My trip to Reykjavik, Iceland.
Drove to Gatwick early so that we could get some food, miss the Boxing Day traffic and make sure we’d picked up everything we had forgotten, such as a charger for the waterproof camera we’d borrowed months ago specifically for the trip. Gatwick airport had gone a little bit overload on Star Wars advertising and we could not pass up on the opportunity to test out the chance to drive a spaceship travelling at the speed of light with the virtual reality headset.
The plane ride was interesting with lots of turbulence! When we arrived, we paid for transfer into Reykjavik and we walked out to find our coach through a snow blizzard. We had made the mistake of not changing our shoes so attempted to keep to the fresher ice. Despite not paying for a direct drop off to the Loft Hostel where we were staying we ended up with one anyway which was nice seeing as the snow was a bit crazy. One point of interest was all the crazy sculptures of the way into town.
Our hostel is really cool and has a nice bar/cotch area which we will definitely be making the most of, especially as Iceland have apparently had a really mild winter which has now arrived solely this week we are here. We’re expecting gale force winds and blizzards for the majority of the week which means that we probably won’t see any lights. The hostel is also in a location you can’t knock and right in the centre of everything you could possibly want to do/see/sat in downtown.
We freshened up, put on our thermals and I then made the mistake of wearing mascara and we headed out to find this restaurant called Svarta Kaffid who serve Icelandic Soup in a bread bowl. We had heard good things about it and was meant to be quite ‘cheap’. Turns out it was closed which considering its was Boxing Day was probably allowed. I also looked like I had coloured my eyes in to look like a panda as the rain/sleet had made my mascara run down my face.
We turned around and headed back to the hostel so I could make myself look normal again and popped next door for dinner instead to a restaurant called Solon Bistro. Jack started his ‘I’m going to order the most traditional thing I see on the menu at every restaurant we go to’ by ordering the Minke Whale steak while I settled for the lamb chops. The food was lovely but prepare yourself for an expensive dinner/everything in Iceland. For the record their burgers look amazing though and are cheaper.
We were both so shattered that after a quick discovery that the Blue Lagoon was fully booked until the 3rd of Jan – we leave on the 1st – we headed to bed early.
We both had a good sleep & I had already put together an itinerary of all of the must see landmarks/buildings/sculptures for Downtown Reykjavik. It made for an interesting day as it rained literally all day and there were gale force winds which made standing, let alone walking at some points interesting. Apparently all of the tours had been cancelled due to the weather as well. Stop 1 was a bakery called Braud & Co an Icelandic Organic Bakery who only use local ingredients. We asked the lovely lady behind the counter what she recommended and then bought a selection of things between us to stuff our face with. These included a version of a chocolate brioche and an apple and nut square danish, but everything we ordered was amazing!
We then suited and booted back up and went back out into the rain towards the Hallgrimskirkjr. Inside there was part of the band practising for their New Years concert which was pretty cool to listen to. We paid to go up the tower not really knowing whether the weather would actually allow us to see anything, but we did get to see a small view across Reykjavik. It was the noise of the wind hitting the tower and the fact that even at that height Jack still managed to lose his hood because of the wind that was more entertaining. Outside the church is also a statue of Leif Eriksson who was the Viking who led expeditions to North America.
We were then blown down the hill to the seafront where staying upright was a bit questionable. Here is the Solfar (Sun Voyager) Sculpture of a Viking ship which is a quirky modern sculpture with a nice sea front mountain backdrop – not that we could see them properly because of the weather. There’s apparently an ongoing joke in Iceland that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. This is definitely true, however, on days like today it just means it gets worse!
Now fully prepared, we headed back into downtown to have a look at the Prime Ministers House, the Parliament House and the City Hall which overlooks the currently frozen lake.
We also fell in love with the architecture in Reykjavik and is was also very Christmassy around town. They also love graffiti and it is everywhere!
While in the supermarket the woman serving us gave us a little hand out about the Father Christmas’s of Iceland which sounded really interesting. Once I had internet I did a bit more research and it just got funnier. They have 13 Father Christmas characters known as the Yule Lads, who live in the mountains with their mother, father and cat. They all do a certain thing such as steal Skyr (Icelandic yoghurt) or candles, or slam doors, or lick spoons and harass sheep. The mother steals all of the naughty children to eat and the cat eats all the children that do not get new clothes at Christmas. For the 13 days before Christmas, the Yule Lads then come down from the mountains and all stay for 13 consecutive days before heading back up to the mountains. This mean their Christmas period is celebrated from the 12th of December to the 6th of January when the last Yule Lad leaves.
We spent the evening back to the hostel trying to book our trips, even if the Blue Lagoon was fully booked until the 3rd of January and are now definitely feeling a little bit better about our trip! We headed out early again to try and get back to the soup restaurant Svarta Kaffid. It was full when we arrived and so we had to wait outside, as there’s no indoor waiting area, for someone to leave before we could be seated. They only had two soups on the menu: reindeer soup and mushroom soup. We both opted for the former and our giant soup packed rolls arrived very quickly! Jacks decided he’s going to tell all the kids he’s eaten Rudolph.
This morning we headed back to the bakery to see what else they had on offer. We ended up with a pear, apple and cinnamon bake, a pistachio rolls and a cinnamon bun which we missed out on yesterday but were clearly the favourite, along with the danish that we both liked the first day.
For lunch we headed to Icelandic Fish & Chips which Jack had read really good reviews on and he was craving fish. The fishing industry was the top earner for Iceland until last year when tourism took over. This year it’s increased 35% this year alone. I ordered the cod which was battered with spelt and included no milk or eggs making it slightly different from the fish and chips we’re used to at home. It was then accompanied by rosemary and garlic roasted potatoes. Jack had the pollock with salted roasted potatoes and we had to try some of the Skyr dips so ordered a garlic one and a lemon and dill one – Icelanders love Skyr which is actually a cheese but has the consistency of the thick bit of yoghurt you scrape off the lid! Both meals were amazing but I didn’t think it quite went together as a dish, or maybe it was the fact it was like a fish & chips/roast mash up!
After lunch we had a further wander through the bottom part of town where the lake has now unfrozen, before heading back to the hostel for a quick nap and to get ready for our pick up. It was a night tour so also included a Northern Lights hunt although we weren’t optimistic about that as the weather was still really poor. This was backed up by the tour guide the second we got on the bus who said we would be staying longer at the baths to make up for it. Upon arrival at the baths we had our buffet which was lovely and pretty much the first time I’d seen fruit and veg since we arrived!
We filled our faces and then prepared ourselves for the weirdest experience ever! After showering naked, you get changed into your swimsuit, open the door into the outside and the pitch black, 0 degree temperature, and have to make a run for it to the nearest hot spring through the blizzard and wind. There were four pools ranging between 32-42 degrees along with 3 steam rooms and a sauna, all running off the natural geothermal hot water that is pumped round the city. This meant that there was a strong smell of sulphur and in order to change pools you have to get back out of one of the warm pools and walk through the 0 degree wind again. It was the most bizarre but entertaining thing ever and we definitely had a good laugh! I did feel like a Japanese macaque monkey.
After we had made ourselves all wrinkly, we got dressed, I managed to blow dry my hair which is entertaining enough by itself and we got back on the bus. Unfortunately, there was still no chance of lights but we did pull over on the way back to do a bit of stargazing which was amazing. The sky is so clear through the clouds and I have never seen so many stars so clearly! All in all, it was a lovely evening.
We’d opted for a cute little authentic restaurant called Old Icelandic. Jack ordered the lamb and I had the beef and it was the most incredible food that we stayed for pudding; rhubarb oat cake and creme brûlée. We then headed back to the hostel to pack our bag for the big day tomorrow.
The bad weather had finally lifted so we packed in as much as possible! Firstly we headed out on a golden circle tour with Reykjavik excursions which took us to the into the Þingvellir National Park, which is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates pull apart Iceland at a rate of 2cm a year. The landscape was stunning! The National Park was also the area that the old courts took place and where the council would meet to make the new laws. It was later used as the court where they would had out death sentences. We then walked down to the drowning pool which is where women who had been given the death sentence, mainly for little things such as having a child out of wedlock, were tied to stone and then drowned in the freezing water.
Unfortunately the little camera we’d bought wouldn’t charge on the USB’s on the coach so we were unable to get footage of the rest of the day apart from on our phones. Up next was the geysers. Only one of them is currently active which is called Strokkur and shoots water 100m up in the air every 5-8 minutes. The rest of them are currently not active but the water all around is 80-100 degrees which creates a smoke like liquid nitrogen permanently. It’s so random and spectacular all at the same time.
In between the stops our guide was great and gave us a huge amount of insight throughout the day. Every week there are between 150 and 400 earthquakes in Iceland and they have 30 active volcanoes, two of which are due to explode any time now. We were told this while driving near the base of the one that only gives you an hour notice!
The third stop was the Gullfoss waterfall which was incredible and could be viewed from three different levels. The whole of the surrounding was white with snow and the noise from the amount of water moving so quickly was crazy.
From the waterfall we jumped into a very large off road vehicle which used to be a vehicle used by NATO to drive up to Langjökull, Europe’s second largest glacier, where we were going snowmobiling! We got full overalls and a balaclava and Jack and I jumped on a snowmobile for a 25 minute drive, after which we switched over and drove back. Again, for miles around all your could see was white and the fog descended upon us at one point which meant that I could only just see the snowmobile in front of me! It would have been great to get footage of us riding with the camera put unfortunately some things aren’t meant to be. So when we stopped we made snow angels raced through the snow instead. The majority of the glacier was covered in quite a thick layer of snow, but some parts were just solid ice and very slippery. It was an amazing experience but so so cold! By the time we got back to base camp I had iced eyelashes and eyebrows and my whole body was covered in snow as was Jack.
We were then transferred back in the big bad boy bus to our tour guide who then talked us through some fun facts about Iceland. 90% of the country receive hot water through their taps and central heating systems directly from the hot springs which means that it does a bit eggy due to all the sulphur. It also runs underneath some of the main roads so that when it does snow, which is often, the road gets thawed out without the need for grit or snow ploughs. They also provide all of the countries electricity through green energy through hydro-power and geothermal energy and are one of the leading countries for geo-thermal energy.
Iceland is seeing a massive surge in popularity with 35% increase in tourism this year. Two years ago fishing was still their biggest economy. They are expeting a 50% increase next year. Also, fun fact of the day the biggest banana plantation in Europe is in Iceland. They grow everything in greenhouses so they grow the majority of their fresh produce rather than import it.
We made it back into town in time to grab some dinner, have a quick nap and jump back on the bus for our Northern Lights Hunt! Having had such bad weather for the entire of our trip, this evening was completely clear, the stars were out in force and the Aurora forecast was reading an active 4! Our guides took us to a spot North of Reykjavik where the clouds had completely dispersed, the stars were so clear and we could see a white wisp of the Northern Lights. We managed to get some alright photos with the app that Jack had downloaded, but we definitely didn’t have the right equipment like some of the others on our trip! Their pictures were incredible, but we were pretty happy with ours. Having had such an amazing day today made the trip definitely worthwhile!
We had made it back to the hostel at 1:30 and were up early for our cookery class at Salt Eldhus (Salt Kitchen). We had read a number of reviews on this so thought we would give it a go even though we’ve done nothing like it before, basically you cook yourself an authentic 3 course meal with the aid of Sigridur who runs the kitchen. It was a really cool experience and we got a real insight into Icelandic food and way of living. The view from the kitchen was also pretty spectacular with a view across the promenade and the mountains. We were joined by a couple from America, so it was also interesting to share the experience with strangers.
For the main we had Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb, Fondant Potatoes, Satuteed Red Cabbage with Raisins Green Pea Puree with Mother-of-Thyme Jus.
For pudding we had Skyr Panna Cotta with Brown Whey Cheese Cream and Toasted Oats.
Again, we were so full and shattered from a late evening/early morning that we had a quick wander round town seeing as the weather was clearer and you could properly see the mountains from the promenade followed by a nap.
We then headed out for the start of our New Years Eve Celebrations. New Year is a very special family time in Iceland. They start with a big family dinner, then let off some fireworks and then attend their closest bonfire, of which the are numerous across the city, where they let off some more fireworks. Between 10:30-11:30, 90% of the country watch Áramótaskaup, a comedy show summing up the year and then everyone unleashes the rest of the fireworks in the build up to midnight. There is no public display, just a whole city and 6 hours worth of firework display. 500 tons of fireworks is set off in one evening and all of the profits go to the local rescue services which are not funded by the government – 60% of their funding comes from this one evening.
We headed down to one of the bonfires and were definitely in luck. Not only did we feel truly part of the celebrations, we had a great view across the city to watch the fireworks as well as the large fireworks that were happening in the park where the bonfire was. Looking up we could then see the Northern Lights, which had made a very strong appearance and were so green in colour they could be seen through the iPhone camera unlike the day before. There were young kids running round with sparklers and flares and adults letting off huge boxes of fireworks and singular huge fireworks. It was pretty incredible! Iceland are not part of the EU but are part of the EEA (European Economic Area) and the Shengen area. This was the last year that they were able to buy the large fireworks that in the EU can only be bought by large public displays. This means that the fireworks were HUGE!
The clearer weather didn’t mean that it was warmer, this evening was about minus 5. We headed back to the hostel to thaw out. Jack had realised that if we went up the fire exit we could get onto the roof, so we headed up there for 11:40 to watch the real fireworks commence. What we didn’t realise was that is actually took us onto the roof terrace for the club next door, but we gatecrashed none the less. It was the most incredible experience and the whole city went up in lights!
What happened next definitely topped off the whole of our trip in Iceland as Jack decided that this was the best spot to ask me to marry him.
We got up, pack our bags and headed to the airport. Last nights antics hadn’t quite sunk in, but we called all of the parentals to let them know the good news from the airport.
Jack ended up with a seat with the extra leg room and we watched the sunset from the plane. We were also lucky enough to see Venus chilling by the moon.
It was the most amazing trip, even if it was VERY expensive.
If you need extra persuading that a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland for New Year’s Eve, make sure you check out my post on why you should definitely add it to your list!