Reykjavík, Iceland!

I'll start by saying, jet lag basically ruined us for a week upon our return, so that's why this post is so incredibly late. That and the week we got home from Iceland was also the last official week of summer and Lily and Oli started school this week, so kind of a crazy time to be switching time zones and adjusting to reverse culture shock, oh and all the laundry. But I digress. ICELAND.

Wow. What a gorgeous place. God went on a creative rampage when he made Iceland, I will say that. The natural beauty of the country was actually what we explored and experienced more during our second week which is when we had a rental car, but this post will cover our first week in Iceland, in the capital city (and cutest, most quirky little European city ever) of Reykjavík. 

First I'll just start by explaining how we arrived at the decision to travel to Iceland. As you guys already know, we travel a lot due to Brad being a points-collecting guru and gaining our family free flights to Europe almost yearly. Last year's trip to Sweden and Italy? Totally free airfare. Next year's trip to you'llhavetowaitandsee? Also going to be free airfare for our whole family. But this year was our points collecting year, meaning we didn't have enough for free flights this summer.

But getting away as a family is something that's really important to us - especially with us both working from home Staycations aren't really a thing - so we looked at what our budget could accommodate. Yearly, we set aside about 5-7% of our net salary for travel. On years where we have free airfare, this goes a long way! On years like this year, where we also have to pay for flights, there's less wiggle room, but it's still possible. So we looked into road trips to destinations within driving distance of Montreal - Boston, NYC, Maine, Halifax, PEI. All of them would require 8-15 hours of driving minimum (which you can add a few hours to with kids stopping to pee every hour) each direction, which cuts into vacation time and gas isn't free. Then we looked at Airbnbs in these locales and were frustrated at how pricey many of them were. Then we calculated the exchange rate to go anywhere in the USA and quickly realized that we'd be spending our max budget and then some for a destination that we weren't giddy about.

Then, purely because I looked at Google Maps and realized how close it is, I suggested Iceland. Brad had never really thought about going there, and I really only knew about the Blue Lagoon and their underdog soccer team. Note: B would later say "Iceland is the place I never knew needed to be on my bucket list until I got here". Anyway, it was a Monday (B's day off) and so we were just lounging around as a family, and had time on our hands, so B dove in to researching flights and wouldn't you know, we found an Airline that had flights to Iceland direct from Montreal for as low as $130 each way! OK. So it was Iceland!

We left Montreal at 8pm and arrived 4.5 hours later in Reykjavík where it was 5am local time. After taking a bus from the airport to the city centre, the sun was already up and we were greeted by the quiet, cold, white skied city. We didn't actually think we'd arrived because it was so tiny! It was more like a small village than a capital city, but that's one of Reykjavík's (and Iceland's) charms. Our kids were champs after a rough flight. They walked all the way from the bus stop to our Airbnb (we needed the stroller to carry all of our luggage!). The cold fresh air and ever present daylight helped us wake up for long enough to get settled and have a nice two hour nap.

Once we had a good nap we were all feeling better and set out to explore. We walked down to the harbour and got the lay of the (very small) land and did our groceries. Reykjavík is very expensive ($6 for a filtered coffee, $7 for a basic hot dog, $50 for a 12-pack of beer), so we made all of our meals at home and never got take out or stopped at a restaurant. Thankfully this wasn't a hard decision, as the food scene in Iceland is not too appealing. Pickled shark fin, whale, smoked puffin, ram's testicles, and hot dogs are among the popular cuisine. Eeeeek. We weren't there for two hours before we were approached to sign a petition against killing whales for food. Done and done, and thanks for the cute sticker!

Our Airbnb was right near a beautiful duck pond, called Tjörnin which has Nordic House and City Hall at it's edges. We stopped here daily, which the kids loved. Also, Chloe, who trips at least 10 times a day, gave us heart attacks on the regular running too close to the edge. We used our Beco Gemini carrier a lot on this trip, even though she's getting close to the weight limit and wasn't as light as last summer, it was so nice to have!

The most popular building in Reykjavík is the Hallgrímskirkja, a historic Lutheran church that overlooks the downtown strip (which is basically three bustling streets). I found the architecture in Reykjavík to be really cold and uninviting, aside from the three main streets in downtown Reykjavík. A lot of dark stone with little detailing - not to be mistaken for modern clean lines either - simply bland and harsh looking. They say architecture can give us a window into a culture unlike anything else, and after two weeks in Iceland, I have to say I agree. It was certainly not the friendliest place. Our Airbnb host and the people we met at church were the rare exception, but otherwise it was rare to get a smile from a local, even when they were working in customer service! Most people were really stoic and cold, to be honest. I think it's overly simplistic to blame the climate for this, especially as we found the people in Denmark and Sweden some of the most humble, approachable, even cheerful people we've ever encountered and these countries have very similar climates as Iceland.  But I'm getting off topic! Hallgrímskirkja! This was a building I really did love. And the view from the top was insane!

I actually went up the tower by myself while Brad stayed at home with the kids, and then I went to Reykjavík Roasters, an incredible little coffee shop to do some reading. You can hear the heart-warming story of how I found myself at a cafe despite out strict food budget HERE. On the way home I took some pictures of the colourful street art and my favourite houses.

Brad took the big kids to museums a few times and I'll list those below. Chloe and I mostly went to parks and wandered the little streets and played inside during those hours. One of our favourite family excursions in Reykjavík was the Open Air Museum, which we took a bus to.  After seeing Brad take my picture with the kids, a kind stranger offered to take some pictures for us, which was a treat! I got increasingly bold on this trip in asking people if they wouldn't mind snapping a family pic, because WHY NOT? You feel awkward for like 5 seconds and then you have family photos of your one-in-a-lifetime trip for years to come. Worth it.

She randomly said "for last picture, arms up!!" and so we did! So fun. We lucked out in that every person who took pictures for us later mentioned, "I'm a mom/dad too, so I get it! I took tons so you can pick whichever ones are best". Bless humanity.

The Open Air Museum was a historical site and you could explore sod houses, old buildings, and play in the black sand box. The kids loved seeing the horses and I fell in love with all the black exterior. Black outside, white inside. Those Nordic countries, man. Such simple, but gorgeous decor. Even in the 1800s, apparently!

The other favourite family activity was the geothermal pool. Iceland has them everywhere! Even towns with a population of 200 people has a geothermal public pool! Year round these pools are open and locals flock to them! The water is warm in the pool and then there are often several hot tubs of varying temperatures. My favourite was 36-38 degrees in the super shallow pool where people would lay down and babies could play. I laughed thinking about how protective we are in North America, and now most hot tubs have signs that children under 12 shouldn't enter. In Iceland (and most Nordic countries, I understand) saunas and hot tubs are a way of life from birth! Crazy that these are all heated exclusively from geothermal activity underground! I tried not to think about it too much because I actually find it kind of scary!

On Sunday morning we explored the beautiful orchestral hall, HARPA. What a building! Later that day we went to church. The most significant thing we did in Reykjavík was definitely worshiping at Loftstofan Baptistakirkja, or in English, Upper Room Baptist Church. In a country as secular as Iceland, it was no surprise to hear that this was the only reformed evangelical church in the entire country, but somehow that was still deeply shocking. We absolutely loved our time there. They had translation devices available so we could understand the Icelandic sermon, and some songs were sung in English. My favourite was singing How Deep The Father's Love For Us in Icelandic. Every nation. Every tongue. Traveling to new cultures always stirs Missions in my heart. You can see a documentary about the church we attended HERE and if you'd like to make a donation to this young church plant, I can put you in touch with the pastor. 

At the end of our week in Reykjavík, we got a rental car and drove to our more rural Airbnb in Selfoss and had really incredible weather (blue skies!!) for the part of the trip where it really mattered. I'll post those pics next week! Reykjavík, you were such a quirky little city and we loved visiting! For those who have asked, it's like Whistler meets Le Plateau (my Canadian analogy) or for the Americans, it's like Park City Utah meets Brooklyn. Artist, edgy, but also outdoorsy and quaint. Quite the mix!

Reykjavík Museums we visited:
  • Open Air Museum
  • Nordic House (me and Clover went to an exhibit on Nordic children's design + clothing - dream)
  • The Maritime Museum (Brad and the kids loved the hands-on atmosphere, dress-up costumes, and Viking history)
  • Icelandic Phallological Museum (are we the WORST parents!? Important to know that there were no human displays, only marine life and it was kind of fascinating...) 
Groceries: Bonus was the most affordable grocery store, and there were few rivals aside from niche stores.
Alcohol: Vinbudin is the government-run liquor/beer/wine store and the only place you can buy alcohol. Coffee: Reykjavík Roasters was a dream! Definitely up there with Montreal third wave cafes!

/// in this post:
Baby carrier - Beco Gemini (find HERE)
Kid's clothing - Luv Mother (15% off with THIS link!)
My backpack - Herschel (find HERE)
My boots - Hunter (find HERE)
Our stroller - Uppababy (find HERE)


  1. What an interesting read. Thanks. Now I want to go to Iceland too! I think flights may take a little longer from England though!

    1. Wow Air does fly from London though! Check out their flights. We were in shock at how cheap they were!

  2. Can you share your airbnb? I'm looking for a place to stay in October.

    1. sorry, didn't get back to you in time, Emily! I see you had an amazing time though from having followed via Instagram :)

  3. My husband and I visited Iceland this past summer. The article in the Grapevine mentioned that the worst souvenir ever brought to Iceland was Christianity and I have been praying for this nation since our return. I noticed you mentioned your sense of mission when you attended the Upper Room Church and I was not able to reach their link when I clicked on the "here" button. Could you please provide further information regarding this church. I am interested in possibly supporting this church plant and would love to visit there if I have the opportunity to visit again. Thank you so much for the wonderful story and fabulous pictures! Many of your touching photos brought tears to my eyes and amazing memories of my trip. So blessed by your contribution!

    1. Hi Cyn, thanks so much for stopping my blog and taking the time to comment :)
      You can find out more about the Upper Room Baptist Church in Reykjavik on their facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/UpperRoomIceland/
      All the best!