Flying to Reykjavík, Iceland from anywhere outside Iceland means you are actually flying to Keflavík, a 45 minute drive from Reykjavík. Reykjavík has its own airport but it appears to be used primarily for domestic flights and flights to Greenland – people actually go there! We had pre-arranged for a driver to meet us at Keflavík and drive us into Reykjavík; he charged 30 Icelandic Kroner per person.
Reykjavík is a very compact city and easily navigated on foot. In fact, through circumstance a number of days into our visit, we walked from the Reykjavík airport on the western edge of the city to our apartment on the eastern edge of the city in 45 minutes. (Picture 3 people running full-out to catch a bus that has no intention of waiting! Admittedly, it is very difficult to run full-out when laughing hysterically!) But I digress…
Since our flight from Stuttgart to Keflavík arrived at 12:30am, we decided a low-key first day was in order. We took a self-guided walking tour of Reykjavík beginning on Laugavegur street, the main shopping area with tourist shops, boutiques and cafes. We then turned on Skólaörðustígur street climbing the hill to Hallgrímskirkja, the modern Lutheran church which is an iconic image of Reykjavík.
The inside, while beautiful, is surprisingly plain with the exception of a massive pipe organ. We went up the bell tower to get a 360° view of Reykjavík.
It was startling when the bells began to toll the quarter of the hour and I was glad my camera was on a lanyard around my wrist since I was in the middle of taking a picture with my hands and camera outside the safety bars! 🙂 A world renown a cappella group, Schola Cantorum Reykjavík, offers weekly lunchtime concerts in the summer. The concert consisted of Icelandic folk tunes and pieces by Icelandic artists; it lasted about 30 minutes and the talent was stunning. The concert was attended by as many, if not more, locals than tourists.
We then walked to and through the Old Cemetery, opened in 1838 and still in use today, with yellow and green moss covering the tombstones. There were a lot of trees in the cemetery, making it look like a forest; some of them had been planted on the grave sites and had grown huge with the roots and large stumps tilting the tombstones.
Reykjavík is home to the University of Reykjavík as well as the University of Iceland and we wandered around the campus of the latter. It is comprised of a number of buildings and there was quite a bit of activity since it happened to be registration, presumably for fall classes. We had a debate about whether the classes are taught in Icelandic or English; I later learned that it is dependent on the specific class or area of study.
We walked to another Lutheran church, Dómkirkja, built in 1848. 90% of the Icelandic population is Lutheran but the vast majority are non-practicing, or lapsed, Lutherans. We walked past the Parliament House and the city hall, Ráðhús. We then went down to the harbor and walked back toward our apartment along the waterfront.
According to the tour books, one of the ‘must see’ attractions when visiting Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. It is a 30 minute drive from Reykjavík with buses leaving throughout the day. It is on the way to the Keflavík airport and many tourists stop at the Blue Lagoon to spend a few hours soaking in the naturally heated pools before catching their flight home. We felt we had to check it out but found it to be touristy and very pricey, even for Iceland!
The large pool is man-made surrounded by lava rocks with a pool-side bar allowing people to carry their drinks while wading through the waist-deep water. Pots of mud sit at various locations around the edge of the pool allowing visitors to apply a facial mask. Many people (including us) took advantage of that and it was humorous to see people walking through the pools wearing a facial mud mask! Soaking in the heated pools was relaxing but an hour was enough.
The Blue Lagoon is picturesque and worth a visit simply to see it and wander around taking pictures (I believe there is a fee for that privilege as well!) but I wouldn’t pay to visit the pools again.
It seems the Blue Lagoon is attempting to be a resort by offering spa services, a pricey restaurant, a gift shop on-site, and charging a high entrance fee. They have towels, bathrobes, and even bathing suits available for rent which is a nice feature for travelers who have a long layover at the airport. Those travelers could catch a shuttle from the airport to the Blue Lagoon, enjoy the heated pools and other services, then catch a shuttle back to the airport and continue on with their travel. However, there are other geothermal pools around Reykjavík one could visit if simply looking to experience naturally heated pools.