Glimpse of Iceland in January: Day 1

This post continues my brief solo trip to Iceland in January.

Monday/Tuesday, January 7-8, 2019 (Days 0 – 1)

My flight from San Francisco left at 1:30pm on Monday. When packing that morning, I debated whether I should take hiking boots or not, but I was later glad that I did, since some of the day tours had slippery walkways. That said, the boots seemed to take up nearly half my carry-on bag.

The actual Iceland Air flight was fine – as much as a 9 hour flight, with an 8 hour time change, can be. I mostly tried to zone out and get some rest, since the flight was scheduled to arrive at 6am the following morning.

Into Reykjavik

The Reykjavik airport arrival process was smooth enough. After going through customs, I used the FlyBus to get into Reykjavik. The actual bus ride from the airport to the main BSI bus station was about an hour. From the bus station, a smaller shuttle picked me up and took me to a stop within about a 2-3 minute walk from my hotel. Given that the flight had a 30 minute delay, it was effectively 8:30am by the time that I made it to my hotel front desk, near City Hall.

I was originally going to just leave my bags at the hotel desk, but they offered to let me check in early and eat breakfast that morning for a small fee, which I accepted. It was nice to have the room to freshen up and to get a real breakfast after the long flight.

Touring the Reykjavik

At that point, I started exploring Reykjavik, prior to my tour at noon. One thing that struck me was how dark the sky was, even when it was after 9am. To orient myself, I started with the Reykjavik city center walking tour from the Rick Steves guide, which seemed to be good for getting my bearings.

This orientation walk ended at the main Hallgrimskirkja church, which I then visited. Note the statue of Leif Erikson in front.


After looking around inside, I paid the $8 fee to take the elevator to the top of the tower. The views of the city were quite nice. Note that these pictures were taken a little after 10am.

I continued to explore the Reykjavik downtown area for a while. It struck me as being a little smaller than I expected, but I suppose the entire country is only about 320,000 people. When it got closer to 11:30am, I picked up a sandwich from a grocery store, and went back to my hotel room to get ready for my noon cave tour.

Lava Cave Tour

Given the winter, I had opted to avoid self-driving, even though I typically prefer the flexibility of independent touring. In some sense, I did my tours in the opposite of the ideal order – a Golden Circle tour would have given a better overall initial orientation to Iceland. That said, when looking at the logistics, a (slightly arbitrary) afternoon lava caves tour worked better on the arrival date, given the early arrival.

This tour went to some lava caves that were less than an hour’s drive from Reykjavik. It was interesting seeing the volcanic rock everywhere, often with moss growing on top of it. In the coming days, I’d see a lot of these features. One other aspect that I was exposed to was Iceland’s sometimes fierce wind – so fierce, that when we got out, it was somewhat difficult to walk against.

This tour itself was somewhat different that I (or other guests) expected. I had been in some caves before, but they were all somewhat “tamed” by tourist infrastructure, platforms, safety lights, and the such. These caves seemed to lack most of those niceties.

Instead, it almost felt like we were spelunking through a random newly discovered cave. We were at times crawling under fairly tight clearances, over/under jagged rocks and puddles of dripping water. We had the miner’s helmets on with lights – it was pitch dark in there, and kept hitting the helmet against formations. It was actually kind of exhilarating.

The entrance was mostly a hole in the ground where the cave seemed to have collapsed:

It was difficult to get pictures to turn out in the cave, but we spent some time going from one end to another, some sections being relatively easy to traverse, some being more of a challenge. There were the usual stalactite and stalagmite formations all around the cave.

The guide briefly had us turn off our lamps, and it was unbelievably dark, with just the sounds of some water drips going on. The walls also absorbed sound quite well. I believe the guide told us that the caves were about a kilometer in length, and we explored from end to end.

In any case, afterwards, there was more of a feeling of accomplishment than I expected.


The driver got us back to the city a little after 3pm, at which point I decided to explore Reykjavik more, before the sun completely set.

Mid-afternoon, I got a text and email stating that my Northern Lights tour was canceled due to unfavorable viewing conditions. Apparently, they do this if there’s little chance of seeing them – which is a good practice, but still a little disappointing. They gave me a choice of rescheduling or refund, so I opted to reschedule for Thursday night.

Otherwise, I opted for (Icelandic) fish and chips for dinner on the main drag, and after browsing a few more shops, caught up on sleep.

Keep reading our travel blog for more travel ideas in Iceland:

Here are some blog posts from this particular trip to Iceland:

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