Christmas Eve in Iceland

I can’t believe we’re in Iceland. I’ve always wanted to go and now I’m actually here…

…and boy, is it cold!

We left Toronto Monday night at 8pm. The Iceland Air flight was packed. It’s been a while since we’ve flown internationally (if you discount the USA) so it was something of a novelty to be on a bigger plane. The flight was only four and a half hours, which is great, because I was pretty uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I got any sleep, maybe blocks of five or ten minutes. Due to the time difference, we arrived at what would have been 2am Toronto time but was 6am Iceland time (Did you know Iceland shares GMT? It looks so bizarre on the time zone map, stuck out there on its lonesome.). This made for a very tired arrival.

The procedure at Keflavik International Airport was a bit different. We all got off the plane and then had to go through security to get into the country. This meant pulling out laptops and taking off shoes. The sign said all electronic equipment but luckily that wasn’t strictly enforced because that would have meant pulling out an iPad, two cameras and a phone, as well as the laptop. The process took a little while but next time (see? I’m already thinking of next time) I’ll be prepared and it won’t seem so strange.

Border control was incredibly quick. As Glen has said, it went: “Hello.” Stamp. “Goodbye.” Really quick.

Then through the ‘nothing to declare’ line at customs and straight out into the meeting area. I exchanged some US dollars for thousands and thousands of krona and then we went outside to board the Flybus into Reykjavik.

Outside it was dark (even though it was about 7am), cold and windy. And it was an icy wind. We joined a queue to get our luggage put onto the bus. Glen asked if I wanted my Canada Goose jacket out of his bag because I was only wearing pants, a t-shirt and a thin jumper, with no gloves or beanie. “No, thanks,” I said, confident I could withstand this bitter, bitter wind. We were only going to be there a few minutes.

But then the side of the bus we were on was full so we had to rush around to the other stand and load our bags. Then we joined the queue on to the bus. By now I’d lost feeling in my fingers and the wind cut straight through me. When we finally climbed on the bus, the driver said, “We’re full. You’ll have to get the next one.”

So we got off, unloaded our bags and then Glen pulled out our jackets. I’ve never been so grateful in my life. Blessed warmth. And so glad I bought my jacket with me.

We soon boarded the next Flybus, which was warm, though I didn’t take off my coat the whole ride. I was so toasty and warm that I could almost fall asleep. Unfortunately, the seats were uncomfortable so that didn’t happen. I looked out the window for a bit but it was dark so there wasn’t much to see. Glen and I ate most of pack of mini-Rolos that I’d bought duty free in Toronto. There hadn’t been any (free) food on the flight so we were pretty hungry.


After about 45 minutes, the bus arrives at the bus station and everyone with an onward ticket to their hotel had to get off and wait for a smaller shuttle. We went inside and stood around. Admittedly, we were told a shuttle would come by soon but after about half an hour you start to get worried. You could see all these people with their luggage, looking around anxiously, periodically going up to the reservations counter to ask.

About 9am a shuttle pulled up and we climbed aboard with five other people. Our hotel was the last stop. It wasn’t that far from the bus station and we could have walked but we’d paid for the journey and didn’t want to risk getting lost.

We’re staying at Hotel Odinsve and our check-in wasn’t until the afternoon. However, Glen and I were pretty exhausted by then and paid the 50 Euro fee for an early check-in, went upstairs to our room and climbed into bed. I think we were asleep within about ten minutes, if not sooner.

I know it’s not a good idea to go to bed in the middle of the day if your body clock is out and truly, I did consider how jet-lagged I’d feel, but honestly, it was still dark outside and there was little to no chance we’d last much longer.

My alarm went off at 11:30am, then Glen reset it for 12:30. We eventually got up closer to 1, lifting the drapes to reveal a world of soft cold light. With it being the winter solstice only a few days ago, Iceland only gets about four hours of daylight at this time of year. We’d missed the first couple but struggled out of bed and outside to catch the last few.

Our hotel isn’t far from this giant Lutheran church called Hallgrímskirkja. I’d seen an incredibly atmospheric photo of it a couple of years ago and had imagined it was out in the middle of some stark and foreboding landscape. But no, it’s right in the middle of town. It’s a stunning church though, so different. And there’s a statue of Leif Eriksen out the front, which seems to match it nicely. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside. Maybe Saturday when we can climb the tower.

Then we walked down a main street (I think Reykjavik is so small – with only 200,000 or so people in it – that most streets are main streets) and stopped off in a cafe to get a hot chocolate for me and a latte for Glen. We sat upstairs in comfy chairs, enjoying the warmth but I felt the tiredness seeping out of my bones and threatening to pull me down to sleep again.

I played a trick on Glen though, which woke me up. He asked the woman at the table next to us for the sugar container, one of those big ones that you tip upside-down. He poured it over his latte and then I said, “You know that’s salt, right?” He swore and I laughed and the woman laughed. Poor Glen. He shouldn’t have to be subjected to such torture while on holiday.

We then walked down another main street, this one with more shops, looking in windows, even going into one, then farther down the road, past statues, along ice-covered footpaths and meandering through streets, past churches, past city hall and then to the city pond.

Called Tjörnin, the pond is mostly frozen over. At one end, where there’s a bit of free-flowing water, it is full of ducks, geese and magnificent white swans, all congregating around, but luckily not attacking. The light here was wonderful, especially as the sun was getting very low in the sky and turning red.

We walked around the pond a bit and then I scooted out over the ice to the little island in the middle. Glen waited on the shore, in abject horror at the possibility that I might suddenly disappear through into freezing water. I was having the time of my life.

More walking, through the gardens, around some trees. Glen and I slipped around on the ice, and then Glen slipped over, laughing. I took photos of him lying prone. More walking, seeing the Perlan in the distance (big restaurant on a hill that I’d like to go to), around Hallgrímskirkja again for more photos, then down to the waterfront.

Now it was my turn to slip on the ice, luckily not damaging my camera though my bones took a bit of a jarring. Nothing broken though and tomorrow we’re going to soak in the Blue Lagoon so that should put me right.

Down by the water’s edge, there was a big sculpture that looked like a Viking boat, pointing out towards the sea. It’s called Solfar, or the Sun Voyager. In the distance, we could just make out a snow-covered mountain, though it was mostly cloud-covered at this point, and the wind off the water was fierce and biting. I loved it!

I’m sure I’m looking at this place through rose-covered lenses but my excitement at actually being here cannot be understated. Anywhere else and I think the cold would put me off, but here? Bring it on!

We then walked along the waterfront to the Harpa, which is the concert hall. The building is stunning, made of glass tessellations with some panels reflecting different light. We spent a while there taking photos and just soaking in the angles and the reflections.

We walked further down on of the main streets before heading back to the hotel for a bit of a rest. We kind of stumbled upon it really, knowing we were close but not quite sure. Then Glen goes, “Isn’t this it?” as we walk past it. Lucky!

The sun had mostly gone down by about 4pm, though the horizon was still a little bit light at 5pm. There’s quite a lot of cloud cover at the moment, which might mean tomorrow night’s jaunt to see the Northern Lights might be cancelled. However, if it is, the tour company rebooks you for the next night. I know that if I don’t see them, I’ll be very disappointed, but will just have to find another way of checking them out in Canada…or come back here another year.

Did you know the hot water here smells like sulphur? It’s a bit strange but you get used to it. And the water is wonderfully warm.

Now that I’ve posted this, it’s time to find some food. Glen’s found some places so hopefully something is open. Icelanders hold most of their Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve so a lot will be closed.

4 Replies to “Christmas Eve in Iceland”

  1. Hi Daniel,
    I really enjoy reading your blog! Sounds like you are having a fantastic time. Best wishes, to you and Glen, for an amazing Christmas and New Year. Love from the Quigley’s. XXX


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