Roaming Around Reykjavik


I'm not going to lie: our second day in Iceland started out as a major disappointment.

The itinerary for Day Two was supposed to include an early morning road trip along the South Coast, with stops at Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Skógafoss waterfall and Reynisfjara's black sand beach. Our final destination was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon where we would meet our guide to go hiking in an ice cave in Svartifoss.

Hiking the ice cave was one of the activities I was most excited about during our trip to Iceland. So when our guide emailed us the night before to say he was cancelling tours the following day due to inclement weather, I couldn't help but take a trip down the Denial river. 

Denial is not a river in Iceland.

Despite the hike getting cancelled, I still woke us up early, figuring we could at least take our road trip. I then proceeded to ignore the gentle warnings of the many locals who suggested that we not try to road trip the South Coast in a whiteout blizzard, packed up our bags, and hit the road. 

Note: I am a moron. 

I should mention here that prior to waking up that morning, we had seen very little of the actual city of Reykjavik. And by little, I mean, what we saw on the short walk from where the Reykjavik Excursions tour bus dropped us off to our AirBnB, plus the view from our window.

Our entire knowledge of the city thus far at this point in the trip is captured in the four pictures below (and two of them are basically the same): 

That's it. Now... back to the next morning.

I will preface this story by stressing that luckily, and I mean extremely luckily, nothing too terrible happened to us. We stopped at a Subway sandwich shop (that's the only terrible thing) before heading out of Reykjavik, grabbed some chips and sandwiches for lunch, and drove about 6 or 7 miles down the Ring Road in the wrong direction.

"There's no snow!" I merrily shouted, "These Icelandic people are such pansies, this is just a flurry!"

I am a moron. 

When I realized that we were headed north instead of south, I rerouted us and drove fearlessly in the right direction. About forty minutes into our drive we hit the snow. Sure, it was coming down pretty heavy, but nothing 20+ years of Connecticut winters couldn't handle. I took my driving test for my driver's license with black ice on the road!

Repeat: I am a moron. 

The first sign of trouble that we encountered was a car accident where two cars had almost slid off an embankment into a river. The snowdrifts were incredible. Cars were piling up all over both sides of the one lane highway with only a guardrail to divide north from south. Before long I couldn't see more than one inch in front of my windshield. Anything could have been in front of us. And I thought, "It's OK, this has to pass, this can't go on.." and I kept driving. 

I cannot stress enough: I am a moron. 

Eventually my will to live beat out my stubborn, ignorant New England pride and I made the decision to turn around. In what I will always consider to be one of the Top 5 Scariest Driving Moments of My Life, I blindly made a U-Turn into oncoming traffic at a crawling pace as soon as there was a little opening in the guardrail. To this day, I can't believe nothing hit us and I couldn't have been any more relieved when we pulled back into the clear skies of Reykjavik. 

Listen people: a million travel bloggers and Icelandic bloggers like I Heart Reykjavik have stressed that you should pay attention when Iceland weather reports and locals and your gut and eyes tell you to stay off the road. No matter how much snow you grew up driving in, nothing can prepare you for snow on the roads of Iceland... there's no trees to stop the snow, so whiteout conditions can happen easily and fast. And if you go out, they might close the bridge to Reykjavik and not let you back in. 

One final warning: a little known fact is that all and I mean ALL of Iceland's emergency services and first responders are volunteers. So the Icelandic folk risk their lives for no reason other than bravery and the goodness of their hearts every time you are an ignorant moron like me. 

Needless to say, I was supremely bummed that we were missing out on both the ice cave tour AND the road trip when I forced myself to remember that um, we still had all of Reykjavik to explore.

Reykjavik is small but there's still tons a lot to do. So we stayed in the car, drove straight past the beautiful building for the Harpa Music Hall and headed to see the The Sun Voyager statue down by the water.

Up close and personal, The Sun Voyager, also known as Sólfar, really was beautiful, as was the scenic landscape beyond it. One note I would make is that in the winter, the ground beneath it can be verrry slippery, as can the statue itself. So be careful when taking your pictures!

After a windy and bitter cold stop at The Sun Voyager, we took a short five minute drive over to the large Lutheran church, Hallgrímskirkja, which touts a great view of the city. We parked in the free parking lot (good to know as most of Reykjavik's street parking is paid and this is in close walking distance to much of the city) and made our way into the church.

Upon entering the ominous main doors, we found a group of tourists waiting outside an elevator and a sign pointing to the office where you could purchase tickets to ride to the top floor. A church service was actually in progress while we were there, so we were quiet as we made our way into the tiny gift shop.

The tickets were only a few bucks, a worthy investment to get some nice aerial pictures of the tiny city. After a brief wait by the small elevator, we rode up to the top where the doors opened to a staircase. We climbed several flights to find a landing encased in foggy plexi glass, with a door at one end leading to the open viewing area.

Inside the wind tunnel that was the top floor, we spent about 15 minutes taking in beautiful views of the city from all sides. Then we rode the little elevator back down and spent some more time exploring the grounds before heading off into the city in search of food and booze.

It wasn't long before we stumbled into an Irish pub, The Celtic Cross, and deemed it the perfect place to spend the rest of our afternoon (and, let's be honest, most of our evening). Though they didn't have food, they did have beer and cider and a friendly bartender who entertained us for hours until the night crowd stumbled in.

We watched the soccer game, made friends with some Irish tourists, and even had a few shots. When we finally left to head out to The Lebowski Bar for a nightcap, Ryan had a little surprise for me outside... I'm not sure when he ran out to draw this in the snow, but it's safe to say I melted a little bit.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the rest of our evening was spent drinking the night away at The Lebowski Bar, a Big Lebowski-themed bar with over 20 White Russians on the menu, followed by a drunken walk home to our AirBnB.

Sure, I was still sad that we had missed our ice cave tour, but there are worse places to spend a day getting snowed in with your cute boyfriend. Plus, it was a real Icelandic experience! You haven't truly visited Iceland in the winter if the weather hasn't dramatically affected your plans. Which is why you should remember to stay flexible when you head to this little island and be prepared to make the best of whatever comes your way... a fairly good rule for any travel adventure, I suppose. ;)