Diamond Beach in Iceland
My boyfriend and I recently returned home from a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland and Munich, Germany. While we were away, we spent three days exploring the various landscapes of the northern country of Iceland as well as another six days or so taking in the history and breweries of the capital of Bavaria. I’m going to try to keep this as short and simple as possible by sharing a quick daily recap as well as some photos. I hope you enjoy. Please also feel free to share your experiences of these two places in the comments below.
Day 1 – Reykjavik
Entering the city centre of Reykjavik.
At about 6:30am in the morning on our first day in Reykjavik, we hopped onto a shuttle bus that took us to the nearby Sixt car rental location. There, we picked up our vehicle, which we had rented for the next three days in Iceland. (TIP: If you already have car insurance built into your credit card, don’t worry about paying for extra coverage. As long as you don’t intend to go off-roading, it’ll be fine when you take the rental back. Just beware that they will put a hold on your card equivalent to about 1,500€ until they see it’s in good condition upon return.)
It’s about a 45 minute drive from Keflavik airport into Reykjavik. Since we couldn’t check into our hotel until the afternoon, we decided to meander around by car. With a stop at the Perlan Museum, a coast along the harbour, a visit into the Hallgrimskirkja Church, a stroll around the city centre (tons of street art and Instagrammable walls; I sadly watched as an amazing piece was painted over), a midday snack at ROK, and an evening walk not too far from our accommodations, CentreHotel Arnarhvoll (not worth the money for what you get and the rooms have no air circulation), we fit in as much as we could in a single day.
Best of all, we drove out of the city to a dark spot to watch for the northern lights. Neither of us had ever seen them with our own eyes, but we lucked out on this occasion because the sky lit up for us. It was magical, to say the least.
The Aurora Borealis
- We noticed that there is a ton of construction happening in Reykjavik, which is great. There economy is obviously doing well, likely boosted by the upsurge in tourism in recent years.
- It’s expensive in Iceland. Small sharing plates at ROK cost about $20 CDN each. Although the food was delicious, our money didn’t go that far there. Drinks are especially marked up. I would recommend picking some liquor up at the duty free shop before leaving the airport. Lastly, gas was our largest expense at over $2 per litre. While the car we were given was pretty economical, we did a lot of driving and every fill-up was a hit to the wallet. Make sure to budget in advance.
- Most of the restaurants close relatively early in Reykjavik. Some bars do stay open later, but they may not serve true meals, so plan to eat a bit earlier.
Day 2 – South Iceland
Öxarárfoss in Iceland
On our second day in Iceland, we opted to hit the road and venture south. In the morning we went to Öxarárfoss, one of their famous waterfalls. It’s situated in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Þingvellir National Park, which we took some time to walk through as well.
Back on the highway, we needed some sustenance, but we didn’t have a lot of time to stop for a sit-down meal. After all, we were chasing daylight. So, where did we go when we reached Selfoss? Domino’s. Now, I’m not going to knock the pizza chain. The food hit the spot. Even though it was super greasy, I could not get over the brilliant option of having fresh garlic added into the cheese for free. Game changer. We need that in Canada.
Before it got dark, we made it to Skógafoss, one of the biggest waterfalls in the country. It’s worth a stop, and with good shoes it’s possible to walk right up to the falls.
That evening we stayed in the countryside at the quaint Country Hotel Anna. It’s got a vintage charm to it, but it’s quite well-equipped. They even offer a free breakfast in the mornings (as did the other hotel in Reykjavik). Once it’s dark out, head out a little ways from the building. It’s the perfect spot to stargaze.
Day 3 – South Iceland
Glacier lake in Iceland
We were on the road the longest during our third day in Iceland. It took much longer to make it from Vik to Jökulsárlón, a large glacial lagoon on the southeast side of the country. Just across the highway from there is Diamond Beach. Covered in black sand and small icebergs, it’s absolutely gorgeous on a sunny day. I’m so glad that we pushed ourselves to get there because the visuals were spectacular. This was one of my favourite spots.
On the way back towards Keflavik, we also took in the Laufskálavarða, a lava ridge that is surrounded by a number of stone cairns. The stacks of rocks are a tradition meant to signal good fortune on the journey.
Finally, as we reached the village of Vik once more, we stopped at Reynisfjara, a unique black-sand beach surrounded by huge basalt stacks that form an otherworldly looking cave. I have no doubt that on nicer day, this would have been an amazing site. Unfortunately, it was incredibly windy (I could barely stay standing) and cold, so we got a few photos and then we left.
That evening, we checked into the Bergás Guesthouse in Keflavik. It was run by a friendly husband and wife. In all, I think we spent only about eight hours in the room. Ultimately, it met our needs though. It was very close to the airport for our early morning departure, and it was spacious and clean.
Diamond Beach in Iceland
Iceland has a very diverse landscape with rocky mountains that reminded me of the Nevada and Arizona desserts, fields of lava that are now covered in bright green, squishy moss, snow covered peaks as if we were in Switzerland or Whistler, and pools filled with the icy remnants of a glacier. Account for the time it actually takes to get to each place, and then tack on an extra hour or two for all the abrupt halts that will be made to snap photos.
Day 4 – Munich, Germany
The view from our apartment in Munich.
I just want to make a quick note about the Reykjavik airport. It’s not a fun place. The check-in area is a complete gong show in the morning with people everywhere you look. There also didn’t seem to be great signage indicating where to head to for security. As it turns out, there’s only one spot and it’s upstairs. Security was quick to get through though (they have a machine that feeds out the bins; I’ve never seen that anywhere else). After that, it’s kind of a nice looking terminal, but past the food vendors and shops, it becomes cramped and it feels like all the passengers are just cattle. There’s no sense of organization and they never seem to make announcements about flights boarding, so we really had to be aware of our gate and watch for movement in the lines.
In any case, we made it to Germany! The S-Bahn train (S1 or S8) took us to the closest station near the apartment we booked through Airbnb. The neighbourhood of München-Neuhausen was wonderful. It seemed to be a wealthier area of town that was very family friendly and safe. From there, we were able to walk to a lot of the popular spots in Munich.
Since we arrived mid-afternoon, we settled into the apartment and then we went for an amble around the nearby blocks. We also took advantage of the suggestions made by our Airbnb hosts, trying out a restaurant called Holy Burger. They specialize in organic ingredients. The burgers were delicious; however, the side of veggie fries — made of carrots, beets, and a vegetable that our server didn’t quite know how to translate into English — was tasty, but lacking in portion size. Plus, it was costly. For two burgers, the shared side, a beer, and a hot chocolate, we paid 45€.
After supper, we wandered further and came across one of the grocery stores, Rewe Dien Markt. My boyfriend picked up three half litres of beer for less than four Euro, a total steal compared to what we pay for drinks in Edmonton, Alberta.
Day 5 & 6 – Munich, Germany
So many beer steins!
I’m not sure what it was about being in Germany, but we really slept in almost every single day. I’ll chalk it up to a lack of sleep during our few days in Iceland. I also think I was a bit under the weather. Regardless, it was a lax couple of days after our arrival.
When we woke on our second day, we went back to the grocery store and stocked up on meats, cheeses, eggs, bread, condiments, and beer. With access to a kitchen, our plan was to make ourselves breakfast each morning. We spent the rest of the day just putting together an itinerary for the remainder of the trip. We did eventually leave the house to grab some dinner. Our intention was to try another recommendation from our hosts, a pizza place called Neuhauser. We arrived to find it absolutely packed full of patrons. There was no order to anything in terms of getting a name down for a table, so we ended up ordering food to go. It turned out to be quite tasty and we got a lot for our money (22€ for both of us).
Our third day was quite uneventful until the evening. A friend who is living in Munich was able to meet up with us for dinner and drinks. We arranged to connect at Marienplatz under the tower of the New Town Hall (don’t confuse it with the Old Town Hall even though it looks like the older one). He took us for a walk and then he whisked us over to Augustiner Klosterwirt for a delightfully “refined” meal of traditional German food. We shared a mixed sausage platter (so much sauerkraut) and the veal schnitzel. I was happily full by the time we left. Not to mention, the beer is fantastic (the radler — lager with Sprite or 7-Up — is my go to). The Augustiner brand is a local favourite because it’s almost exclusively found in the city of Munich.
After our filling meal, we trekked back the way we’d come. Ending up at Augustiner-Keller, another branch of the brand. This location is home to a huge outdoor beer garden during warmer weather. Plus, inside the building is an awesome underground bunker that’s now used as a beer hall.
On our way home, our friend led us to the München Hauptbahnhof (central station) to show us how to buy our train tickets to Salzburg. For just 31€ for the two of us, we could do a round trip past the border into Austria.
Day 7 – Munich, Germany
The immaculate upper church inside the Bürgersaalkirche.
We explored much more of the city on our fourth day. Again, we went on foot towards Karlsplatz (Stachus) and Marienplatz. It was incredibly busy with tourists, which I didn’t love (even though I was a tourist as well). But, it was still a great experience.
We came across the Bürgersaalkirche, a historical building that is split into an upper church and lower church. The one on the second floor is a stunner and was quite a surprise. Eventually, we made it to the Munich Residenz where we went through the Museum. I would also have liked to visit the theatre and treasury, but we didn’t have enough time to fit that in. At the end of the day, we stopped at Odeonsplatz. It’s mired in the history of World War II when Munich became a Nazi stronghold and one of Hitler’s main bases of operation. Seeing these spots where such darkness took place was sobering and also somewhat enlightening. Today, the people of Munich and Germany teach their youngsters about what happened, so that they can learn from the past. They’re not hiding it. It’s too important a lesson to shy away from.
Dinner on this night was had at Bollywood, a cozy Indian restaurant that made an amazing mango lamb dish (using real pureed mangos). It was probably one of the best meals we had on the entire trip.
Day 8 – Salzburg, Austria
Love locks on a bridge in Salzburg, Austria.
In Munich, Tuesday, October 31 was considered a holiday. I believe it was the 500th year of Reformation. Therefore, all shops and stores would be closed. Save for main city attractions, there wouldn’t be much to do except eat at a restaurant or drink at a bar. I checked and Salzburg, Austria was not celebrating the same holiday. I deemed it the ideal day to check entering another country off our list. It took about two hours to get there by train.
I’ve actually been to Salzburg before. I remember it as the birthplace of Mozart. But, beyond that, I can’t say I recall too much of it. It’s not very big, so it’s incredibly walkable. Granted, I couldn’t talk myself into trekking up the steep path to the castle, nor did I want to wait in the long line to get into the building. It seemed that a number of tourists thought this was also a great day to visit this city.
There are a number of gypsies begging for money in Salzburg, which is something we didn’t see much of in Munich. One sat outside the Stiftskirche Sankt Peter Salzburg as we entered the church. Behind that spot is Petersfriedhof Salzburg, a peaceful cemetery — the oldest in the city — where it seems whole families are laid to rest.
Prior to leaving, we also visited the Salzburg Cathedral (the Dom). It’s a much busier church that all the tourists go to. The door is monitored and there does seem to be an expectation of some sort of donation as one leaves.
We were in Salzburg for all of about four hours. It’s plenty of time if you’re not going through any museums or stopping for food or drinks. We made it back to Munich in the early evening. It’d been a pretty long day of travelling, so we opted to stick close to the apartment for dinner. Just around the corner from where we were staying is a pub called Hirschenwirt. The beer was fine, but the food was so-so. What made up for mediocre meal was the hospitality of the owners. The woman who served us was also the cook. As soon as we gave her our order, she opened the door to the kitchen, flicked on the lights and got going. We could tell it was the neighbourhood hangout full of regulars and that made it fun.
On holidays, shops and grocery stores will be closed in Munich. The exception to that is at the central station where groceries can still be purchased and a number of food vendors will be open. It can be a lifesaver, if one forgets to stock up beforehand.
Day 9 – Munich, Germany
The interior of Nymphenburg Palace.
This was a wonderful day! We walked the 45 minutes or so from our apartment to the Nymphenburg Palace and Park. I’d love to see it in the summertime with the greenery and everything in full bloom.
When we finished there, we headed back towards our neighbourhood. My boyfriend wanted to check out the McDonald’s. He was so impressed with the separate McCafe side of the shop. I’d already seen that split in Hong Kong, so I wasn’t as enamored with that, but I was excited for the desserts as we don’t have them available at home (chocolate cake, cheesecake, and apple crumble). They were all much better than I expected. Fresh, moist, flavourful, and not overly sweet.
In the evening, we met our friend and his classmate for supper at Paulaner Brauhaus. It’s another Munich Brewery. Food-wise, it was still German cuisine, but it was elevated. The presentation and the preparation was just a lot more highbrow than Augustiner (and that was already supposed to be better than other places). I’d go back there in a heartbeat. I also learned here that schnapps are to be slowly sipped and not downed like a shot. It’s a strong liquor that isn’t sweetened to death like it is in North America.
As this was still a holiday in Munich, it was pretty difficult to find places open late in the evening. However, we found a haunt by the name of Neiderlassung for a nightcap. It was a laid back spot that played toned down versions of recent pop hits; quiet enough to actually have a conversation with friends. They also make a spectacular sloe gin.
Late at night, we were back at Marienplatz. Everything was closed and the square was empty. It’s a bit surreal to see it that way, but I highly recommend going there when it’s quiet.
Day 10 – Munich, Germany
The 1979 BMW Art Car seen at the BMW Museum.
This was our final full day in Munich (we had to leave the next morning for the airport), and we decided to spend it at the BMW Museum and BMW Welt. The Welt is free to enter. It’s basically a showroom for all of their products and there are a few cafes and restaurants inside as well. The BMW Museum cost 10€ per person. I didn’t know what to expect. I’m not a car person per say. Nevertheless, I can appreciate the craftsmanship of some vehicles, and I have to say that this was an incredibly well-designed building and the exhibits were put together with care and precision. We really enjoyed ourselves here. My only wish is that I had also gotten to do the tour of the plant. Unfortunately, the plant was closed for holidays until a week into November, so we didn’t get to do that this time.
In the evening, while we were back in Marienplatz, we couldn’t decide on where to go for dinner, so we paused to buy a sausage in a bun from a vendor. It was alright. I would have preferred a bratwurst.
No matter though. We chose to finish off our trip with one last visit to Augustiner Klosterwirt. We imbibed in some more local beer, sausages, pork shoulder and spinach dumplings. It was warm, comforting food, and I couldn’t think of any better send off.