Reykjavik in 24 Hours

Just a typical cute cottage walking around Reykjavik

As a Christmas gift, Doug surprised me not only with a free trip to Iceland for us, but also invited our dear friends Kait and Jake to join us! The deal was, he already took care of the tickets and dates, now it was on me to plan out our trip. As always, it’s a ton of work to plan out the perfect trip, but the planner in me wouldn’t have anyone else touch these details anyhow…

We’d talked about visiting Iceland for quite a while, but it always ended up on the backburner for more exotic, longer trips. This year, with a little tot on the way, Iceland turned out to be a great trip given its proximity and first world amenities. We had 8 days so we decided to tackle the Ring Road to see as much of the country as we could…

It’s easy to overlook the fact that even though Iceland is part of Europe, it’s actually a shorter flight to get to Reykjavik than it is to California from NYC! Our redeye flight left at 8:20pm and landed at 5:50am, so we were all out of sorts when we landed. The flight on Icelandair was so short that they didn’t even serve any meals or free drinks, which helped us focus on actually sleeping during the 4.5 hour flight…even though we were so excited that we couldn’t.

Jake and Kait weren’t due to land until about 45 minutes after us, so we got a head start on grabbing breakfast and our rental car. Our hearts sank when we landed to pouring rain and crazy winds, but hey – that’s pretty typical weather for Iceland and we were going to make the most out of it! It was an extremely quick trip through immigration, there weren’t too many quick breakfast options so we actually picked up food from Dunkin’ Donuts – we’d soon find there would be a ton of American influences throughout. We were outside for all of 2 minutes and already got drenched walking to the shuttle to the rental car facilities! When we arrived at Blue Car Rentals, they couldn’t find our reservation. “Ma’am, you made the reservation for yesterday, not today.” OOPS. Baby brain was in full swing. Unlike the rental companies back at home, they cancelled my entire (prepaid) reservation when we were a no-show yesterday, so they had to recreate my reservation. And that, along with finding a suitable SUV that we requested, took over an hour to accommodate. We saw so many shuttles full of tourists come and go with their cars, and Jake and Kait even caught up to us so when the SUV finally arrived, we were raring and ready to head off for our one day in Reykjavik.

As is commonly the case with most Iceland itineraries, we stopped at the Blue Lagoon first since it was not only on the way to Reykjavik, but also a great way to freshen up after a redeye. Given its popularity with tourists, it’s pretty much a requirement to book a reservation in advance as they are almost always sold out the day of. We checked in during our allocated window, then went into the locker rooms to change, shower (a requirement before entering the lagoon), and store our stuff. For the ladies, they recommend slathering conditioner over your hair before entering the lagoon as the water otherwise will make your hair break off! The milky blue waters, normally heated anywhere from 98 to 102 degrees, hovered in the 98-99 degree range today since the cold rain cooled the lagoon significantly. Which was perfect for a pregnant mama since I had to be careful to avoid hot tub temperatures…but the water ended up a lovely bath water temperature and kept us nice and warm in the 50 degree cold! The Blue Lagoon was rather high tech as they also have screens located throughout that displayed water temperatures and depths. The water is heated by geothermal nuclear plants nearby so the water got markedly warmer as we got closer to each of the stations pumping out more heat. We floated around, mostly at chest level, and soaked up all the mineral goodness the waters offered. As part of our standard package, we also got one free drink at the swim up bar (beers for the gang and a yummy Skyr strawberry smoothie for me), as well as access to silica mud that we could slather onto our faces and wash right off in the lagoon water. It was so nice and relaxing…til we had to get out in the rainy cold to go back to the locker room!

We made it!
Getting our soak on
The Blue Lagoon was truly a unique experience. How many times can you say you’ve floated around in a giant geothermally heated pool with a swim up bar?

After spending the morning relaxing at the Blue Lagoon, we then drove into Reykjavik to the Old Harbour, where we had reservations for a whale watching tour. There are SO many options for whale watching tours, but we opted for a traditional tour instead of the RIB boat that rides waves (not advised for pregnant people) and went with the company Elding, since they had the best reviews and lots of scheduling options. We all slipped into these waterproof overalls that looked pretty ridiculous and were sooo heavy, but they kept us pretty dry and warm as the rain was still coming down and it was freezing out on the open seas! Guests had the option to hang out in the heated lounge inside but it was much easier to see the whales on the upper deck, naturally. So we braced ourselves, with the occasional indoor break. Our guide was probably more excited than any of the rest of us as she pointed out several humpback whales, a harbor porpoise, a few minke whales, and several puffins (hard to see from afar), during our 3 hour tour.

Humpback whale sighting
Man…whales are super hard to photograph!

By this point, we were cold, wet, hungry, and tired, so it was time to take care of ourselves. Strangely, Iceland is well known for their hot dogs (!!), so we made sure to hit up the world famous Baejarins Beztu on our way back to our AirBnB. Now, I’m not a huge fan of hot dogs (plus I am avoiding them during pregnancy), but my fellow hot dog lovers claimed these were legit! Our “Penthouse” AirBnB was situated in a very central part of town and perfect for the four of us, with multiple balconies to enjoy the fresh COLD air and awesome views all around. While everyone napped, I wandered around to pick up some road snacks as well as something else to snack on for the time being. Somehow, I ended up at a random but cute cat cafe called Katta Kaffihusio and picked up a yummy yogurt parfait and hot chocolate…perfect for a rainy day!

The cutest little hot dog stand
Not the most flattering shot as this hot dog survived torrential downpours, but I’m told it was delicious!
Cool building I stumbled across while wandering around our neighborhood

While our travel companions napped off the brutal effects of our redeye, Doug and I took a wander around town to take advantage of the one day we had in Reykjavik. Despite the crappy weather, we certainly made the most of it as we ventured to the photographer-favorite Hallgrimskirtkja church, the Sun Voyager sculpture, and the Harpa Opera House, all within walking distance of one another.

Hallgrimskirkja Church, modeled after some of the natural geologic formations of Iceland
Vaulted ceilings inside Hallgrimskirkja Church
View of the cute colorful homes from atop Hallgrimskirkja. Not a lot of high rises here but so many colors despite it always being gray!
Sun Voyager statue
Harpa Opera House, modeled after fish scales

To cap off a jam-packed day, we had dinner at the innovative Fishmarkadurinn, a contemporary Icelandic restaurant located inside an old home. Unlike some of our recent trips, Iceland wasn’t exactly known for their culinary prowess, so we went in managing our expectations. But, Reykjavik is still a major metropolis with booming tourism, so of course there would be some quality options. And Fishmarkadurinn definitely did not disappoint! We opted for the tasting menu, which consisted of 4 appetizers, a sushi course, 3 entrees, and 3 desserts all served family style. Three and a half hours later, we were finally done, yet the sky was still dusky on our walk home at 12:30am! So the tradeoff for not visiting during a time when we could see the Northern Lights was that we had nearly 21 hours of sunlight, I’ll take it!

To start, we had one of the most delicious lobster soups I’ve ever had…with a coconut milk base, it tasted like a combination of lobster bisque and tom yum soup
Another one of our four appetizers, a delectable rock shrimp tempura with sweet melon, jalapeno dressing, and onion sprouts
Another shared app (no I did not eat each of these by myself): Bitter lemon glazed arctic char with edamame puree and rye bread crumbs, pickled onion, and cauliflower
The mussels were quite the show, as they came served over dry ice and a bed of kelp and served in a rich mascarpone sauce
Rack of grilled plaice (a flaky fish similar to cod) with parsnip puree, marinated fennel, and beurre monte
Doug was definitely not pleased that I substituted more fish in place of lamb!  Robata grilled salmon with creamy barley, apple salad, radish, and crispy fried salsify
One of the trio of desserts that graced our table…deconstructed white chocolate cheesecake with brown sugar meringue, passion sorbet, and fruit.  Not surprisingly, one of my highlights.  The warm chocolate cake with ganache and licorice and praline lava mousse (complete with volcano lava effects!) were pretty darn enjoyable too.
Believe it or not, this photo was taken around 12:30am on our walk home…no flash needed!

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