I have never spent a longer time planning a trip than I did for Iceland. I fist had the idea the summer after sophomore year while in Greece and I can’t believe that it actually worked out and that I got to go, it was an amazing trip, so let’s get into it.
This year for Fall Break, Smith gave us Monday and Tuesday off, but since four days with travel isn’t the best, my friend Emily and I decided to take Friday and half of Thursday off as well. I actually only ended up missing one class, but it was Old Norse so really we were just getting in depth with the material 😊.
Lucky for is, Emily is from around Boston and her mother was nice enough to drive us to the airport and back, and her dad packed us a lot of food both for the flight there and for the drive back.
We actually arrived in Iceland at some ridiculous time like 4:30 in the morning on Friday, it sounds awful but it wasn’t actually that bad, we just hung around the airport (which is very nice) until what felt like a reasonable hour to take the flybus into Reykjavik. So we arrived at around 7 in time to see the sunrise over Hallgrimskirkja.
Hallgrimskirkja is the largest church in Iceland at 73 meters, and was finished in 1986. It’s on top of a hill in the center of Reykjavik and can be seen from up to 20km away. And that is Mr. Leifur Eriksson in front the actual first European to arrive in the Americas.
And by this point I had already realized two things about Reykjavik. The first was that it is very small. The entire population of Iceland is about 330,000 people and about 200,000 of them live in Reykjavik and the surrounding region. I’d mostly known this, but it didn’t really click that that was not a lot of people until we exited the bus at the central bus terminal. With a name like that I was expecting it to be surrounded by buildings, not so. Across the street is the city airport, and in front of it is a very residential neighborhood, it seems much more edge than center and yet it only takes about ten minutes to walk from there all the way to the harbor and our hotel.
The second thing I’d noticed was all of the art. I had been expecting charmingly colored buildings, but not so many amazing murals. If you saw my last post you know what I mean, lots of murals that contrast really well with the greyness of the climate, I very quickly started taking pictures of everyone I saw.
What and when
We stayed at a hostel called Kex, which is the type of hostel that also wants to be a cool bar and restaurant that people want to go to, similar to Urban House in Copenhagen. It was very nice and right across the street from the Harbor, so an excellent location. If you’re looking for a hostel in Reykjavik I would totally recommend it, and even if you want something a little more private, there are family rooms so you might want to investigate further. Check it out at kexland.com .
Anyway, since Reykjavik is so small, walking everywhere and finding your way is pretty easy. That first day I walked over 35,000 steps and after that basically knew where everything was. Especially easy since Laugavegur is the Main Street where basically any restaurant of cafe is located.
After exploring on Friday, we spent most of Saturday on a bus tour of the Golden Circle. It’s a little out of the way, so unless you’re renting a car, an organized bus tour is the easiest way to do it.
The area around Reykjavik is dotted with vacation cabins and small farms. The river here is a glacial water and along the horizon you can just see Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that last erupted in 2010.
This is a hot pool at Geysir, there are tons of small geysers and steam vents in this area, all of them pouring out water at near boiling temperatures. We got to see Strokkur erupt several times, but the original Geysir, after which all others are named, is dormant nowadays.
Gullfoss meaning Golden Falls has two levels and drops 32 meters or about a hundred feet. You can also usually see rainbows because of the constant spray, we saw a few but they were too faint to get any pictures of.
The lake at Þingvellir national park. The area is important historically because it is where the original Ucelandic settlers held the original parliament. Geologically, it’s one of the few places on Earth where you can see the European and North American continental plates separating.
On Sunday we went to the Blue Lagoon, it was absolutely marvelous but I left my phone in the locker so I don’t have any pictures. Some notes though: definitely book ahead, it’s slightly cheaper and a guaranteed entrance. We didn’t do this so we spent about 30 minutes waiting and not knowing if we would even get in. Also spring for at least the second level package, that’s the one we got and it meant we got a towel, locker and beverage included. And finally, if you have thick or curly hair put it in a bun and bring a comb and styling products. The same silicates that are great for your skin dry out your hair remarkably quickly.
Back in Reykjavik I had a great time trying all the different food available. All of the Nordic countries are huge coffee countries, so naturally I was able to enjoy quite a few cafes.
The local Starbucks replacement chain is called Te og Kaffi, or tea and coffee and offers basically the same stuff at reasonable prices. And my mother will be happy to know that their tea pots each contain three cups worth. The local hip cafe that we found is called Reykjavik Roasters, they roast their own coffee (obviously) and it was always insanely busy when we walked past in the mornings. Located in a little house, there are lots of little nooks and crannies with cozy couches and seats to enjoy your drink and get some work done.
Two things you should definitely try in Reykjavik: skyr and kleinur. Skyr is the local type of yogurt made out of skim milk, it’s really high in protein and has zero fat naturally and most importantly is super delicious and available everywhere in a large range of flavors. Kleinur or the singular kleina are fried pastries that are lightly sweet and flavored with cardamom. It’s fried dough so obviously wonderful.
One restaurant that I totally recommend is the Reykjavik Chip Shop. They only sell french fries and have about ten sauces you can choose from. We went twice and I got the Andalucia which was a sweet mustard (and my favorite) and the Buffy which was a garlic sauce. They also have vegan sauces.
Since we were in Iceland, I knew I’d have to get fish, so I went with a brunch of a lox bagel. It was my first time trying lox and I liked it, it’s slightly smoky, not too fishy, I’m still clearly working on loving fish, but I wouldn’t hesitate to order it again.
Thoughts and Feelings
One of the reasons for coming to Iceland that was always hovering in the back of my mind was Graduate School. My top 2 programs are at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik and Reykjavik was the only remaining city that had a program I liked that and which I hadn’t visited.
So the short result is, I can definitely see myself living in Reykjavik. It may be small, but there are so many cafes and restaurants that I would never not have somewhere new to try, and anyway it’s too expensive to eat out all that often. The city is small, which makes me worry I’ll get fed up with it, but it’s also very easy to get out of town. Probably my least favorite thing about living in Paris was how hard it was to get to the countryside, but in Reykjavik where I would almost certainly end up having access to a car it would be very simple to take a trip to another town or region, and no point in the country is too far away for a weekend get away. I do worry that it would feel too isolated if I were to settle down there, but that’s not something I need to worry about right now, and for a year or so I think I would find it wonderful.