Iceland- What to Do Around Reykjavik

Ah Reykjavik!

It’s a beautiful city on the coast of Iceland. There are only about 200,000 people living in the greater Reykjavik area. The city is safe (in fact it felt safer than Lansing!), it’s clean, and extremely manageable in terms of navigation. And coming from me, a girl whose own parents call her directionally challenged, I never felt lost.

For my day in the city, I went where the wind took me. Of course, I had ideas of what I wanted to see/do, but I wanted to feel relaxed and on my own time. It was a fantastic way to spend the day, and I suggest you do the same thing!

I woke up, had breakfast and headed out into the city along the Sea Walkway.

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The Sun Voyager.

Of course, I had to visit Hallgrimskirkja church, an icon. Iceland is a Lutheran nation, and this parish is the largest church in Iceland & one of the biggest structures in Iceland.

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The statue of Leif Erikson in front of Hallgrimskirkja.

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You can go inside the church for free! *Note- If it’s a Sunday (like it was when I visited), the church will be closed for a few hours for service. It will open again around noon.

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Inside the parish.

While walking inside is free, if you want to go to the top of the church tower, you will need to pay about $10 USD for a ticket. You purchase this in the gift shop at the front of the church. There is a line, as only 6 people can ride up in the elevator at a time. But patience is a virtue and the view really is worth the wait.

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The colors of Reykjavik.

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As a walked around, I stumbled upon Iceland’s Independence Day Celebration! There was a lovely ceremony in front of the House of Parliament, and then a parade. What fun!

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I enjoyed the colors of the city and the Independence day fun, but I worked up quite an appetite. Iceland is famous for their hotdogs, and I was determined to try one. I was really nervous, and frankly waited until I was ravenous. This is the ‘Famous’ hotdog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. It’s located in front of the Radison Blue in downtown Reykjavik. I ordered ‘one with everything’ for about $5 USD, and of course took an obligatory photo.

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The verdict… I really liked it! Was it because I was starving? Or was it because it was delicious? All I know is I ate it and enjoyed it in that moment. Tummy full, I was ready to dive into their museums.

I visited four, all of which I recommend:

  • The National Museum of Iceland– I spent two hours here and enjoyed every minute. You learn all about the history & settlement of Iceland from 800 AD to present day. This is a must when in Reykjavik! If you go on June 17, it’s free because of their Independence Day.

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  • The Settlement Exhibition– This Exhibition is built around the ruins of a viking longhouse. The hall was inhabited from 930- 1000. This museum is very interactive! There is motion activated sensors that play little movies on what life was like in the longhouse. I had a blast, and I think kids would enjoy too (if you’re traveling with family). This museum is about $16 USD.
  • The Reykjavik City Museum– When you purchase your ticket to the Settlement Exhibition, you get a free ticket to the Reykjavik City Museum which is about three buildings down. This is a small museum in the oldest building in Reykjavik.
  • The Icelandic Phallological Museum– If you know anything about Reykjavik, you had to know this was coming. The infamous penis museum. Wow, this was a lot. There was many different types of penis’ everywhere (including a human penis), as well as penis artwork, sculptures, and a phallic shaped buildings. I won’t spoil it too much for you, but don’t think to long and hard about visiting *eyebrow wiggle.* Entrance fee is about $15 USD.

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Exhausted, I enjoyed my walk back to my Airbnb along the Sea Walk.

Fun Fact- The photos below were taken at 9 p.m. Iceland in the summer has almost 24 hour daylight! It is extremely disorienting and actually does mess with your body clock. Be prepared for it, and bring an eye mask for sleeping.

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Reykjavik at 9 p.m.

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Beautiful Eventing in Reykjavik. 

The final verdict, Reykjavik is the perfect city for the solo traveler! Safe, fun, and historical. Enjoy your time there and soak in the culture.

 


 Icelandic Horse Back Riding

The next morning I was picked up by Ishestar Riding Center, just outside of Reykjavik for my horse back riding tour. If you didn’t know, Icelandic horses are a unique and adorable breed. Take a look for yourself:

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I liked to imagine this is what the Vikings saw. 

While I am not an experienced rider at all, I still had fun. The guides were sassy a few times, which was not appreciated. This is 100% touristy, but if you are an inexperienced rider, and want to get up close to these animals this is a nice way to do so. *Bonus points: the guides did offer to take your pictures on the horses, which I really liked!

  • You can book this tour here.
  • Or here is another tour: it’s a bit more expensive, but the reviews are good and it’s for all experience levels!

The Blue Lagoon

On my last day in Iceland, I stopped at the Blue Lagoon before flying back home. Now, I knew this was going to be 200% touristy, but all the pictures and recommendations say you should go.

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Here are the facts:

  • It’s expensive. For the basic package it’s about $65 USD.
  • It’s not a natural hot spring. It’s man-made.
  • It’s extremely busy.
  • You can bring your luggage, but if it’s a big suitcase you have a check outside the lagoon and it’s about $7 USD/bag. I only travelled with my backpack & weekender tote, so I didn’t need to check my bags.

When you get there, you check in with the front desk (there is a queue). They give you a towel, a smart wristband (which you can use to buy things in the lagoon, and to lock your lockers). These wrist bands are your life, so DON’T lose them or they will charge you. Also, they are really finicky and want to fall off (hmmm…) so take this blogger’s advice and keep it really tight.

Once through check in, men & women are directed into their locker rooms. You can leave your shoes at the door, but you have to be barefoot or have shower shoes on in the locker room. No outside shoes allowed. I took mine in my locker so as not to chance them getting stolen. Just like any other hot spring you need to shower naked and wash your hair throughly before entering the lagoon. They do provide soap, and conditioner (which they recommend leaving in your hair when you enter the lagoon).

*SIDE STORY: Ladies & Gentlemen. I have read horror stories about the hair damage the Blue Lagoon causes. I DID NOT dip my hair in the Blue Lagoon or Secret Lagoon, so I never had an issue. While you have to wash your hair before you get in, please leave it at that!*

After washing you head outside to blue waters of the lagoon.

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It is very photogenic, I am not going to lie. However, this was my least favorite thing I did in Iceland. I expected the water to be just as warm as the Secret Lagoon, but it wasn’t. There were some areas that were actually a little cold!

Also for you sensitive skin folks out there, this probably is not for you. At the Secret Lagoon, I had no reactions whatsoever. In fact, my skin felt soft and rejuvenated after that soak. At the Blue Lagoon, after about 40 minutes in the water I started to feel itchy & have some red blotches appear around my chest. Of course this freaked me out, and I immediately went back upstairs and showered for a good 30 minutes. Because I had all my travel luggage with me I used my own lufa, soap, and shampoo/conditioner so as not to further any reaction I may be having.

After my shower, my skin felt much better, but I wish I would have known that some have reactions to the silica in the water.

So would I recommend this? No. No I would not. You can and should skip this if you ever head to Iceland.


Iceland in Review

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As I was flying home, I reflected on how amazing this journey has been. Iceland is one of the best trips I have taken. As my first solo experience, I could not have wished for better. I highly recommend to start with Iceland if you want to try solo travel. The city is easy to navigate, the day tours are a fun way to see the country and to make new friends.

Do yourself a favor, and if you are even thinking about it a little bit, just book it! What do you have to lose?

Cheers Wanderers & on to the next destination,

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Iceland- Snaefellsnes Peninsula

I’ve been doing a lot of talking about Iceland. I can’t help it, it’s just so beautiful! I could explore the country for another week, but since I only had a few days left I booked a last-minute tour to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

Snaefellsnes is famous for its dramatic landscape of volcanic peaks, sea cliffs, golden beaches and sparkling fjords. Because of its variety in such a compact region, Jules Verne immortalized it in his book “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

During the day we:

  • Visited the fishing villages of Grundarfjordur, Arnarstapi and Hellnar.
  • Saw the mountains and volcanic craters of Kirkjufell and Ljósufjöll.
  • Walked along the black sand beach at Djúpalónssandur
  • Saw the Snæfellsjökull Glacier
  • Ended the day at the seal colony in Ytri Tunga

I could write, or I could show you. Enjoy the sites.

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Waterfall at Kirkjufell.

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Kirkjufell, the most photographed mountain in Iceland.

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Djupalonssandur black sand beach with debris from the WWII posts stationed in Iceland.

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Snaefellsjokull Glacier.

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Troll statue is Amarstapi.

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Do you see the Seal?

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Sleepy Seal at Ytri Tunga.

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Ytri Tunga Beach.

My final opinion

I booked this day tour through Get Your Guide. It’s a great website to book all sorts of activities in places all around the globe. The tour company this was through Bus Travel Iceland. The guide was better than the Golden Circle guide, but he was still very quiet and did not offer much in terms of storytelling. Would I still recommend though? Absolutely! I can’t stress enough how vast the Icelandic landscape is. I was constantly in awe that I was in the same country, and this tour really lets you see its vastness.

  • You can book the Snaefellsnes Peninsula Full- Day Tour here.

 

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Iceland- The Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon

You may be thinking? What’s the Golden Circle? Is it a circle made of gold? Is it the sequel to the Kingsman movie? In different contexts…yes. In Iceland, no.

The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in southern Iceland covering about 190 miles looping from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. It is the area that contains most tours and travel-related activities in Iceland. You will see more tourists on this route, than anywhere else in Iceland. If you are there in peak season (Summer months) prepare to see even more.

Depending on what tour you do, or if you are doing it solo via a rental car you will see three main sites:

1. Thingvellir National Park

The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. To its south lies Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Þingvellir is associated with the Althing, the national parliament of Iceland, which was established at the site in 930 AD. Sessions were held at the location until 1798.

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2. Haukadalur

Haukadalur is home to some of the most famous sights in Iceland: the geysers and other geothermal features which have developed on the Laugarfjall rhyolitic dome. The biggest geysers of Haukadalur are Strokkur and Geysir itself, which gave us the word ‘geyser’. Strokkur is very dependable and erupts every 5 to 10 minutes, whereas the bigger Geysir nowadays erupts very rarely. There are also more than 40 other smaller hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles nearby.

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Strokkur erupting.

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Strokkur up close!

3. Gulfoss

Gulfoss is a waterfall located in the canyon of Hvítá river in southwest Iceland. It’s truly a wonder to behold. I was extremely lucky to capture a beautiful rainbow as the sun poked through on an otherwise overcast day.

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After a long day of travel, our tour ended with a soak in the Secret Lagoon. Unlike the Blue Lagoon, which is man-made, this is a natural hot spring.

When you arrive you head to the locker rooms, take off your shoes, and head into the shower rooms (which are separated by male and female). There are free lockers for you to use to place your valuables in, and change. Fun fact: you have to shower before you get into the hot springs…naked. Yup, if you have read anything about that, it’s absolutely true. It really was not that awkward. Everyone kept to themselves, showered (including washing your hair) and changed into swim suits.

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After an hour soak, I was warmed to my inner core and headed back to the locker room to shower, change and head back to Reykjavik.

My final opinion

I booked this day tour through Get Your Guide. It’s a great website to book all sorts of activities in places all around the globe. The tour company this was through was Sterna Travel. While I throughly enjoyed the destinations of this tour, I was not excited about our guide. He was very quiet, and really didn’t offer much in terms of history, stories, etc. If you would rather sit in quiet, then this is the trip for you. However, if you are like me and want to learn about all the places and their stories you may be disappointed.

  • You can book this Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon Tour here.
  • OR I found this one through Bus Travel Iceland, which takes you to the Secret Lagoon first and then to the Golden Circle. You should book this!

The Secret Lagoon is an absolute must in my opinion, so whichever tour or way you choose to get there it’s worth the stop!

We headed back to Reykjavik, warm, relaxed and ready for my romp around Reykjavik the next day.

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Iceland- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & The Southern Island

I woke early the next day ready to explore the south of Iceland. I was picked up by Bus Travel Iceland for a 15 hour tour to Glacier Lagoon, and the wonders of the south.

I was picked up about 7:30 a.m. and introduced to our tour guide, Howser.

He was fantastic, all the way to the Jokulsarlon, he told us the history of the area, stories of vikings, the science and devastation of the volcanos, and so much more. He had us laughing and comfortable all the way to glacier lagoon.

Once we arrive, you could hear everyone’s breath hitch. The glaciers rested in the water, floating sculptures for your viewing pleasure. Each as different as the next.

Howser gave us an hour to explore the area, and explore we did. I adventured out with my new friend, Lena and we ‘oohed and aahed’ at the formations.

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A rare ice flower.

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What do you see in this one?

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A hungry ice shark!

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We hopped back on the bus, only to be taken across the way to Diamond Beach. Why is called Diamond Beach? Oh, no reason….

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Diamond Beach

Diamond Beach.

Beautiful shards of glaciers, danced in the light all around us. Some were in the water, but hundreds were along the black sand gleaming and glittering like rare jewels.

I shall only except a ring of this size from now on (just kidding).

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I do!

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Sea dragon.

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Crab.

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We had so much fun looking at all the formations and playing with the ice. It was truly a sight to behold!

Once we had our fill, we headed back and started making the trek back to Reykjavik, but with many more stops along the way. The first was to one of the many waterfalls of Iceland: The Side Waterfall.

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The Side Waterfall.

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I mean come one!

Around another corner, we stopped at the Sister’s Falls. This was on land that once belonged to a convent, hence the name.

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The Sister’s Falls.

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One of the best stops of the day was in Vik.

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Black sand beach in Vik.

It’s summer in Iceland (despite what you may think) so the Lupine flowers are blooming. This is not a native plant, however, Howser told us that even though this is not native it is helping Iceland in a unique way. This plant only grows where the soil is not well. An amazing thing happens, the plant creates its own top soil and heals the land through its growth. When the land is healed it will stop growing. Of course, there are two sides the other being it is an aggressive plant and some Icelander’s do not like how quickly it has spread.

While I can’t speak for Icelander’s, I was very enamored with the flower especially the fields growing in Vik.

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The trolls & their ship.

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Lupine flowers.

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The church in Vik from a field of Lupine.

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We continued our way back to Reykjavik, but not without two more stops. The first being to Skogafoss Waterfall. If you watch Vikings you will remember this from when Raven Floki was shipped wrecked.

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Skogafoss Waterfall.

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We got as close to the falls as possible, getting soaked, but our souls were rejuvenated from the fresh water spray.

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Soaked and completely smitten with Iceland, we got back on our bus and headed to our last stop, Seljalandfoss. Now this is a fall you can really get to know…by walking behind it.

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Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.

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I thought I was rejuvenated by Skogafoss, but when I walked behind Seljalandfoss, I was reborn! There is nothing that compares to the beauty of a waterfall and seeing it from all angles. It was a magical experience that left me thankful.

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Behind the falls!

How could the day be better? The answer, it couldn’t!

My final opinion

I booked this day tour through Get Your Guide. It’s a great website to book all sorts of activities in places all around the globe. You need to do this tour, and if there is a way to request Howser as guide then you should do so! He was so knowledgeable, shared amazing insights, history, music and songs, and took us to extra waterfalls. I mean, how can you argue with that?

  • You can book the tour here. Also shout out to Bus Travel Iceland. This company is extremely organized. The bus was a small 16 person vehicle, so it felt intimate and not too much like a giant Greyhound tourist vessel. 10/10 , I recommend this trip, and for only $119 USD?!

I went to sleep completely exhausted, but happy and ready for my next day exploring Iceland’s infamous Golden Circle.

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Iceland- A Solo Journey

If you didn’t know, I am a wanderlust soul.

Travel is what excites me and fills me with purpose and joy. I have such a strong desire to see the world, to experience it, and to learn about it.

Though I have been to 20 countries, I have never truly travelled solo. Until last week, when I embarked on my first real solo adventure to Iceland. Though I was based in Reykjavik I took trips to different parts of the island. But more about that later…

I flew to Iceland on Wow Airlines. If you don’t know about Wow, look into it! My round trip, non stop flight from Detroit to Reykjavik was only $400!

WOW *eyebrow wiggle.*

The flight was overall fine, and only six hours. I’ve traveled on some bad budget airlines, but I would fly on this one again. It was very bare bones,  you had to purchase any refreshments but since the flight was at 1 a.m. frankly all I wanted was to do was sleep.

Time FLEW by *eyebrow wiggle* and I got in to Reykjavik in mid morning. The airport is busy, but once through customs there is a clear path to the buses & taxis. I did not purchase my bus ticket prior and had no difficulty purchasing one at the counter. It only cost about 15 USD and was quite easy to use. They dropped us off at a bus station, where we switched buses according to the area we were going. After the exchange I was dropped off at City Hall where I headed to the meeting point for the City Walk Free Walking Tour.

This I absolutely recommend. You need to book in advance, but please note you can only book about a week in advance of your trip. Here is the link to their website/booking.

Our guide’s name was Sara, a true Icelander and local history teacher. She showed us around the city for about two hours. This was a great way to start the trip. This helps you acclimate to the city, so you have some idea of where you are and where you are going. Sara talked to us about politics, history, and gave us great tips for food, where to buy groceries, museums, etc.

We started at the main square Austurvöllur, in front of the House of Parliament (Alþingi) and ended at the Harpa Music Hall.

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The Pond by City Hall

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Harpa Music Hall

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The weather is very changeable, so be prepared for rain, cold, wind, and sun all in one day! Layers, layers, layers, a light weight waterproof/windproof jacket and a good hat doesn’t hurt. One moment the sun came out, and the next it poured. It didn’t stop Sara or anyone from having a good time. She did find places for us to warm up/dry off for a bit, which of course was appreciated.

At the end of the tour, she e-mailed us all a link with information about Iceland and Reykjavik.  Now, in Iceland tipping is not required. HOWEVER, in this instance, this tour is donation based so you can feel free to give as much as you like. There is even a portal on their website for you to pay with credit card if you do not have cash. I tipped Sara, and headed out into the city.

My first stop was the Icelandic grocery store Bonus. I stayed in an Airbnb for the week, and was intent on saving money by making my own food. I highly recommend this! Iceland’s prices are manageable, but what really is expensive is eating out. I saved a lot of money by buying groceries and preparing most of my food at my Airbnb. I bought all the basics like:

  • Apples
  • Carrots
  • Peppers
  • Bread
  • Jam
  • Peanut Butter
  • Chips
  • Frozen Meal
  • Bananas

Speaking of Airbnb’s, if you are going to be based in Reykjavik like I was, I recommend you rent a little apartment. There are lots of places you can find here, and look how cute the view is from mine!

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After a long day of travel, I made myself some food and plopped into bed. My tour the next morning left at 7:00 a.m. for the south side of the island, and it was a day I would never forget.

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