Iceland – Reykjavík

In case you missed it…

After dropping Anna off at the airport, we made our way back towards Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland and home to about 2/3 of the country’s population. We were going to be here for just one night before heading off to Akureyri for a few days and returning for another night before our flight home.

Hallgrimskirkja Church.

Our Airbnb was about 20 minutes outside of the city center, nestled in a quiet neighborhood with a lane divider meaning you had to come down the street going the correct direction or make a dramatic loop around the needlessly large block to be able to access the driveway.

In order to lengthen our funds, we decided to head to the local Bónus supermarket and get some ingredients to make spaghetti, since the place we were staying had a full kitchen. While I made dinner, Rachel had started on doing some laundry. We had picked this particular Airbnb because it had a washer and dryer, which meant we could cut our packed clothes in half.

Clearly, we don’t understand how European washers work…

After starting to run our clothes through the wash, we noticed that the wash cycle never ended. Eventually, we had to force the washer to stop, never figuring out how to put it through a drain cycle, so when we opened the door, the clothes were sitting in a puddle of water. I tried for a little while to Google the model of the washer and tried to figure it out but in the end, we had to improvise. Rachel and I created an assembly line, where I fished the clothes out of the washer, ringing them out before passing them to her to ring them out further in the shower and putting them into the dryer. We continued this for the entire load, minus the few items that we had to hang dry around the room (like merino wool base layers.)

After the adventure that was laundry, we wanted to explore downtown with the remaining daylight that was available. We hopped back in our Kia and made the quick drive to a parking lot outside of the Hallgrimskirkja Church.

The Hallgrimskirkja Church dominates the iconic skyline that we associate with Reykjavik. Its design was inspired by the basalt columns that decorate the country’s volcanic landscape and sits atop a hill that overlooks the whole city and harbor. The church took a relatively long time to build. The local parish started looking for designs in the 1920s before an architect was selected and construction began in 1945; however, the church’s construction didn’t finish until 1986, thirty-six years after the death of the original designer.

Me and my boy, Leif.

While the majestic spire steals your attention at first, the building does offer much more. The front door is large and beautiful, decorated with imagery and text. In front of the church is a statue of Leif Erikson, the Nordic explorer thought to have been the first European to have set foot in North America. The statue was gifted to Iceland by the United States in 1930 as a commemmoration of the 1,000th anniversary of Iceland’s first parliament meeting at Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir in English) which also happens to be the oldest parliament in the world.

After making Rachel take a lot a couple pictures of me posing in front of Leif Erikson, we wandered into the city, choosing one of the many streets that lead away from the church into the shopping and restaurant district of the city. We wandered the streets, popping into souvenir shops and bookstores and a cool Viking-inspired shop that sold carved axes and jewelry.

Rye bread ice cream.

Wanting a break from the mild climb of the hilly roads, we stopped in the famous Kaffi Loki. I got a local beer and we split a rye bread ice cream complete with cream and a tasty rhubarb syrup. It was delicious! This took us towards the end of the night and we were back near our car so we headed back to our Airbnb for the night to rest before heading up to Akureyri.

On our way back through, at the end of our trip, we stopped for another night in Reykjavik. The morning of our flight home, we had a few extra hours to go back to the city where we were able to see the Sun Voyager sculpture, a symbol of freedom and hope.

Sun Voyager looking over Mt. Esja.

Reykjavik is a wonderful city and I cannot wait to go back. Do you have any can’t miss spots in Iceland or is it on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below.

Iceland – Vík To Höfn

Continued from Part 1.

From here, we headed east along the Ring Road. We took a few short stops during our drive, but one was extra epic. There was a gravel road that ran off of the highway and we decided to follow it. Thankfully, we had a 4×4 vehicle because this drive was bumpy. We inched along bump by bump until we flattened out into a parking lot. We had made it to Sveitarfélagið Hornafjörður, a beautiful fjord that offers glacier hikes and an incredible view. We did a quick change of outfits and were so excited about our find that we had to bust out some dance moves.

Fun fact: This glacier was one of the landing spots for the first aerial circumnavigation of the world in 1924.

Along the highway, on either side of a bridge, you arrive at Diamond Beach. Jökulsárlón lagoon carries mini iceburgs out to the sea from the Breidamerkurjokull glacier giving incredible photo opportunities who want to capture the beautiful, blue-clear ice shining against the black sand. It definitely earned its namesake, in terms of looks. While we were enjoying the view, one seemingly brave individual unzipped his jacket to reveal a wetsuit and grabbed a surfboard from his vehicle. He ended up just snapping some photos of himself with a remote-controlled camera.

That night, we stayed in Höfn, a small harbor village. We got some subs with local fish and ice cream before calling it a night. My cold was really acting up and I sat outside in the Airbnb’s common area doing my best not to keep everyone awake with my coughing. Extra strength menthol cough drops were my lifeline during this trip. Those and bags of sweet chili pepper Doritos. As the night went on and I tried to make myself tired enough to sleep through my cough, I was looking at the My Aurora Forecast app to see if we had any chance of seeing the northern lights. It was too cloudy the entire time we were there, but there was some magnetic activity in the area that night.

The next morning, we drove up to the Viking Cafe, near the Vestrahorn mountain. For 800 Icelandic Króna (ISK), you can visit an abandoned viking village movie set, an easy walk from the cafe. You’re free to roam the grounds and explore, but by the time we reached the settlement, the rain and snow had picked up and we were getting pelted and drenched, cutting our exploration to just a brief run through.

After we made it back to the car, we took a short drive to the Stokksnes area – a gorgeous beach with dramatic views. Between windstorms throwing sand at us, a frigid breeze, and more snow, we managed to have an outfit change and take my favorite photos of the trip. I’m cutting this paragraph short because I cannot find words to describe Anna’s work here.

For our trip back, we stopped at the same Airbnb in Vík as our first night (where I once again tried to stay up until the middle of the night to have a chance at seeing the northern lights) and revisited Reynisfjara. Along the road to the beach is the Loftsalahellir Cave, which you can get to after a steep, muddy climb. We snapped a few more photos and continued on. We had to drop Anna off at the airport before Rachel and I continued to Reykjavik and then the north.

We were one small slip away from being covered in mud trying to get here.

The Ring Road is essentially the only way to traverse most of Iceland. There aren’t secondary or tertiary routes to follow, so if something happens on route 1, it happens to everyone trying to drive on that section. We ended up in a long standstill that resulted from a car crash a few kilometers ahead. Rumor was (I spoke with a lady that had a badge so I believe her) that the family had to be evacuated by helicopter, though I never thoroughly followed up on the story to see how valid that was. Nothing pops up on Google, so I have to assume the incident was minor. We eventually got through and dropped Anna off at the airport, saying our goodbyes and heading off for the second half of our trip.

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Iceland – Keflavík To Vík

Our Roadtrip Around The Southern Half Of The Island Nation

Rachel responded to a post she saw on Instagram from a couples photographer who was looking to go to Iceland and invited a couple along to split the cost in exchange for a photo shoot. This was how we met Anna.

I knew of Iceland and it had been recommended to me by several friends, but as someone who despises the cold, it never climbed high on my to-go list. Oh boy, how that has changed. I would go back anytime now.

We flew into Keflavík Airport in mid-March, nearing the end of winter. You basically have two seasons in Iceland – winter offers the best chance to see the aurora and summer gives you the midnight sun and the longest days to explore the country with.

I was feeling a bit under the weather. A cold had been spreading around my workplace and had finally gotten to me right before we left for the trip. It would end up sticking with me for nearly two months before we left for a trip to Cancun.

Anna had been to Iceland a number of times before so she was all prepared to load us into our rented Kia Sportage, hook up a transportable WiFi device (I definitely recommend renting one for ~$10/day) and start driving us away from the airport. It’s a lot of barren land between Kevlavik and Reykjavik, the nation’s capital and largest city. Barren land and roundabouts. I still hear “take the second exit towards Hafnarfjörður in my head from our drive back to the airport.

Seljalandsfoss.

Driving on route 1, the highway known as the ring road because it makes a circle around the island, we were essentially making a U around the bottom half of the country. Our first stop was Seljalandsfoss, where we found a number of beautiful waterfalls and fell on our butts traversing the slippery ice. The drive around here was awe-inspiring; your jaw drops as you pass mountain after mountain, waterfall after waterfall, each location more beautiful and impressive than the last.

Right outside of our Airbnb.

For the first night, we stayed near the town of Vík, the southern most village in the county with a population of about 300. We stayed in a cute little room that was nestled on a farm off the main highway. We were met by a nice woman and her black labrador, let into our room, and from there we planned our excursion. We headed into town to grab a veggie burger platter from the gas station (this would become a recurring theme) and stopped by Reynisfjara for a quick visit to the famous black sand beaches and basalt columns to shoot a few photos. As we strolled along the beach, everyone was heading up the beach, towards the parking lot. Before I could realize why I was the only person close to the water, a sneaker wave engulfed my legs, soaking my bottom half. I was lucky enough to maintain balance, but my boots and pants were drenched and I had to leave them to dry for the next two days. There are a myriad of signs warning of the dangers of sneaker waves and I just happened to be the person not to heed them.

The wave got me just a moment after this.

The next morning, we woke up early and took a (very) quick hop down the road to visit Skógafoss. This wonderful waterfall (“wonderfall,” if you will) is visible from the road and a big tourist attraction, which makes waking up early a must. As we approached, we really felt the power that the fall had. It was loud and grew exponentially the closer you stepped. We ditched our jackets and Anna snapped some great pictures that captured our modest selves juxtaposed against the height of the falls. There was a steep staircase that took you to an observation platform for another vantage point. [Continued in the next post…]

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A Perfect Stay In Akureyri

Iceland has been in the news this week with consistent earthquake tremors that have led some to believe a volcanic eruption in the populated southwestern peninsula is imminent. No need to worry, however; both Reykjavík and Keflavík Airport are deemed to be out of the way of potential lava flow. While 2/3 of the Icelandic population live near the capital, the island nation offers so much more and a lot of that is in the north, where you can create a base in Akureyri – the country’s “northern capital.”

Akureyri, Iceland.
How To Get There

Traversing Iceland is relatively simple – you follow Highway 1 or the Ring Road in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. Leaving the capital region and its sea of countless roundabouts, you’ll be rewarded pleasantly by heading either way, but for the sake of this post, we’re heading north. Cross under the Hvalfjörður tunnel, bypassing the fjord’s vistas and about 45km, and continue along the Ring Road which will take you about 5 hours over mountains, one-lane bridges, and beautiful landscapes. There are several gas station stops along the way to fill up on fuel or grub. You’ll be coming down a mountain as you enter the city of 18,000.

The drive up to Akureyri is full of tons of places to stop for pictures.

*Big Tip* Please do not try to drive between the two cities during white-out conditions. The risk is not worth it.

Where To Stay

We stayed in a super cool tiny house that we found through Airbnb. It sat across the bridge overlooking the fjord and Akureyri from the eastern side. The place had a loft-style design and the side of the building that faced the water was almost entirely window, letting you wake up to an absolutely perfect view. The homeowner even left a pair of binoculars for you to try to catch some whales that swim up the fjord during certain times of the year.

Back down in the city, you can find a few more homestays as well as hostels such as Akureyri Backpackers, which offers quality rooms and a decent food menu. I recommend the potato wedges and a beer then take a walk over to grab some icecream from Brynja or Isbuden Akureyri.

*Tip* Use this link to save up to $65 off your first Airbnb stay.

Our tiny house with an incredible view of the fjord.
What To Do

In order to get the most out of a trip to the north of the island, it’s a good idea to take a tour of the Diamond Circle – a lesser known but, in my opinion, better version of the famous Golden Circle that is right outside of Reykjavík. This was our route:

⭐️Goðafoss is your first stop, a powerful waterfall surrounded by a legend that a lawspeaker transitioned Iceland into the Christian religion when he threw pagan idols into the water.

You’ll hear it from the road before you see it.

🔥 Dimmuborgir is a lava field covered by large lava tubes and several trails for you to explore around. It was used as a shooting location in a few Game of Thrones episodes, too. Unfortunately, the trails were heavily iced over, so we only took a few steps before deciding to skip this stop.

💧 Grjótagjá is a small lava cave with a thermal pool inside. It has two entrances where people can battle back and forth between which the correct in-and-out direction is. It’s pretty icy, has steep climbs to crawl up and down, and lacks any safety parameters, so be careful. This was also used in GoT, specifically the scene where Jon Snow and Ygritte finally share an intimate moment. The steam from the water is so hot that any picture I tried to take was immediately fogged up.

🥚 Námaskarð is a geothermal area covered in volcanic mud pools that you’ll smell before you see. Once you catch the scent of rotten eggs lingering in the sulfuric mist, you’ll know your close. The high winds will make it all the more intense. You can follow the trails around, catching photos of what I’d say is closer to a Martian landscape than that of Iceland.

It looks like a picture from NASA’s Perseverance camera.

🌋 Krafla is a place to stop for a hike that will take you to the caldera of a volcano and a picturesque lake sitting in the middle. We were pressed for time, so didn’t get to stop, but from what I’ve seen, it would be worth it. Make sure to look out for the toilet along the road.

💦 Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall (a statement disputed by Rhine Falls in Switzerland and dependent upon ice melt from the Vatnajökull glacier.) We made the nearly hour drive from our last stop up to Dettifoss after a snowfall. Once we arrived, the road to the falls was open so we continued forth at an incredibly slow pace traversing over rocky roads to preserve our rented car’s exterior. After what seemed like an eternity of bumpy driving, we arrived at the gates that said the falls were closed due to inclement weather. Sigh. About 100m ahead, we saw a truck that had attempted to make the drive in spite of the warning and was stuck in snow and ice. We didn’t want to chance it and turned around.

🛀 Mývatn Nature Baths make for a pleasant stop along the Diamond Circle. A less expensive option to the popular Blue Lagoon outside of Reykjavik, the Mývatn Nature Baths offer a chance to relax. The quick sprint from the locker room to the pool is cold and windy (trust me, you’re going to run, not walk), but once you get in the water, it is nice and warm. A nearby hot tub and sauna room make for cozy places to meet other travelers.

Hot thermal baths with a view.

If you don’t want to spend a day driving from place to place, you can stick to the nearby community in Akureyri. Whale watching companies offer tours that will give you free replacement tickets if you don’t have any luck spotting one the day you go. We opted to have an experience with a different type of animal – we rode Icelandic horses. Although they are a bit smaller, near pony-sized, they have two unique gaits and a heavy coat. A young German girl was staying in Iceland to help tend to the farm and took us on a tour on our two horses – Gelding and Jolly. Every once in a while, our guide’s horse would stop because “he saw ghosts” and mine just decided to wander into the grass randomly before I got him turned back around.

Highlighters on horses.

Akureyri is a great town and if you have more than two or three days in the country, I highly recommend checking out the capital of the north.