Bon Voyage: Reykjavik, Iceland

Ready for an adventure, the Doc and I took a long weekend break up to Reykjavik, Iceland.  We hopped a flight out after work on Thursday, arrived very late at our hotel, and woke up rested and eager to explore Reykjavik Friday morning.  Iceland, lying in the Arctic Circle between Norway and Greenland, is only as big as Virginia and Kentucky, but nearly the entire population lives in or around Reykjavik.

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Views of downtown Reykjavik from Hallgrímskirkja Church

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After grabbing fresh waffles and coffee at Mokka Kaffi, we walked through the downtown area to the modern Hallgrímskirkja Church for some great views over the city.

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A stroll back through town and down to the waterfront led us to lunch at Saegreifinn for amazing lobster soup and a sampling of grilled whale meat.  Whale meat is not for me, but the soup was just what we needed to warm us up after a cold walk!

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We made our way back to the hotel for a nap before dinner at the fantastic GrillMarket, with some of the best fresh fish we’ve had in a while.  The restaurant has a fun, modern atmosphere and was a great date spot for a belated Valentine’s celebration.

Saturday, we set out early on our Blue Ice Tour with Arctic Adventures.  The tour took us on a 2.5 hour drive east along the ring road to Skogar, where we spent the next few hours hiking the Sólheimajökull Glacier and getting our ice picks out for an introduction to ice climbing.

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The ice climbing was an introduction to something completely new. Despite losing a big toenail from slamming our feet into a wall of ice, both of us loved it and definitely have it on the list to do again.

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Worn out and hungry, we crawled back into the van for our drive to Reykjavik.  We managed to gather enough energy for a quick stop in at the Skógafoss waterfall and met some of the Icelandic horses from the farm next door.  Well worth the pitstop.

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In our planning for this trip, we hadn’t set any expectations of seeing the Northern Lights.  The weather has to be very cold, and the skies need to be very clear, for there to be much of a chance of the Aurora Borealis being active and visible.  After a week of snow and clouds, luck was in our favor.  Saturday was crystal clear and the Aurora Forecast was high.  Game on.

We booked a late night Northern Light Boat outing, giving us time to rest and eat before setting out into the Atlantic.  It didn’t take long before the performance started, and needless to say, it was a highlight of the trip.

*Because we were on a moving boat in the pitch dark, the pictures aren’t good, but they helped capture the movement and variety of the Northern Lights

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Completely blown away by Northern Lights and worn out from our day, we returned to the hotel sleepy and content.

Sunday, was time to head back to London, but not without a stop at the infamous Blue Lagoon first.   The Blue Lagoon is a man-made geothermal spa set in a lava field between Reykjavik and the airport.  The milky blue water is full of silica minerals that is meant to be very good for your skin.  While completely touristy (there’s even a swim-up bar), it was fun to do, very relaxing, and the facilities are really clean and well run.

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We returned to London relaxed and happy after a very good weekend away.

Sleep  We stayed at the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, which is about a 25 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride into the center of town.  The hotel has been completely redone recently, is well known by all the tours, and has a very good concierge desk.  They also give you a bus pass for your stay so transportation into town is free (or a 2500 ISK cab ride).  While we thought it was great for this type of trip, it is not intimate/boutiquey and some people might be put off by being a bit outside of the main tourist area.

Eat  The food in Reykjavik, while expensive, is really good.  Seafood is the main attraction, but hotdogs are also extremely popular and hotdog stands abound as a cheaper option.

Lunch at Saegreifinn (lobster soup) is casual, easy and highly recommended.  We also really enjoyed dinner at GrillMarket (upscale Icelandic) on Friday as well as our late dinner on Saturday at the cozy bar in SNAPS (French Brasserie/Icelandic), which seemed to draw in a lively, and well-heeled, local crowd.  Lunch at the Blue Lagoon was fine, but essentially the same as what you’d get at the airport.  Getting snacks and breakfast from the grocery store to keep in your room helps out on the budget.

Do  There are so many options for day tours from Reykjavik, it really depends on what you are interested in.  It’s worth spending a day in the city seeing the Hallgrímskirkja, the Old Town, the Harbour, and the Harpa Concert Hall, but you probably don’t need more time than that to cover Reykjavik.  For our day tour, we used Arctic Adventures, and thought they were responsive, reliable, and fairly priced.  We really liked our guide and the size of our group (14 people).  Be careful when booking some tours because you likely will be on a mega-bus with lots of other tourists.  It’s worth asking if you don’t want do it that way.  The Golden Circle Tour, which we did not do, is very popular.  The Blue Lagoon was a great ending to our trip.  I would highly suggest doing it on the way to or from the airport.  The transfer companies, like Flybus, will stop there.

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-Take Grayline or Flybus to-and-from the airport.  The buses are timed with the flight arrivals, so they operate even very late/early.  It was about £15 per person.  While definitely the cheapest option, it takes about 1.5 hours from the airport to your hotel.  I think a taxi would be about 45 minutes and closer to £75 (so may be worth it if you have a group).

-The currency is Icelandic Krona, and while always good to have some cash, credit cards are taken nearly everywhere, including taxis.

-There are LOTS of tourists (primarily Brits and Americans), expect to see them and be on a bus with them.

-Alcohol is very expensive, think £10 for a pint, so may be worth grabbing some drinks at duty-free at the airport

-Bring a swimsuit for the Blue Lagoon, and a towel if you have room in your suitcase.  You can rent robes and a towel when you get there. You’ll need a waterproof bag if you want to take your camera in, as there aren’t really any dry places to put it once in the water.  I just snapped some pics and put it back in my locker.

-There is no need to book your Northern Lights tour in advance of your trip.  I would wait and check on the forecast and then book accordingly.

-Reykjavik is one of the most tourist friendly places we’ve visited.  It is really easy to navigate, the people are friendly and helpful, and all the activities seem super organized.

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3 thoughts on “Bon Voyage: Reykjavik, Iceland

  1. M S,
    Sounds like another great family outing! I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights, and you have inspires me. We head south today for Antigua. Maybe we will have shot at the Southern Cross.
    Best to all of you. Thm

  2. u2 make it look so easy to experience (and I mean REALLY experience) such varied and fun things– all on a three day jaunt! Am so proud!!!! Love you both

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