-Written by Cel
This summer’s trip was to Iceland!
As usual, we arrived at our destination feeling like zombies due to jet lag and time differences. We took a bus out of the airport into the city centre, and the first thing we noticed was the lava fields – something new to us.
One of the things we appreciated the most in Reykjavik was the air. The air was cleaner than any other city we’ve been in. It’s a clean and pretty city that reminded us of Zurich, both in appearance and price ($200/night for a low-end hotel, $7 for fries, etc.).
Reykjavik is a relatively small city, and it’s easy to get by without a car. Moderate amounts of walking can cover a good chunk of the city, particularly if you stick to the downtown core. The transit, while not great, is serviceable (buses tend to come every half an hour for most routes). If you want to save a bit, or just don’t like driving, don’t feel the need to rent a car.
Most Reykjavikers seem to speak English, particularly in shops and restaurants. In most places, we make some sort of attempt to sound out the local language, but Icelandic is so different we didn’t even try. No one seemed insulted, so have no fears about speaking to people in English.
As usual, we made a point to go out and try some of the local hiking – Mt. Esja, a popular hiking spot near Reykjavik. Be warned – it is quite difficult to get there by transit. First, we took the #15 bus from Hlemmur (in downtown Reykjavik) to a small town called Mosfellsbær, and got off at the “Haholt” stop. The 15 runs every 30 minutes. Then you have to connect to the 57, which then takes you to the base of Esja. Problem is, the 57 only runs every 2 hours or so, so check the times before you go. We had to take a taxi, which was about 2800 ISK from the Haholt stop.
Esja was worth the trouble though. The air got even cleaner and nicer. It offers a relatively challenging trail and nice views:
I highly recommend hiking aficionados to check out Esja if they are interested in a hike that’s relatively accessible. If you just want a moderate challenge, you can stop at the “Steinn”, which most people seem to. Alternatively, you can keep going to the top – having to pull yourself up on chains at one point) and continue to hike along the peaks.
One hidden gem is the Reykjavik Zoo. It’s quite affordable (800 ISK), and you can get a lot closer to the animals than most zoos. There are birds (chickens, etc.) running around on the same paths as the people. And you get to see reindeer!
Another place that most tourists don’t seem to know about is Nauthólsvík Beach. A walkable distance from the city centre (south of the BSI bus terminal), this is a beach with a NATURAL HOT SPRING! Have you ever wanted to get out of the ocean and jump directly into a hot tub, or vice versa? Now you can – and it’s totally free! Of course, if it wasn’t for the hot tub, no one would go to the beach, as Reykjavik is lucky to get up to 15 degrees in the height of summer. That said, cold doesn’t seem to affect Icelanders the same as it does us, so who knows.
We also went on two great tours – a Game of Thrones tour (a lot of the TV show is filmed in Iceland) and a Golden Circle tour (takes you to the most popular sights around Reykjavik).
One cool place we went to is Þingvellir National Park. It’s the spot where the North American tectonic plate ends and the European plate begins, and has great historical significance (the Icelandic parliament was started nearby, over 1000 years ago). It also features the Bloody Gate (the entrance to the Vale in Game of Thrones):
and a very pretty waterfall:
While pretty, that waterfall was soon overshadowed by Gulfoss, possibly the biggest waterfall in Iceland.
We also went to a hot springs area – the first time we’d ever seen geysers! One of the geysers there is very reliable, erupting about three times every fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures of an eruption. We did however, see a group of students ignore the warning to not go downwind and get completely DRENCHED in hot, sulfur-y water.
If you’re museum-inclined, the National Museum of Iceland is a good bet. Relatively affordable, and you can easily spend at least an hour or two in there. Plus, you get to put on some armour:
I’ll close off this post with an example of Icelandic humour, found on the wall of a bookstore:
If you’re considering a vacation in Reykjavik – or even just a stopover – I highly recommend it. It’s a lot of fun – just don’t expect it to be cheap.