Iceland Day One - Reykjavik
Looking for an action packed itinerary if you only have five days in the amazing land of Iceland? We only had five days during our stopover with Icelandair and here is how we filled our time there.
Upon landing at Reykjavik, we taxied for awhile looking for a jet bridge to connect our plane to. A jet bridge, or a jet way, are those movable enclosed walkways that stretch out to connect to your plane to let you disembark separate from the outside elements. Apparently the airport at Reykjavik (Keflavik) doesn’t have enough of these for all the arrivals. We ended up having to get off in the middle of the tarmac onto a shuttle bus in the rain. The rain was actually a great introduction to the ever changing weather in Iceland - you always have to be prepared for sun, wind, rain, and the occasional puffin.
Our initial plan was to head straight to the Blue Lagoon after our early morning landing, relax, enjoy the healing waters until about noon, and then head over to Reykjavik. You can arrange to have a shuttle take you directly from the airport to the Blue Lagoon with Reykjavik Excursions or arrange your own transport. Since we were going to explore Iceland on our own for the next five days we arranged a rental car with SiXT. For those wondering how much the car rental was, we got a great deal on an automatic Opel Astra at about $55 a day direct from their website.
I found it pretty easy to navigate the roads in Iceland. Granted, I did have free data with T-Mobile International Roaming and Google Maps to guide me - but I do have to say that the roads in Iceland were pretty well maintained and the signage easy to read and understand.
Anyhow, it took about 25 minutes to drive to the Blue Lagoon from SiXT. The landscape was pretty surreal - large plains full of volcanic rocks and green moss growing all over them. It felt like we were on a different planet. You can also spot the Blue Lagoon at a distance when you’re driving there. You’ll see a whole bunch of white steam clouds rising into the air.
We parked the car, walked to the entrance, and waited in line to enter. Here is where we made our first noob mistake in Iceland. After waiting in line for about 30 minutes, we got to the front desk and asked to buy an entrance ticket. The lady seem confused, almost baffled.. apparently, to our chagrin, we found out the hard way you can't just walk in to the Blue Lagoon and buy a ticket there.. you have to pre purchase your ticket for a timed entrance. In some cases, they are sold out for weeks.. Luckily they had a spot available the next day at 8 am which we purchased hastily on our phones using the free wifi in the cafe there.
In Silicon Valley we call a major direction change of a strategy a ‘pivot’. I don’t know if I can call what we did a major strategy strange, but we definitely had to ‘pivot’ away from our original plan of soaking in the Blue Lagoon on the first day. So yes, we decided to walk around and explore Reykjavik all day. That’s what travel is all about actually in my opinion - flexibility and the willingness to have a little adventure when things don’t roll your way! (or pivoting.. omg not that again)
The first thing we did was head straight to the harbor area and walk around. Full of cute, stylish restaurants and shops - if you like seafood at all, definitely come and check this area out. We happened to really like the exterior of the Verbud 11 Seafood Restaurant and stopped to snap a photo.
Then we saw this tiny seafood shop next door called The Sea Baron or Saegreifinn. Supposedly they had the best chowder in town and I couldn’t resist the fresh looking cubes of fresh fish on skewers waiting to be grilled. I’d say the chowder was ok - it had a bit of a curry cinnamon flavor to it but nothing to go wild about. Same with the fish on skewers - very fresh fish, but just grilled plainly.
After that we decided to walk towards Harpa - the magnificent glass and steel structure that is the main concert hall and conference of Reykjavik. After seeing so many pictures of Harpa, I was still floored by the beauty and architectural prowess it took to construct such a crystalline palace. It was modeled after the naturally occurring basalt formations you see on black sand beaches - similar to the one near Vik. You’ll also notice once inside that the glass blocks contrast heavily to the fiery red interiors of the concert halls. This was done as a metaphor for Iceland being the land of fire and ice for all its volcanic activity along with all its wondrous glaciers.
Next we decided to wander over to the main shopping street of Laugavegur. Laugavegur means ‘Wash Road’ in Icelandic since this street was once the main route Icelanders took to get to the hot springs to wash their clothes. Now, this is a road where you can spend $300 on a wool Icelandic sweater or $750 on a 66 North Parka. Overall the street was quirky and fun with its fair share of interesting street art and colorful buildings.
We also found this adorable little red house in some back street of Laugavegur.
Next, we walked over to the the tallest building in Reykjavik. Hallgrímskirkja church, with its basalt columnar structure (similar to Harpa), has its design foundation based on Icelandic nature. It took over 41 years to build with its fair share of critics due to cost overruns and ‘stylistic’ concerns from locals. To each its own I suppose, but I think Hallgrímskirkja is a magnificently built structure that is a must see if you come to Reykjavik. Also, it kind of looks like a place Batman might live. 😃 Make sure you pay the small fee to take the elevator to the top for a grand view of the city.
After all that walking and exploring, we needed some sustenance - so headed over to Kaffi Vinyl - one of Reykjavik’s only vegan restaurants. It also doubles as a record vinyl shop and had a cool, hip style to it. Along with food being fantastic, the tables were large and spacious in case you needed to pull your laptop out and do some work. Check out a more in depth review here from Justin plus Lauren.
Being awake for 36 hours straight started to have it’s toll on us as were started to doze off mid sentence. We walked like zombies back to our Airbnb - which I have to mention was one of the best Airbnb experiences I’ve had so far. Our host Kerstin was so friendly and helpful with so many tips on where to go and what to do. I highly recommend staying with her if you’re in Reykjavik. Also, just to sway you a bit more - the guest room has the most comfortable king size bed ever.
Also, check out the rest of my trip to Iceland: