We took advantage of Icelandair's free Iceland stopover programme and had a lovely two-night stay in Reykjavik in October on our way back to Canada from our two-week road trip around Scotland. We arrived on the same day Hurricane Nicole arrived in Iceland! It made for an interesting flight with two aborted landings before we finally touched down safely on the tarmac of the Keflavik airport.
After we got all our luggage back, which took forever due to the bad weather, we hopped on a shuttle bus for the 45 minute drive to the heart of Reykjavik. There are two companies that run shuttle busses from the airport to Reykjavik and vice versa, but we've always gone with Grayline because they charged slightly less than the other company. We've been quite pleased with their service so far.
We stayed at a cozy apartment we rented through Airbnb for two nights. Our host was very friendly and accommodating. She had no problem granting our request for a late check-out on the last day as our plane back to Canada didn't leave until 5pm. If not for our gracious host, we would've had to carry our luggage for a couple of hours around town while waiting for the airport shuttle bus to pick us up! That wouldn't have been fun, especially in the wet weather we were having that day.
If you're not an Airbnb member yet and you would like to give it a try, sign up using our referral link and we'll all get CA$40/US$35 to spend on a stay! We've used Airbnb to find a place to stay the two times we were in Reykjavik and had only good experience. It cost us less than a hotel room and we got to experience living like a local. If you'd like to know where we stayed, feel free to ask. :-)
We had already been to a few popular Reykjavik attractions like the big Hallgrimskirkja church, Harpa concert hall, and the, uh, Penis Museum on our first visit three years ago so we didn't give them a proper visit. Our plan for the one full day we had in Reykjavik was to visit the spots we had missed on our first visit, of which there were plenty. Here's how we ended up spending the day:
Tjörnin Pond by the Reykjavik City Hall
This was our first stop. The pond is a good place to take in a lovely view of the Reykjavik skyline, for checking out the waterfowls, and also for seeing some interesting public arts. While the downtown streets are screaming "tourist resorts", I found the pond area quite authentic and very Icelandic. I loved it there. The Reykjavik City Hall building itself has an interesting architecture. It's worth checking out if you're into that sort of thing.
I got my husband to take some pictures of me with a couple of the statues. I know it's silly but I was in a silly mood!
The Reykjavik Grapevine has a good list of Reykjavik statues that would've made a good guide but I forgot to consult it when I was there. Oh well.
Next, we headed out to the harbour. The Harpa concert hall is the landmark at the harbour. You won't miss it. You can't miss it. It's an architectural wonder. On our previous visit, we saw a comedy show called "How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes" at Harpa, which we thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend seeing if you had a chance. This time, we only went into Harpa to take a break from walking for a bit and enjoy the sights as there were no shows scheduled for that day.
Another point of interest at the harbour is Sólfar or Sun Voyager, the Viking boat statue. It was a very popular spot, so much so that I had to wait a while before I could take a picture of the statue with no one within the shot.
Even just walking by the harbour was kind of nice. I love being able to smell the ocean and just generally being close to the sea. I'm an island girl after all. As the cliché goes, you can take the girl out of the island but you can't take the island out of the girl! Or something to that effect.
The rest of downtown Reykjavik
The rest of downtown Reykjavik comprises mostly of shops, dining and drinking establishments, and hotels. Still lovely and colourful, but quite touristy, especially on Laugavegur, the main shopping street. Skólavörðustígur is another popular street. That's the street you see in most photos taken from up the tower of Hallgrimskirkja church. We stayed in a top-floor apartment on Skólavörðustígur on our first visit to Reykjavik and we still like to call the street "our street." :-)
We sat on a bench by Laugavegur for a little while and did some people-watching. It was fun, and free! We also did some window-shopping. The only thing we bought was a wooden sheep from a Danish chain store called the Flying Tiger on Laugavegur 13. It was a bit like a higher-end dollar store, except everything cost more than a dollar but still mostly affordable. If you like cute or novelty stuff or are looking to buy souvenirs or a gift, you should definitely check out that store. (Hmm, I just noticed that there are some Flying Tiger stores in New York as well. Interesting.)
Also worth checking out is the street art you can see all over downtown Reykjavik. They are not unauthorized graffitis but actually artwork done by various artists commissioned by the city. They usually have some new street art up just before the annual Iceland Airwaves music festival that takes place at the end of autumn or beginning of winter in Reykjavik every year.
Oh, I almost forgot. Did you know that Reykjavik is famous for its cats? There's even a Facebook page dedicated to them. And we got to pet one! If you love cats, you'll love Reykjavik.
And that is how we spent that lovely autumn day in Reykjavik. We were expecting the day to be rainy but it turned out to be quite dry, though still grey, cold, and a little windy. We were a bit sad that we didn't get to see the Northern Lights due to the unfavourable weather, but there's always next time. Trust me, once you visit Iceland, you'll want to visit it over and over again! Not good for the wallet! :-)
Speaking of wallets, we only dined at wallet-friendly places during our (way too short) stay, since we always travel on a budget. But even the wallet-friendly eateries in Reykjavik aren't really what we'd call cheap. Still, the following places shouldn't break the bank (much):
The Noodle Station on Laugavegur 86
We had dined here before on our first visit to Reykjavik three years ago and enjoyed it so much, we had to go back. We actually had dinner here two nights in a row! The first night we had the chicken noodle soup and the second night beef noodle soup. They both had the exact same tasty broth. A bowl of soup cost about CA$16. Not overly cheap but quite filling and nice to have on a cold night. They also had an option with vegetable instead of meat and it cost a lot less.
I've been experimenting in the kitchen to try to come up with a copycat recipe for the Noodle Station soup ever since we got back from the trip and I think I'm on the right track. Definitely getting there. I might post the recipe here one day, once I've come up with something that tastes very close to it. Just watch this space! :-)
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, the famous hotdog stand on Tryggvatagata 1
Coming from Harpa, you would have to go through some unsightly construction zones to get there, and once you're there, you might have to stand in line for a little while, but it would all be worth it. I had one with everything and it was simply the best hotdog I've ever had, and this is coming from someone who doesn't usually like hotdogs. It cost about CA$5 for a single hotdog, and it wasn't even a foot-long hotdog. Definitely not cheap, but still, you might want to order at least two. You would be CA$10 poorer but at least you wouldn't regret not having another one like I do. We had one each for lunch. It filled us up for an hour or two.
This was our first visit to the hotdog stand, by the way. We had walked by it but my husband had been too afraid to give it a try three years ago! :-D My loss, really. I actually enjoyed the hotdog more than he did.
Korniđ Bakery on Laekjargata 4
This bakery is located between Tjörnin and the Harbour. Had to stop there because I had a hankering for kleina, my favourite Icelandic pastry. It is basically a knot-shaped donut but denser than the regular donut and has the sweet and citrusy scent of cardamom. I bought one plain kleina and a chocolate-dipped one. They were bigger than the regular kleina. I ended up eating one and packing the other one to have later. They were about CA$2.50 each. I actually liked the traditional plain kleina better than the chocolate-dipped one.
Eldur & Ís on Skólavörðustígur 2
We stopped here to have some ice cream even though it was a pretty cold day (we're Canadian after all). I had the Daim ice cream, which was good, but not as good as the Ferrero Rocher ice cream I'd had at the same place three years ago (it wasn't available that day). This place is supposed to be famous for its crépes, but we've never had any. Next time!
Sandholt Bakery on Laugavegur 36
We went there to have breakfast on our last day in Reykjavik but we couldn't find a table so we just bought some cinnamon buns and had them at our apartment. I don't remember how much they cost but their stuff is not the cheapest. They used to have kleinur (that's plural for kleina) for sale three years ago but apparently not anymore. It's also worth mentioning that Sandholt is one of the oldest bakeries in Iceland, founded in 1920. Historical!
I love Reykjavik. It's small enough to not give me anxiety and also very walkable. We actually walked a whopping 10km on the only full day we had there. My legs didn't like me very much after that, but it was totally worth the pain. I'd do it all over again!