A Weekend in Reykjavik


After the Golden Circle tour, we had two full days left to spend on a Reykjavik city break. Our guesthouse was located right next to Hallgrimskirkja. The church is massive and can be seen from nearly any part of the city – for someone who could get lost for a living, it was the perfect landmark orienteering-wise. We started the day by hopping on the elevator to the top of the church, and from there we could gawk at all the colourful houses of Reykjavik.


After our church visit, it was time to roam the streets of the city. My first impression of Reykjavik is a mish-mash of adorable wooden houses and tons of graffiti covering the walls. It also seems like a pretty laid-back city (even though they’ve deemed it necessary to specifically ban tractors on the roads during rush hours). A young man tending a hot dog stand tackled his grey day blues by singing out the tiny window of the stand, singing out so loud his voice echoed throughout the block. While my mum and I cursed the rain, a man in a suit closed his eyes, lifted his face up against the sky, and smiled at the raindrops bouncing off his cheeks to join the puddles on the ground.

As we reached the harbour, we started to wonder about the crowds of people, families and couples, all going in the same direction. We joined the march out of pure curiousity and soon found out that the local rescue services were holding some kind of an open doors event. We actually got to go on a free tour on the Coast Guard boat! They also had a cavalcade of different rescue vehicles in a neat row outside, including a gigantic 4×4 for the difficult inland terrain. It seems that car rental companies are scaring tourists about Iceland’s dangerous small roads for a good reason.


We finished off Saturday night at the Harpa concert hall, where we saw the amazing How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes. This hilarious one-man comedy show included not only stand up, but also a lot of props and video material, and the goal of the evening was to turn the audience into fresh, new Icelanders to help keep their tiny nation afloat. This show is pure gold and I can absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Reykjavik! I dare you not to laugh for an entire hour at Bjarni Haukur Þórsson’s mercy. The concert hall in itself is also quite a sight.


On Sunday it was time for another soak, this time at the Laugardalslaug geothermal outdoor pool. This is another strongly recommended destination for Reykjavik visitors. The entrance fees are reasonable, under 1000 ISK, and for the price you get to enjoy a variety of different pools and other services. In addition to the “normal” sports pool, they also have a steam room, a seawater pool, a waterslide, and a bunch of smaller pools of different temperatures up to 44 degrees Celsius. All of the water is geothermally heated and the pools are open year-round. It seems swimming is one of Icelanders’ favourite hobbies, and what better way to catch up with friends and family than soaking in a warm tub of awesomeness.

Since we had already seen most of the must-sees on Saturday, on Sunday we could focus more on the details. I was charmed by the streamlined, bright red street lamps, geometric roundabout art, and sidewalks tiles that made them look like pixel art. Unfortunately I managed to destroy my memory card before I had the last day’s pictures safe on the computer. I lost them all, I cried, but what can you do. Fortunately the good memories of this trip will be much better stored on my brain than they were on the SD card.

Finally, here are a couple of Icelandic music videos. We kept hearing the first brainworm all the time on the car radio. The second video takes you to the streets and roofs of Reykjavik. The third video features a rapper riding through the suburbs on an icelandic horse. :D So heartwarming!

Golden Circle in Iceland, pt. 2: Gullfoss, Geysir & Laugarvatn Fontana

4. Gullfoss


Our next stop was at the Gullfoss waterfalls located practically next to Geysir. The contrast between the turquoise water and the surrounding snow and rock, the rumble of the falling water, and the massive amounts of steam filling the air made a big impression on me. The next time I visit Iceland, I’d also like to see the Skógafoss waterfall, which we couldn’t fit into our schedule this first time.


5. Geysir & Co.


Geysir must be one of the most well-known sights in Iceland, but it is actually surrounded by a bunch of other hot springs. Strokkur is the only one that erupts regularly, every 10 minutes or so, shooting a huge pillar of water high in the air. The others mostly just keep steaming by their own. A strong smell of sulphur fills the air in the area – a familiar smell we had already encountered in its lighter form while running the faucets at our hotel room in Reykjavik. Yum!





6. Laugarvatn Fontana Spa


After a whole day of driving around, getting wet from steamy air, and shuffling around in the cold weather, a sauna and a dip in a warm tub start to feel like a great idea. The extortionately priced Blue Lagoon was partly under renovation and we still would have had to book our spots there in advance, so we opted for the Fontana instead. And I’m so glad we did!

The geothermic spa has several outdoor pools of different temperatures, and the views over the lake couldn’t be better. Three out of their four saunas are naturally heated by hot steam rising from the ground under them – and there’s the sweet smell of rotten egg again, yum! It’s also possible to take a refreshing dip in the lake, which I ended up doing thrice. Thanks to the hot springs, the lake wasn’t frozen in February, though the water was still quite chilly.  After a nice, long soak we also got to stuff our bellies with the evening buffet offerings. Their specialty is geothermal baked rye bread, which was delicious as heck. 5/5, would visit again.

More on Iceland:

Golden Circle in Iceland, pt. 1

Golden Circle in Iceland, pt. 1: Þingvellir, Kerið & Icelandic Horse Buddies

So, I turned thirty in February. THIRTY years on this planet. My budding age crisis was, however, swiftly banished when my mother decided to gift me with a free trip to Iceland! There were only two conditions: 1) I would handle all travel arrangements based on a specific budget and 2) Mum would get to join me on the trip. Clearly an offer I couldn’t refuse.


On board Icelandair we saw the (unfortunately) only “northern lights” of the trip projected on the ceiling of the cabin. Such an amazing idea for the branding of the plane! Somebody please give this designer a biscuit or two. :)

On the first night we didn’t have much time for anything other than getting settled at our guesthouse (Sunna Guesthouse) and gawking at the exorbitant prices at the shops. Of course almost every article ever written on Iceland warns tourists of the high costs, but it is hard to fully appreciate just how high those prices can be until you’re already there, desperately clutching at your poor wallet. Even though this time I didn’t have to dip into my own pockets, I could still feel cold sweat running down my spine whenever I caught a glimpse of the price tags of our snacks. It might be a good idea for every Iceland traveller to bring their own paper bag in which to breathe, for all those times when panic sets in at the cash register.



The next morning we grabbed an excellent rental car from Thrifty and finally got to the point: there is a good reason why the Golden Circle is on nearly every tourist’s bucket list when they first visit Iceland. There are so many natural wonders and other sights by the ring road that it is virtually impossible to see them all in one day, so you have to pick and choose. Usually the route is driven clockwise as a full circle, but our itinerary looked more like a lasso on the map. We wanted to end the day with a soak at the Laugarvatn Fontana Spa, so it took some extra work to figure out the logistics. Special thanks to Google: couldn’t have done it without the offline maps!

1. Þingvellir National Park


Þingvellir was once the centre of Iceland, and it is also where the country was declared independent in 1944. The national park is located where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, and the bravest visitors are offered a chance to dive in the Silfra fissure between the plates. We were content with a leisurely walk on dry land – it was already challenging enough to avoid bumping into busloads of other tourists, even though our visit was still well outside high season. Entrance to the park is free, but parking next to the Tourist Info costs 500 ISK – free parking seemed to be possible a bit further away.




2. The Crater Lake Kerið

IMG_2510For scale: spot a bus and a group of people in the upper left corner of the photo

The most basic Golden Circle itinerary only contains the three giants: Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss. But Kerið is not to be missed! For 450 ISK, you get to step right to the edge of the crater. Our first view of the lake was slightly disappointing: it looked like a sad, brown puddle from the viewpoint right next to the parking lot. Fortunately we had the good sense to walk around the whole crater: the lake changes colour based on weather and light conditions! The walk only took us a maximum of fifteen minutes, during which we got to experience dry weather, rain, a hail shower and sunshine. As Icelanders like to say: if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. Extremely accurate.



3. The Gentle Beasts


My whole adult life I’ve thought of horses as murderous beasts just waiting for a chance to strike me. Then I met these two sympathetic fellows who turned my world upside down. While driving the Golden Circle, you can see horses everywhere. I was only planning to snap a nice photo of them from a safe distance and quickly return to the car, but as soon as the horses saw me swinging my camera around, they came over to the fence to make a new friend. I plucked up all my courage and pet them on the nose, half expecting them to bite off my arm and neigh maliciously afterwards. I managed to avoid such horror scenarios and also rid myself of one phobia, at least momentarily.


IMG_2548Wait… So you didn’t bring us any snacks?

More on Iceland:

Golden Circle in Iceland, pt. 2