Travel Diaries: Reykjavik, Iceland

I landed at the Keflavik International Airport at midnight, and the sun still hadn’t set.

It wouldn’t until 1 am, then it would rise again around 3:30.

It smelled like the sea. Like salt and wet air.

On the 50 minute bus ride from the Keflavik airport to Reykjavik, I gazed out at wide expanses of grassy meadows, dotted with little houses and buildings, the combination of streetlights and barely-there sunlight giving everything an early-morning glow. I arrived at the Downtown Reykjavik Hostel a little past midnight, when most places were closed, so I waited until morning to adventure…

Because Reykjavik is a small, relatively flat city, it’s pretty easy to navigate. I literally woke up, grabbed my camera and walked out the door to wander. I figured if I got really lost I could just find my way back by following the shoreline, which was only about a block away from my hostel, and stunning in the morning fog.

Dark, craggy rocks lined the edge of the water, piled in heaps, and across the water were rough hills and buildings built to withstand the salty air. The wind pushed my jacket around and whipped my hair into my face, but I was grinning like a wild woman, embracing the damp on my skin, letting the chill wake me up.

As I walked I realized why Reykjavik is such a popular tourist destination. Everywhere I looked was another color, another bright building in a line of similar squares, like a child’s toy blocks. There’s a lot of street art, too, some just crass graffiti but a lot of unique art. The grey skies subdued everything a bit, but that only cloaked it all in a sort of morning mystique. I loved watching the locals wake up and head about their days, dressed much more appropriately for the weather than I was, on bikes or clad in gorgeous scarves and knit hats, sipping coffee and smoking in a relaxed manner.


One of the most famous places in Reykjavik is Halgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland. I wasn’t the only person taking tourist-y pictures of it this morning, so I asked a lovely French couple to take a photo of me in front of this structure of beautiful geometry.

I got lost on my way back to the hostel but remembered to walk along the waterfront, and ended up discovering Reykjavik’s “Old Harbour”, which was filled with old ships and the sound of men working on rusty metal. I expected it to be kind of abandoned based on the name, but it seemed pretty lively, and had a little playground (nothing like the sad plastic structures we have in the US, but some wood and metal and an old ship to play around).

So all of this was beautiful and amazing and pretty calm/quaint, but what I was really looking forward to was Eldhestar’s Heritage TourHoly shit guys, if you’re ever in Iceland, SPEND THE MONEY ON THE HORSEBACK TOURS. I nearly froze my fingers off (thankfully I’d had the foresight to buy a nice wool hat earlier, but MAN) and got absolutely soaked, but it felt like SUCH an adventure. 

For $100, I got to spend a few hours riding around with a small group on Icelandic horses, which are these hearty ponies (they’ve got to be pretty tough to survive the weather out here, in my opinion). We splashed through a gravelly river, rode through some fields of volcanic ash, and “tölt”-ed (a special gait specific to Icelandic horses, sort of like a fast trot) through heavy fog over rough trails winding through mossy green fields. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures because I was too busy riding the horse, but it felt like some sort of medieval adventure/escapade way out in the mountains. It was fantastic. 

Then afterwards I was frozen and soaked and spasming so hard I splashed a cup of coffee over myself, so I showered and took myself to find some hot food. I ended up at the Reykjavik Fish -Restaurant, where I had the most amazing fresh cod fillet fish-and-chips dish (and guys I’m not even a fish fan, it was that good). And now I’m at this SUPER HAPPY little bookstore that is also a cafe, Ida Zimsen, sipping an almond milk hot chocolate and using great Wi-Fi. It’s 9:30 pm (well, 21:30, here) and I still have 4 hours of daylight left… What to DO with myself??

Well, I’m waiting for the washing machine at my hostel to be free so I can wash my soaking wet horse-scented clothes… But other than that.  

In short, Iceland is awesome. It’s such an outdoorsy, rugged-seeming country. Everyone dresses well but intelligently for the weather, which I respect. I’ve seen a lot of runners, too- always a good sign!.The language here is beautiful (I’m totally eavesdropping on these two old guys sitting next to me as I type this, just because Icelandic sounds so gorgeous), full of syllables tossed between the back of the throat and front of the mouth.

I’m probably going to go for a run tomorrow morning and find another delicious eatery- I walked past Cafe Loki earlier and I kind of want to try some traditional Icelandic food- and then I’m on my way to Paris for a few days! I hope you enjoyed this peek of Reykjavik as much as I enjoyed my day here, and I’ll share tons about Paris (OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO PARIS) soon! Thanks for reading. 🙂

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