A Few Days in Reykjavík, Iceland
Iceland's popularity as a travel destination seems to have increased in the past few years. And with good reason: the scenery is incredible, otherworldly, and beyond stunning. Not to mention that Icelanders are an affable and hospitable people. Iceland is also pretty expensive and we were only there about four days - thus, Emmett and I didn't get to see much outside of the Reykjavík area. What we did see, though, we loved. Iceland is just another place on our list of countries we'd like to revisit and explore more. Here are our Reykjavík trip highlights.
Exploring Downtown Reykjavík
Reykjavík is a very clean city, orderly city. And, honestly, it's kinda cute. The population is only around 130,000; quite small when you consider that most of the other capital cities of Europe number in the millions. As visits to Iceland have increased, a lot of the sights of Reykjavík have become iconic. For instance, above is the Sun Voyager, a statue that serves both as a nod to Iceland's viking past and embodies the promises of hope & freedom. Some other iconic things we saw were the Harpa concert hall with it's multi-colored, multi-faceted glass paneling and the incredibly tall Hallgrímskirkja. Later, walking through the shops in town, we saw some old trolls on the sidewalk.
Camping at the Reykjavik City Campgrounds
As I mentioned in the post's intro, Iceland is expensive. To save money on accommodation, Emmett and I rented a tent from Gangleri Outfitters in the city central. Then we walked it across town to the Reykjavik Campsite, where we spent three chilly nights in the surprisingly quiet campgrounds. I highly recommend renting gear from Gangleri. The staff is very helpful and the prices are decent. And the campground is pretty great: the kitchens are really well-stocked and the bathrooms are quite clean.
Warming up in Lagaurdalslaug
Laugardalslaug is actually right next to the Reykjavik campgrounds. Despite that, even if we'd stayed somewhere else, I would have wanted to visit. The facilities feature an Olympic-sized swimming pool, two water slides, a saltwater pool, and numerous geothermally heated hot tubs. Plus it only costs 900 ISK for adults (about $7.75 USD). One afternoon when the weather was cold and rainy (as it often is in the city), we warmed ourselves up in the cozy hot pots while we chatted with some congenial locals. If you go, don't be fooled by the unassuming facade (below). It's a really well-maintained and comfortable facility.
We were lucky enough to be in Reykjavík during the weekend when they held Menningarnótt (Culture Night) in 2014. It's one of the largest festivals in the country and consists of tons of concerts, events, and food vendors. Not only that but entry to local museums and bus fares are free for the day. While Reykjavik can be somewhat quiet and subdued on your average weekday, Menningarnótt draws large crowds and turns the city into a much livelier place.
We visited the National Gallery of Iceland for free that evening. After checking out the artwork, we were invited to take part in an exhibit put on by the artist Snorri Ásmundsson for the museum's birthday celebration. A team of videographers was filming anyone who was interested as they stared silently into the camera. The videos were all going to be compiled into one long video that would play at the National Gallery birthday party. A few months later, in October, we got an email saying that our videos were currently on display! Cool stuff.
Hiking Mount Esja
Taking advantage of free bus fares in the city for Menningarnótt, Emmett and I decided to hike Mount Esja. Located just 10 km out of town, Esja is a stunning volcanic range that overlooks Reykjavik and it's harbors. The hike was a bit challenging, though it would definitely be easier for someone with more hiking experience than I. Luckily, the trail is dotted with signs that denote each section's easiness. The views of the city and the surreal green landscape were breathtaking.
Seeking Street Art
It seemed like there was a colorful mural or cheeky graffiti piece on every street in Reykjavik. We spent one afternoon ducking around countless street corners in search of more and more street art. The city did not disappoint.
The Golden Circle Tour: Þingvellir, Geysir, & Gullfoss
On our second to last day in Reykjavik, we booked a Golden Circle bus tour with the Gray Line tours company. The tour took us on a loop from the city to three attractions: Þingvellir National Park (above), Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss. Þingvellir (the Icelandic letter "Þ" is pronounced "th") is where the first parliament of Iceland convened in the year 930. Not only that, but it's located in a rift valley where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
At the Geysir Geothermal Area, our bus pulled up just as one of the geysers, Strokkur, erupted. The original Geysir of the area is the namesake of all others. It doesn't erupt very often anymore, however Strokkur erupts every few minutes and Litli Geysir (little geyser) erupts in small occasional spurts. The whole area was literally oozing with geothermal activity and steam. Neither of us have been to our own country's most famous geothermal wonderland of Yellowstone National Park, so seeing geysers and mineral-laden hot pools was very exciting and new.
One of the biggest waterfalls in Europe, Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is a two-step waterfall that cascades at a 90 degree angle straight into the chasms of the Hvítá river below. They're an incredible sight and, when seen from the parking lot above, the falls look like they disappear directly into the earth. On the very slippery viewing platform just next to the falls, we saw just how deep the gorge is around the river. Honestly, I was very glad to be wearing boots with a decent tread because one slip could have taken me on a nasty plummet 32 meters (105 ft) down into the churning water below. (The viewing platform is definitely not for the faint of heart or acrophobic).
Relaxing in the Blue Lagoon
Last but not least, we visited the famous Blue Lagoon. Inside the luxurious and somewhat expensive Lagoon facilities, we swam in the ethereal blue water as the misty rain became one with the steam from the warm water. We coated ourselves in the white silica mud of the lagoon and then relaxed for hours before spending a cold night in Keflavik Airport.
Like Lagaurdurslag, we didn't get many pictures inside because we didn't have any waterproof gear. We did snap a few pictures of the outer edges of the lagoon (above & below).