Most of the things you hear about Iceland are true. It is in fact a magical Nordic wonderland featuring dramatic landscapes with geysers, hot springs and glaciers. The language does sound like elven whisperings comprised of unpronounceable consonants that are printed boldly on road signs and shops. Icelandic ponies do in fact dot almost every populated landscape and often out number people in the farthest reaches.
The rumor however that it is unobtainably expensive for only the likes of Kanye and Kim ( who ironically had helicoptered in to stand on a glacier while we were there) are not true. We are currently living in the "shangri-la" of travel the likes of which have not been seen since the 70s. John and I first started hearing about the WOW air flights about 6 months before we went in April 2016. Suddenly it seemed every travel blog we came across featured some obscure hot spring, a glacier or waterfall from Iceland. We of course were hooked and started absorbing all the information we could find. We had no trouble convincing another couple to go along with us and within a month Britta, Phil, John and I had booked our tickets - $350 round trip per person.
Always conscientious of our budget as well as having the most authentic experience we decided we would camp. We had read that camping was permitted on most lands as long as you either asked permission of the ower ( if there was a house) or camped far enough away from any structure so as not to pose a problem. We watched the weather in Reykjavik closely for weeks and it was shaping up to be a mild mid 50s spring over there. The day we flew in went smoothly , customs only seemed to give us trouble when they asked us what we had packed for gear. "You're not camping are you? Well sir yes actually we are". He looked at us incredulously and laughed which it turned out made sense because as we got into the terminal to wait for our car we spied snow clouds rolling in. After Phil and I accidentally each took out $300 (30.000 KRN looks a lot like $30 at 6 am) and recovered from the shock we picked up our car and headed into town. As luck would have it we had entered into complete white out blizzard.
Even for a seasoned New England driver the conditions were intense. Streetlights were few and even with our headlights we couldn't see where the road right in front of us was. We quickly realized that we would have to scrap our wilderness ideals and bunk down in the city. We spent the next three days staying in some incredibly affordable off season Air BnBs exploring inside and around Reykjavik. The city is the country's capital and in recent years has become the post populated. In hindsight I was glad we stayed there the first few days because it allowed us to acclimate and get prepared comfortably before heading out into the sparsely populated and and widely dispersed outlying towns.
To be honest I had my own preconceived notions about the city. I had assumed incorrectly that it would either be filled with ancient stone or wooden structures when in reality the buildings themselves are relatively new. Most of the architecture was constructed between 1930-1960 and are made predominately out of concrete or corregated iron giving a kind of soviet feel. The internal architecture however is quite varied. Our first apartment was a cozy two bedroom filled with antiques, hardwood floors and lots of light which was perfect we found for drinking Brennivín and sketching. The other two nights weren't so shabby either with a sleek modern apartment that boasted a spiral staircase, rooftop access and a eagles eye view of the city.
Local attractions like the expressionist style Hallgrimskirkja church built to mimic Icelandic cliffs and the traditional Icelandic food of Cafe Loki were among some of the most memorable of our inner city explorations. Using Reykjakvik as a home base for those early days also allowed us to get in some day trips where we went off the beaten path to the hot springs of Selljavellir and plane crash Solheimasandur .
Stay tuned for Part II when we share what we discovered when we left the city for the less populated outskirts of the island as well as our list of insiders tips.
andWhat we wore for Spring in Iceland :
Icelandic / Wool Sweater - I was lucky enough to inherit my mothers but you will see everyone over there wearing them for a reason
Rains Coat - absolutely necessary regardless of the season as it is an island with little vegetation making it windy, rainy/snowy and of course those lovely waterfalls do a lot of gushing. This particular jacket is stylish,extreemly quick drying, light and under $100
Waterproof hiking boots - I brought along a pair of Dublin pull on winter boots typically made for those who work in barns but I found that the height, insulated material and overall wear so reliable and comfortable
Several pairs of warm hiking socks
Touch screen gloves - which are great beacuse they are thin but also allow you to be nimble when climbing and accesing phones/gear
Big thick scarf - This was great for wrapping around a head or neck when it got windy and also doubled as a pillow in the car for when I needed a quick cat nap
Key Places to go In/ Near Reykjavik:
Grái Kötturinn / Grey Cat Cafe - though a splurge this charming little 50s style cafe hosts some delicious breakfast items (bagels with lox, pancakes, eggs etc) and rumor has it is a favorite of Bjork's.
Cafe Loki -simple decor, epic post apocalyptic murals on the wall and traditional small plates featuring open faced "sandwiches" , coffee and my favorite desert ever rye ice cream
Hallgrimskirkja church - built by Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937 in an expressionist stylethe church took 41 years to complete and is the tallest building in the city. It is a towering, light filled minimalist structure that features and organ designed by Johannes Klais of Bonn.
Solheimasandur site of the 1973 United States Navy DC plane which ran out of fuel was forced to crash land into the black sand beach. While no one is hurt the plane is still in tact as it fell and tourists are able to walk the 4 km out to the site.
Skógafoss waterfall - while it can be pretty touristy and there are many more waterfalls to be seen farther out it is still worth taking a gander at for its sheer size and for the fact you can walk up to and behind it. It is also where I found my one and only souvenir a gorgeous multi colored sheepskin which also after comparing prices ( and approved ethical sources) ended up being the most reasonably priced as well
Selljavellir pool - is much more known since the rise in tourism and of blog posts but still a challenge to get to and therefore not as populated. The pool itself was built around 1920, very basic and fed by a hot spring. It is about a 3/4 - mile walk in and when you actually arrive you are dwarfed by mountains on every side making the experience extraordinarily humbling. The changing area has been mucked up by disrespectful tourists but if you can get past that (and in our case the freezing cold sleet) than the luke warm dip is a memory to be treasured.