Eric’s 40th: Reykjavík

We spent our first and last evenings in Iceland’s capital and main city, Reykjavík.

Tuesday

Our apartment was two blocks from the famous Hallgrimskirkja, a church design inspired by the Icelandic basalt columns seen several times on our trip.

Hallgrimskirkja  Hallgrimskirkja

After getting into our apartment we realized that the nearby grocery store was just about to close (at 6p). However, there was a smaller convenience market, 10-11, a few blocks away, so we headed there to purchase breakfast and snack items for the next day.

On our walk down we scouted potential restaurants, but none of them really struck us – reviews were so-so, and prices were definitely high. Leandra had read about Micro Bar, but when we arrived at the address there was a restaurant in its place (with a faded awning above the door that said Microbar!). Clearly something had changed, and as we found a little later, they had indeed moved locations in the fall.

We were ready to eat by this point, so we decided that takeout from Núðluskálin was probably the best option. While Leandra was ordering a noodles for us, I explored the side streets and noticed a Mikkeller bar (we returned to it on Sunday).

After a nice dinner in our apartment we did some more research and found the new address for Micro Bar, so we decided to go out a second time. On the way we found a few street art murals too.

street art  street art

Reykjavik @ 11pm

We’re glad we found Micro Bar as they had a great selection and cozy basement atmosphere. I immediately spotted a sour ale on the board and although Leandra’s first choice was out, she enjoyed her tequila barrel aged Imperial Stout (that took her nearly an hour to drink)!

Micro Bar

Wednesday (morning)

The next morning we simply went downstairs to Brod, a bakery in the next building, for some delicious breakfast danishes and after a second purchase of more pastries, we checked out the Sólfarið (Sun Voyager) on our way out of town.

Sólfarið (Sun Voyager)

Sunday

We arrived back in Reykjavík in the late afternoon around 3pm. Thankfully we found a close spot for our car right outside our room, and street parking is free on Sundays. Bonus! Our first stop was Brod – on Wednesday they told us that cinnamon buns were released after noon, so we made sure to try those. We were not disappointed!

We made a reservation for dinner at Roadhouse, then walked down a few streets that we hadn’t explored earlier.

downtown Reykjavík

Eventually we made our way back to Micro Bar for happy hour.

Since we hadn’t done so on Tuesday, we also stopped in Mikkeller & Friends to try their offerings. Housed on the upper floor with exposed beams, this was also a quite cozy beer hangout.

Mikkeller and Friends bar

Leandra hadn’t used any of the cash she took out from the airport ATM, as credit cards are accepted everywhere in Iceland, so we used it on beer. And with the price of beer in Iceland, that $40 didn’t last long.

Roadhouse had good reviews on Google for their burgers and their fries were especially well reviewed, so we were interested to try it out. The fries (double-fried it turns out) were quite crispy and good, but the burgers were just OK – a bit dry and not all that memorable for a near $20 burger even with a bunch of toppings.

With a long day of travel facing us, we retired to re-pack our luggage for our flight home the next day.

Eric’s 40th: Iceland day 5 – back to Reykjavík

After a filling breakfast at the hotel we checked out and started our leisurely drive back to Reykavjik.

Before we left Vik we wanted to see their famous black sand beach, so we started there for scenic views of the Reynisdrangar rock formation just off-shore.

Reynisdrangar views

Víkurkirkja

To see the basalt columns and cave up close we took a paved road down to Reynisfjara beach where we also spotted puffins floating in the water about 200 yards off-shore and witnessed hundreds of seagulls circling overhead.

Hwy 215

Reynisfjara beach

Reynisfjara beach

puffins!

Kirkjufjara beach

Our next planned stop was a waterfall we skipped on our first pass near Skógafoss, and since we didn’t know exactly where it was we relied on the pin placement of our GPS to tell us where to turn. It turned out to be incorrect but instead we got to walk up to Sólheimajökull glacier and see several tour groups preparing to do their glacier hikes.

Sólheimajökull

Sólheimajökull

The actual turn to Kvernufoss was only a half mile further down (same road as Skógafoss, in fact). After parking and hopping over a sheep fence, we followed a worn grass path into a canyon to a beautiful waterfall. There were many seagulls here and there was only one other couple, so it was significantly less busy than many of the falls we visited.

Kvernufoss

Kvernufoss scene

From here, we took Hwy 1 back into town where we collected the key to our apartment, settled in with a warm cinnamon bun from the bakery next door and planned our evening.

Eric’s 40th: Iceland Day 4 – Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoons

For day 4 our main destinations were the glacial lagoons Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón, several hours drive from Vik. As usual, we made quite a few stops along the way. The first stop was a quick hike in Fjaðrárgljúfur, a 2km-long canyon at the end of a bumpy, gravel road. We would have been more interested in seeing the canyon from the bottom but the water levels were too high.

 

Fjaðrárgljúfur  testing out his waterproof shoes

Back on the ring road we were amazed by the old lava field landscape dominated by boulders covered in spongy mosses several inches deep.

Iceland landscape

After stopping in Kirkjubæjarklaustur for some snacks (the grocery store in Vik wasn’t open when we left town at 8:30am), I insisted we see the Kirkjugólf hexagonal basalt formations, also called the ‘Church Floor.’ It was a short walk through a sheep field (had to look down a lot), and the formation was interesting but not worth a special trip.

Kirkjugólf

Just down the road we checked out Stjórnarfoss, a pretty domed waterfall…

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Back on the ring road we spotted a beautiful roadside cascade, and a few miles up, Foss a Sidu, a tall cliff side falls easily seen from the road.

river rapids

At this point we still had quite a bit of driving to do to reach the glacier lagoons, so we saved Skaftafell National Park for the return if we had enough time. Hwy 1 took us around the enormous Vatnajökull glacier — the landscape was completely barren for miles and then suddenly green again as we approached Skaftafell National Park.

Vatnajökull glacier

barren landscape with glaciers and mountains in the distance

Fjallsárlón is a small lagoon that was full of floating ice during our visit. It is much smaller than the famous Jökulsárlón just 6km up the road, but beautiful and worth a visit.

Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon also did not disappoint. There are several small parking areas where you can hike over a moraine for views of the large lagoon. The range of blues in both the water and ice was a beautiful sight. We eventually drove down to the main parking area and witnessed a few icebergs working their way down the river toward the ocean. It was a good spot to have lunch overlooking the lagoon, however, this was easily the busiest parking lot of the trip. The lines for the bathrooms were super long and we never found a place to throw out our trash, unlike many other areas thus far.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Figuring we had enough time before our 7pm dinner reservations at the hotel, we decided to stop at Skaftafell National Park and see as much as we could. Even though the hike was almost entirely uphill, I made good time on my one-soled hiking shoes and we did the entire 2 mile round-trip in about 40 minutes. Svartifoss is worth the trip as it’s quite a pretty falls with unusual basalt formations on either side.

Svartifoss

We even spotted this little guy hiding near the trail on the way out…

iceland-111  Hundafoss
a black-tailed godwit; Hundafoss

We made it back to the hotel with just enough time to change before heading to dinner.  Dinner at Berg was a bit of a splurge but the food quality was great.

beers w/ dinner

stuffed chicken and rice  smoked lamb and way too much butter
stuffed chicken and rice; smoked lamb w/ more butter than anyone should consume in one sitting

The glacial lagoons are definitely a memorable highlight of our trip, and we were quite grateful to have enough sun to really bring out all the amazing shades of blue.

Eric’s 40th: Iceland Day 3 – Selfoss to Vik, waterfalls galore and Skógafoss

The day started out overcast with a light drizzle but cleared up the further east we headed. From Vik our first waterfall of the day was AEgissufoss, a large river cascade near Hella. Parking was easy, and the viewpoint was a short walk across a field after climbing a fence ladder!

Eric climbing a fence ladder  AEgissufoss

Our next stop, Gluggafoss, was easy to spot from the road. A footpath lead through a sheep gate to the base of the falls.

Gluggafoss

watch your step!  Gluggafoss

sheep and waterfall

Nearby is Thorsteinslundur, a picnic area set amongst a sheep farm with a tall waterfall.

Thorsteinslundur

From here we took a very gravelly road (Route 250) back to Hwy 1 in order to save time rather than back-tracking. I was not particularly comfortable with the sound of rocks pinging the bottom of our rental car but Eric kept me calm and we got some lovely shots of lupine in full bloom – so it worked out.

clouds

lupine for miles!

Soon after joining the Ring Road again, we arrived at the huge parking lot for Seljalandsfoss. Amazingly, there was a line for the men’s room but I walked right into the women’s! As per normal, the public restrooms were generally nice with toilet paper (you never know), sinks and hand dryers. This falls is popular because you can walk behind it but after our damp experience the day before that was not a draw for us.

Seljalandsfoss

Continuing down the path you pass a second waterfall, and then finally Gljúfrafoss (aka Gljúfrabúi), which is partially hidden in a canyon. Eric hiked up some steep rocks to try for a better angle but this one was hard to photograph given the spray on this day.

Gljúfrabúi waterfall  Gljúfrabúi waterfall

Our next destination was Skógafoss. Along the way, the wind was quite strong, to the point where it was blowing a small waterfall back up and over a hillside.

waterfalls blowing away in the wind

Amazingly, the rain continued to stay away so we decided to do the long hike up and beyond Skógafoss. The large parking area was full of people, as was the base of the falls but the further we went, the less crowded it became until it was only us and on other couple in our view. Skógafoss itself is quite impressive, probably the most ‘classic’ waterfall we saw on the trip.

Skógafoss

From the base, you can hike up a very long staircase to the top and continue the hike along the top of the canyon…

so. many. stairs.

so. many. stairs.

It was amazingly gorgeous, quiet and peaceful.

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Skóga hike  Skóga hike

Skóga hike

We made it about 1.7 miles before we decided to turn around because the path got pretty steep and muddy. Shortly after that, the entire sole came off my left hiking boot. No joke.

lost the entire bottom sole of my hiking boot!

Thankfully, the foam underneath was sturdy and not too slippery so I made it back to the car without incident. I was a bit worried about how I was going to hike for the next two days — I normally travel with super glue due to a previous sole incident, but I was going to need a lot more than a small tube to reattach the whole tread. I needn’t have worried because the foam held up fine. And once the sole on the other shoe came half off I decided those shoes were going to stay in Iceland.

Tired and happy, we continued on our way to Vik to check into the hotel and make it to Sudur Vik for dinner before 7pm (when it definitely gets more crowded). We split a pizza with ham, bacon and pineapple and had a glass of wine each. After our hike we probably could have eaten a pizza each but at $22 we opted to go light.

Eric’s 40th: Iceland Day 2 – RAIN!

This will be forever referred to as the ‘wet’ day in Iceland. It was about 40 degrees and drizzling with gusty winds and after two stops at Gullfoss and Geysir we were absolutely soaked. Thankfully this was also our lightest driving day so we did as much as we could and then grabbed some beer at the local Vínbúðin and hung out for the rest of the afternoon at the hotel to do laundry.

Gulfoss is a very popular falls with a large parking area and even a snackbar. It’s known as the Niagara Falls of Iceland for it’s massive amounts of water flowing into a canyon. Unfortunately, the combination of bad weather and massive spray made it very difficult to get a good shot. We choose the lower parking area as it was a quicker walk to view the falls.

Gullfoss

We had to drive past Geysir upon visiting Gullfoss so we found a parking spot to check out the hot springs. We saw the small geysir erupt three times while we wandered the path, surprising people who were a touch too close. After our trip to Yellowstone National Park last fall this small set of geysers and pools wasn’t as impressive to us.

Geysir  Geysir

Faxifoss is located just off the main road and there is a parking area from where you can view the falls. Typical of waterfalls in Iceland, this was a short drop but the wide river still made it picturesque. Alas, we saw no arctic char running the ladder on the left.

Faxifoss

The waterfall I was most excited to see, Hjalparfoss (‘Helping Falls’), was where we stopped for lunch. The river is split in half by rocks, so the falls looks like a couple holding hands. The picnic tables weren’t an option due to the level of wind and rain, so instead we ate in the car with a view of the falls.

Hjalparfoss  so cold and wet
‘Helping Falls’ and how I looked the entire day

Our last stop of the day was Urridafoss, a river cascade only 6m high, but with an immense water flow… definitley helped by the moisture raining down on us while taking these photos.

Urridafoss

After heading back to our warm and dry room, we decided on Thai takeout from Menam. Due to cost and assumed portion sizes we split the panang chicken curry. Unfortunately, it had hardly any spice or seasoning so we compromised with crumbled bacon chips to enhance the dish. Maybe we just chose poorly, but I would not recommend this place.

Eric’s 40th: Iceland Day 1 – Golden Circle and Þingvellir National Park

After some debate on time and routes, we decided to head north to Hraunfoss & Barnafoss waterfalls. They were far away from the Golden Circle but we are glad we made the detour because it turned out to be our favorite spot of the day. The drive up had us traversing both paved and gravel roads but nothing our little car couldn’t handle. Along the way we drove through a beautiful pass on Route 50 that provided some bonus waterfall views.

Iceland

Iceland waterfall  waterfall

On the way, we stopped at Sjavarfoss, a small roadside falls with a field of blooming lupine in front of it. You can walk to the base of the falls but Eric thought the better photo was near the road.

Sjavarfoss

Hraunfoss, or the “Lava Field Waterfall” is only about 10m high but very wide, with streams of water coming out of lava field. It is hard to capture in one shot!

Hraunfossar

Hraunfossar

We took a few photos then went back to the car to eat our pre-purchased sandwiches form our trip the grocery store the night before. I had a smoked salmon and cucumber pita and Eric enjoyed his ham and cheese sub.

There was a short path to a neighboring waterfall, Barnafoss (meaning Child’s Falls), named because two children had drowned there according to local lore. Hard to photograph in the midday light, but quite powerful and scenic, the water surges between rocks into a canyon.

Barnafoss

On the return south we retraced our path, and the next waterfall on the list was Thorufoss. Located just off Route 48 (passable 2WD gravel road) on the left when traveling south. We met a bicyclist from the Netherlands who stopped at the same time we did. I could not believe the amount of people biking around Iceland – they have more energy than me to be sure.

Thorufoss

From here we continued to Þingvellir National Park. A quick trip to the visitor’s center yielded a detailed map and circled points of interest. We choose the second parking lot and started exploring. The main site we wanted to see was Öxarárfoss, a powerful falls that you can walk right up to thanks to a boardwalk over stones. We had plenty of daylight left (ha ha) so we continued down the path to Lögberg or “Law Rock” (the country’s first parliaments were convened here) and the Hakid viewpoint. We enjoyed the beautiful views of the Almannagja Fault but skipped going in the historic wooden church.

ÖxarárfossÞingvellir National Park

Ready for dinner, we headed into town, checked in to the hotel and walked to Kaffi Krus for dinner in Selfoss. One of the top ranked places in town, it was crowded and the kitchen seemed to have trouble getting orders out in a timely manner. We waited over thirty minutes for our meal but at least we got the correct order. The table next to us received a salad instead of the nachos they wanted, but the waitress told them they could just have it since it would be tossed otherwise. The guy was nearly done with his salad when, surprise(!), the nachos arrived.

My Kaffi burger was fine but the fried were room temperature and not crispy. Eric’s pasta carbonara was tasty and we could have split it – the portion size was huge. Our draft beers were good – Einstock white ale – white pepper and flowery (Eric) and the Viking classic amber – traditional and malty (me).

guess who has the bigger beer?  Kafe Krus
Thankfully, we had beer while waiting for our food to arrive

After a very full day we were ready to relax in our room and finalize our plan for day 2.

Eric’s 40th: Iceland overview

After a two hour flight from London we landed in Keflavik airport. Volcanic rock, virtually no trees, and a very windy, cloudy 45 degrees met us on arrival – it felt like a totally different world.

Much of our time in Iceland was spent driving, and over the course of six days we put approximately 1,100 miles on our non-four wheel drive rental and we still only saw a relatively small portion of the island.

iceland_map
click map to enlarge

Iceland is rather expensive but there were a few money-saving tips we heard about before we arrived:

  • Buy alcohol at the airport duty free for a 30-50% discount. This is indeed accurate, as alcohol is only available through state-run stores with a significant tax attached. There is a duty free store conveniently located in the baggage claim.
  • Skip restaurants and go to grocery stores – especially for breakfast and lunch items.
  • Laundromats aren’t readily available, so for longer trips bring clothes that are washable in a sink or look for an apartment that has a washing machine.

Also, Iceland has a wonderful weather app, Vedur, that is highly recommended on an island that sees a lot of bad weather as it will provide alerts for storms and heavy winds.

Where We Stayed

Mengi Apartments

With a location close to the famous Hallgrimskirkja church and within walking distance to all of downtown this was a great place for us to stay our first and last evenings of the trip. On our first night we were in the top 2nd floor unit. Featuring lots of windows in a large living room, and a bedroom away from the street, we really liked this apartment. The kitchen was great with helpful items for serving our takeout and breakfast. Bonus points for the record player and Icelandic vinyl!

our loft apartment in Reykjavik

iceland-hotel-1

On our last night we stayed in the ground floor apartment, which has its entry on the street. This apartment is partially underground, so the living room windows have a foot-level view of the sidewalk. Given the proximity to the sidewalk this apartment is not nearly as private, and a bit louder. The bedroom is on the side and faces an alley off the street, so it is also a little louder than upstairs. Though a little smaller, there is still plenty of room.

The con to both apartments- in both bathrooms, the towels were really, really rough, and the shower soap was empty. Also, the water smelled a bit like sulfur. Relatively minor, and if we were staying more than a night I’m sure it could have been addressed. We’d definitely consider staying here again, and would look to reserve the 1st or 2nd floor units for the additional privacy they would provide.

Bella Apartments

We stayed in one of the double rooms which was OK – we had enough room for our luggage, and the bathroom was adequate.

However, our stay here was definitely strange.  First, the building is still under construction, including the lobby. So there is construction dust and it is not fully functional. For example, this is the landing on the second floor:

iceland-hotel-3
free instant coffee is thoughtful but who is going to iron here?

There was no front desk to check in but Leandra spotted our receipt and keys so she grabbed those and we headed upstairs to our room. Later that evening the owner(?) asked for her receipt back as it was her only copy. Considering others did the same thing we did, we wondered why she would leave out her only payment copy in the open lobby?

Second, the website still states “Free Wi-Fi access is available throughout the entire property as well as a washer and a dryer.” Wifi was available everywhere (although weak in our room), but a washer and dryer are only available in the apartments. We argued with the on-site person about this poorly worded statement on their website (who was using one of the rooms as the office since the lobby is still under construction) and they eventually let us use the washer in one of the apartments. A month later they still haven’t changed the wording on their website.

Third, for a brand new hotel there were a few small issues with paint, dirt, etc, that surprised us. The location was fine and although Selfoss isn’t a very large town the sidewalks aren’t great for walking so we just drove most places.  Overall, I can’t recommend staying here over the next few months given the continuing construction and experience we had.

Icelandair Hotel Vik

After our time in Selfoss, the comfort level definitely improved with the Icelandair Hotel Vik. Our room was comfortable and surprisingly spacious, and the bathroom was the nicest we had in Iceland with an amazing walk-in shower (and no rotten egg smell!).

iceland-hotel-4  iceland-hotel-6
our hotel from across the street; the lobby/bar area

Our rate included breakfast, and we enjoyed our experience each morning with a range of pastries, granola, meats, cheeses, and a waffle maker.

iceland-food-1

The one negative was a fairly territorial oystercatcher that insisted on pecking at his reflection in the window. Silly at 10pm, extremely irritating at 3am. Can’t really fault the hotel for it, but definitely try to get a room off the ground floor…

iceland-hotel-5
the guilty party with a friend at breakfast