How to spend a week in Reykjavík, Iceland

Sunset over downtown Reykjavik

Let’s just get this out there early on: one week isn’t long enough to feel like you’ve experienced everything Iceland has to offer.

But it’s a really solid start. So, from food to full-on adventure, this is how we spent our amazing week in this unique city.

 

Where we stayed

After a copious amount of shopping around on HomeAway, AirBnB, and various hotel sites, we settled on an AirBnB right on the edge of Reykjavík’s main shopping district. We had heard that being right on Laugavegur could be irritating due to late-closing bars and fun-loving drunk travelers, so we figured a few minutes’ walk would be worth the peace.

This was good reasoning, and we have no regrets. Next time, though, I think we’ll stay a little closer to the city center. I’d still recommend staying away from Laugavegur, proper, as many of the downtown clubs don’t close until 4-5am. But staying anywhere near Hallgrímskirkja should be a solid win: close to food, transportation, and landmarks, and far enough from hollering drunks to get some sleep.

All that said, our one bedroom apartment was lovely, and afforded us a fantastic home base to return to after our long tour days – and a great spot to hole up in when the weather got rough.

 

Top 3 tours or activities (in winter)

  • Horseback riding (Íslenski Hesturinn). Reykjavík may not often get much snow accumulation, but riding through the snow-covered lava fields outside the city on an extremely fluffy Icelandic horse was magic, pure and simple. Our guide, Orsi, was extremely knowledgeable and a ton of fun. We left this tour with an education and a whole slew of amazing memories (and photos).
  • Snaefellsnes tour (Goecco). If all of Goecco’s tours are like this one, we’re planning to book with them again when we return. Our guide, Áuđunn, took us off the beaten track, leading us up the side of volcanic craters, along black sand beaches, and overlooking an angry Atlantic Ocean from (roped off!) cliffs hundreds of feet in the air. Book. It. Now. Read more about our experience!
  • Drive the Golden Circle (self-drive). I’m glad we drove this one ourselves, but I think a tour with a company like Goecco might also have been fun. From frigidly gorgeous Gullfoss Falls, to the Secret Lagoon, to farm-made ice cream at Efstidalur, there are tons of man-made and natural wonders to explore.
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Just note that the weather in Iceland changes on a dime. Case in point, the first half of our week was seamless, smooth, and absolutely stunning. The back half of the week, however, got blown all to hell – LITERALLY.

Friday saw all roads out of Reykjavík closed due to dangerously high winds. And Saturday night into Sunday saw the biggest single snowfall in Reykjavík in the last almost 60 years – 21”!! This, on the morning we were supposed to leave. (The resulting ordeal: Part 1, Part 2)

 

Top 3 places we ate

So, when you’re writing a travel blog, you ideally want to eat at as many new places as possible during your stay. However, when you find a really delicious spot, it’s impossible not to want to return another time or two. So, you’ll find that we ended up repeating a few places, simply because they were so damn good.

Also of note: food, whether at the grocery store or in a restaurant, is expensive. New York City expensive. Expect to spend an average of between $20-$30 per plate, and maybe $12-$20 per appetizer or dessert when you eat out.

  • Svarta Kaffid. Their concept is amazing: two soups each day, held in big copper pots on the bar. One is veggie, the other is some type of meat; both are cream-based. They cycle through over 60 varieties, and their chef is still coming up with new twists on the recipe. It feels like a neighborhood pub, the beer selection is good, and the meals are affordable (by Iceland standards). If you like dark beers, be sure to ask for a Lava!
  • Kaffibrenslann. Wherever you travel, a solid breakfast spot is a must. Brenslann serves a fabulous cup of coffee (Luke had his black and didn’t complain, while I loved my flat white), and their sandwiches are pretty damn delicious. Just look for the “This coffee was made for walking” sign.
  • 3 Frakkar. After we expressed interest in traditional food, our coolest-of-the-cool tour guide, Áuđunn, made reservations here for our small tour group on the way back from Snaefellsnes. Located in what used to be a house, the atmosphere is cozy and (you guessed it) homey, and the food was amazing. Definitely give the grilled cod fillet a try, and perhaps puffin breast or peppercorn whale steak, if you’re feeling adventurous. And for dessert, try the skyr brûlée. Your stomach will thank you.
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Top 3 experiences to have

  • Scale a volcanic crater. One of our first stops during our Snaefellsnes tour was an inactive volcanic crater. It doesn’t sound exciting, but try driving up a volcano, or through lava fields. It will feel like you’ve entered an entirely different world – one that’s mossy, and colorful, and frigid, and super photogenic – and you won’t want to leave.
  • Climb Skógafoss. As you head southeast from Reykjavík, there are even more of Iceland’s famous waterfalls to admire. Perhaps the most stunning of them is Skógafoss, but be prepared to work for your scenery. The hike up to the “summit” isn’t for the faint of heart of fearful of heights, but the rewards are well worth the time and (even when it’s freezing out) sweat.
  • Enjoy a geothermal spring. If you want to get a serious sense of Icelandic culture, don’t just go to the Blue Lagoon. Definitely stop there, but also try the Secret Lagoon, and a couple of neighborhood pools. Pool culture is a huge deal in Iceland, and hitting up a local pool is a great way to get up close and personal with real Icelanders – rather than just seeing them from a distance while you’re on a tour.

 

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