In April, my dad and I ventured into Iceland (the land of fire and ice, as it is often referred to). Below is an account of our week in Reykjavik!
We arrived early at our hotel, and spent a few hours eating breakfast and resting. After some rest, we decided to walk to Hallgrimskirkja, a large iconic church in Reykjavik. It’s on many postcards, and we were able to take an elevator to the top and get a lovely view of all of Reykjavik. We then meandered over to the harbor for a photo op – it was absolutely breathtaking to see the clouds, mountains and sea all at once. By then, it was time for us to check in, so after a quick shower and a nap, we headed out again! This time we ventured into the city center and checked out a few souvenir shops. When we left the hotel, it was fairly gray and cold, but within 15 minutes, in classic Iceland fashion, a blizzard descended upon us and we ducked into a café for tea and a snack. My dad ordered the cream of asparagus soup – I’d like to pause here and sing the praises of Iceland’s diary products. The cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, butter and cream are among the most delicious and high-quality dairy products I have ever tasted in my life. You can bet your bottom dollar there is no rBGH in sight in Iceland! After our snack, we headed back to our hotel to rest up for the next day.
One of my observations in Iceland was how much ethnic cuisine there is! Nepalese, Thai, Indian, and even a “Chuck Norris” grill were along the streets of the city center. We started off our Monday morning with the Harpa concert hall, which is an incredibly beautiful and jaw-dropping work of architecture. There were hundreds of irregular hexagons and pentagons all over the façade of the building. When we first entered, there was a sign at the information desk informing visitors that the desk was “closed for a family event.” Another pause here to discuss Icelandic culture – it was lovely to note how much emphasis the culture puts on life outside the workplace. In the United States, everything is always open on time, regardless of the personal life. However, in Reykjavik, many stores opened later, around 10, and closed fairly early (with the exception of some particularly touristy stores) in order for families to have time to buy groceries and be home in time for dinner. How nice it would be if the US put some more focus on other aspects of life and less on workaholism.
After Harpa, we headed to the Saga Museum, which I highly recommend to anyone who visits Reykjavik. It is a wax figure museum with an audio guide that explains the history of Iceland. Did you know that Icelandic is the closest to the original Nordic language, as it has been isolated from the rest of the world (unlike other Scandinavian countries whose languages have changed with other European influences)? Also, Leif Ericsson found America almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus did (take that!)! After learning lots of lovely facts, we strolled over to a Catholic cathedral, and then stopped for a warm drink, as the weather continued to change every 5 minutes. After some light shopping, we stopped in a beautiful restaurant for lunch (which turned out to be one of the oldest buildings in Reykjavik). I ordered the fish stew, which came in a deceptively small bowl as I couldn’t even finish it! This was rather disappointing to me as it had some wonderful Icelandic cream and cheese in it, but alas, the stomach can only hold so much. After lunch we went back to Harpa concert hall for “Iceland Encapsulated,” a 360 show that briefly showed many different parts of Iceland. Unfazed by its mediocrity, we pushed on to do some more shopping and stopped in a cozy bookstore and had some more coffee (anticipating seeing the Northern Lights that evening). We then returned to the hotel to find out that the Northern Lights tour had been postponed due to the weather, which was disappointing (especially since we had had about 3 cups of coffee throughout the day at this point). However, our whale watching tour for the next day was not cancelled, which did brighten our spirits. After a delicious meal at a Thai restaurant, we proceeded to remain awake much later than we wanted before finally drifting off.
After breakfast, a light stroll and a stop at a grocery store, we were picked up by a van to go on our whale watching tour! It was a very stormy day, and extremely cold, and there were full-body overalls for everyone to wear to stay dry and warm. The water was incredibly choppy, but there was no way I was going to go whale-watching and risk not seeing one! It was hard to see, but we did spot a humpback whale feeding and doing its signature tail flip above water.
After a very choppy and cold ride, we warmed up with an evening “lunch” of delicious noodle soup and went back to the hotel to rest until the Northern Lights tour. Our van came to pick us up around 9, and after collecting some others, we got on a larger bus that took us out into the middle of the Icelandic wilderness, where we waited some time before, luckily, seeing one of my major bucket list items. The lights are incredibly beautiful in person! They are most commonly green and blue (red and purple are extremely rare), and are in the shape of arches when there is no wind. Camera photos (such as mine) portray different colors, so though there are different colors in the photos, the lights we saw were actually light green and yellow. At the very end, we were incredibly fortunate to witness this amazing aurora borealis in the form of a dome above our heads. It was truly breath-taking, and, accompanied by gasps, oohs and aahs from all of the spectators, a magical experience.
This was a fairly mellow day as we took a bus to Hafnarfjórdur, a fishing village outside Reykjavik. Unfortunately, all of the museums were closed (keep in mind that our visit was during the off-season), but we were able to peek into an exhibit at the fine arts museum. The exhibit was called MEN; it was about men and their changing roles in society. We also went to the “elf garden,” where visitors are supposed to try and find hidden people in the rock formations. After our morning in Hafnarfjórdur, we headed back to Reykjavik for soup and a sub at the Lobster Hut, and some walking around in the city center accompanied by a Belgian waffle with nutella gelato and hot chocolate. We spend the rest of the day strolling, resting and walking by the waterfront, ending it with delicious Thai soup for dinner.
This day was spent doing the Golden Circle tour, which includes Pingvellir park, the Gulfoss Waterfall and a geysir. We started with a visit to Pingvellir park, where the Althing (the world’s first Parliament meeting) took place. For all of you Game of Thrones fans, yes, this is where some of the series was filmed, and the tectonic plates make for a beautiful setting for a walk in the drizzling, misting rain. After that we headed to the Gulfoss waterfall. It was pretty, but (and I know I am spoiled with wonderful travel experiences when I say this) not as jaw-dropping as Iguazú in Argentina! We then moved on to the original geyser (called Geysir), the first geyser ever found and named (the etymology of the word is actually Icelandic), and popped over to the original Icelandic national cathedral, ending with a visit go a geothermal power plant.
Our final full day in Iceland was spent at the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spring. Everything was bright blue (think the color of toothpaste), and we could see the steam coming up off of the water! There were also warm hotspots around the lagoon, and buckets of silica mud masks which made your skin taut but was a nice exfoliant. It was cold outside, so we soaked in the water for about an hour and a half before exiting to shower (where algae and mineral shampoo and conditioners were provided). We had Thai food again for lunch, and finished up some souvenir/gift shopping before a nice dinner at a restaurant called Harry’s café where I had a delicious filet of grilled salmon. The next morning, we packed up and left Iceland! All in all, it was a lovely trip. If any of you ever choose to go there, I would recommend just 3-4 days in Reykjavik, and the rest of the time spent traveling around the rest of the country during the summer or winter (so that you either have beautiful views of snowy mountains or grassy knolls; we ended up with sort of a brown, muddy view of everything).