Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a one day in Reykjavik Day Trip. Before I enjoyed this One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip, Iceland was completely unknown to me. My only vague association with the country is that they are the bad guys in The Mighty Ducks sequel. One of their coaches keeps repeating the slogan, “Greenland is full of ice, and Iceland is very nice.” Clearly her plot is to drive the Americans crazy through the use of basic rhyme.
But the Evil Icelandic Hockey Coach was correct in one respect. Iceland is very nice, and there’s no better way to see it than by taking a One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip, exploring its beautiful countryside. Come with me, and I promise to show you a Þing or two.
One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip
Where to Stay
Reykjavik is an extremely expensive city, so it can be hard to find a place to rest your head for your one day in Reykjavik day trip that is both high quality and affordable. That’s why I loved the Brattagata Guesthouse. The owner was very friendly, the room was cozy, the curtains effectively blocked out the constant sunshine, and the breakfast, complete with skyr, was amazing.
One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip
What to Pack?
Iceland is not as cold as you might expect, but it can get rainy. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Reykjavik.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out and about without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or UK plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip
Morning: Explore the Countryside!
Reykjavik is a charming city, but it is also a small city. Most people will tell you that the exciting part of visiting Iceland is getting out of town and seeing the country’s phenomenal landscapes. If you are a non-driver like me, I suggest taking a day tour out of Reykjavik with Your Day Tours, which is a small local company. If you take their Your Golden Circle tour, you’ll be able to see waterfalls, a geyser, and Thingvellir National Park. (You’ll also get a few special treats that the big bus tours don’t offer.) Allow me to prove just how nice Iceland is with…
approximately top 5: 24 hours around reykjavik
The tour starts a little early in the morning, around 8 AM. That’s why I appreciated that our first stop was at a rest stop in Hveragerði where we could get some delicious coffee. Hveragerði is a famous tourist destination in its own right because of all the local hot springs. Our guide, whom I shall call Maria, said that the water in Iceland’s showers generally smells like sulfur because it comes from the hot springs. I try to look on the bright side, so I’ll just point out that this means every shower in Iceland gives you a spa experience for free!
Hveragerði is also famous for its 2008 earthquake, and there is a small museum at the rest stop dedicated to the quake and its victims. The quake was 6.3 on the Richter scale, which is unusually strong for Iceland. My favorite part of the exhibit was the story of a man who dug his small daughter out of the rubble. He claimed that he didn’t think about his own life, just saving his little girl. I’m not crying, Internet Stranger! You’re crying! I’m just frustrated because I still can’t figure out how to pronounce Hveragerði.
2) Bonus Round!
Your Day Tours prides itself on adding little bonuses to its trips, and we get three right in a row. The first is a stop at Faxi waterfall. On their website they call this waterfall a “hidden diamond”, which is almost an actual English idiom. They call it the little sibling of the more famous Gullfoss waterfall. (Actually they usually call it the little brother of Gullfoss, but I prefer not to gender waterfalls.)
The next bonus is a little snack served by Faxi waterfall. This is a special malt drink traditionally served at Christmas time mixed with orangeade. It isn’t alcoholic like beer, it’s more of a sweet, malty soda. The taste kind of reminded me of that popular Soviet bread soda, kvas.
Of course the only thing to eat with your malt is a flatbread with smoked lamb on top. That’s just science. Iceland’s a small country so it makes sense to have more sheep than cows. They take up less room.
The final treat was so special, it’s not even mentioned on their website. We got to stop and pet some magical Icelandic horses. They’re pony sized but definitely not ponies. These horses are considered so valuable in Iceland, you’re not allowed to import foreign horses. There goes my get-rich-quick scheme involving foreign horse importation to Iceland! I’ll need to think of some other way to support my travel habit!
Now we come to my main reason for taking the tour: Geysir!!! Geyser is the only word in English I know that comes from the Icelandic language. (You can see the word is spelling slightly differently in Icelandic. This geyser was formed back in the 13th century. I don’t know how old that makes it in geyser years.
The tour gives you over an hour to walk around the geyser area. If you manage to take a photo without any tourists in it, it kind of looks like you are in outer space. Just don’t get too close to the open geyser! The Instagram photo isn’t worth your life, my fellow travelers! Get that tattooed on your eyeballs if you need to.
Geysir is the most famous geyser in the area because it is the OG (Original Geyser). But it has become dormant and hasn’t erupted in almost two decades. The only geyser in the area that still erupts is called Strokkur, which sounds like an Icelandic metal band. It goes off every 5-8 minutes, so just look for the plumes of steam rising off the geyser and get ready for your close-up. (Not too close. The safety ropes are your friend.)
4) Lunch at Supa
You’ll have enough time at your Geysir stop to get lunch. Iceland is a crazy expensive country, and besides you won’t want a sit-down lunch here because it will just take away from Geyser Time. So I suggest getting a quick bite at Supa. They make soups fresh every day, and Iceland can be chilly even in summer, so soup is always welcome.
I chose their spicy vegetarian Malaysia soup, which was rich and satisfying. Also pretty much the last thing I was expecting to find in Iceland was Malaysian anything, so that was a pleasant surprise. (It’s made with both peanuts and almonds, for the allergic who walk amongst us.)
Once we were fed, it was time to move on to the majesty of Gullfoss. This is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. Even if there were no history behind it, you could spend the entire 45 minutes here just watching the water splash around. But waterfalls are even better when they have an adorable backstory.
Gullfoss was once the property of a man named Tómas Tómasson. (There aren’t a lot of names in Iceland.) He lost it to foreign investors because of gambling debts, according to Maria. Fortunately his daughter, Sigridur, stepped in to rescue the waterfall. It is now the property of the state of Iceland and no one can touch it and turn it into a parking lot. (The lawyer who helped Sigridur with her case later became the first president of Iceland.)
This story has two morals. The first is, don’t gamble if you own a waterfall. The second is, help waterfalls and you can get elected president of Iceland.
One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip
Afternoon: Thingvellir National Park
The final stop on the One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip is Thingvellir National Park (spelled Þingvellir in Icelandic). Despite all the other wonderful stops on the One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip, I do believe they saved the best for last. Þingvellir has incredible historical and geological significance to both Iceland and the world. If you don’t believe me, allow me to demonstrate with…
three fun facts: Þingvellir National Park
1) The First Parliament
Iceland has one of the most peaceful and strange histories of any country I’ve ever come across. In fact, Iceland has never had an army. When you learn about the story of most nations, it’s partially a story of one group of people moving in and oppressing another. But that’s not the case here in Iceland because Iceland was actually uninhabited until the 9th century. It was first settled by Vikings from Norway. Maria said this is why you can read Old Norwegian if you know Icelandic.
Anyway, once the Vikings settled down and formed actual communities in Iceland, they needed to establish some ground rules. This led to them forming a Parliament on the grounds of Þingvellir National Park. Of course, Parliament is a French word, and the Vikings were not fluent in French, so they used their word for Parliament, Þing. Hence the name Þingvellir National Park. Iceland claims this was the first Parliament in the world, but I gather the title of First Parliament Ever is still a subject for debate.
2) A Gift from Olaf the Stout
Þingvellir isn’t just home to the first Parliament in Iceland. It is also where the first Icelandic church was built. Christianity came to Iceland in the 11th century after Norway converted to Christianity. Apparently the Norwegian King Olaf the Stout was so pleased that he sent wood to Iceland so that they could build a church right on Þingvellir. This church you see above is in the same area, but it is not the original church. The one in the photo only dates back to the 19th century.
Maria told us that people in Iceland still need to pay taxes to support the Icelandic Church, even though the Icish are not very religious. That’s kind of strange, but not as strange as the story she told us about dating in Iceland. She said that Iceland has a very small population and many people in Iceland are related to each other. Therefore, in Iceland everyone has an ID number.
That way if you are interested in dating someone, you check each other’s ID numbers to make sure you are not related and you don’t accidentally hook up with your cousin. I wonder what Olaf the Stout would have to say about that. But back in Viking days, I don’t think cousin touching bothered people so much.
3) Tectonic Plates
OK, so enough with history and incest, it’s time for the boring part: geology. I’ll endeavor to make it as interesting as possible. Þingvellir National Park is where two tectonic plates meet: the Eurasian plate and the American plate. This is why you see so many fabulous black rocks smushing up against each other here. (Smushing is a very technical geological term.)
Because two tectonic plates meet in Iceland, there is a lot of volcanic activity in the country. Maria told us about the massive volcano eruption that happened in Iceland back in 2010. It trapped people in Iceland and all around Northern Europe for about a week because the smoke stopped all air travel. Maria said that people started saying they hated Iceland and tourism took a massive dip.
Fortunately it’s picked up greatly since then. Don’t hate Iceland, Internet Strangers! Blame it on the tectonic plates…and Olaf the Stout if you must. He’s very dead, so he won’t object.
One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip
Evening: Dinner at Sushi Social
Once the One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip is over, we’ll head back to Reykjavik for dinner. Iceland is definitely a pricey country, so be advised that any meal out is likely to set you back a pretty penny. But that pretty penny is worth it if you can head down to Sushi Social and gorge on their 7 Course Icelandic feast. Sushi Social claims to use Japanese and South American techniques on local Icelandic ingredients.
“Oh not another Japanese-South American-Icelandic fusion restaurant,” I thought. “Oh well, if I simply must.” But perhaps you are not as jaded as I am Internet Stranger, so let’s promise to enjoy…
approximately top 10: sushi social
This patriotic shot is filled with the Icelandic national drink, Brennivin. As far as I can tell, it is a kind of vodka flavored with caraway and it tastes like…vodka flavored with caraway. According to Wikipedia, you traditionally drink it during the holiday of Þorrablót, and I don’t know what Þorrablót is but I intend to start celebrating it as often as possible just so I can have an excuse to say Þorrablót.
Also, I’ll be able to brag about drinking a weird spirit you can’t find on any cocktail menus in NYC. I’m still bitter about cachaca getting so popular here shortly after my first trip to Brazil.
Some of you may be familiar with puffins because they are the cutest little birds in the whole wide world. But in Iceland, they’re what’s for dinner. At Sushi Social, they are served smoked with blueberries and goat cheese. They had a rich, gamey flavor that I found extremely addictive, especially with the sour goat cheese and sweet blueberries.
I never have a problem eating animals that are cute. My grandfather came from a family of farmers, and I remembered my mother telling me stories about the family pet pig, Pygmalion. (Pretty sure Pygmalion got eaten one day, is the moral of that story.)
If I didn’t freak you out with the last course, I’m definitely going to blow your mind with this. Here we have whale meat served with date puree and wakame. Whale is eaten in only a very few countries, like Iceland, Norway, and Japan. I had tried it in Norway and found it to be too fatty, but this whale was tender and delicious. Well, if you want good whale, you need to go to Reykjavik, as my grandmother always said.
3) Arctic char
OK, I think I’ve come to the last course that might upset anybody, unless you are Detective Adrian Monk and are deathly afraid of milk. As the bronze medalist, we have arctic char with a truffle ponzu vinaigrette and yuzu mayo. Arctic char is one of my favorite fishes. It’s like salmon but better. Like someone took off salmon’s glasses and shook out salmon’s hair and said, “Wow, salmon! You are beautiful!”
I liked how the rich mayo, light vinaigrette, and crunchy cucumber added different textures to the dish as well as different flavors.
4) Icelandic Roll
So I know the Vikings were well traveled and all, but I still don’t think the Vikings brought any sushi back to Iceland. But the Icelandic roll doesn’t need to be traditional to be delicious. This roll is made with gravlax cured in Brennivin, mango, avocado, rye bread crumble and dill.
So many Icelandic ingredients in one dish! We have smoked fish, Brennivin, rye bread, and dill! That’s like the Nordic Quadfecta! And when you add the mango and avocado, I can see how this Japanese-Icelandic-South American fusion thing just might work.
For the first main course, we have ling marinated in miso and served with zucchini, chorizo, apples, and Beurre Monte sauce. For those who don’t speak French, a Beurre Monte sauce is just a very rich butter sauce, and I have met few things in this world that don’t taste better with a lot of butter. I was quivering with anticipation over this dish because I’d never tasted ling before, and I love finding new foods to eat the way Lorelei Lee loves finding new places to wear diamonds.
Ling is kind of like cod and apparently it can be used to make the salted, jellied horror that is lutefisk. I think I’ve established my non-picky bonafides, so believe me when I say that no one should ever use ling to make lutefisk. Pour a lot of butter and chorizo over it instead. You’ll thank me later.
The meat course was a free range Icelandic lamb with onions, leeks, carrots, and chimichurri sauce. Well, I don’t know what they do to their lambs out in Iceland to make them taste so intense and yet lean. Probably they just let them gambol out on the hillside to be free, away from pollution and pesticides. Then they send their pet trolls out to collect the lambs by gentling bonking them on their noggins. That must be the problem with the way we raise our lamb in the US. Not enough troll collectors.
No Icelandic meal is complete without one of the great dishes of Iceland: skyr. Skyr is kind of like yogurt, except it isn’t sour at all. I think maybe the only way to make an Icelandic person angry is to suggest that skyr is secretly just yogurt. Either that, or prank them by sending them a letter saying they’ve accidentally married their cousin. This skyr is infused with birch syrup and topped with berries, white chocolate crumble, and sorrel granita. It’s basically like eating an Icelandic forest, which is exactly what I would want from a dessert on an Icelandic tasting menu.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip
What would you do with a One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip? Would you ever eat puffin and whale? And have you ever accidentally dated a cousin? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY enjoy a One Day in Reykjavik Day Trip. If you have more time in Reykjavik than just a one day in Reykjavik day trip, click here.