I went to Iceland last November with my husband and a few of our friends. Given our numbers, I wanted to make sure that I get to spend time with them while not compromising my own itinerary. So we have decided to stay at a rented house for a week, have some days that I spent with them, and some days I spent with my husband. Not to mention, renting a house with a big group is the most economical way to get a lodging in an expensive country like Iceland.
I left Friday evening with CH and AJ to catch our Icelandair flight. I arrived alone at Pearsons and met with them past by the security gates. Good thing we ate before we boarded as we found out that food is not included in our flight. I never sleep well during long haul flights (we had a 5-hr direct flight from Toronto to Keflavik), which was also the case during our flight.
Prior to departure I was already bummed because of my luggages. You see, part of our (me and my husband) plan was to bring dry and canned goods to offset our food expenses while we were away. As my husband K and two of our friends were in Copenhagen first, I ended up bringing majority (if not all) of our food items. In addition to that, K had a photography accident which led me to bring my Rolleiflex. I wasn’t happy at this point since I dislike bringing too many items with me.
Day 1 – Arrival and Day Exploration
We arrived at Keflavik International Airport around 6:40 am, which actually doesn’t look like one because it was dark as the night. We caught the shuttle that will bring us inside the airport. From there we met with CH’s sister, CO, who took a different airline and arrived a few hours earlier than us. After getting our luggages (I got help from CH, who was worried why I was carrying so many things), we took another shuttle to pick up AJ’s rental SUV. At this point I was glad that I was with them, but at the same time I felt bad because I am taking too much space on their rental car.
Our schedule got pushed a bit as we had another incident (AJ’s phone got misplaced) and after several minutes of looking for it, we headed our way to Reykjavik, which is around 30-40 minutes drive from Keflavik airport. From my seat I finally soaked in the feeling that I was in Iceland as we kept passing by mountains that were quietly watching over the city.
We decided to check out Reykjavik (the trio will not be staying long in the city as they have a different itinerary) and have breakfast at Café Loki (28 Lokastígur). The café is situated closely to the famous Hallgrimskirkja church. For our meal we each ordered the café’s Icelandic plates. I ordered the 4th plate which has the trout tarte and rye bread ice cream. We also had a taste of the fermented shark and a shot of Brennivín. Quite an experience I’d say. The shark didn’t taste as bad as what people say as long as you eat it quickly – the Brennivin though is a different story, but it does help ‘flood’ the strong scent of ammonia from the shark.
Icelandic plate IV – trout torte with salad and rye bread ice cream
Tired-looking people, but we’re glad we’re here!
Shortly after our breakfast we checked out Hallgrimskirkja, which was filled with people, mostly tourists (the side roads are occupied with huge tourist buses). CH said she forgot her tripod so we decided to get one at Beco Camera only to find out that it was closed for the day.
We then headed back to the downtown core to check out the famous Kolaportið Flea Market and roam around Laugavegur which is Reykjavik’s shopping district. We roamed around and went to buy a few food items at Bonus before we finally found our way to our accommodation.
Racks of homemade lopapeysur
Upon arrival, we rested and waited for K and Co. as they fly back from Copenhagen back to Iceland. Shortly after we decided to grab dinner as we are all too tired to prepare something to eat. We initially plan to go to Sægreifinn (Seabaron), but given how tired we were I just suggested to go to Noodle Station (86 Laugavegur) as it is a lot closer to our place. We warmed ourselves up with noodles, and then had a brief evening stroll at Laugavegur. We had some hot drinks from Tea and Kaffi located inside Eymundsson bookstore and a bite of fries at Reykjavik Chips, before heading to a local convenience store to get some snacks.
Warm noodles from Noodle Station
Moomin Galore at Eymundsson
Florida – a yummy coconut wafer chocolate. It’s not too sweet and not too wafer-y, if there’s such a thing.
Snack haul: Cronions, Florida, Hraun, Lava, Kókósbollur (Nammi Gott is probably the brand?). I also enjoyed the apple skyr that AR shared with us
Day 2 – A Rainy Day in Reykjavik
Ah, rain. It didn’t really contribute to the already dark day in Reykjavik – I think we had less than 6 hours of sunlight, each day. C sisters and AJ went on their merry way while me, K and Co. decided to spend the whole day exploring the city.
We braved the wind and rain (which is something hard to explain – its intensity was something I haven’t experienced before) to get to the Harpa concert hall. Tried to dry ourselves before we enjoy the hall’s great architecture.
Shortly after we grabbed lunch at Sægreifinn (Seabaron) (8 Geirsgata) which was a nice walk from Harpa. From here we enjoyed fresh fish kebab-style, as well as their famous lobster soup. We also had a taste of Malt Extract which is a sweet carbonated drink. Had a bit of a hiccup with my order (it was forgotten…) but otherwise we had a good experience there. The fish were meaty and fatty, and paired well with the bread and soup.
After lunch we went to walk around the Old Harbour before heading to Kolaportið Flea Market. We bought some snacks such as Kókósbollur (cocos-bun) and Lagterta (cinnamon layered cake).
The guys also had a bite of the famous hotdog stand Baerjarins beztu pylsur (my husband said it is a typical hotdog; I tried it myself and it is your usual, but the cronions topping were a nice touch) before we walk on the way back to our accommodation to get ready for our supposedly Northern Lights tour. Unfortunately, that got cancelled because of the heavy clouds so we decided to re-book our tour.
Day 3 – More of Reykjavik
AR & J and CH, CO, and AJ all left for their respective trips and tours, so K and I decided to explore more of Reykjavik.
We checked out a local coffee shop Reykjavik Roasters (1 Kárastígur). While we enjoy our coffee and tea we met Max from @catmapper as we saw him playing with a cat outside the cafe. We had a brief chat about his project as well as the Pentax MX keychain that he has – the similar camera K has with him at that time.
Chai Latte and coffee – I heard from K that Reykjavik Roaster’s barista is pretty famous.
We then had a quick lunch at The Laundromat Café (9 Austurstræti) as per K’s request. Food was average although price was a bit steep, but the ambience was nice. We then spent the rest of the day walking around Laugavegur and a quick visit to one of the many Eymundsson bookstores we saw. We also got a pair of lopapeysur for souvenirs and some candies as pasalubong. We also dropped by at Geisladiskabúð Valda as K’s looking to buy a couple of records. We were met by the owner and some of his friends (and a cute puppy!). When I told them that my husband is a big metal fan, the owner quietly went to the back part of the store to offer assistance – apparently he is also a fan of the genre.
Again, our Northern Lights tour got cancelled because of the bad weather and the bad thing is we didn’t receive the email so we ended up waiting out in the cold. Had to re-book for the next day and slept in order to be ready for our tour the next day. In hindsight, I made the right decision to initially book the tour on a Sunday, as I heard postponed trips are fairly common if the weather is not cooperating. As a tip, do not expect to see the aurora when you visit the city; depending on the weather conditions you may or may not see an activity. Plan wisely!
Day 4 – A Trip to the Golden Circle
We started the day early by waiting at our designated pick-up location in order to go to Gullni Hringurinn (Golden Circle). I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to check these locations on our own time unlike the Trio (since we both do not drive a car), but our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the locations’ history and has a lot of local stories to share, so in the end it wasn’t that bad.
Our first stop for that day’s trip was Vatnsleysufoss (Faxi). Upon disembarking we were met with strong winds and continuous mist coming from the falls. It was breathtaking and very humbling, to say the least.
Shortly after we headed to the famous Gulfoss. If Faxi was breathtaking, Gullfoss was just majestic. We had to do some hiking as well, and so glad that I invested in getting myself a nice pair of hiking shoes, otherwise I would be done for. I still do not like hiking, but my experience at Gullfoss wasn’t too bad.
The view from below, where cars and tour buses drop-off their passengers before heading up to the parking lot
We brought our own lunch, and the driver was nice enough to let us eat inside the van, as the resting area does not allow outside food. K had to get some tea and snacks before we headed to the geothermal area.
Geysir, where the word “geyser” came from
As the Geysir has been inactive for several years due to tectonic activities, the smaller Strokkur attracts more visitors as it erupts more on a regular basis.
We were initially reminded by our tour guide not to move closer to the Strokkur, as it emits hot steam and water which may cause injuries, but while waiting for my money shot it looks like my fellow tourists weren’t aware of this, and a bunch of them got soaking wet (and so were their cellphones). I wasn’t sure if someone got hurt, but man, sometimes it’s painful to watch your fellow tourists. Also, it was around this time when we were pelted with hail – everyone pretty much ran for cover, which is nowhere except the parking area where the buses and cars are situated. I wasn’t sure where K was at but I think I just found myself heading back to the tour bus, hoping my glasses don’t break because Iceland sure knows how to produce hail.
Our last destination for the day was Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. I didn’t imagine that the location was HUGE! It was like a scene in a movie. Mountains and thin layers of snow abound. It was getting dark, so we had to hurry and explore the place. Majority of our fellow tourists in our tour opt to just check out the rift valley, however K requested for us to go up in order to see Öxarárfoss. To a Game of Thrones fan, this might be a destination worth checking out.
I started to get anxious as it took us longer than usual to head back to the parking lot – and we haven’t even marveled at the rift valley yet. It was unfortunate because I was getting annoyed at this time because I was tired and didn’t want to cause inconvenience to our driver/tour guide. We just passed by the rift valley and headed quietly back to the bus. During this time it was dark and the wind picking up speed.
Upon arrival we caught up with AR & J (it was their turn to explore Reykjavik) and brought a smelly piece of fermented shark for K (not a good idea, as indicated by the photo above). :p
Day 5 – A Memorable Dinner, a Spectacular View
Wednesday was our rest day, something that I find important because we’ve been staying up too late for the past few nights, not to mention our Northern Lights tour got postponed several times. I have made a reservation for us to have a nice dinner, and we chose Resto (27-29 Rauðarárstígur). It was also close to our accommodation so we didn’t even have to take public transit.
Initially we planned to have an ala-carte dinner but we opted to get their 5-course meal as we find it a more value for our money. We were not disappointed. Highly recommended.
Left: bread; Right: best fish soup we had
Left: smoked duck; Right: Salted cod in pastry with tomato salsa and cheese
Left: Lamb; Right: Fish
Left: Fig Ice Cream; Right: Panacotta
Our Northern Lights tour finally kicked-off, although a low magnetic activity was looming above us. However we lucked out with a great driver/tour guide – not only he knew which areas to bring us, he also taught a lot of the tourists how to set their cameras. Glad I brought my tripod with me as well because it would be impossible not to have one because of the strong winds that accompanied us that evening.
Long exposure test, around 12 am. Shot using K’s Sony RX100
After several hours of chasing, we finally found the aurora! We weren’t expecting a long activity but we were surprised when it moved so suddenly! After getting my shots I lent my tripod to the guys and just enjoyed the view. Mother Nature is amazing.
Day 6 – A Day at the South
Running on a few hours of sleep, K and I went to our last tour of the week as we went our merry way to the South Coast. Early on in our trip we were greeted by the news of bad weather, so the initial trip to Vik and Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach were cancelled. The roads were icy and the winds strong, it’s not viable for the small tour buses to proceed further. During our trip I had a brief glimpse of the famous volcano Eyjafjallajökull.
We then headed to see the rest of the destination, first off being Skógafoss. It was still windy and the rough pathways icy, so despite me wearing my hiking boots it was difficult for me to proceed closer to the falls. I was getting annoyed at this time because my backpack was getting heavy (the strong winds didn’t help) and K just left me behind while he wanders in awe of the existence of the falls (a habit of his when he finds something that amuses him the most). Dejected, I just decided to take a few photos far away from the falls and head back to the bus. At this point I was getting pissed and not in the mood to explore anymore.
Shorty after we were dropped off at Seljalandsfoss. Even if I know I’ll have a money shot when I go at the back of the falls, the icy conditions just turned me off. It also didn’t help that there was one tourist in our bus that have been acting all high and mighty towards the driver/tour guide and the rest of the tourists in the bus. Guess where she came from?
The location that survived my impending wrath was Urriðafoss. We caught the nice sunlight hitting our faces and because there were less people around I was able to enjoy the view and take it all in.
Our last destination for the day was the small historic village of Eyrarbakki. We didn’t go to Vik but the town has a small black sand beach so our driver brought us there instead. It was WINDY. How many times did this word come up in this post? It’s not even cold in Iceland (yes, you read that right) but the wind and weather shift were something I’ve never experienced before (it’s almost like Calgary’s 4-season days, but more hard core).
AMAZING sunset at Eyrarbakki
My faithful hiking boots that helped me despite the weather
On our way back I was filled with fear as our mini tour bus encountered a bad snow storm. We experienced a white out and despite the almost zero visibility I can feel the presence of huge mountains beside us. I was really scared and kept quiet throughout the rest of our trip until we reached our rest stop before heading back to Reykjavik.
Day 7 – A Time to Relax and Unwind
Getting ready to relax
We have scheduled our last full day in Iceland by spending it at Blue Lagoon in order to relax and unwind. We pre-booked our bus tickets online via Reykjavik Excursions, which is something we recommend to avoid the line-ups at the station. We went to one of the designated stops for pick-up before we got dropped off at the station. From there we had our tickets “exchanged” and we had this presented before boarding the bus.
Be warned – arrive early as the place is abundant of tourists. My cost-saving idea of bringing our own flip-flops and towels failed because I forgot to bring both of those, so K and I had no other option but to upgrade. After getting our electronic keys (in a form of a bracelet) and meeting with C & A, we headed to our respective change rooms and met at the open area/lobby where the warm, comforting waters of the lagoon await us.
The Blue Lagoon. Good experience but expensive AF.
Trying on the silica masks
We headed out of the water shortly as the warm water made us all a bit lightheaded. We grabbed something to drink and munch on (expensive as usual), before chatting away and returning back to the waters.
Upon returning from Blue Lagoon, we asked our landlord for any recommendations where to eat and he mentioned Höfnin (7 Geirsgata). He said the food was great and reasonably priced, and he has brought visitors there himself. So off we went. It was getting late and I was worried that they won’t be able to accommodate us, but they were gracious, and we had the whole 2nd floor all to ourselves.
View from the second level of Höfnin – overlooking the Old Harbour
The food did not disappoint as well. We had generous servings and they all tasted good. It was a great recommendation and an even greater way to cap off our last night in Iceland. We also got an amazing service from their young staff; he did a great job serving our group of six (CO left that morning to catch her flight back to Toronto).
While I certainly have Iceland on my to-go list, I was actually a bit disappointed with my experience. I think it was a combination of factors (fatigue, bad weather, lack of sleep, and some personal concerns at that time) that contributed to my not-so-stellar experience. However, the landscape was just amazing. You will end up realizing that your life is just a minute part of the huge world we live in; so honestly that alone is a good reason to go there. I do wish though that I shouldn’t have scheduled the trip back-to-back with our Cuba one, as I think the whole experience would have been better.
Our landlord and his family were amazing however; I wouldn’t hesitate returning to their place the second time as they treated us well. He also happened to give us a free pass for 4 adults to a local pool which we had to forfeit because of lack of time. I think it would be a different experience compared to Blue Lagoon.
For the photography gear heads: images on this post were shot with Sony RX100, Fuji XE-2 (shot by K), Canon Sureshot A1, & Nikon FM2n with Kodak Portra 400