Iceland Travel: Traipsing Around Reykjavik

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One of the reasons I started a blog was the chance to revisit trips I took long ago, some since before I created this digital space. Take Iceland, for example. It was one of my favorite vacations to date, and I haven’t so much as flipped through my photos since I got back from there in 2007. So here we go…

I guess I’d always wanted to go to Iceland for the intrigue factor alone, but it wasn’t until I was planning a trip back to Germany for Oktoberfest with my former classmates that I realized it was very much a reality. Reykjavik is a mere four-hour flight from New York, and if you book a round-trip flight to mainland Europe via IcelandAir, you can tack on a stay of up to seven nights in Iceland—for free. So I did just that.

But you could easily use up your time in a week by spending a couple days in Reykjavik, taking a trip out to the Golden Circle, one of Iceland’s most popular day tours, and meandering along the South Shore, stopping at scenic overlooks along the way. I quickly discovered a week would only allow you to scratch the surface in the land of fire and ice.

Iceland Travel: Traipsing Around Reykjavik

Iceland Travel: Traipsing Around Reykjavik
Iceland Travel: Traipsing Around Reykjavik

Still, I made the most of the time I did have. Back then, I was really into CouchSurfing, so I contacted a few surfers in Reykjavik, booked my first two nights at a hostel downtown, then wound up staying with Hanna and James—two of the loveliest “surfers” I’ve ever met—for the remainder of the time.

While they took me all over the country on their days off of work, I had one day to explore Reykjavik all on my own As always, I set out by foot, no plans, no clue of where I was going, and let my legs do the guiding.

The biting cold air was refreshing and clean, and there’s something simplistic and appealing about the clean lines of Scandinavian architecture. It’s what I loved so much about our quaint little town in Denmark and what made me fall in love with the Icelandic capital.

The same goes for the candy-colored buildings. You don’t find houses in such brilliant hues anywhere in the United States.

Iceland Travel: Traipsing Around Reykjavik

Iceland Travel: Traipsing Around Reykjavik
Iceland Travel: Traipsing Around Reykjavik

It was cold as the dickens while I was there, in September, the official start of winter. I packed all wrong for that trip and wound up wearing the same outfit—which consisted of piling all the clothes I packed on top of one another in warm layers—as I was heading to Munich, where it was a balmy 70 degrees, for a week after Reykjavik. But I was still grateful for a steady stream of blue-sky days; despite the ever-present scattering of clouds, rain during my time there was little.

Reykjavik is flanked by water from several sides, which makes it all the more photogenic. Add that to a constant light cloud cover, and you’ve got the perfect setting for taking pictures. I only traveled with a point-and-shoot at this period of my travels, so I really can’t wait to go back with my fancy DSLR gear!

Iceland Travel: Traipsing Around Reykjavik

The Old Town area is very walkable and compact, so I had seen much of it in a handful of hours. When James got off work, he picked me up in his car and drove me to the lighthouse on the outskirts of town. It was here where the views were the most magnificent.

Hands down, Reykajvik is one of the top five cities I’d like to take SVV to one day. I just hope that one day isn’t too far off.

COMMENTS
  • February 4, 2011

    Um. 4 hours from New York? That just blew my mind.

  • February 4, 2011

    This has long been on my list, too! Your photos are simply terrific. They make me want to curl up on a window seat with a cup of tea and stare outside for hours…

  • February 4, 2011

    Iceland has been on my list for years!! When this post popped up I audibly gasped, and now have the kind of happy-but-constrained feeling in my chest after reading/devouring your pics. Seriously, it’s like you just saw your biggest crush ever and he winked at you. That’s the feeling I get from Iceland. *Swoon!

    xox

  • February 4, 2011

    I never tire of your photo posts. I’m REALLY hoping to meet you at BlogHer (finally!) and maybe go for a photo walk? 🙂

    • February 4, 2011
      Kristin

      That would be awesome! As long as you don’t mind me pestering you with questions–you can’t go on a photo walk with the master photographer herself, after all, and not try to learn as much as you can 😉

      • February 4, 2011

        Pffffft! “Master photographer”. Ha! YOU have a lot you can teach ME. 🙂 I hope we can make it work!

  • February 4, 2011

    It’s no secret that Iceland is my favorite place in the world. On my most recent trip, I went in September and was lucky enough to find 65 degrees and sunshine in the north (near Husavik) for a few days before it dropped to 45-50 in Reykjavik. Still, cold or not, there’s no city that’s captured my heart the way Reykjavik has. There’s just something special about Iceland. As soon as I land I just feel very settled, comfortable. Maybe it’s all that crazy geothermal energy, but something there makes me feel content.

    • February 4, 2011
      Kristin

      Katie, I actually associate Iceland with you and was thinking about you when I wrote this post–probably because when we first started emailing was when you were planning your first trip over!

  • February 4, 2011

    I don’t think many people realize how beautiful Iceland really is! Your pictures are stunning.

  • February 4, 2011

    A friend just moved to Iceland… I’m looking forward to a visit!
    The pictures are stunning…

  • February 4, 2011

    Great photos! I love the one of the church exterior, but they’re all amazing. It seems like Iceland is a really cool mixture of modern and traditional, and four hours from New York … damn!

  • February 4, 2011

    What setting did you have your powershot on? I have the same camera but my pictures haven’t turned out as nice!

    • February 4, 2011
      Kristin

      Whitney, I noted that wrong–it was actually the Canon A520, and I don’t think they sell/make it anymore. Is that what you use? I’m not sure as this was four years ago, but I imagine I either shot these in P or M (manual) mode–those are usually my defaults (though I occasionally use Tv or Av, depending on the setting, lighting, etc.).

      • February 4, 2011

        I have the sd 3500. I usually have it on the automatic setting but my pictures just don’t turn out that well. I probably just need to take a class!

        • February 4, 2011
          Kristin

          Yes, a class would be a good idea! I minored in photojournalism in college, but I’d forgotten so much I went back to photography school in San Francisco last spring for a six-week course to refresh my knowledge of lighting and other technical aspects. I’m sure you can find such a class in your city. (Check Yelp for recommendations…that’s how I found mine.)

          • February 4, 2011

            good advice, I will do that. Thanks so much for your replies! I really love your blog. I just stumbled on it this week and I’m so glad I did.

            • February 4, 2011
              Kristin

              No problem! I just enabled the comment reply feature, and I like being able to better interact with people this way. And welcome!

  • February 4, 2011

    GORGEOUS! Reykjavik is my favorite place I’ve NEVER been…if that even makes sense! I love your blog and all of your photos 🙂

    <3 Megan

    • February 4, 2011
      Kristin

      Totally makes sense! Galapagos Islands are my favorite place I’ve never been…and Greenland…and Mircronesia while I’m at it… =)

      • February 4, 2011

        Greenland is one of mine too 🙂 I didn’t realize you had places you hadn’t been 🙂 Enjoy the weekend!

        • February 4, 2011
          Kristin

          There are plenty of places I haven’t been! Good thing, too, as I wouldn’t want to run out of places I’m dying to go at just 28, ha. And there are several countries I’m dying to get back to, like Iceland, as well…

          • February 4, 2011

            Awesome! Well keep posting and writing because it’s definitely inspiring to me 🙂

  • February 4, 2011
    Kelly

    My husband and I have wanted to try to take a trip with our 2 small kids that is not Disney or a beach, but we are scared of a long plane ride. 4 hours . . . not too bad. I know it isn’t your speciality, but do you think Iceland would be a nice place to travel with a family??

    • February 4, 2011
      Kristin

      Oh definitely–especially if your kids like the outdoors. There’s the Blue Lagoon, which would be doubly cool for kids (I was giddy as a big kid going there!), and so many outdoor things to do like ride the Icelandic ponies in the countryside and see a lot of neat sites like some massive waterfalls, geysers, etc., which I think would be fun for children. It seemed pretty family friendly to me, and now would be a good time to go as it’s a lot more affordable than when I went (due to the country’s state of bankruptcy!).

      My friend Katie writes an in-depth Iceland travel guide that might has a lot of detailed information on traveling with kids there:

      http://www.whygoiceland.com/

  • February 4, 2011

    I want to go here so badly! …and seriously 4 hours from NYC?! That’s definitely appealing.

    $43 USD?? For Pizza Hut? That’s criminal.

  • February 4, 2011

    I too have always wanted to go to Iceland! These photos are great. One day….

  • February 4, 2011
    SVV

    Every time I see pictures of Iceland I’m reminded of Sigur Rós and their gorgeous, expansive music. http://www.sigur-ros.co.uk/media/ . Where did we see them? Aarhus?

  • February 4, 2011

    Those are great photos! I love the craziness of Reykjavik by night, as well as its cuteness by day, despite the icy blasts that come at you from the sea whenever you round a corner, and those decadent restaurants they have… Lobster tails fried in foie gras? Yes, please.

    My visit was, as you can tell, pre-bankruptcy too.

    • February 4, 2011
      Kristin

      I wish I could have afforded to eat well while I was there, ha. Alas, this was during my poor days in NYC, so I pretty much had lunch every day at that famous hot dog stand by the market (the one Bill Clinton raved about while he was there) and ate dinner at my hosts’ house each night. One day, I’ll return and do Iceland the right way!

      Also, the delicacies would have likely been lost on me then. It’s only been three years now since I started eating seafood (no coincidence that change in eating habits coincided with my move out to San Francisco!).

  • February 4, 2011

    This is one of the first country capitals I learned when I was little and ever since then, I’ve been DYING to go. Looks gorgeous!

  • February 4, 2011
    Brandy

    Gorgeous photos! Reykjavik is on my list of must-visit places, too. It’s such a short flight, really, but somehow I haven’t made it there (yet).

  • February 4, 2011
    k

    I plan to head to Iceland if I am in Norway next year. I actually have a lot of friends there (the Scandinavians that come over for the other part of the scholarship I am applying for) and think I would love it!

    I saw in your comment to another that the Galapagos is your favorite place you’ve never been. Mine too! Lets go sometime! I have this stash of miles I’ve been saving for a trip to South America. I just need to find 6 weeks or so to make a go of it. Why is there never enough time?!?

    • February 4, 2011
      Kristin

      I would happily go! Though we’ll have to let Scott tag along, too, as he’s dying to dive the Galapagos, as well =)

      I also have a ton of airlines saved up–probably close to half a million, though they’re diving among four airlines which is a pain. We actually just booked a trip to Hawaii with some of the miles that were expiring!

  • February 4, 2011

    Wow! Great pictures!! This looks like a wonderful place to visit — thanks for sharing your photos. I know what you mean about taking pictures and then not looking through them again for a long time. It is all so exciting at the time — I think that one or two photos from each trip should be shingled out for framing so they can be hung somewhere in the house. That way you may stop and visit and dream again more often because you actually see them more often. Thanks for the post!!

  • February 4, 2011

    I went to Iceland in 2007 as well! That country really stole my heart. I dream of going back one day all the time…

    • February 5, 2011
      Kristin

      I think I remember that…that was right around the time we met. Andi went that same year. Too bad we weren’t all friends then and couldn’t have gone together!

  • February 4, 2011

    Iceland is on the bucket list… I had an exchange student from Westmannajar Island in Iceland while I was a kid and my sister was able to go to Iceland a few summers later. Someday for sure and these pictures are AMAZING!

  • February 4, 2011

    The photos are stunning. You told us about a way to save on accomodation (couchsurfing). Do you have tips on how to save on food? Because I am not intereste din paying 40 dolars for a small pizza.

    • February 4, 2011
      Kristin

      Hi Ruth,

      This was in 2007 pre-bankruptcy when everything was uber-expensive. That’s not the case anymore. From what I hear, it’s pretty similar price-wise to traveling elsewhere in Western Europe. While I was there–the one $40 pizza mishap aside–I ate daily at the famous hot dog stand by the waterfront for a $4 lunch (http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/guides/europe/iceland/reykjavik/70425/baejarins-bestu/restaurant-detail.html) and then would cook or be cooked for at my CouchSurfer hosts’ house, so I wasn’t spending too much on food.

      • February 4, 2011

        Good, thanks for the info.

    • February 5, 2011

      @Ruth –
      prices have definitely come down since Kristin’s visit. Though Iceland still isn’t cheap, it’s on par with major cities in Europe, maybe a little more. I’m in the budget travel camp and I’ve managed to enjoy myself without spending too much. I pick smaller guesthouses and hostels that offer private rooms, free breakfasts and full kitchens for guest use. Generally I’ll alternate cheaper meals under $10 (noodle shops, pizza slices, and those heavenly hot dogs) with bigger splurges and then do a few lunches/dinners cooking at the accommodation.

      At a nicer restaurant, you can still expect to spend about $150-$200 for two people, depending on how all-out you go. Apps can range from $12-$20 and most entrees are $30-$50. Wine will kill your budget and even a beer at a bar or restaurant will cost you about $6.

      Not to pimp my own site…but I have a pretty comprehensive post on how to plan your budget for a trip to Iceland http://www.whygoiceland.com/how-to-budget-for-a-trip-to-iceland.html

      • February 5, 2011
        Kristin

        Thanks for adding your budget tips, Katie! And I totally pimped your site, as well, further up in the comments 😉

      • February 7, 2011

        Thanks Katie. I will be checking your site.

  • February 4, 2011

    Iceland has long been on my “bucket list” (we got to the initial planning stages for a trip there at one point, but just couldn’t make it to my everlasting regret).
    I’m pretty impressed to see that you took all of these photos with your little Powershot camera…but I’ve always had decent luck with my own Powershot, too. Those little point-and-shoots really do a pretty decent job most of the time.

    • February 5, 2011
      Kristin

      Dominique, I’m a firm believer that it’s all about the user, less about the model. If you have some competency with a camera, then you can make anything work! I’m constantly baffled how truly great photographers can blow me away with mere iPhone shots. I’m only bummed from the trips I didn’t take my DSLR because I love the ability to change lenses and have a variety of wide angle, close-up, fish-eye and landscape photos. That’s the one thing a point-and-shoot can’t do. All the more reason to go back and take my entire bag of gear 😉

  • February 5, 2011

    Alas, I was only in the airport at Reykjavik in December but after seeing your photos I want to go back and explore!

  • February 5, 2011

    How lovely! So majestic! I especially love that little hut by the water. Those mountains are just breathtaking!

  • February 5, 2011

    Iceland is so high on our list of places “to-go” and we’ll get there…eventually. Thanks for the pictures!

  • February 5, 2011

    Okay, that’s gorgeous. I just put it on my list because of this post. Truly beautiful.

  • February 7, 2011

    I’ve always wanted to do the stopover thing, but I’ve never made it a priority. Must change that! Some of the photos remind me of some of my favorite things about Sweden, like the brightly colored houses and the water everywhere. I love the brightly colored houses. They make the long, dreary, dark winters in that part of the world a bit more bearable.

    • February 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Totally agree. The year Scott and I lived in Denmark, it was the worst winter they’d experienced in a long time–lasting all the way through the end of May. There was permanent (black, dirty) snow on the ground and ugly, gray skies, but it didn’t seem so dreary thanks to the rows of colorful houses everywhere you looked. I always said it seemed as if a bag of Skittles erupted on our street!

  • February 7, 2011

    I thought Iceland is always covered by ice and not looking great like this, good share dude, I would like to visit there one day.

    • February 7, 2011
      Kristin

      A common misconception, I think. It’s so green! (On the contrary, Greenland is full of snow year round.) In fact, as cold as it was, the only ice I actually saw was at the glaciers we visited–and never any snow!

  • February 7, 2011

    Such an awesome city!!! I hope you make it there with SVV SOON.

  • February 9, 2011

    It looks like a town from a picture book!

  • February 9, 2011

    That first picture is so pretty!

  • February 11, 2011

    Amazing timing! I just saw the Iceland Air ad in the subway advertising the free stopovers and have been going iceland research crazy. However since last week Iceland Air’s flights have gone up a few hundred dollars. Hopefully they go back down again before June…. so I can soak in the Blue lagoon. I love rhymes.

    • February 11, 2011
      Kristin

      DO IT, DO IT. June is the perfect time to go. Whenever I go back, it will be then! Do the Ring Road route if you can (I couldn’t as it’s only open in summer months due to weather conditions).

      Also, just FYI, airline rates are at their cheapest around 3pm EST on Tuesdays. Check back then!

      • February 12, 2011

        I just read that little hint about tuesdays recently… how did I never know that?! I also signed up for iceland air’s emails hoping for sales but haven’t gotten anything yet. Sadly if we do go it will only be for a few days as we have a super short window of time between my college graduation and a bachelor party in scotland…. but a few days is better than nothing for a place I never imagined going!

  • February 12, 2011

    I love Iceland, too! Such an amazing place! And your photos are just great!

  • February 16, 2011

    Ah, Iceland. Like you, when we were planning our RTW trip, I didn’t really even think we COULD make it to Iceland and then when we found out how easy it was, we jumped at the opportunity! Luckily we booked our trip, rental car and hostels right after the Volcano last year and because so, got amazing deals because everyone else had cancelled on the companies. When we showed up in July, the car company freaked when they realized how cheap they rented us the car. When they realized when we had booked, they told us that for an entire month no one had rented a car because of all volcano mess. I guess my biggest lesson learned from that was book while a country is going through a natural disaster- ?-?!?! Anyway- Iceland is absolutely one of my favorite places… and it’s super romantic. There were parts of the drive where Bob and I would stop at a waterfall without anyone else stopping for hours!!

  • June 24, 2013

    Iceland is one of my favorite destinations to travel to in Europe! I didn’t get a lot of time to explore the country the last time I traveled but, for the time that I was there, I had the most amazing time.

  • September 17, 2013

    wow, this is so Sigur Ros!

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