How to spend a day in Reykjavik, Iceland

We hired a car for our week in Iceland, but when we arrived in Reykjavik, it was parked out the front of our Airbnb and promptly forgotten about until it was time to head back to the airport. We found Reykjavik to be a pretty easy city to walk around, even in the cold of winter. And despite the shorter daylight hours, you can actually pack quite a bit in to a sunny winter’s day while you’re there.

I’m clearly not a Reykjavik local (and I’m sure a they would have some different ideas on how to spend a day in their city), so this is my visitor’s version of how to spend a day there to take in as much of the city’s mixed bag of offerings as you can.

 

 

1. Get up early and start walking towards the Harpa Conference & Concert Center. Actually, you don’t have to get up that earlywe were there mid-November and this was about 7:30am. You’re not going to see inside the building or anything, it’s just really beautiful in the morning darkness on your way to your second stop.

 

2. Keep on walking south along the water for about 800 metres to the Sun Voyager. This frequently-photographed sculpture that looks like an old Viking long-ship is next-level spectacular during sunrise. It draws massive crowds during the day, so if you want a chance to have it to yourself, it’s worth the early wake up.

 

3. Double back and follow the main road around to the left at the Concert Center, taking you on a kilometre walk to Lake Tjörnin. If you’ve thought ahead and brought a KeepCup full of tea or coffee with you, this is a nice stop to make. If you’ve brought along some bread, too, even better – the birds here loooove a feed.

 

4. Opposite the west side of the lake at the corner of Suðurgata & Kirkjugarðsstígur, you’ll find the Hólavallagarður Cemetery. I love a cemetery visit when I’m travelling, and I’ve been to a lot of them now, but this will always stand out for me. After you’ve been driving around Iceland for a week, you notice that there actually aren’t a heap of trees there; they seem to be hoarding them all at this cemetery. In winter, when the graves are covered in moss and snow, and the light is a little darker and there’s no one around, it’s a pretty unique experience.

 

5. Start walking north again back towards the Concert Center and make your way to Kolaportið Market. Because no day out is complete without a trip to a local flea market, especially in Iceland where everything is generally incredibly expensive!

 

6. You’ve gotta be getting hungry by now, so take a lunch break at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur for the best hot dog you’ve ever eaten. Literally the BEST hot dog. You’ve ever. Eaten. EVER.

 

7. A kilometer and a half walk south-east along Skólavörðustígur Street will take you through the city centre, where you’ll be able to check out some of the street art scattered around the city.

 

8. If you’re game, head to one of the many tattoo studios in the city for a more permanent souvenir from your time in Iceland. I had this beauty done by Martin at the now closed Sweet Hell Tattoo Studio, which is a shame because it’s one of the better studios I’ve been tattooed in. If you’re intrigued but unsure, I’ve written a guide to getting tattooed on your travels which might help.

 

9. No visit to Reykjavik would be complete without seeing the city’s main landmark, Hallgrímskirkja, the city’s towering Lutheran church. Even if you’re not much into architecture or religion, you can’t not be left a little in awe of this building and the way it pops up at the end of a main street, like it’s just waiting there to welcome you in. And if you’re happy to join to line with the other tourists, I her the view from the observation tower up top is pretty spectacular.

 

10. It’s time for afternoon tea, now. Head about 500 metres along Vitastígur, and you’ll hit Te & Kaffi. Warm up, caffeinate, get some sugary treats (I highly recommend the choc chip cookies) into you, and get ready to head back out into the cold for one last trek before you call it a day.

 

11. Your last stop is just under 2 kilometres away, north-west, back towards and past the Concert Center. You’re ending your day at the Saga Museum. You can dress up as a Viking in the foyer area before grabbing your headphones and following an audio guide through the museum, watching on as life-sized (and sometimes disturbingly life-like) figures play out scenes from Iceland’s history. It’s a little tacky, a little silly, but it’s also a pretty good history lesson.

 

 

A One Day, Self-Drive Guide to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

Iceland’s a small country, which means it is the perfect place to ditch the organised tour groups and drive yourself around. Now, we visited in winter, which made the driving conditions challenging on a few occasions. Like the night we arrived just before an Arctic snowstorm hit, and our projected 2.5 hour drive ended up taking 5 hours and we almost died. That’s a story for another day. But Arctic snowstorms aside, it’s actually a really easy place to drive yourself around, so I’m going to show you how you can day trip the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in a day without a tour guide!

I’m sure you’ll be able to get your paws on a slightly more accurate map, but this is the one I drew in my travel journal at the end of our day, which should (hopefully) give you a pretty good indication of where things are – the area isn’t too big so you should be able to find everything!

Airbnb in Hellissandur
We stayed in Hellissandur, which is a tiny little village which is starting to get a bit more attention from tourists. The Airbnb we stayed in was a beautiful two bedroom home with wonderful amenities and really lovely hosts, which I’d highly recommend –  if anyone wants the details, just email me! While the village itself is really small, the location makes it a perfect place to base yourself while you tour the Peninsula.

 

1. Ruins by the water

These had no signposts or descriptions, and I couldn’t tell you what they were from, but there were some remainders of old stone structures with a view out over the water. The area was completely deserted, so we figured we’d stop for a look around.

 

2. Djúpalónssandur Beach

Like so many other parts of the Peninsula, Djúpalónssandur used to be populated by fishermen. You’ll find a pebbly shore, lava formations and a beautiful view. Just stick to the paths, as much for your own safety as for the flora around the area.

 

3. Lóndrangar Cliffs
Volcanic basalt columns popping up out of the water in a castle-looking formation, you can walk down to get a little closer (as long as you’re careful!), and if you visit at the right time of year, you may get to see some puffins.

 

4. Arnarstapi

Another little fishing village sitting below Mt Stapafell, Arnarstapi is one of those places worth visiting just to look at. The little houses look like doll houses under the massive mountains and endless sky, the basalt cliff faces make for a pretty imposing sight, and the sculpture of Bárður looks like something straight out of the sagas.

 

On the drive…

Honestly, we took a lot longer to drive the Peninsula than we needed, because we just kept pulling over when we came across sights like these.

 

5. Búdir

Not even a town, Búdir is a tiny hamlet located on lava fields, and is probably best known by tourists for it’s black church – which is especially striking in winter, when almost everything around it is white.

 

6. Bjarnarfoss

Iceland is known for it’s incredible waterfalls, like Bjarnafoss. Around 80m high, it’s easily seen from the road, but you probably won’t be able to get too close because the waterfall is actually located on private property.

 

7. Grundarfjörður and Kirkjufell

At this point in the day, we were getting a little cold and tired, and decided we’d need a time out if we were going to stretch the day out a little longer. On the way to see the 463m high Kirkjufell, we stopped in the little town of Grundarfjörður, where we found Kaffi 59, a cute little bistro that had hot tea and coffee and delicious chocolate cake for us to recharge with.

 

8. Ólafsvík
Last stop on our way home was in Ólafsvík for a grocery run. Eating out in Iceland isn’t cheap, so grocery stores were essential for us. With enough instant noodles, frozen veggies and snacks for dinner and the following day’s road trip stacked up in the back seat, we were on our way back to a hot shower after a long day on the road.

 

 

We obviously only just skimmed the surface, and there’s plenty more to see and do around this area, but we had to skip a few things because of spotty weather. But following that path should give you a great taste of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and allow you to discover a few more treasures on your way!

Bárður Snæfellsás, Arnarstapi, Iceland

The morning after we arrived in Iceland, we hit the road for our drive around Snæfellsnes Peninsula a little later than intended. We were exhausted, because we arrived in the middle of an Arctic storm and had to drive around 300km through it. But that’s a story for another day.

One of the stops we planned to make was at Arnarstapi, a little fishing village and old trading port. It’s an odd little place, full of contrasts – there are large area of flat, grassy land – then there are towering basalt columns and cliffs. Small, modest cottages dwarfed under mountains. And then there’s the Bárður Snæfellsás sculpture that sits at the top of the hill against the grey sky.

Iceland is steeped in mythology and stories, and it isn’t just confined to story books. There’s a small plaque at the sculpture, I’ll let you read from it directly…

The imposing figure seen here was made in 1985 by the sculptor Ragnar Kjartansson. This work is Ragnar’s representation of the guardian spirit Bárður Snæfellsás, Deity of Mt. Snæfell.

Bárður’s story is told in the saga of  Bárður Snæfellsás. He was descended from giants and men.  Bárður was the son of a king from Northern Hellaland in Scandinavia. He staked claim to the land of Laugabrekka by the Glacier at the end of the 9th century. Later in life  Bárður’s giant nature became ever more apparent. In the end, he disappeared into  Snæfell Glacier, but did not die.  Bárður became a nature spirit and the local folk around the Glacier petitioned him in matters large and small. 

This work commemorates the couple Guðrún Sigurðardóttir (1878 – 1941) and Jón Sigurðsson (1876 – 1956), who lived here, and their son Trausti, who died of exposure on Jökulshals mountain pass in 1928, only 19 years of age.

We visited in winter, on a particularly overcast day where we were the only visitors, so it wasn’t difficult to imagine the sculpture as a giant. And it feels fitting to have it sitting there up on a small hill, because once you’ve walked around it and taken it all in, you realise there’s a gentle sloping path leading down behind it to a view over the cliffs…

Stay here: The Bubble Hotel, Iceland

The Buubble, Iceland
http://www.buubble.com/

My husband was flicking through a travel magazine on a flight we took in early 2016. He came across a picture of what appeared to be a giant bubble, and a few lines describing it as newly built ‘bubble accommodation’ somewhere in the middle of Iceland…

I started Googling when the plane landed, and found it to be Buubble, the self-proclaimed 5 million star hotel. Basically, a “hotel room” that’s one giant, clear, bubble, where you can rest your head and enjoy a non-stop 360 degree view of the Icelandic night sky, and hopefully catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. “I’m concentrating on offering the accommodation during the wintertime, so that people can see the Northern Lights and the starry sky,” Róbertsson explained on the website not long after it launched. That sounded pretty good to me.

My birthday happened to fall in the middle of our Icelandic stay, and I decided that if I had to be another year older, I wanted to stay in one of these bubbles for my birthday. I braced myself for what I was sure would be a ridiculous price, and was more than pleasantly surprised to find out it was going to set us back AUD$300 for the one night.

 

WHAT’S IT LIKE IN THE BUBBLE?
Despite the fact that they are a self-proclaimed 5 million star hotel, given that the ‘hotel’ is actually a giant bubble in the middle of a forest (the exact address and location is not revealed until you’ve booked, for safety and privacy reasons), don’t expect 5 star facilities. The bubbles themselves (there were only 2 when we booked ours, but it’s now grown to 8) just contain a big, comfy bed, a little coffee table, a lamp, and a power point (yes, devices can be charged, no there isn’t WiFi in the bubbles, but there is WiFi available in the communal service house). There was no TV or sound system, and no lights – just a small lamp for dim light; you won’t need it, because once it gets dark (sunset is around 4 – 4:30pm in November) and the stars come out, you won’t be able to look away.

HOW DO I STAY WARM?
How on earth are you going to keep warm in the middle of winter inside one of these guys? As the website will tell you, “The bubble structure is kept inflated by a slight over-pressure from a noiseless ventilation system. It permanently renews the air inside 2-7 times the volume per hour and this way it prevents humidity. The system has heating elements with thermostat so the bubble stays warm all winter.” That system, combined with an extra little plug in heater, kept us pretty cosy despire the snow and frost outside. Oh, and electric blankets. That said, a middle of the night toilet run isn’t real fun…

 

WHERE’S THE BATHROOM?!
In terms of facilities, there is a shared service house tucked away on the property, containing showers and toilets (toilet paper and shower towels are provided) – they’re centrally located, so only a 2 – 3 minute walk from any of the bubbles. But when it’s below freezing and you need to pee in the middle of the night, it’s hard work getting your layers and snow boots on!

ARE THERE ANY OTHER AMENITIES? WHERE CAN I EAT?
There is free car parking available, and the service house has a small kitchen space with a dining table, coffee machine and elecrtric kettle, sink, microwave, dishwasher, and even a small stovetop – as well as pots, pans, cutlery and crockery! Once you get there, you’re probably not going to want to venture back out to look for a restaurant because a) driving at night in Iceland is scary when the weather can change at the drop of a hat, and b) Iceland is expensive beyond what you’d expect (as in a margherita pizza and a vegetable salad cost us AUD $55.00. Yup, seriously). Your best option is to stop at a supermarket like Bónus or Krónan, and BYO dinner – we took a cup of instant noodles each and bought 2 capsicums – we chopped them up and cooked them in a fry pan in the share kitchen, then stirred our noodles through. And a bag of M&Ms for dessert

UMMM… PRIVACY?!?
This was one of my concerns, given that there are actually several bubbles on site. Above is a photo of the path we walked from our bubble to the share service house, and if you scroll back up, you’ll see the thicket of trees behind the bed. Yes, there are other bubbles around, but at best you’ll only see a peep of them through the trees if their lamps are on. When we visited, there were only 2 bubbles occupied by independent travellers (us and another couple), and a few more occupied by tour participants, and we didn’t see or hear any of them except for a brief crossing of paths making dinner. And, there are no animals other than the odd bird.

 

WORTH IT?
Absolutely!!! While we didn’t see the Northern Lights, we saw the stars like we’ve never seen them before. We lay on the bed and watched a snow flurry slowly dust the dome. We woke up to a winter wonderland you couldn’t even conjure up in your dreams (see below – the snow genuinely sparkled in the morning sun). It was one of those experiences that, although it cost money, I couldn’t put a price on, and I’ll remember forever.

 

And head on over to their website for answers to more of your questions and to book your bubble. You know you want to.