Day by Day

In the process of planning for a trip I’m always referring to random travel blogs, and I find that the more detailed the blog, the more helpful. While it’s nice to know the overall positives and negatives of another person’s trip, sometimes it’s even better to know which hotels have the best shower pressure, why water smells like sulphur, where to watch for ice on the road, and what will just waste space in your luggage (e.g. sandals in Iceland may not be necessary unless you are visiting during the warmest week of the summer). Here’s a day by day overview of my first trip to Iceland including mistakes and successes

Day 1 (Tuesday, March 25, 2014)

  • Arrived at Keflavik Airport in the wee hours of the am on a red-eye from Boston Logan, five hour flight
  • Hopped on an Iceland Excursions bus from the airport (~$20) to Hotel Klettur in Reykjavík – worth sitting on the right side of the bus if it isn’t too cloudy for a view of the mountains
  • In March there is about the same amount of daylight in Iceland as in New England (give or take a few hours, and factoring in the four hour time difference), so the sun rose during the bus ride and didn’t set until around 8pm
  • The friendly receptionist at Hotel Klettur allowed me to check in asap, but nothing was available immediately… After a very long hour at a cafe down the street, and a short walk down to the water, I was able to check into my room and sleep until dinner
  • Great to have a full day to sleep off the jet lag
  • Observations: Reykjavík is hilly, colorful, covered in advertisements for Coca-Cola, lots of men pushing baby carriages (something unfortunately scarce in the US), nice weather
  • Hotel Klettur: Particularly friendly, multilingual staff, modern, simple, clean room, affordable, fine shower, great breakfast
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Grocery Stores in Iceland

Day 2 (Wednesday, March 26, 2014)

  • Woke up early in the am, had breakfast (included) at Hotel Klettur, took taxi to Guesthouse Sunna to meet my grandmother and check-in (left former hotel to spend a few consecutive nights at Guesthouse Sunna, more affordable for two people)
  • Check-in went smoothly, and working through my companion’s jet lag afforded me an extra day to recoup after the red-eye flight
  • Sick to stomach getting acclimated, maybe because time difference threw off eating patterns
  • Brief food shop for snacks at grocery store near hotel on Skólavör∂ustígur street right near Guesthouse Sunna
  • Low key afternoon, brief exploration of the city together, solo walk past Tjörnin Lake, early night
  • Observations: friendly people, particularly tall people from my short perspective, beautiful view from the walkway along the water in Reykjavík
  • Guesthouse Sunna: Friendly staff, very clean, shared bathrooms with hot water, communal kitchens available, great breakfast, prime downtown location if you are able to walk up hills, right next to the beautiful Hallgrímskirkja church

“More love would be better”

Day 3 (Thursday, March 27, 2014)

  • Breakfast (included) at hotel, and then a bit of a walk to the Settlement Exhibition
  • Settlement Exhibition Great exhibit, particularly for older children and adults interested in Iceland’s viking history. We found the museum informative and engaging, just a bit dark (in terms of lighting)
  • Lunch at The Laundromat Cafe (yummy American food) on the walk back to hotel
  • Stopped to visit Hallgrímskirkja church and took an elevator up to the top floor for an amazing view of Reykjavík
  • Dinner at Italia (great restaurant with a bit of a formal feel)
  • Booked Golden Circle tour with Reykjavík Excursions for the next day
  • Guesthouse Sunna: second night here, still enjoyed it
Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja

Day 4 (Friday, March 28, 2014)

  • Woke up early in the morning for the Golden Circle tour, for which we needed to report to the Reykjavík Excursions office… Grandmother better at early mornings than I
  • First part of the ride felt as though we were driving through the clouds. There was still so much snow on the ground and the sky was white, making it hard to find the horizon line
  • Tour separated into three main parts: Short hike within Thingvellir National Park (home to Iceland’s first parliament and the visible divide between tectonic plates), visit to Gullfoss, Iceland’s most powerful waterfall, and a visit to Iceland’s geysers
  • Thingvellir National Park: Incredible spot, worth wearing comfortable shoes in order to cover some ground during your brief visit. Enough time is spent outside here that I recommend some warm clothes
  • Gullfoss Waterfall: Remarkable. Often, there are rainbows visible from different perspectives surrounding the waterfall. In the summer months when it’s less icy, you are able to get even closer to the waterfall. It is also worth noting this spot has a great visitor center and cafe
  • The geysers: the English term geyser is based on the original Icelandic Geysir, a geyser that isn’t as active anymore as its neighbor, Strokkur. The Strokkur eruptions were way more exciting than I anticipated. The gift shop here also features the Icelandic clothing line, Geysir, which I wish I could find in America
  • Much to my grandmother’s delight, the roads from place to place all seemed to border horse farms, and Icelanders will tell you that the Icelandic horse is an exceptional breed
  • Observations: parts of Iceland feel a good deal like Montana
  • Guesthouse Sunna: third night here, still enjoyed it
Strokkur

Strokkur

Day 5 (Saturday, March 29, 2014)

  • What should have been a mellow day turned into a hectic adventure in our efforts to find the Saga Museum
  • After a long walk to the Perlan (a unique architectural statement of a building and prime location from which to view Reykjavík from afar), we discovered the Saga Museum had been moved to downtown Reykjavík
  • Ate lunch at the Perlan, took a long walk back
  • Late afternoon dinner at the Noodle Station, then a brief solo visit to a rowdy Irish pub… Reykjavík has fun on Saturdays!
  • Guesthouse Sunna: fourth night here, still no complaints
Perlan Sculpture

Perlan Sculpture

Day 6 (Sunday, March 30, 2014)

  • Made it to Reykjavík’s funky flea market, Kolaporti∂, where you can sample fermented shark and buy reasonably priced Icelandic sweaters. I chose the latter over the former
  • Kolaporti∂ has a strong scent and a very thrifty vibe, which I loved but others may find overwhelming. I liked seeing what sorts of vintage clothing deals exist outside of America
  • Indulgent early evening dessert at Cafe Loki, involving skyr folded into a crepe and drizzled with caramel. Thinking about it makes my mouth water
  • Guesthouse Sunna: fifth night, still totally happy, still loving breakfast
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Cafe Loki Dessert

Day 7 (Monday, March 31, 2014)

  • Made one final effort to find the Saga Museum in vain, as apparently the new location of the museum wasn’t set to open until April 1. Unfortunately we didn’t know this until hiking down to the new location. It seems we weren’t meant to visit
  • Last day with grandmother, as she planned to go home the following day and switch places with my boyfriend, who’d be arriving
  • Lunch at the Icelandic opera house building, Harpa
  • Day filled with gift shopping, ice cream eating, and Italian food before turning in for the night
  • Guesthouse Sunna: sixth night, still a fan

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Day 8 (Tuesday, April 1, 2014)

  • Woke up early, waited for boyfriend to arrive from the airport to Guesthouse Sunna with our SADcars rental
  • Note: SADcars provides shuttle from airport to car rental location
  • Car rental went smoothly, but the car had its quirks as it was the cheapest rental option (funny noises, tape player, general oldness…)
  • Said goodbyes to grandmother, who would visit the Blue Lagoon and then leave the next day, and got a late morning start into our drive around Ring Road
  • First hour of the drive involved a very long stretch of highway in a tunnel under a mountain (not something you see everyday in New England), and was followed by incredible scenic views and mainly rural driving. Passed through a few small cities, but felt truly removed when we began driving through the mountains and hit some dense patches of fog
  • Driving through fog was slightly terrifying, but once we made it through, the views were spectacular
  • What should have been about a five hour drive between Reykjavík and Akureyri became a much longer adventure, factoring in our stops at cafes and gas stations for food
  • Arrived to Akureyri in the early evening, checked into Hotel Nor∂urland (very nice) before exploring the city a bit and getting burgers at a nearby burger joint
  • Observations: Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland, and after a long drive in the country, it was refreshing to stay here. Lots of restaurants (although some closed on Tuesdays), movie theatre, small businesses
  • Hotel Nor∂urland: Formal, friendly staff, comfortable rooms, good shower, water less sulphuric than in Reykjavík, excellent breakfast
Ring Road Sites

Ring Road Sites

Day 9 (Wednesday, April 2, 2014)

  • Hit the road after breakfast, long drive through the country
  • It is worth bringing your own music if you will be disappointed not to have it, as the radio signal in the mountains is weak
  • Stopped in Mývatn, which is remarkably beautiful. If we had more time we’d have visited Mývatn’s hot springs, but we had a long day of driving ahead
  • Should have gotten gas in Mývatn… long, mountainous, rural stretch before finding a quaint visitor center in the country
  • Ate groceries from Mývatn for lunch on our drive, but stopped briefly in the town of Egilsstaðir for gas before resuming our drive
  • To make a long story short, about 15 miles outside of Egilsstaðir we got stuck on a snow patch on a portion of Ring Road that was apparently closed due to harsh weather. We overlooked a sign and the highway wasn’t physically closed off
  • After about an hour of panicked efforts to dig the car out of the snow with our bare hands, futile efforts to get phone service, and hiking down the street to pee in the snow, a couple from Hong Kong ended up making the same mistake and tried to help us push the car out of the snow
  • Our efforts were unsuccessful, but our new friends had data roaming and gave us our coordinates, and offered to seek help for us in town nearby
  • Watching them leave was scary all over again, but somehow boyfriend managed to activate international roaming on his phone and contact emergency services.
  • 30000 ISK later (or something like 310 USD), someone named Klaus with a big-wheeled truck pulled our car out of the snow and helped us to establish a detour to use to get to Fosshotel Nupar all the way in the southeast portion of the country
  • During our hilly, coastal, rainy detour, we enjoyed the sites for a bit, but felt slightly less comfortable driving in the dark
  • Nearly hit a reindeer, watch out for them! They’re huge and they gather on the side of the road
  • Seven hours later, we arrived at Fosshotel Nupar, a lovely new hotel, where the staff took pity and whipped us up a grilled cheese and delicious tomato soup
  • Fosshotel Nupar: Extremely friendly staff, modern, new rooms, clean, strange shower but nonetheless functional, really decadent breakfast (including waffles!)
Stuck

Stuck

Day 10 (Thursday, April 3, 2014)

  • Shorter drive planned, so backtracked to Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon (which we’d planned to visit before getting stuck the day before)
  • Jökulsárlón was completely amazing, unlike anything I’d ever seen, favorite spot on the trip
  • Spent second half of the day driving along the south coast on Ring Road to Selfoss
  • Lunch (hot dogs again) and gas in Vik, beautiful drive to Selfoss. Worth noting that food is available in most gas stations
  • Got caught in a light sandstorm, be sure if visiting to check for wind
  • Dinner at Menam Thai in Selfoss, a little pricy but reasonable food
  • Hotel Selfoss: Friendly staff, upgraded to a really nice room, chocolate on pillows made for a nice extra touch, excellent breakfast (including waffles, like Fosshotel Nupar, fresh fruit, and an amazing view)

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Day 11 (Friday, April 4, 2014)

  • Final day of car rental
  • Went for a second, self-guided and slower paced Golden Circle tour to give boyfriend a chance to check out Iceland’s most famous sites
  • Weather, which had been unusually pleasant for my trip thus far, began to shift in the afternoon as we finished our drive and headed back to Keflavik to drop off our rental car
  • Driving experience was positive, but it is worth noting that even in the spring, if you are driving Iceland’s countryside, it is worth paying extra to rent a shovel in case of snow (although I imagine some car rental services provide shovels), checking for wiper fluid, and making sure you are equipped with a map and some way of checking weather
  • After dropping off the car and taking a taxi to Hotel Keflavik, we discovered that we had paid to stay at the guesthouse associated with the hotel, but would be upgraded to the more luxurious hotel portion
  • Hotel Keflavik: Friendly staff, much swankier feel than most Icelandic hotels, which are usually very simple. Beautiful room, very clean, unique and indulgent breakfast (pastries, breakfast sandwiches, fruit, more hot options that many continental breakfasts)
Thingvellir

Thingvellir

Day 12 (Saturday, April 5, 2014)

  • After breakfast, took a local bus from Keflavik to Reykjavík
  • Bit of a hike from the center of Reykjavík to Guesthouse Alba, but it may have felt longer with our luggage
  • Guesthouse Alba seems to be run and maintained by a family, and has a much smaller feel than the other places we’d stayed
  • Walked into town for dinner (Italia, yet again, followed by ice cream), and got tickets with Iceland Excursions for a northern lights tour
  • April is the end of the season for northern lights visibility in Iceland, and we were lucky that the tour ended up happening as inclement weather often prompts tour cancellations in the spring
  • The tour bus took us to a grass hut (modeled after a traditional Icelandic home) with picnic benches and snacks inside (for a cost) to wait for the first sightings of the lights
  • The northern lights were remarkable, faint green beams across the sky. By April they are not as vivid as they may be mid-winter, but they were incredible nonetheless, and I wish I’d had a better camera to capture what we ended up seeing
  • It’s worth going on a tour bus for northern lights sightings, particularly at the end of the season, when they are less common, as tours follow up-to-date forecasts indicating where the lights will be the most active
  • Following the tour, we were dropped off near guesthouse
  • Guesthouse Alba: Friendly staff, clean, residential feel, small bedroom but very comfortable bed, shared bathroom, continental breakfast, a bit far outside of downtown Reykjavík (but still within walking distance)
Icelandic Grass Hut

Icelandic Grass Hut

Day 13 (Sunday, April 6, 2014)

  • Slept in, and after pizza in downtown Reykjavík, we took a local bus to a stop near Hotel Hafnarfjörður, a port town neighboring Reykjavík
  • We hoped to do some shopping and exploring in Hafnarfjörður, but I didn’t consider the fact that stores are closed on Sundays for the most part throughout Iceland
  • Ended up eating at Subway because we were so extremely hungry, and then had ice cream at an Ísbúð (because ice cream is half of what we ate in Iceland)
  • Booked a Blue Lagoon visit for the following day, and turned in early
  • Hotel Hafnarfjörður: Helpful staff, spacious room with kitchen appliances, very clean, nice shower, hearty breakfast
Hafnarfjörður

Hafnarfjörður

Day 14 (Monday, April 7, 2014)

  • Took a bus Reykjavík Excursions bus from Hotel Hafnarfjörður to the Blue Lagoon in the morning after breakfast
  • It makes sense to visit the Blue Lagoon either on the way to or from the airport, because it is right nearby, and a great way to combat jet lag or to end a trip
  • Blue Lagoon: Massive communal changing room was off-putting, but the actual Blue Lagoon experience made it entirely worth it. Huge, open area to wade, beautiful turquoise water (with healing properties), in-water bar (wine and smoothies!), little caves and rocks on which to lounge, even beautiful when it’s rainy
  • Note: keep track of your bracelet as it’s connected to your charge account and required during check-out
  • Tour bus transported us from Blue Lagoon to airport, where we fit some good gift shopping in before taking off for Boston, drawing a remarkable trip to a close
Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

If ever you visit,

Don’t Forget:

  • Rainproof gear
  • Boots or sneakers for hiking
  • A power adapter (the outlets are different in Iceland than in America)
  • A bathing suit
  • Layers
  • A map
  • Plastic bags (for wet clothes if you need to transport them before they dry)
  • Sunglasses

Leave Behind:

  • Sandals
  • Shorts
  • Tank tops

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6 thoughts on “Day by Day

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