A few weeks ago I finally had the opportunity to go to Iceland! The country of fire and ice had been on my bucket list for the last two years ever since seeing pictures of Jökulsárlón (glacial lagoon) online, so you can imagine the excitement I had built up inside me as I counted down the days until I got to leave for this magical country. My biggest fear was that I had such high expectations for the beauty of Iceland after everything I had seen online, that I would be let down by it in person. But boy was I wrong. Iceland is hands down the most beautiful country I have ever visited. The landscape of horses and sheep wandering through never-ending grassy fields, mossy mountains, and waterfalls here and there nestled within the mountains, is enough to make any person never want to wake up from this dreamland.
I thought I would do something different with this blog post and recap my experience in Iceland. I’ll be splitting it up into two posts so that I can go into more detail but still keep it at a reasonable length. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t give you some Icelandic song recommendations at the end.
D A Y 1
We landed at Keflavik airport at 5am local time after flying almost 6 hours with Wow Air. I had a window seat on the plane so I thought I would be able to sleep, but between the woman in front of me who kept dropping her clothes behind and onto my seat as she tried to use them as a pillow against the window, and the man behind me who kept making crumpling sounds with the plastic wrap of whatever he was eating for almost 6 hours, there was no way I was getting any sleep. I probably slept an hour at most, if any at all. But the lack of sleep didn’t even matter as soon as we landed because I was just so excited to finally be in Iceland!
After picking up our rental car from Blue Car Rentals near the airport (we chose to rent from Blue because they had the most decent prices on 2017/2018 models and offer the most variety of insurance), we drove the 45 minute drive into the city of Reykjavik. It was around 7:30 in the morning at this point, and was still pitch black outside. We could not check into our hotel until the afternoon, so we parked close to Hallgrímskirkja church while in search of coffee and breakfast to energize our tired bodies. We ended up at Dunkin Donuts (I know, I know) since nothing else seemed to be open at this time in the morning. After getting some food in our bodies and our caffeine fix to keep us awake, we visited the church. Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most recognized buildings in Iceland, and also the tallest, so it is actually visible from almost any part of the city.
After visiting the church, we headed to the Perlan Museum which was only about a 5 minute drive away. We were recommended to go here to view the Glaciers and Ice exhibit, which features a man made ice cave inside the building. It was -15 degrees Celsius inside so we were given vests to wear once we entered, and our tour guide explained how the layers and crevasses in a glacier ice cave are formed.
On the top floor of the Perlan, visitors have the opportunity to go outside to witness an amazing panoramic view of the city of Reykjavik, where you can see the mountains in the distance, behind all of the little houses.
After the Perlan, we made a quick stop at the famous Sun Voyager sculpture, representing a dreamboat to convey freedom through undiscovered territory. It was then finally time that we could check into our hotel, so we made our way there and ended up napping for an hour before heading out again. We didn’t have much on our agenda this day, so we decided to just wander around downtown Reykjavik since it was a close walk from our hotel. We ended up on a street called Laugavegur, which is best known for all of the shops and restaurants lining it. You will find everything from cool vintage clothing shops, to grocery stores, to cafes, and all kinds of restaurants serving foods from all around the world.
We ended up eating at a Scandinavian restaurant for our first dinner in Iceland. One thing that we began to notice in the majority of the restaurants in Iceland is that they all serve some type of “Catch of the Day”. That’s what we ordered on our first night, and it was delicious. You can taste the freshness of the fish in every bite. We also tried the fish and chips, seafood chowder, and lamb soup.
D A Y 2
We woke up on our second day in Iceland feeling refreshed after a decent amount of sleep, and ready to explore Reykjavik some more! The only thing we had planned for this day was the Blue Lagoon – which we had booked in advance for the afternoon. Since our appointment was not until later in the day, we decided that we would spend the morning exploring the Reykjavik Art Museum. Before that though, we made a quick stop at the Harpa Concert Hall (a must see, especially for music lovers). The Harpa is a beautiful building made with unique coloured glass, both on the outside and the ceilings on the inside, and was inspired by the Icelandic landscape. Inside, it is huge, with a large gift shop, tourist information center, and restaurant among the several floors of rooms (also used for conferences) inside.
After the Harpa, we were on our way to the Reykjavik Art Museum. The museum is actually housed in three different buildings across Reykjavik. Each one houses a unique collection of contemporary art by both Icelandic and international artists. There is one admission price that you pay initially at any of the locations, which gives you access to all three locations within 24 hours. There are only a few exhibits at each of the locations, so each one is pretty small, which is probably why they are housed across three separate buildings. We only had time to go to two of the locations, the first one being Hafnarhús, which is located across the street from the Harpa.
When we finished up at Hafnarhús, we had a little bit of time left to visit one more of the buildings. We decided to go to the Kjarvalsstaðir location since it was only a 2 minute walk away from our hotel, after which we could quickly gather our things and head to the Blue Lagoon. The Kjarvalsstaðir location is even smaller than Hafnarhús, but it houses paintings and sculptures of established Icelandic artists of modern art, whereas Hafnarhús features up and coming and current notable artists. I really enjoyed both locations, and would recommend visiting the Art Museum if you are looking for something easygoing to do in the city.
Around 2pm, we headed on our way to the famous Blue Lagoon spa. There’s a reason why this place is one of the 25 wonders of the world. Located on a lava field, the water is heated by a nearby geothermal power plant, and is rich in silica and sulfur, known to help people suffering from skin diseases. The silica also contributes to the beautiful milky blue colour of the water. Located in the pool, there is a swim up silica bar where you can grab a handful of the silica to slather on your face as a face mask. After about 15 minutes, you will feel it dry and tighten on your face, which is when you know it’s time to wash it off in the water.
The Blue Lagoon spa was as expected, very crowded and busy because it was a Saturday when we went. Nonetheless, it was still beautiful and enjoyable. There is just something about being in such a warm pool of water while the crisp outside air hits your face that makes it all the more relaxing. You can also stay for as long as you would like relaxing in the pools. There are also massages you can book for another fee if you want an even greater spa experience. (TIP: If you forget your bathing suit like my Mom did, don’t fret. You can rent one there for a small fee).
When we finally finished up at the Blue Lagoon and made the drive back into Reykjavik, we were all starving. We wanted to have something for dinner that was unique to Iceland. Luckily, out hotel guidebook had some suggestions of whale and horse meat. They suggest that because the population of horses far outnumber the population of humans in Iceland, that they might as well make the most of it – thereby eating horse meat. Feeling adventurous after our relaxing afternoon, we decided to go for it! We found a restaurant called Þrír frakkar that served both, so we went on our way, walking about 15 minutes to the restaurant. (TIP: Reykjavik is a pretty small city, so if you are staying in the downtown area, you can pretty much walk wherever you need to be within about 20 minutes).
First up on the menu was our appetizer which consisted of the roast whale served with apples and sunflower seeds in a balsamic vinaigrette. When the waiter first brought this out, I thought he accidentally brought another table’s dessert to ours by mistake. The whale was rolled up, and to me it looked like some kind of chocolate pastry (I didn’t know any better because I had no idea that whale meat was brown in colour). The meat tasted ok – to be honest, there was nothing great about it. The meat itself does not have a lot of flavour, and the texture resembles that of tuna. It was the balsamic apple vinaigrette that gave it the sweet flavour.
We also tried a grilled horse tenderloin that night, served with mushrooms and potato wedges. The texture of the horse meat is quite tough, similar to a not-so-tender steak, quite chewy, with a very meaty taste. If you are someone who loves meat, you’ll like horse meat. For me, I prefer to stick to something lighter like seafood, so I was not the biggest fan of it.
Speaking of seafood, my main dish of the night was the halibut served with lobster and some kind of creamy (but not heavy at all) sauce poured on top. It was delicious. If you are a seafood lover, you will LOVE the food in Iceland! Like I mentioned earlier, all of the seafood served in Iceland is super fresh, usually caught the day of. You can taste the quality of the freshness and this was no exception.
Overall, I would recommend Þrír frakkar if you are looking to try food that is unique to Iceland and that you can’t get anywhere else. The restaurant is not cheap – even though everything in Iceland is quite expensive, we found this restaurant to be pricier than most. But for the experience and quality of the food, it’s something that you can’t skip especially if you have an adventurous appetite. (TIP: In Iceland, you are not expected to leave any tips. So the amount that you see on your bill is the only amount that you are expected to pay, nothing more).
After dinner, we decided to head back to the hotel and call it a night. The next day was the day I was looking forward to the most, and we had planned a very early start so we all wanted to rest up for the long day ahead. This is also where I will be leaving off my Iceland post this week. The next two days are full of fun and adventure, so I’ll be recapping them separately. Stay tuned for part two of my Iceland blog post!
Before we go, I leave you with a song by Icelandic indie band Vök. I actually discovered this band on our last day in Iceland. We were browsing around downtown Reykjavik on our last night after dinner, looking for some last minute souvenirs to bring home. We happened to go into a book/music store, and among all the rows of Sigur Ros and Björk CDs, my eyes landed on a random Icelandic indie mix CD (This Is Icelandic Indie Music Vol. 2). Curious to see what artists would be featured, I turned the CD around to check the tracklist. I didn’t know any of the bands, but I figured that both my brother and I would enjoy it and perhaps discover an awesome new band from it, so I picked it up. The song Before by Vök was featured on this mix CD, and as soon as I heard it, I knew I was going to like the rest of their music. Their music is described as dream-pop, but with an electronic element to it. They remind me of The XX, so if you’re a fan of them, I definitely think you will like Vök as well. Take a listen to Before below, and make sure you stay tuned for part two of my Iceland post coming soon! It’s going to be an exciting one as we explore the Golden Circle as well as drive along the southeast coast of Iceland.