Iceland Air made it very easy to scratch off Reykjavik from our bucket list with a free stop over on our summer vacation trip to Germany and Croatia. An underpopulated island cast away near the top of the globe, Iceland is a vast volcanic force that shaped the earth: geysers gush, waterfalls cascade, ice-covered volcanoes rumble and glaciers cut great pathways through the mountains. The green is greener than our green, the air is crisp and clean. Paradise for nature lovers.
Iceland has worked hard to recover from financial upheaval, and successfully transformed into a destination that mesmerizes everybody. The counterpoint to so much natural beauty is found in Iceland’s cultural life: medieval sagas, contemporary live music, handicrafts and art. The Icelandic people are famous for their green, progressive thinking and individual style.
Happy to report that the island is still not over crowded despite the immense increase in visitors.
The flight with Iceland Air was easy and quick, after only 5 hours we landed at Keflavik airport. With our rental car, we made it to the most northern capital in the world in about 45 minutes.The sky was hovering above us in a middle blue with grey scattered clouds, the air was so crisp. Only a quick fast food dinner was available to help our hungry bellies. Happy to have quickly found our beautiful airbnb in a residential street right in Reykjavik. The sleep that night was the best.
Day 1: Exploring Reykjavik
Day 1: Exploring Reykjavik
After a great breakfast at a local brunch place we felt strengthened and ready for our city excursion. First stop, Hallgrímskirkja church, Reykjavík’s main landmark. The tower can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. I love to go up on towers to see the city we are visiting from bird’s eyes view. The inside of the church is fairly simple but we loved the huge organ which was built by a German craftsman. Hendrix always lights a candle when visiting a church thinking of his grandparents in heaven. The line going into the elevator to go up to the tower moved fast. The ticket can be bought in the souvenir shop in the church. Hendrix loved climbing up to the big clock and looking down over Reykjavik was great although we were not blessed with sunshine.
After the tower visit we walked down a street called Skolavoroustigu and found this super cool little photography gallery and store Fotografi offering very unique and original photos taken by local photographers. Tony and I are huge Bjork fans and the owner of the shop photographed her many times when she played clubs in the capital. We were so excited that we got this great Bjoerk black and white print for only 20 Euro. Hendrix picked a really beautiful photo of active lava. What a gem. You have to go here when in Reykavjik.
Strolling down the street we ran into an ice bear but thank god Hendrix had already transformed into a Viking (thanks to the countless souvenir shops) so he was able to fend him off with his new silver sword. Just kidding, the bear was not real of course. We walked around for at least 2 hours and stopped in different stores, galleries and markets. It was August but pretty cold. First we were wondering why some people were wearing wooly hats but after a few hours I realized that we should have brought warmer clothes. The hats and gloves in the stores were very expensive and we were hoping not to need the wooly hat in Croatia so we decided not get any warm items.
We walked all the way to the harbor and spent at least an hour running around on the human-size chess board. The harbor is so cute. Beautiful scenery of quaint boats with a backdrop of mountains in low hanging clouds. The harbor offered interesting boat tours but we felt we did not have enough time for one. Hopefully next time.
It is definitely time to eat something but that seemed to be a bigger challenge than we thought. Hendrix is a very picky eater and although most restaurants have a kids menu, don’t count on good old chicken fingers and fries or pasta with marina sauce. The kids menu offered a strange fish selection and really nothing our son would ever eat. Needless to say, we looked around for a while to find something that we all like. We settled on a Spanish tapas restaurant but the food was mediocre and expensive but were happy to sit down and discuss the weird meat choices on menus in this country, such as kangaroo, horse and even their national bird is being turned into a dish.
If we had a little bit more energy and less jet lag, we would have chosen to visit the Blue Lagoon late afternoon. The famous geothermal spa is a 50 minute drive from Reykjavik, close to Keflavik airport. But we all did’t feel like driving and spending a city day was our idea of happiness.
Did you know though that the Blue Lagoon is a man-made lagoon carved into the lava rock fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every two days? Man made or not, the lagoons mineral rich water is suppose to be relaxing, rejuvenating and great for your skin. We will definitely put the spa onto our itinerary for the next time.
Day 2: Countryside excursion: Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir (hot spring), horseback ride on Iceland horses
We learned a valuable lesson on Iceland’s streets. Don’t save money on a rental car when you want to explore the country side!!!! We rented a small car and soon found out that an SUV would have been the better choice. I was so proud that I printed driving directions at home in case we had no cell service not realizing, google had sent us off roads and not on the main highway. At first it didn’t seem so bad, the asphalt had stopped and the street was made out of little pebbles. But after only a short while we feared that the thin tires of our rental car would not last too long on this street. Well, we didn’t really had a great choice. Turning around would have been the same distance so we decided to pray and to be hopeful that we don’t get a flat. During this off road excursion we stopped at some of the most magnificent nature spots. The green of Iceland’s grass is just way greener than our green at home. It was a cloudy and misty day and the dark grey volcanic rock against the green was just so beautiful. Exactly how the poster in the subway portrait it and even way more impressive.
After we finally finished the part of the road that had no asphalt and we made it through without a flat we took a little detour to get back to the main road which was totally fine to drive on with the car we had.
Hendrix was so excited about the horseback ride so we decided to do that first. All 3 attractions from our itinerary are very close together. At the Geysir Hestar stable we were greeted by a super friendly teenage girl (Nina) from Norway who was living and working in Iceland for the summer. Hendrix loved her immediately because she reminded him off his German cousins girl friend. We were very lucky in our timing because we had booked a tour with about 8 people total but somehow nobody else showed up and Nina took us out on a 1 hour ride all by ourselves. It was such a magical afternoon.
Hendrix has never been on a horse (only at the fair) and Tony and I had done horse rides in our youth. Equipped with a rain coat from the stable we went to meet the horses. Icelandic horses are so calm and beautiful, their nature very easy going, not too big in size and they listen very well. Hendrix had no fear and loved talking to them and stroking them. Nina put saddles on for us and the only difficult part to remember were the Icelandic names of our horses. Mine was Eldur (fire), Tony’s Helgi (saint) and Hendrix was riding on Gydja (god).
Hendrix got comfortable very quickly and the instructions were very easy to follow. Pull the reign to make the horse stop, pull left for left, pull right for right and let loose to let them go. Only thing she wanted us to pay attention to is not to let the horse eat grass and pull the reigns when the horse was trying to put the head down to eat. A little practice around on the grounds of the stable and off we go into the beautiful Icelandic nature. First we had to cross a street, but there were not many cars and this task was handled with excellence. Riding along a little dirt path our way was lined with bushes, beautiful flowers and Icelandic rocks. We could see the glacier as well as the hot springs in the far distance. The clouds were holding off the rain for us. When we reached the river we were all very excited to cross it and Hendrix did an amazing job. Calmly he let his horse find the right grip on the rocks and he managed to get through the water easily. Hendrix was singing the entire time and chatting with our beautiful guide. She told us many stories about her time in Iceland and she knew everything about the horses. We learned that the Icelandic horse who leaves the country can never return so the breed stays pure. We were so happy that we got our own private tour. By the way, one hour was the perfect amount of time for a 9 year old who has never sat on a horse before. Many tours are longer but for us this was the perfect length. When we got back we were all so happy. Definitely one of the best things we did this trip. I am posting a video of how Hendrix and his horse crossed the river at the video section.
Next stop just down the road was the magnificent and iconic Gullfoss waterfall which offered a spectacular view of the forces and beauty of untouched nature. Behind the clouds above the waterfall we could see clear blue sky peek out and the mist of the waterfall was very refreshing. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon which walls reach up to 70 meters in height.
Just watch where you are going. Right by the edge of the waterfall there was only a rope that separated you from the roaring water. We were joking that back home in the US this would never be allowed.
Walking up to the waterfall along the path was so exciting that Hendrix even started to take pictures. And that is rare.
Gullfoos is located in South Iceland on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull which we could see in the background right when we parked the car.
Last stop on our country day was the highly active Geysir hot spring area with boiling mud pits, exploding geysers and the lively Strokkur which spouts water 30 metres (100 ft) into the air every few minutes. Immediately when you get to the Geysir area you can smell the sulfur. Hendrix was not very happy about the rotten egg smell but as soon as the first hot spring exploded he was so fascinated that he forgot about the bad smell. You get use to it quickly. In the video section you can see a video I took of the Strokkur exploding.
On our way back we took the main highway. Lesson learned. It took us a good hour to get back to Reykjavik and we were starving. What to eat was the big question again. We chose a steak house but experienced the same dilemma as the day before. Mediocre food for a ridiculous amount of money for steak and I don’t even want to tell you how much the cheapest bottle of wine was. It stays a secret. Hendrix only survived this culinary dilemma but binging on Nutella crepes.
When we were done eating it was about 11 pm and it was fascinating that it was not even a tiny bit dark, it looked like dawn. The steak house was right across the harbor so we took a little stroll at the harbor admiring the beautiful scenery.
Good bye Iceland. We loved you and we will be back for sure. Next time we really want to see the Northern Lights (we were too early in the season for them), relax in the hot spa and explore more nature in our SUV rental car. I am sure by then the Icelandic people will also have a better grip on all the tourists that come through their airport and their magnificent country.