, we had free sparkling wine and split dessert. We loved how fancy we were, yet how silly we probably looked in our robes. But we were not alone in the robe/fancy restaurant department. Feeling like queens, we went back into the water and played around some more, taking pictures and putting on face masks. Feeling relaxed, we showered and thoroughly utilized the free creams in the locker room before catching our bus back to town.
Back in town, we met up with our friends from the glacier tour for dinner and drinks before packing our bags at the hostel and going to bed.
Kiss Iceland goodbye!
Interested in my must-sees for Iceland? What’s With All the Hype About Iceland?!
I loved Iceland, and even now I’m loving reminiscing on my experiences. So do you think you’ll go? I think you should! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!