18 Hours in Iceland: Part 1
Updated: Dec 17, 2018
*starts singing* Hopped off the plane at KEF with my boo and my carry on! (Ryan said to delete that, but I refused, you're welcome) We left Los Angeles on June 2, 2018 and our very first taste of Europe was our long layover in Iceland. I know most people do not like layovers, myself included, but when we found out we could fly (much cheaper by the way) to Iceland and then to France, we chose that route over the direct route. Neither of us had been to Europe before, so while we hadn't originally planned to visit Iceland, we wanted to grab every opportunity to explore a new place, even for just 18 hours. Stopping at KEF is a popular layover point when traveling between the US and other European destinations and a route that I highly recommend if you want a cheaper option and want to have a little side trip on the way to your final stop.
Now I'm sure, when you think of Iceland, you immediately think of the final match between the Mighty Ducks and the Iceland team in the best movie to come out of the Mighty Ducks trilogy (not up for debate) D2: The Mighty Ducks. Oooor perhaps you think of Vikings, the Blue Lagoon, the Northern Lights and all of the many fascinating things that country has to offer. All are valid responses. We did a lot of research about what to see and what to do and of course how far apart things were from each other, because while one of you might want to see the puffins and the other wants to see Game of Thrones filming locations, you will see neither if you only have 18 hours to explore. The country is pretty spread out with beautiful uninhabited lands or sometimes water separating you from the long list of things you wish to see. So if you have more time, then please check out the black sand beaches for me and take a Game of Thrones tour! Ryan would like you to head out on one of the boat tours and snap some pics of some adorable puffins that like to hang out on the less populated islands.
So what did we do during our magical layover?? Well, let me start by saying taking an overnight flight is the way to go because we arrived in Iceland on June 3 at 11:30 in the morning and had the whole day/night/early morning to explore! June 3 also happens to be Ryan's birthday! That's right we got to celebrate the love of my life in Iceland! We started our trip by picking up our rental car from Atak. I HIGHLY recommend getting a rental because Reykjavik is about a 40 minute drive from the airport and that's the place to be trust me. A shuttle will take you from the airport to the rental car area and from there the adventure begins.
Our adventure was split between 2 parts, the city and the nature. For the city part, we headed straight to Reykjavik and started with a nice cold beer at the Kaldi Bar! Kaldi was the first microbrewery in Iceland and if you have time you can go visit the brewery in Árskgarsandur and take a tour! They also have a beer spa, which sounds amazing! While we couldn't make it out there, we were happy to have the Kaldi bar to ourselves and enjoy some nice unfiltered beer from a very nice gent. They have Kaldi beer on tap and it is a must try! After enjoying birthday beers with Ryan, we then headed out to see the city.
What a beautiful and lively town Reykjavik is! We walked down streets with colorful houses and eye catching murals! We went to the main tourist area (of course) where we wandered in and out of the shops that line the streets. If you want to do some sightseeing and shopping, I suggest starting at the Hallgrimskirka, one of the most famous landmarks in Iceland. They started building this beautiful and majestic church in 1945. Standing at the base of the building makes you realize how small you really are and just how talented the people who created this church were. You can also go up to the tower and get an amazing view of the city. It is the tallest building in Reykjavik and the largest church in Iceland. Since you can see it from almost any point in the city, it can be your north star if you park close enough to it. You'll always know how to get back to where you started. After your eyes have readjusted from seeing such breathtaking architecture, you'll turn around and see the impressive statue of Leif Eiriksson. The statue was a gift from the US to the people of Iceland.
After that you can head down Laugavegur street which is the main street for shopping and shop till you drop! There are numerous boutiques that you won't find anywhere else, they truly give you a taste of the culture and the Icelandic style. We saw hardly any chain stores which we try to avoid when traveling so that was refreshing!
There was also a tattoo convention going on, which, if we had more time we would have definitely treated ourselves to. I suggest giving yourself some time to explore Laugavegur street because the area has so much to offer and really gives you a good feel for the city. If you are hungry, there are so many options for you to choose from, pubs to fancy restaurants to cafes. We chose to eat at Cafe Loki! The service was great, and the food was amazing and authentic. We wanted to try authentic Icelandic food and we definitely got that at Cafe Loki. We had the Icelandic Plate - Loki which included Rye bread slices, with mashed fish (Plokkfiskur) & smoked trout, flatbread with smoked lamb, dried fish with butter and a bit of fermented shark (Kæstur hákarl). Check out The Looks to see our picture perfect plate! Everything on our plate was delicious and like nothing I had tried before, especially the shark. Fermented shark is a national dish of Iceland so we had to try it! It is shark, which has been cured with a particular fermentation process and hung to dry for four to five months and is usually taken with a shot of vodka. Trust me, you want that shot of vodka. Ours was taken with a Brennivin shot and it was interesting haha I can't quite describe the taste but it was a bit chewy. I would probably try it again just to really wrap my head around it but I do suggest giving it a try!
After walking around the main shopping area, we headed to the harbor to see the beautiful Harpa! The Harpa is one of the more modern landmarks in the city and is a sight to see! The concert hall opened in 2011 and has a colored glass facade that makes it shine and change colors as if looking through a massive kaleidoscope. From the inside, you can climb up the stairs and have an amazing view of the city and the harbor. I would highly recommend checking out this building from the outside to the inside, it was a spectacular stop on our trip around the city.
From the harbor we walked back across the street to find THE hot dog. Not just any hot dog but THE hot dog. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur has been voted the best hot dog in Europe and rightly so. No fancy toppings or gimmicks needed here, just a good ol fashioned lamb based hot dog. Served on a warm bun, with crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade. Now notice I said fried onions, you do have the option of regular but you want the fried ones (shout out to Alison for that tip) The hot dogs were so great that we had them again at 1 am after our whole nature trip.
After trying out the Icelandic cuisine and grabbing some souvenirs from that area, we headed out on our nature part of the trip! If you're interested in geology and love the outdoors, you should check out 18 Hours in Iceland: Part 2 to hear about our drive around the entire Golden Circle and how the sun never set!