Isn’t 3 days in Iceland too short? I agree. I now realize the errors of my ways. Going to have to come back soon and stay longer this time, but in the meantime I shall reflect on memories of the 3 days that I was there. Hopefully this will be helpful to you when you’re in Iceland. For all the pictures, go to this gallery.
1. US to Keflavik
We got lucky. We booked with Icelandair 5 months in advance of the trip in October, and right before we embarking on our journey, Alaska Airlines became a code-sharing partner with Icelandair – we scored double miles on Alaska! The flight was uneventful, smooth, and relatively quick. It was only a 7 hrs haul from Seattle to Keflavik Airport.
I was quite impressed with Icelandair, actually. You get free checked bags although we didn’t really need it. It’s a nice perk considering today’s standard nickel diming airline industry that charges for every little thing. Every seat on the Icelandair Boeing 757 had a blanket and Icelandic water. We kept the bottle and it’s still sitting in our fridge as we speak. The crew was professional, the flight was smooth, and airline seemed like the cared about their passengers.
The best part of the flight over to Iceland has to be the welcoming atmosphere we received going through security. We were herded to the immigration checkpoint, but along the way we were handed chocolate and water. I have not, in all my years of flying, ever received anything from anyone at the airport except disdainful stares and impatient yelling. It was refreshing to say that least.
Keflavik Airport: 5.0/5.0
2. Blue Lagoon
We waited 2 hours at the airport before the first bus came to pick us up to Blue Lagoon. Keflavik is out in the middle of nowhere so you can’t really walk to restaurants or shops. We booked the airport transfer and Blue Lagoon with the Icelandair package. I would recommend packaging as many of your activities with Icelandair as you can to save money.
Blue Lagoon is about 10 minutes from the airport and is in the middle of nowhere as well. It’s the only thing around so they can basically charge you whatever they want. It’s clearly a commercialized resort for international travelers as evident by the baggage storage facility in front of the resort. You’ll also note that there aren’t any local Icelanders swimming with you in the pool.
The only blue part of Blue Lagoon is the pool by the entrance, which you’re not allowed to swim in of course. Otherwise, the actual Blue Lagoon is teal.
The layout was entirely awkward. When you’re in the pool, you can clearly see the restaurant but there’s no way to get to it. You have to retrace your steps back to the front desk half naked in your robe to get to the restaurant.
It was a very cold day and the water felt amazing. There are buckets of silica placed throughout the pool. You can apply it liberally on your face and body. We were told it’s excellent as a facemask to clear away impurities. You can just wash it off using the water in the pool. So if you find yourself in the Blue Lagoon in the near future, you’re probably going to be swimming in silica that was on my and thousands of others’ faces. Aren’t you lucky?
There’s also a steam room and sauna accessible from the pool. Next to those is an area for massages – you float around while people knead you.
I wasn’t terribly impressed with the Blue Lagoon and would recommend you skip it unless you absolutely have to experience it and say that you were there. Side note, the “blue” color isn’t entirely natural. I invite you to admire the geothermal power plant nearby. Another thing to note is that Blue Lagoon is made for tourists so expect it to be crowded. And this was in October when it supposedly is the offseason.
Best thing about Blue Lagoon: soaking in the hot water in cold weather
Do this if: you want to say you were there and make all your friends jealous of you not having that much fun
Overall experience: 3.0/5.0
3. Hotel Fron
After a disappointing adventure time at Blue Lagoon, we arrived at Hotel Fron with its tiny sign. I swear we passed this place every time we went out for a walk and wanted to come back. It just blends in with the rest of the street and isn’t very flashy at all.
If you want to be close to all the action around downtown Reykjavik, this is probably one of the best places to stay at; however, do NOT get a room facing the street. It’s pretty awesome because you feel like one of the locals peering down at people walking around, but that feeling soon disappears when you actually want to sleep. Just a few hundred feet down the street from Hotel Fron is a bar that plays EDM (Electronic Dance Music) to the wee of the night. And when I wee of the night I mean 4 AM. Well, if you love EDM then I guess this would be pretty perfect. Oh, on the weekdays the building right across from Hotel Fron is full of office workers so you’ll have plenty of people looking at you while you’re in your room walking around in your undies. If you’re an exhibitionist I guess this would be pretty cool.
If you get a normal room at Hotel Fron, be prepared to feel cozy because the room is tiny. You won’t have a lot of room to maneuver especially if your luggage is opened. As you suspected, the bathroom is puny as well, but it was clean when we stayed there.
You won’t ever be cold inside your room though, but the sweet aroma of sulfur will enthrall your nose whenever you take a hot shower.
If those things don’t bother you, then this is the perfect hotel. You are in the middle of Laugavegur street – the main shopping/restaurant/bar/club/fun area in Reykjavik. You’re steps away from everything. This is an excellent place to make your base and all tour buses will come pick you up for your tours in front of the hotel.
Stay here if: you want to be close to all the things
Don’t stay here if: you want peace and quiet
Overall experience: 3.0/5.0 – damn you EDM at 4 in the morning!
Recommendation: stay here but don’t get a room facing the street
4. Kafe Bar
We took a 5 hours nap upon arrival at Hotel Fron. Jetlag finally caught up to us. We woke up at 10 PM and started wandering the wet streets of Laugavegur. It was still lively. People in Iceland really know how to deal with cold weather. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone. So if you want to blend in, don’t be a crybaby if it’s a little wet.
We randomly went into a coffee bar shop (I guess). Note: there are tons of coffee bars in Iceland. So what do they serve at these coffee bars? Coffee and booze – the perfect combination for a cold night. This place also served soup in a bread bowl. We got 2 of those and a glass of wine. It hit the spot. If in Iceland and cold and hungry, go to a coffee bar, get some soup, and drink up. Local Icelanders will hang out at coffee bars to drink and talk all day. So join them.
Do: hang out at coffee bars at any hour during the day or night
1. Old Icelandic Restaurant
Yay day 2! It turned out the soup and wine from the previous night weren’t that fulfilling as we woke up hungry like bears ready to ravage a baby deer with claws and sharp teeth – blood smeared all over our ravenous and disgustingly beautiful mouths. That or go to the Old Icelandic Restaurant, about a 3 min walk from Hotel Fron. We decided to go the restaurant.
We were the first customers! The restaurant was neat, clean, and cozy feeling. The walls are decorated with, what I’m assuming to be, animals that we’re going to consume like savages. The waiter was nice and seated us by the windows so we could watch and laugh at people in the rain. It wasn’t raining though… so we didn’t get to laugh at anyone. The menu was simple. I appreciate simple menus. I hate thumbing through 20 pages worth of food.
It was Iceland so of course we had to order lamb soup and the fish of the day. Why do you have to order lamb soup in Iceland? Read my other post to find out – 33 tips for first timers to Iceland. Icelanders have mastered lamb dishes because the soup was entirely delicious. The fish of the day was excellent too. This was our introduction to Icelandic food, and it was a good one. We also learned that food isn’t cheap in Iceland. That meal was nearly $50. Yikes!
What to order: lamb soup
Overall experience: 4.5/5.0
Adventure time! Full and fat from our meal, we started our self-guided city tour. Our first stop was Hallsgrimskija. You can’t miss it. It’s an imposing building that can be seen from everywhere. The architecture is unique. In front of Hallsgrimskija is a statue of Eriksson (a gift from the US to celebrate Iceland’s independence – I think). This is an excellent spot to snap a shot. Now you too can have that iconic picture!
The inside of Hallsgrimskija was also very impressive with its high cathedral ceiling and giant organ right above the entrance as you enter. It’s not decorated like many of the European churches with intricate designs. It’s actually really plain looking, but I think it adds to the architectural uniqueness of the building itself.
You can buy tickets at the gift shop to take the elevator up to the clock for some incredible views of the city. Nobody was at the elevator to check if you have tickets though. From up here you can see how colorful the city really is with its many vibrant roofs and buildings. This is an excellent photo op.
Overall experience: 4.5/5.0
3. Solfar (Sun Voyager)
Satisfied with the view from up top, we backtracked to the waterfront where Solfar stood. Light rain gave us the opportunity to be alone with the Viking sculpture, and it was magnificent. It was a lot bigger up close and is an imposing presence. Again the light rain left its mark and presented us with an exquisite photo op with the water droplets covering the metal structure.
This attraction is even better at night and sunset (or so we’ve heard). We didn’t make it back out to vet the claim but I’d imagine it being pretty awesome when lit up. Its solitary location would have made it the more alluring and mysterious. We stayed around and took in the scene for 20 minutes before heading to Harpa Hall visible in the distance.
Overall experience: 4.0/5.0
4. Harpa Hall
We didn’t really plan to go here but it was along the way to the Saga Museum so we made a side stop. The place was teeming with people attending a conference. Interesting glass windows surrounded the huge building to give it a unique perspective. This is the place where supposedly all Icelanders have visited to enjoy good music and entertainment. There are shows all the time so it’s a good place to visit. We’ve seen beautiful pictures of Harpa Hall at night as its colorful reflections on the water magnify its grandeur, but again we didn’t make it back out to see for ourselves.
You could easily spend half the day here but I would suggest checking to see if there are shows you’re interested in seeing before hand.
Come here if: you’re in the mood for a fancy night out
Overall experience: 4.5/5.0 – would be 5.0 if we had seen a show
5. Kolaportid Flea Market
From Harpa Hall, colorful stripe lines guided us along the docks to Saga Museum. It was as though we were walking on the yellow brick road in the land of Oz. This is also where the tour boats depart for tours such as whale watching and puffin viewing.
We made it back on the main road and noticed people going through these big doors and we followed suit. It turned out to be the Kolaportid Flea Market where you can find clothes, food, and toys at a discount. Though it is a good place for local Icelanders, the offering here is meek and not really something I’d bring back to the States. We did visit the little food court and had our first Icelandic donut. It was lightly sweetened and a lot more “doughy” than American donuts. I actually really enjoyed it.
Our tour guide for the Golden Circle later told us that hundreds of Icelanders had lined up for the grand opening of Dunkin’ Donuts that summer. Maybe Icelanders prefer the sweeter, fluffier American donuts to these doughy Icelandic donuts.
Come here if: you want to see local Icelanders going about their daily life
Overall experience: 3.5/5.0
Recommendation: skip if you’re short on time
6. Saga Museum
Maybe we expected too much. Maybe we should have just plopped down the $40 to dress ourselves in Viking costumes to take a few pictures in the same setup that everyone else who came here had. Maybe we weren’t ready mentally to appreciate the inspirational lack of inspiration that is the Saga Museum.
We decided not to plop down the money after all. Side note, the #1 recommended restaurant (MATUR OG DRYKKUR) according to TripAdvisor (Oct 2015) is the little café inside the Saga Museum. If you were heading out this way for the restaurant, I guess a little poking around for the museum part wouldn’t hurt. We were still full so didn’t stick around to get fat happy here.
Come here if: you want eat at MATUR OG DRYKKUR restaurant
Overall experience: 2.5/5.0
7. Domkirkja Krists Konungs (Cathedral of Christ the King)
After the shock of Saga Museum, we walked aimlessly up the street and wandered to this little gem. It’s a landmark on the little map we were carrying around but had no attraction name because it’s for local Icelandic church services. With the clouds that day, the cathedral looked like something from a vampire movie. The neighborhood was quiet. There were a few people walking around but it was entirely too eerie for us… until the door opened and people were seen inside attending afternoon service. Maybe they were vampires!!!
Overall experience: 4.0/5.0 for the fear factor
8. Tungata road
From the cathedral, we walked along Tungata road towards Parliament House. We stopped in a little garden with this interesting stone structure. Upon further inspection we realized it was a gift from Latvia to celebrate Iceland’s independence. Upon further further inspection of the area, we realized the street was filled with ambassador residences. It was really odd because there were no security of any kind (or none that we could perceive with our humanly eyes). At this point it dawned on me that Iceland is really safe, not that we had any fear whatsoever walking around town up to that point. But this cemented my hesitant inclination. To learn more about this, read 33 tips for first timers to Iceland.
9. Parliament House
This was Parliament House? It looked like one of those historic hotels. We walked around the house thinking it was around the corner, but that was it. There it was in all its glorious non-gloriousness. If we didn’t have the little map telling us it was Parliament House, we would have walked right past it without giving a second thought. Actually, we did do that. What I’m trying to say is, “Thank you map.” This experience was really refreshing to me because of how “normal” the government here appeared to be.
10. City Hall
We had stowed the map away at this point and was wandering aimlessly. There’s a statue of a half man, half rock that drew us to the lake where a long bridge led us to City Hall. I thought we were entering a café but it was clear that the building was for official business of some kind. We didn’t really know what kind of business because the only thing going on was a backgammon championship being streamed over the web. I guess if there’s a lull in official governmental business you could rent out the place for important events like this backgammon championship.
Oh, there’s a huge map of Iceland in City Hall that might be of some interest. Swans and birds are also plentiful out in the water outside City Hall. Bring bread… I guess.
This stop was the end of our city tour. We made it back to Laugavegur (which is basically right next to City Hall) and strolled through the shops. We bought a fridge magnet – the only souvenir we normally bring back from any of our trips.
Overall experience: 4.0/5.0
Another excellent nap later, we woke up craving blood (probably because that cathedral turned us to vampires). So of course we went to Ostabudin for some whale meat. We had high expectations for Ostabudin as it was a top 10 restaurants on TripAdvisor; it didn’t disappoint.
The restaurant was packed with hungry vampires like us. The decoration was simple and the menu was a one pager. I ordered the whale steak appetizer and can’t really remember anything after that. Okay, if you’re all up in arms about me eating whale, go read my other post (linked above) before passing judgment, or gas.
It was delicious. Quite possibly the best thing I had in Iceland. Three small strips were served. Lightly seared, the meat is equivalent to a really juicy and delicious prime cut of beef. The light seasoning that came with the strips was the perfect compliment. Then some wine happened. Some other food was consumed and the meal was over. I remembered the food being a little too salty but I didn’t care anymore at that point. The meal was good.
We came back to Hotel Fron and relaxed. Our Northern Lights boat tour was canceled due to stormy weather, and it would be canceled the following night as well.
Overall experience: 4.5/5.0
Recommendation: go here
GeoIceland was the tour company we went with for our Golden Circle tour, and I highly recommend them. It was super easy to get in contact with them and no payment was required until the tour was over. Javier (our tour guide and owner of GeoIceland) picked us up from the hotel. He was very knowledgeable as he holds degrees in geology. This Spaniard knew his stuff. He also operated his tours in the opposite direction of other tours so you’re always walking against traffic. The small size of the tour group also made it a lot more comfortable and intimate. It’s no wonder they’re the #1 tour company in Iceland.
1. Hveragerdir earthquake town
Our first stop was a small town 30 minutes outside of Reykjavik known for its numerous earthquakes. Did you know that dozens of earthquakes take place in Iceland every day? If you’re curious, read 33 tips for first timers to Iceland.
This stop was short but informative as we learned about the geology of Iceland and its short history on Earth. Inside the small shopping center, you can use the restroom and stare down a crevice cutting through the bottom of the floor. There are a few other small shops but they were mostly closed.
2. Faxi waterfall
Our second stop was this incredibly picturesque waterfall known as Faxi. Side note: there are a LOT of waterfalls in Iceland. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. You can also walk out and stand right next to it for some awesome pictures. We lucked out as the sky cleared up and the sun shining on the surface of the water gave us some beautiful shots.
Next to the waterfall is a small circular pen where farmers herd sheep for the annual shaving. We spent about half an hour here before heading to the famous Gullfoss waterfall.
Overall experience: 5.0/5.0
3. Gullfoss waterfall
Perhaps one of the more famous attractions in Iceland, Gullfoss waterfall makes Niagra Falls look like a little baby. There are several lookouts so there are plenty of places to take pictures. You can see the river upstream and it turns into a violent waterfall. Niagra Falls might be wider in size but it’s not as violent as Gullfoss.
We walked out to the second level of the waterfall. The mist from the water crashing against the wall and river beneath soaked us. It was difficult taking pictures down here due to the constant water blowing in our face. There are several dry spots to stand and take it all in. It felt grand – like Lord of the Rings grand.
Legend has it that there was an old farmer who threw gold into the waterfall to prevent people from taking it upon his passing; and that’s why the waterfall is called Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall). The other theory for the name is that at certain times during the day, the sun’s reflection on the waterfall gives it a golden hue for which it is named. I’m pretty sure there’s gold in there though.
Take your time to really enjoy the view here. This is a stop that all tour buses will make so it will get really crowded. I suggest coming here in the offseason or go see other waterfalls if you’re visiting in the summer – that’s if you don’t like crowds.
Overall experience: 5.0/5.0
Geysir was aptly name for the geyser that used to blow there, but it’s no longer active. Instead, there is another geyser next to Geysir that erupts once every 5 minutes. The whole area is filled with pools of hot water – some were even boiling. Boiled eggs anyone? You can walk up the hill for a more panoramic view.
We walked around a bit but overall weren’t too excited about it. It was probably because the smell was really strong that day. The wind didn’t help either.
There’s a big shop nearby with food and souvenir. The food wasn’t that great.
Overall experience: 3.5/5.0
5. Thingvellir National Park
I loved this place. It’s probably my favorite attraction in Iceland thus far. This valley is the historic gathering place for Iceland’s parliament. Because the landscape here is constantly changing, Icelanders create makeshift houses annually during the gathering. Not only is the site a historic attraction, it is a geological gem. The valley here is being pulled apart by the Eurasian and American tectonic plates. This is evident by the gashes and ridges that can be readily seen.
We were here in October so autumn colors provided the perfect compliment to the rugged and raw landscape. There is a house nestled in all this greatness. It is a most idyllic setting for the avid photographers. Every few steps will provide more opportunities to snap away. I’m going to stop describing the place. You just have to see it for yourself. It’s breathtaking and definitely worth the visit.
Overall experience: 5.0/5.0
This was the best meal of the trip, at a price of course. This dimly lit restaurant offers some of the most delicious dishes in all of Iceland. I ordered the goose breast and legs. My fiancé ordered the pasta dish. It was a lot of food, and every bite was as delicious as the first. The staff was very friendly and made some excellent recommendations (like the Icelandic alcoholic coffee).
We were left to enjoy our meals. It was definitely a laid back atmosphere. This was the one restaurant that stood out from the rest and I would highly recommend it.
Overall experience: 5.0/5.0
1. KEF, Iceland to US
There was nothing truly interesting about our flight back to the Emerald City except that border patrol agents were on strike so we had to wait an hour to get through security. Yay home!
For all the pictures of the trip, go to this gallery.