Guest post by kpreyss
Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.
Arrived at Keflavík International Airport at about 4am GMT to bright light. We took an airport shuttle the 45 minute drive to Reykjavik. We settled in to our apartment and had a relaxing morning. In the early afternoon, we wandered up Laugavegur. This is the main shopping street in Reykjavik and contains majority of the restaurants, cafes, shops, bars, and hostels. We then headed to Hallgrimskirkja church. This is a must-see! It is the tallest structure in Reykjavik and can be seen throughout the capital.
The architecture and 5,000+ organ are enough, but I definitely recommend paying the fee and taking the elevator to the top. The result is some of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen. You can see the entire city, including the harbour, mountains, and more.
We rounded out the day by heading to a few bars on Austurstraeti. Reykjavik can be pricey so they urge everyone to take advantage of their happy hours. Bars such as the English Pub (try the local lagers), Brooklyn Bar (great burgers), The Laundromat Cafe and Bjarni Fel are fun stops.
Day 2: Golden Circle Tour
- Thingvellir National Park
We did not rent a car for this trip, but between walking and scheduled tours, we were fine. I absolutely recommend taking a day or 2 to get out of Reykjavik and seeing what else Iceland has to offer. Remember that only 11% of the island is inhabited so you are going to see some pristine scenery that may blow your mind. The Golden Circle tour first took us to Faxafoss waterfall. I thought this was impressive until we made our second stop to the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall. The combination of snow-capped cliffs and blue glacier water is magnificent. I have never seen anything like it. This is probably one of the most popular attractions and definitely something to see.
Our next stop was Geysir. These spouting geysers may not seem like much, but once it erupts (every 5 minutes) you will understand its power. It’s pretty cool. Being that these are all tourist attractions, there are cafes or shops at just about every stop. I recommend trying the traditional Icelandic stew (typically made with lamb) to warm you up. Next, we went to Thingvellir National Park. This is home of the first Viking parliament as well breathtaking scenery and fascinating geology. You can actually see the rifts from where the plates are pulling apart. Thingvellir is so vast, I have never felt smaller! After a cold, wet day, we decided to stay low key that evening. Grabbed some drinks at American Bar and caught some live music and the Cavs Playoff game.
- National Museum of Iceland
- Lebowski Bar
If you wish to learn about the culture, I suggest making a stop at the National Museum of Iceland. I had personal interest as my family is from there, but even without ties, it is still an important trip. It took a few hours to make it through the few floors. It has an impressive collection on display. I enjoyed learning about the creation and early settlement of the island, but it has exhibits through the present as well. The condition of some of the pieces is astonishing. We decided to take the 15-20 minute walk back into the city and explore more of the residential part of town. It was interesting to come across the embassies scattered throughout the city as well. For dinner, we went to this wonderful place called Vegamot Bistro/ Bar. I highly recommend it if visiting. I have never eaten seafood that fresh and delicious. I really suggest trying some of Iceland’s delicacies, but for those less daring, there are plenty of Americanized options. I was actually shocked by the amount of hamburgers there were on menus. The bar scene/ party life is pretty big in Iceland. Even if you aren’t a big drinker, I recommend staying up and checking it out on the weekends (I swear Islanders never sleep!) After dinner, we headed to Lebowski Bar for some White Russians (and yes, it is exactly what you think it would be)
Day 4: South Shore Tour
- Reynisfjara Beach
We had high hopes of better weather for the South Shore tour, but unfortunately it was pretty chilly and rainy. Make sure you pack appropriately for Iceland as you will probably see all types of weather. Be sure to grab breakfast before these tours too. There are cafes everywhere in Reykjavik so pop in for a croissant and coffee before the trek. This tour was longer as the South Shore is about 2 hours from Reykjavik. Our first stop was the Solheimajokull Glacier. A short 15 minute walk right to the edge of the ice is well worth it. Our group was not trained to hike on to the glacier, but such tours are available. It is impressive how massive it is and what a small portion of it you can actually see. We then headed to Iceland’s most southerly point. The sea cliffs, back sand beaches, and rock formations are absolutely stunning. We then went to the top of the cliff or Dyrhólaey (Cape Portland) to see the port and get an aerial view of the coast. Be careful up there because the wind is like something I have never experienced (it could have been that particular day though). We hit up Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls on the way back to Reykjavik. These were both so amazingly powerful. You can take a path behind Seljalandsfoss (prepare to get wet) or climb the 500+ steps to the top of Skogar.
We also took a roadside stop at Eyjafjallajökull (or E15 for those that don’t speak Icelandic). This is the volcano that most recently erupted in 2010. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see much of the peak due to cloud coverage.
- Icelandic Phallological Museum
- The National Gallery of Iceland
- National Library
We were pretty exhausted from the South Shore tour so we decided to take in a few museums and just explore the city. I can’t say too much about the Icelandic Phallological Museum, but Islanders are proud of it and it’s hilarious! Being the silly Americans that we are, we giggled our way through, but there were families there and serious tourists. The National Gallery of Iceland was interesting to say the least. There were not many exhibits open when we went, but I am sure they typically offer great stuff. I did enjoy seeing some pieces of Icelandic artists. We did a lot of window shopping on Laugavegur and Bankastraeti streets. (Beware Iceland is expensive!) We also made a trip to the National Library to do some research on our family.
- Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre
On our last full day in Reykjavik we wanted to take in all the sites, take as many pictures as possible, and just enjoy the sun. We stopped by the Harpa Concert Hall first. This iconic building is located right on the water and is quite astonishing. The amazing architecture is magical at night too when bright lights are reflecting off the glass structure. We then wandered around Old Harbour. Between the colorful restaurants and shops, boats, and path along the water, it makes for quite the photo op. This is also where the boats for the whale and puffin tours dock.
We rounded out our trip with a fantastic dinner at Caruso. We spent a pretty penny, but the quality of food and atmosphere was well worth it.
The scenery was definitely worth the trip and I will remember it my entire life. If you can, I highly recommend getting to Reykjavik!! (4-5 days is probably plenty of time though-it is a pretty small island)
Traveled in May 2016
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