Apologies for the terrible pun.
Iceland had been on my travel radar for a while. After seeing it featured in Hollywood films and television and hearing about its incredible beauty from more fortunate friends I decided that on my partner Vanessa and I’s European odyssey that Iceland was one destination that we HAD to visit.
Our plan involved a trip to Norway to visit family so from there we would make the relatively short hop from Oslo over to Iceland before heading to the UK and from there returning to Australia.
Arriving into Reykjavik-Keflavik airport onboard one of Icelandair’s signature Boeing 757 passenger jets, we marvelled at the moonlike, volcanic landscape that filled the windows on our approach. Keflavik is quite a distance from the city so we had pre-booked our transfer to Reykjavik proper and after collecting our luggage we boarded a bus and headed for Iceland’s cool capital (see what I did there).
What you need to know is that in winter – which is when we visited, the sun comes up, sits just above the horizon and then heads back down. The result is a very short day so by the time we reached our apartment it was very dark… despite being just on 4:30pm.
We stayed at the FANTASTIC Kerno Apartments – located within walking distance of downtown, with the apartment being warm, well furnished and comfortable!
Being our first night we decided that a quick trip to the supermarket for dinner would suffice and luckily enough, Iceland’s discount supermarket – Bonus was just a short (but cold) walk down the road. We picked up some Icelandic salmon and veggies, came back to the apartment and cooked it up. Boy oh boy does Icelandic salmon taste good, we have since attempted to recreate this meal at home but you honestly can’t beat that salmon. We washed down this meal with some Marchesi de Frescobaldi ‘Remole’ Toscana red wine that we had picked up from duty free in Oslo and settled in for the night.
The next morning we headed out just after sunrise (which mind you was around 10am) to explore the city. First stop was the Reykjavik Town Hall which is a super modern building that at the time was surrounded by a frozen lake which of course we decided to play on… even though the cracking noises were a bit unsettling.
We walked along the waterfront, past the Harpa concert hall and down to Íslenska Hamborgarafabrikkan (The Icelandic Hamburger Factory) a delicious, funky money hole. Seriously, a burger here will set you back $30AUD but you will not regret it! I had an ‘Animal Park’; a beef and lamb monstrosity with an egg on top that was just AMAZING!
Next up we trekked up to the Hallgrimskirkja; the largest and most iconic church in Iceland. You can see Hallgrimskirkja from anywhere in the city and a visit to the top ($10 AUD) is a must.
We ascended to the viewing deck right on sunset and were rewarded with spectacular views of Reykjavik and beyond. After returning to earth we checked out the statue of Leif Eiríksson (an Icelandic explorer and the first European to set foot in North America) before heading back into town.
We made a quick trip to the Icelandic Travel Market and booked a Northern Lights Tour for that night as well as a Golden Circle Tour for the next day. Afterwards we headed down to Dirty Burgers & Ribs; an American sports bar for a quick dinner (we’ve been super healthy I know) and headed back to our apartment to get ready for our Northern Lights adventure.
We chose a small group Northern Lights tour with Gateway to Iceland because a smaller group size meant that if you couldn’t find the lights at one particular spot, its easier and faster to board a small group rather than a bus full of tourists to get to the next spot. We met our tour’s mini bus around 8:30pm and headed north out of Reykjavik into Iceland’s dark night.
After about 45 minutes driving we reached a secluded fjord where we disembarked the mini bus and set about looking for the elusive lights.
The good part about booking Northern Lights tours in Iceland is that if you don’t see anything you can rebook onto another night for free but fortunately for us, we were in luck that night.
After standing on the side of the road for 20 minutes or so, a faint greenish-grey hue began to appear in the sky above us and while not quite the incredible lights show we were hoping for it was still a sight to behold. The green wave flickered before us, strengthening and dissolving and using a good camera (or an iPhone long-exposure app) you were able to see the wave clearly in the sky.
After an hour or so of watching the lights and freezing, we hopped back on the warm bus and headed back to Reykjavik. Whilst it was incredible to see the Northern Lights, I would still like to head back to Scandinavia to spot them in all their intense glory… maybe next time!
The next day we headed off on our Golden Circle tour. This time we had opted for the coach tour (Iceland is expensive after all) but the coach was comfortable, had wifi and an onboard audio system that guided you along the trip.
Our first stop was Þingvellir National Park – A rift valley dividing the North American and European tectonic plates and the spot where Iceland’s parliament was formed in 874 AD… It’s also a Game of Thrones filming location (the path to the Eyre if anyone is interested). One of the interesting (albeit disturbing) historical spots at Þingvellir is the Drowning Pool where adulterer women were executed by – you guessed it – being tied to a rock and thrown into the pool…
Next we headed to Geysir where we stopped for lunch and to see the Strokkur geyser erupt. It did not disappoint and while I got awesome video of it erupting – Vanessa got absolutely soaked… not ideal in -5 degree weather.
Heading back down the road we found a field of Icelandic horses (aka the supermodel of the horse world) and with our tour guide’s assistance gave them some horse food and posed for some happy snaps.
The tour continued onto Gullfoss (Golden Falls) a giant waterfall barelling down an immense canyon. I can honestly say that our visit to Gullfoss coincided with being the absolute coldest I have ever been in my entire life – The freezing temperature with the gale force wind coming off the waterfall made any piece of exposed skin a target for spine chillingly cold air (as is evident in this photo).
After witnessing enough of Gullfoss’ shear power and turning into human popsicles we retreated to the warm bus and began the long journey back to Reykjavik.
Now, there’s a particular dish in Iceland that I decided I needed to try… I don’t know why that was, but we arrived back in Reykjavik and we headed to an Icelandic tapas place (that for the life of me I can’t remember the name of) for a tapas plate of Icelandic meats, including but not limited to Kæstur hákarl and whale.
What is Kæstur hákarl I hear you ask? Well distinguished reader, Kæstur hákarl (or just hákarl) is fermented shark, and the national dish of Iceland consisting of Greenland shark cured and hung out to dry for months. Now Greenland shark meat is toxic so the fermenting process makes it edible but that definitely does not help the taste and I would describe said taste as urine soaked fish… Don’t recommend.
Our final full day in Iceland involved a trip to the world famous Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is located near Keflavik airport so if you’re strapped for time you can tie in a visit before or after your flight.
We opted for the coach transfer and arrived at the spa soon after sunrise (once again, just after 10am). The Blue Lagoon is a huge complex and after checking in and receiving our wristbands, towels, etc. we showered and changed before braving the -3 degree temperatures outside. Thankfully you can enter the huge main pool from inside the main building so you can keep most of your body in the warm, therapeutic water while just your head freezes. We had a few facial treatments included as well as a bar tab (they have a swim up bar… its the best). And so we spent the next few hours floating around, relaxing and enjoying the experience.
Upon returning to Reykjavik we once again headed into the city and headed for a place called ‘Noodle Station’ – literally the cheapest eats in Reykjavik. Noodle Station serves, unsurprisingly, noodles… thats it, but the serving is generous and the flavours fantastic!
Noodle Station was a prelude for the main event though – a visit to the Lebowski Bar.
The Lebowski Bar takes its name from the cult classic Jeff Bridges film and features such delights as a whole menu of White Russians, the best milkshakes you’ll ever have and napkins with the Dude on them… could you ask for more?
Our flight to London left early in the morning so we headed home for some sleep, content that our first Iceland experience had been fantastic. From witnessing mother nature’s power, enjoying delicious food and meeting friendly Icelandic people, our trip had been all that we could ask for and more.
The next morning, we woke early, boarded our coach to the airport and said goodbye to Reykjavik and Iceland.
We’d had a N-ice time… *sigh*