I have been lucky to see so many beautiful places on this Earth, but haven’t yet posted about my all-time favourite destination. This was a dream trip that I still compare all my trips to. I have to admit that one trip to amazing Iceland ruined all my future travel destinations. In this post, I will tell you all about what’s so special about Iceland and why it’s truly one of a kind place.
“Life is about courage and going into the unknown”
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
If you haven’t been in Iceland, book your flight tickets immediately! Guess I got an idea to travel to Iceland after watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty movie. The nature landscapes in this movie just blew me away and stuck on my mind. I contacted a travel agency here in Finland for travel plans and in August 2014 I was on a plane towards Iceland. Little did I knew, this was a perfect place for a road trip as the population of Iceland is only 330 000, so you can get lost in beautiful nature and experience freedom. Since my trip, number of travellers has increased drastically in Iceland (statistics).
12 interesting facts about Iceland
- You don’t need to exchange money at all. They take credit cards everywhere.
- There have been rare situations when a polar bear has drifted on ice from Greenland to Iceland. It’s a sad end for the animal, because it’s too expensive to send them home (source).
- Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world. So it’s a perfect travel destination for solo female travellers (source).
- It’s possible to fly to Nuuk, Greenland in just under 3.5 hours
- Iceland had serious financial trouble in 2008. They had the courage to let the banks to collapse (more info). Since then tourism has boosted the economy.
- There are no natural forests in Iceland. I visited in one of the largest man-made forest, so trees do grow there!
- Icelandic people don’t have surnames. Usually it’s a father’s name + dóttir/son in the end.
- Over 80% of the electricity comes from the volcanic activity. Eco-friendly!
- Icelanders still believe in elves and trolls
- Fermented shark (Hákarl) is a local delicacy. They literally bury shark piece in the ground and let it rot there 6-12 weeks and hang it to dry. The smell is not appealing.
- Reykjavik has one of a kind penis museum. Yes, a whole museum about penises.
- Iceland was the first country in the world that made illegal to pay less salary for women than men. Good job Iceland!
When my flight arrived from Helsinki to Keflavik Airport, my first thing to do was to find a way to the famous Blue Lagoon. This is a popular place to bathe in a milky blue geothermal heated pool, so make sure to pre-book your tickets online! It was pure luxury to take a 20 minute taxi ride straight to this relaxing spa after flight. There’s a luggage storage right next to the parking for about 4 euros. I just took my swimsuit and the spa took care of the rest! Entry ticket is expensive but think it as a once in a lifetime experience.
First thing I noticed that the pool is surrounded by cool volcanic rocks. I was surprised how shallow the water was and that temperature varied in different parts of the pool. Enjoy a little spa treatment by putting some silica mud on your face and have a drink by the pool. This place has also sauna! You’ll get hungry after all that bathing so make sure to visit the Lava restaurant, which serves yummy quality food. My total Blue Lagoon experience was positive, but bear in mind that it’s not a budget friendly place compared to other geothermal places in Iceland.
I would also like to share a best kept secret with you about Blue Lagoon. Actually this place is NOT a natural hot spring as you might think. You actually bathe in waste water from Svartsengi geothermal power plant which is located right next to the Blue Lagoon. No worries, it’s completely safe! Considering how many tourists go to this spa, it’s a genius business plan.
How to get to Rykjavik city center?
It takes about 45 minutes from the Keflavik airport to the city center. Taxi is the most convenient and fastest option, but expensive compared to FlyBus. Check out the time tables and accurate prices on their website. You can book your tickets before trip to Iceland. If you choose FlyBus, it’s good to know that they depart 30-40 minutes after flight has arrived.
What to see?
The capital city of Iceland has a charming small town vibe. The best way to explore Reykjavik is just wander around by foot without a destination in mind. No need for local transport. My favourite place was the harbor despite the chilly wind. You will see a unique Harpa concert hall twinkling in the sun like the scales of a fish. How appropriate for this surrounding with water near and mountains on the background. This is a cool architectural building is a must see!
Not far from Harpa is another iconic landmark, Sun Voyager Sculpture, a shiny metal ship that looks like a Viking ship. The sculpture is made by Jón Gunnar Árnason who sadly died before he saw his work ready on its current location. Many people don’t know that this sculpture has nothing to do with Vikings, but it’s actually a boat to celebrate the sun and its beautiful rays.
I’m not that interested in churches, but you can’t leave Reykjavik before you see Hallgrímskirkja. This church is shaped like a rocket right in the center of the city. You can climb on the top for 9 euros to see a bird’s eye view of Reykjavik. I was happy just to admire this architecture from the outside. Another great place to stroll around is Tjornin Pond and its park. Just relax and spot some birds and locals enjoying their day.
Where to shop and eat?
Previously I wrote about my feelings of shopping souvenirs. Reykjavik is a expensive place to shop, but you can get a 15% tax refund from your purchases at the Keflavik airport. If you don’t have the time to wait in line, just fill a form and you will receive money to your account after the trip. If you love Icelandic sweaters (lopapeysa) like me, get your unique hand knitted one from a local Handknitting Accociation of Iceland (Skólavörðustígur 19). Another place I have to recommend (because I’m a Finn) is a tiny and cute Suomi Prkl! shop full of Finnish design items (Laugavegur 27).
If you’re hungry, try some burgers in Chuch Norris Grill (Laugavegur 30). Don’t let the funny name fool you; it’s not a fancy place, just an affordable place to fill your stomach. Le Bistro (Laugavegur 12) is a very good place for a late breakfast. Icelandic brunch was delicious (finally some skyr!) which was served with a shot of fish oil. I need to make another trip to Iceland just to explore all the restaurants in Reykjavik. Oh, and don’t forget to buy some local beautiful packaged Omnom chocolate from grocery stores or visit their factory!
In my next post, we will start a road trip around Iceland!