I spent a long weekend in Iceland to celebrate my 30th birthday. The boring stuff (flights, hotel, car, packing, planning) is all here, so now we get into the fun stuff!
Day 1 = flying, exploring Reykjavik, taking a nap, & walking around Thingvellir National Park
We landed at Keflavik airport at about 6:30 am on Saturday morning. I felt like an idiot when we landed, because I definitely thought we were flying into Reykjavik.
It really wasn’t a big deal, because Keflavik is only about 40 minutes from Reykjavik, but still, it’s a good idea to know where you are actually flying into. We got a shuttle to Lagoon Car Rental, picked up our car, and drove to Hlemmur Square hotel. Of course I should have realized in advance that our room would not be ready at the early hour of 8:00am, but I didn’t.
It’s like I’ve never travelled before?
Oh well. We were able to freshen up a bit and leave our luggage in the storage unit at the hotel. Despite being extremely tired (because neither of us really slept on the 7 hour flight) we dragged ourselves up and out and began to explore Reykjavik.
First stop? Coffee. Much needed coffee. We came across Reykjavik Roasters and stopped in to caffeinate and warm up (it was 30 degrees and windy). It was a cute little coffee shop that was packed with people.
From there we wandered around the city for a bit. Hallgrimskirkja was our first sight.
Hallgrimskirkja is a church and one of Reykjavik’s most notable landmarks. The design was inspired by how lava cools into basalt rocks. It’s actually one of the tallest structures in Iceland. You can see beautiful views of Reykjavik from the top of the tower. Apparently. We didn’t go up to check it out, but we did go inside and saw the massive pipe organ.
We eventually made our way down to the ocean and checked out the Sun Voyager.
The Sun Voyager is a giant steel sculpture created by Jon Gunnar Arnason that looks like a Viking ship, but is actually a dreamboat and an ode to the sun. I liked this one, especially with the views of the ocean and Mount Esja in the background.
We headed back to our hotel with high hopes of being able to check into our hotel. No luck. The concierge recommended a lunch place with a soup and salad bar. She told us to look for the green building with the big red heart. I ask what the name was, but she just said it was a complicated Icelandic phrase (aren’t they all?!). We ended up finding it. It was called Kryddlegin Hjortu (AKA Your Heart’s Delight). They had a soup and salad bar with an Indian flair. It was all very delicious and pretty reasonably priced ($15/person if I remember correctly).
After filling our bellies with warm soup all we really wanted to do was take a nap, but alas, we could not. It was too cold to just sit and hang out in a park, so we continued to trudge around Reykjavik, stopping in random stores to check things out and warm up.
We circled back to Hlemmur Square to check once more if our room was ready. I had high hopes. Michael did not. But, hurrah! It was ready! We immediately crawled into bed and took a glorious three-hour nap. It was one of the best naps I’ve ever had.
After unpacking and showering and feeling 1000x better we decided to take the rental car out to Thingvellir National Park, a 45-minute drive from our hotel.
Thingvellir is a national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and basically the birthplace of the Icelandic parliament. It borders the beautiful blue waters of lake Thingvallavatn and houses hiking trails, waterfalls, and Silfra (a tectonic fissure between the North American and Eurasian plates).
Thingvellir has huge historical and cultural significance and was a beautiful place to spend our first evening in Iceland.
After driving back to Reykjavik and walked over to Noodle Station for a big bowl of noodle soup. It was cheap ($14), warm, delicious and exactly what we needed. We ended the night with a couple of beers (Tuborg Classic) at the hotel bar.
Our first day in Iceland was pretty exhausting, but we were able to cover a lot of ground around Reykjavik (6 miles!) and see Thingvellir National Park. Not too shabby.
Day 2 = all the fosses, a black sand beach & the Blue Lagoon
Day 2 was all about driving around the country looking for waterfalls. We drove along the southern coast to the black sand beaches of Vik, checking out a variety of waterfalls along the way and ended the day with a soak in the Blue Lagoon. Maybe you’ll recognize some of the views from this video?!?
We started the day with breakfast at our hotel, which was a classic European-style breakfast with things like meat, cheese, bread, fruit, yogurt, and cereal. We loaded up on food and coffee and set out on our way – Michael in the driver’s seat and me in the supportive passenger/navigator seat.
The first stop on our little tour was Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrafoss (FYI, foss = waterfall). Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s best-known waterfalls. It’s about 200 feet tall and originates at Eyjafjallajokull, a volcano glacier. You can walk behind it, which is awesome, but we didn’t do that.
A short walk down from Seljalandsfoss was Gljufrafoss (these Icelandic words just kill me). This waterfall is shorter at a height of 130 feet and is partly hidden by a gorge, which made it both very beautiful and very difficult to capture in a picture. I wanted to climb up the rocks to get a better view, but considering it was a little icy and I was wearing Nike frees, I decided against it. Instead I just stood and stared at it for a bit.
Then it was time to move on to our next sight: Skogafoss.
Skogafoss is about a 20-minute drive from Seljalandsfoss. It’s about the same height, but much wider (about 50 feet). It was so powerful and breathtaking and I loved it. We also climbed up the steps to get a view from the top down. Legend has it that the first Viking settler in the area buried a treasure behind Skogafoss. We didn’t go looking for it, but we did see a rainbow. That was nice.
We jumped back in the car and headed to Reynisfjara, the black sand beaches of Vik. This beach was unlike any beach I’ve seen before with it’s black pebbles, basalt columns, and caves. It was all so incredible.
Then there are the giant formations out in the ocean known as the Reynisdrangar. These are either huge basalt sea stacks or trolls that were pulling a three-masted ship to shore, but were caught by the sun and turned into rock.
I don’t know. You decide.
We hung out in the parking lot for a bit and ate a bunch of snacks. That is probably not worth noting, but this is – All throughout Iceland we kept encountering these adorable little churches:
All were similar size, shape, and color. It’s like this little church was stalking us.
Our final stop for the day was the Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa with bright blue water and is one of the most visited places in Iceland. We knew it would be super touristy, but it just felt like one of those things you need to do while in Iceland, you know? We treated ourselves to a silica mud mask, an algae mask, and a couple of drinks.
At the swim-up bars they had a variety of beverages. One of them being “Krap”, which looked to be the Icelandic version of Icee. I was really tempted to order a “cup of Krap”, but went with a glass of white wine instead.
Anyone else find that as hilarious as I do?
Once we were thoroughly relaxed from hanging out in the lagoon we cleaned up and headed back to Reykjavik. We were pretty exhausted at this point so grabbed a quick dinner at Ban Thai and then went to bed.
^^ That was the view from our balcony. Too bad we didn’t get to utilize it much since it was windy and cold most of the time. However, it was still nice to peak outside at the city as the sun was setting.
And here are a few extra pictures from the day.