We arrived in Iceland super excited to spend Memorial Day Weekend with six of our best friends from the USA. If we couldn’t all be at the beach in New Jersey, we decided to reunite for an adventure in Reykjavik.
We all shared an amazing Airbnb right in the centre of the city and off of the main shopping street which is lined with tons of shops, cafes, and restaurants. Our adventure began right away when we realised that although our Airbnb was listed as 2 bathrooms, it was actually 1 bathroom with a toilet and 1 bathroom with a tub. A tub with no shower. A tub with a hose that you had to use to bathe your body. We all laughed it off, but it certainly made for an interesting time when 8 people had to clean up.
We had a full packed few days ahead of us, although we were only there for a long weekend, we wanted to try and see as much as possible. We planned a ton of tours to cover as much ground as possible. And everything we did was AWESOME. I would highly suggest every tour and every company we used. All our tour guides were SO COOL. They were all young guys who loved being Icelanders and knew their country inside and out.
We learned so many interesting things from them, including:
- Iceland has a population of about 330k, with almost 200k living in Reykjavik. For such a huge country, this just shows how desolate majority of it is.
- It is the northernmost capital, located on the edge of the Arctic Circle.
- With Iceland being so heavily concentrated, it’s highly likely that the stranger you meet (and may be interested in) at the bar, could quite possibly be a distant relative. Enter: Book of Icelanders – an app created just for natives where you can enter both of your names to ensure your genealogical lines don’t cross. Crazy how ‘anti-incest’ is a normal thing, apparently it happens more than you think!
- Name reversals – every generation, a person’s first and last name switch – so the grandfather John Smith, would have a son, Smith John, who would then have a son John Smith.
- Prohibition – wine was leagalised in 1922, followed by alcoholic spirits in 1935. What’s missing? Can you believe beer was not legalised in Iceland until 1989?!? It’s now the most popular alcoholic beverage.
- There are 3x as many sheep as people! They estimate there are about 800-1M living there.
- The first Costco opened a week before we got there, in May 2017. And Icelanders were crazy for it.
Now let’s get started on our trip!
Bright & early wake up call for our first tour. We had amazing weather, which we were all SO grateful for. This tour showed us how stunning of a country Iceland truly is. We saw miles of open green fields, but would then have to crawl through these low lying clouds where there was absolutely no visibility on the road, which our guide reassured us is the norm in Iceland!
- Faxi Waterfall
- Gullfoss Waterfall
- Geysir Hot Spring at the Haukadalur Geothermal area
- The Rift Between Eurasian & American Continent
- Thingvellir National Park
We had a really fun dinner at Matwerk Kitchen, where we shared lots of small plates and cheersed with yummy drinks. Did I mention that Reykjavik is SO expensive? We knew this when we planned the trip, but man does it not really hit you until you get there and try to buy a coffee & croissant and pay $12. Or two 6 packs of beer for $30. Almost everything in Iceland is imported (so little can be grown there) therefore, everything is a major commodity. Spend with caution! After dinner, we headed straight out to a bar crawl, led by a super fun guide, Woody 🙂
Bar Crawl with Wake Up Reykjavik
This was seriously soooo fun. I don’t recall the names of every bar we went to, but the highlights were the Icelandic Bar where we had the local delicacy of fermented shark washed down with a shot of Schnapps. BLEH! It smelt horrible, but the alcohol helped to kill the taste. Even our Icelandic tour guide isn’t really a fan, but when in Reykjavik!
Another fun stop was the The Lebowski Bar where we had these lethal Wcocoa puff cocktails. The crowd was lots of young people, so we had an awesome time dancing and being silly. Honestly, we crawled around the main street, Laugavegur, for a while, and even though it was getting later and later, we weren’t getting tired because the sun pretty much does not go down! It never actually gets pitch black, the darkest probably being between like 4-5am. I’ve never experienced anything like it… pretty incredible but also very dangerous, haha!
The next day we had a late & lazy wake up, but luckily our first order of business was a food crawl! We had the best guide ever, Gylfi, this adorable Icelandic 18 year old boy who was sooo enthusiastic. To say we were obsessed with him is putting it mildly, we seriously wanted to adopt him into our group permanently!
Reykjavik Food Tour with Wake Up Reykjavik
- Icelandic Bar – started off at this local bar for some beers and a delicious and warming traditional meat soup.
- Ostabudin – gourmet delicatessen where we tried some local cured meats and cheeses (still not sure how I feel about eating horse…)
- Cafe Loki – home made RYE BREAD ice cream from a secret family recipe. This was seriously delicious!
- Tjörnin Lake – we stopped by this lovely little lake for a quick chat and tour regroup. Gylfi told us stories about coming here as a child with his mom. He also handed out Icelandic Skyr yogurts for all of us to take home!
- Saegreifinn aka The Seabaron – old school seafood restaurant with notorious Seabaron who’s wax figure sits in the restaurant. We had a seafood soup with huge chunks of lobster.
- Baejarins Beztu Pylsur – Reykjavik’s famous hot dog stand – served with a sweet and sour like sauce, liquid cheese, and ketchup. A little weird for me.
- Our last stop was a trio of rich desserts and coffee at Apotek. By this point, we could barely fit anything else in our stomachs, so just used this time to warm up a bit.
After the tour was over, we went back to the house to change and grab our stuff to head to the infamous Blue Lagoon. We all took naps on the hour long bus ride, and woke up refreshed and ready to relax in the geothermal spa. We all decided to treat ourselves and get the package that included slippers, a robe, an extra face mask, and 4 beverages.
It was probably about 50°F outside, so we were pretty cold going in. The geothermal water comes from 2,000 meters below the surface, where seawater and freshwater combine and are harnessed by drills to create electricity for local communities. While it is en route to the surface, the water mixes with minerals and emerges at around 98-104°F. The geothermal water has tons of benefits stemming from the silica, minerals and algae that it contains. The warm water soothes muscles, and many of the minerals and algae are excellent for moisturizing your skin. The silica is extra drying, so they advise not to get your hair wet, and to apply the masks to keep your skin hydrated. We had a blast floating around, drinking, and applying spa treatments. I’ve heard from many people that the Blue Lagoon is “too touristy” but I don’t think it’s something that can be missed. If you want to go for a more relaxing experience, head either later in the day or go for a more personalised spa treatment. Regardless, don’t miss this amazing & unique spot.
Since we basically closed down the Blue Lagoon, we arrived back at our Airbnb pretty late. We were all wiped from the night before, and decided to have a Domino’s pizza party at our house instead of forcing ourselves to go out. It was a fun night drinking on the top floor and playing games – a lovely afternoon and evening of bonding with my best friends 🙂 🙂 🙂
The next day we were off on another tour. Unfortunately, we weren’t blessed with the amazing weather we had a couple of days prior and were instead met with heavy rain & extreme wind. And we were NOT prepared.
It seemed that the further along we got on our tour, the conditions worsened. We were literally drenched, as none of us had the proper rain gear or shoes or anything for that matter. While everything we saw was pretty incredible, it makes me really upset when I see images of these places in good weather because they look INSANE. I could barely take out my camera because it was just getting pummeled with rain. A little bit of a let down, but we still made the best of it!
- Skogafoss Waterfalls – first place we got drenched due to wind blowing water from the wall directly into our faces.
- Reynisfjara – an amazing black sand beach where Kristin ingeniously thought to ask the canteen for 8 garbage bags. We then proceed to cut holes through for our heads and arms, and wore the bags as an extra layer of protection against the torrential rain. The pictures from here are priceless.
- Solheimajökull Glacier – the first time I’ve ever seen a glacier! This was probably the best conditions we had all day, but regardless, we pretty much ran there and back just to get some pictures.
- Seljalandfoss – the last stop of the day which was a massive waterfall that you can walk behind. I’m sure you can assume what happened here….. the wind was unreal at this point and I don’t think I’ve ever been so wet while wearing clothes. Couldn’t even bring my camera out at this stop… such a bummer!!!
We were thrilled to get home, shower, get warm, and be DRY! Since it was our last night, we wanted to go to a nicer dinner and decided on Grillmarkadurinn, a super cool restaurant with a farm to table concept. We shared lots of dishes & delish wine, the perfect meal to end an amazing trip. We finished the night off with lots of drinks and dancing at The English Pub, to a great cover band playing all our college jams.
A few of us had the morning to explore on the last day, and the first thing on our list to see was the famous church of Reykjavik, Hallgrímskirkja. We went to the top of the tower which has expansive views over the city. To complete our trip, we finished with burgers and shakes at Vitabar to cure our hangovers and prepare us for the flights ahead.
We had the most incredible trip to Reykjavik – everything from the people, to the food, to the sites was phenomenal. Iceland is a seriously gorgeous country, with some of the most unique and impressive landscapes I have ever seen. If there ever is a next time, I definitely have learned my lesson to pack for every type of weather imaginable.