Thanks to a few Icelandair advertisements strategically placed in DC metro stations, I learned about their free stopover policy several months ago. It’s only a 5 hour flight from DC (Dulles) to Reykjavik, and then just under 3 hours from Reykjavik to London, so it seemed like a great way to break up a long trans-Atlantic trip. I’ve wanted to visit Iceland ever since I read Jar City by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason, and fitting it in on our way to London turned out to be perfect.
Our flight left Dulles at 8:30pm on Saturday and touched down in Reykjavik at 6:30am local time. Because we were visiting in late October, the sun wasn’t yet up, and wouldn’t be for another few hours. We never check bags, unless the flight attendants are particularly nasty (they weren’t), so we were able to go straight through customs with our carry-ons and were on a bus into town within 30 minutes. Reykjavik airport is small and efficient. The drive took about 45 minutes total; I can’t say I was awake for any or all of it. After a quick switch at the bus terminal (tour buses and narrow Reykjavik streets aren’t exactly compatible), the mini bus dropped us right around the corner from our incredible airbnb house, which I found for loads cheaper than any of the other hotels in Reykjavik.
Despite all the warnings about napping and jet lag, we were going on a few hours of sleep at best, and the down comforters on the king size bed were too much to resist. We decided that if the sun wasn’t up yet, we didn’t need to be either.
A few hours later, with sunlight streaming through our window, we found the energy to get out of bed, shower, and bundle up to explore the city. Temperatures were in the low 30s – not exactly warm, but certainly bearable. First up, the church of Hallgrimskirkja, which looks unlike any other church I’ve ever seen.
The church was right up the street from our airbnb house and is said to have been designed to resemble the basalt lava flows in Iceland’s landscape. The statue in front is of Leif Eriksson, famous Icelandic explorer. The church is free to enter, but is very spartan inside, keeping with the Lutheran tradition.
Inside Hallgrimskirkja is bright and airy and worlds away from the embellished and adorned Catholic cathedrals I’m used to visiting in Europe. At the back of the church is a large and beautiful pipe organ, the only adornment. The organ weighs 25 tons.
Although the organ is impressive, the real attraction, in my opinion, is the bell tower, which is open to visitors for a small fee (I believe it was Ikr 900 per person – just over $7). You buy tickets in the small gift shop, then take a very small elevator all the way to the top.
After our tour of Hallgrimskirkja, it was time for lunch. We quickly found out that food in Iceland is expensive, so we turned to a local hole-in-the-wall noodle place for a hearty, warming meal on the cheap. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was popular and amazing. Hubby got chicken, I got veggies, both extra spicy. It was deeeeelicious.
After lunch, the plan was to walk down to the harbor area and do some sightseeing, but the weather had other ideas. Just as we were heading out, it started pouring. Already cold and tired, we were not ready to add soaking wet to the mix, so we opted for a low-key afternoon in a coffee shop with our books and bowls of steaming lattes. Eventually, the rain stopped and we ventured out to do some browsing in the shops along Laugavegur, where I picked up a souvenir from the Handknitting Association of Iceland (see photo below).
After an early dinner (we ate at Fish, which was ok but not great), it was time for bed. None of the legendary Reykjavik pub crawl action for us! I’m not as young as I used to be, folks.
Day Two in Reykjavik was sunny, but cold with a biting wind. We spent the day wandering around town, window shopping, and trying to stay warm.
For lunch, we decided to splurge on the lunch special at Snaps restaurant (located in the Hotel Odensve). We were not disappointed! The menu descriptions were victim of a little mistranslation (the description on my husband’s meal – the far plate in the photo said “open faced sandwich”), but both dishes were incredible. We couldn’t believe how much food we received for the price (Ikr 1800 per plate) – especially when prices for similar restaurants were at least Ikr 2200.
After lunch, we caught a bus out to Laugardalslaug, one of the local swimming pools on the outskirt of town. While not nearly as resort-like as the famous Blue Lagoon, it was incredibly nice for loads cheaper. One thing you must do in Iceland, either at Blue Lagoon or at a local pool, is take a dip in a “hot pot” – a small pool naturally heated by geothermal springs. Basking in clear blue water, naturally heated to 104 degrees, while the snow falls was easily our favorite experience in Iceland. I didn’t visit Blue Lagoon, so I can’t compare, but I highly recommend Laugardalslaug – it’s easy to get to, incredibly clean, and we were the only non-Icelandic people there. I wish I had taken a picture, but I find that hot tubs and iPhones aren’t the best of friends.
After a few hours lounging in the hot pots, it was time to catch the bus back into town, find something for dinner, and go to bed early before our 4am wakeup call. Next stop – London!
Check out these other posts to read about the rest of our Europe 2014 trip!
- London Part I – arrival in London, fish & chips, a snazzy pub, and the British Library
- London Part II – walking tour of London highlights, Westminster Abbey, and an Irish pub
- London Part III – St. Paul’s, Borough Market, and an incredible WWI memorial at the Tower of London
- Paris Part I – a walk through Luxembourg gardens and sunset at the Eiffel Tower
- Paris Part II – three blockbuster sites: Notre Dame, Versailles, and Sainte Chapelle
- Paris Part III – the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Auguste Rodin museum
- Bayeux – small town France
- D-Day Beaches – paying tribute to the Greatest Generation
- Mont Saint-Michel – an abbey on an island