by corinne iaia

October 08, 2017

My Autumn Iceland Itinerary: Part 1

Iceland is truly a unique place to visit. I had heard that before going there last week, but now I fully understand what that means. Driving through Iceland feels as though you are driving between planets; the landscape changes rapidly and so does the weather. There is nothing quite like it, and you have to be prepared for pretty much anything. The country is a magical place filled with waterfalls, mountains, fjords, valleys, Icelandic ponies, rainbows, hot springs, lava fields, glaciers, volcanos, geysirs and pretty much any other natural phenomena you can think up.

That being said, I thought I would share my autumn trip itinerary for Iceland, as it was something I was looking for when doing my research and finding more scarce than those written about summer or winter itineraries.  
Day 1: When we landed in Reykjavik we immediately headed into the city and checked into our hotel. We stayed at the Radisson Blu 1919, but I found it harder to choose a hotel in Reykjavik than I typically do. There are not a lot of luxury hotel choices in the city center, but I did find the Radisson to be clean, spacious and centrally located to all of the city sights, waterfront restaurants, and main shopping streets, which was perfect for our stay. 

Once we were settled in (it took a bit of time because we had a mishap and misplaced our backpack, which had our passports and electronics in it. Luckily, Reykjavik Excursions, the bus company that took us from the airport to the hotel had great customer service and saved it for us in lost and found!) we headed out to explore the city. We had breakfast at Café Paris, which had delicious waffles with berries and a great cappuccino - much needed at that point, as I hadn't slept in at least 24 hours.

 As I'm sure you've heard, Reykjavik is a small city with only a few main sights and a shopping area with some restaurants. We ventured out to Laugavegur and explored some of the shops, then walked to the city's most famous church, Hallgrímskirkja, where we took the elevator to the top for a view of the city. To be honest, the church was much more barren inside than I had imagined, but there was something unique about the open space and choir echoing throughout the space. The view from the top itself was worth a ticket though, you really can see the entire city from up there, and you realize just how much it looks like a town built out of legos! 

After visiting the church, we ended up grabbing a drink and a bite to eat at Primo Ristorante, which was right on the main road coming back down the hill from the church. We shared a small pizza, as we were still quite full from breakfast, but we did have to try the Viking beer there - it was delicious!

We headed back to our hotel to rest and then out to the harbor, to explore the area and really get a lay of the city. We ate dinner reasonably early, as we were exhausted and wanted to get some rest. We went to Höfnin, which had great food and the cutest, coziest interiors and a view of the waterfront. I am not typically a fan of fish, but I tried the fish balls, which were actually delicious. 
Day 2: We woke up feeling refreshed and ate breakfast at our hotel (the skyr was a favorite!) before heading out to do a bit more sightseeing. We had a few hours to spare before our reservations at the Blue Lagoon, which I'll admit I was extremely excited for. We walked further along the harbor and down to the Harpa building, which is a concert hall and conference center with unique architecture. It initially wasn't something I was thinking I'd be super impressed by - as it's a modern building which we certainly aren't deprived of in New York - but it exceeded expectation for its otherworldly appearance from inside. If you look up, you feel as though you've entered some futuristic building - plus the view of Flaxaflói Bay was beautiful.

After our walk we headed back to our hotel and took a bus to the Blue Lagoon. I was super impressed with how organized the process of entry was to the Lagoon. For a major tourist destination, it wasn't overcrowded in the middle of the day as they seem to do a great job of limiting the number of people allowed in at any given time. The lagoon itself was much larger than I had imagined, and was filled with more private nooks and crannies if you're someone who doesn't like to be too close to others. We got the Comfort Tickets, which proved useful as they provided you with towels, a free drink of choice, and both the Silica and Algae masks.  

After showering off (they make all visitors do this, it seems odd at first but it's actually for your own good - the water would be much dirtier without this step) we headed into the lagoon and got our Silica masks. If you have longer hair, I recommend putting a bit of the conditioner from the showers through the ends and tying it up to prevent the silica from drying out your hair. I thought the mask felt great and really made my skin feel soft and poreless after using. We then headed to get our drinks and did a second mask. Altogether we spent about two and a half hours in the Lagoon, which left me feeling perfectly refreshed and rejuvenated. I really enjoyed my experience there; I know many people say it's a tourist trap, but I found it to be really well managed and such a cool experience. Don't miss it if you're headed to Iceland!

When we returned to our hotel, we showered off and got ready for dinner. We were in the mood for Italian food, so we went down the street from our hotel to Jaime's Italian.
Day 3: We woke up early on day three, as we had pre-booked a bus tour of the Golden Circle. I know this can be driven by car as well, but it was a short distance by bus from Reykjavik, so it still gave us plenty of time at each sight and left us to enjoy the scenery. Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, which is where Icelandic Parliament used to meet and where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates divide and are visible above ground. It's truly a unique sight, as this is the only place you can see these plates rising above the Earth's crust. The landscape surrounding the park is beautiful and filled with waterfalls and rolling hills - if you're doing this trip by car yourself I'd recommend carving out some time to take an easy hike through the park. We walked around for about an hour and a half and it was 

Our next stop was Gullfoss, which is a massive glacial waterfall located in the Southwest of Iceland. I was super impressed by this "foss" because of how it ran between a valley and created a massive mist which completely engulfs you as you descend to see it up close. Make sure you're wearing appropriate clothing for this; I'd recommend a raincoat with a hood and waterproof shoes with grips, as it can be slippery on the rocks on the path. 

The last stop on our tour that day was the Geysir Hot Springs park which is a geothermal field with active geysirs. The main erupting geysir used to be Geysir (original name, I know), but since the last major earthquake, it's now Strokkur that is the main attraction. It erupts about every 15 minutes and is quite powerful; if you're standing on the side opposite the main pathway, you'll surely get soaked when it goes off, so beware of you're cameras if they're not waterproof. Also, be sure to explore all the pools and smaller geysirs in the field, some are bright blue and some milky blue from the high concentration of silica. It's such a cool experience!

When we returned from our trip, we headed to the English Pub for another Viking beer, and then back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. That night we went to Apotek, which was one of my favorite meals of the trip. We did the tasting menu and they brought a great variety of tasty fresh fish and meat, and a super delicious skyr cheesecake for dessert. It's definitely on the pricey side (all food in Iceland is - extremely!), but was worth it as the quality was great and the decor was dreamy. 
Day 4: Tired from our previous day packed with sightseeing, we decided to rent a car and drive around a bit to explore the countryside at our own pace - on our way to Glymur. Glymur is a great hiking trail for those who like a bit of adventure, and it's nestled at the end of a beautiful fjord called Hvarfjordur. On our way, we stopped at many farms to socialize with the gorgeous and friendly Icelandic ponies. Most of them are super friendly, and seem to love having their photo taken - so cute! We also stopped to see Fossarrett, and the viking settlement ruins located at the foot of the waterfall. 

We arrived at the trailhead for Glymur via a questionable road that seems as though you're headed in the wrong direction at first. The four-hour trail starts out easy but begins to wind through many streams and rocky, muddy areas until you reach a set of stone stairs that lead you into a cave and down toward a river, which runs off the main falls. The hike is labeled as 'intermediate', but without appropriate gear, the hike can get difficult, as you have to cross the rushing river on a log and then hike vertically up a dried up riverbed to the top of the canyon. It is, however, beautiful and there are endless waterfalls streaming down from all directions. We ended up not crossing the log, and instead, hiked the lefthand side, which is not a marked trail, but you're able to get the same views without having to risk it all. I really enjoyed this hike, the sun was out, the air was crisp and it really left me feeling refreshed. 

When we got back to the city, we stopped into Sæta Svínid for a beer, and then headed back to our hotel where we cleaned up for dinner at 101 Harbor.
I'll be sharing the remainder of our trip shortly. What did you see on your trip to Iceland? Are you planning on visiting soon?
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