A Few Days in Iceland: Pt 1 A Taste of Reykjavik
It's definitely no special kept secret anymore that Iceland is one of the hottest destinations for travelers from all around the world. Breathtaking landscapes, geothermal hot pools, 2,500 year old glaciers, stunning waterfalls and natural geysers are just handful of the very obvious reasons why so many are now putting Iceland to the top of their list. Though this magical volcanic island may be a little more expensive in some capacities, mainly food and drink, I will be the first one to always tell people that it is worth every single extra penny, especially if you are a someone who appreciates the outdoors and extreme natural beauty. So after being lucky enough to visit the country twice for a few days each time using the Stopover program through Icelandair, here's my take on the Land of Fire and Ice starting off with a full day's taste of Reykjavik, the countries capital.
Staying in Reykjavik is easy and a central point for just about everything you would want to do while making the most of a shorter trip. Only about 45 minutes from the Keflavik International Airport The Flybus shuttle runs every half hour to downtown where there are plenty of hotels or apartments with available rooms. And there is definitely no shortage of bars, restaurants and shops all within walking distance of each other with just about every kind of theme possible. Renting a car is certainly an option if you have more time and want to take yourself off of the beaten path outside of the city, but just about any day trip or activity you'd like to sign on for has a shuttle pickup and drop off to your hotel, and one of the best parts is that they all run like clockwork! One of the first things that impressed me about this country.
So if you find yourself like many others on the red eye flight and are landing in the very, very a.m. there will be plenty of time in the morning to explore. A side trip to the Blue Lagoon on your way into the city is a great way to loosen up after a long flight and can easily be scheduled along with your shuttle during your ride in. But, if you'd rather visit the Lagoon later on in your trip it can easily be done since most of the tour companies offer it as an add-on option for most their day trips. You can certainly ask nicely for an early check-in to wherever you're staying, but chances are the hosting accommodations may politely say they're not able though they will gladly hold your luggage while you roam around town.
You won't need to walk very far at all before wanting to get your camera out, especially if you are staying in downtown Reykjavik. Only a couple blocks from the city center is the harbor where'll find the well photographed 'Sólfar' or Sun Voyager sculpture backdropped by the snow-caped Mt. Esja across the water to the North. Follow the walking path along the shore and up to the striking glass covered Harpa Concert Hall. I didn't have time to see a performance there, but hope to at some point. Maybe for the next time around?
Look up and around at just about any single point in the city and you're likely to spot the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral. Just shy of 250 feet high it is the tallest structure in Reykjavik, so you're really not likely to miss it. Step inside to see a massive and grandly crafted pipe organ and then If you're not afraid of heights take a ride in the elevator up to the top of the tower for magnificent views of the whole area. It's well worth the 900 ISK (roughly $8.50 USD)
By this time you're probably ready for an early afternoon snack, lunch, or maybe another coffee? There are plenty of cafes throughout the center to catch a quick bite before making your way back to your hotel to try again for an early check in and also a quick nap before hitting the streets for round 2.
Don't worry if you slept a little longer than you originally planned. Better to have a fresh start and a reserve of energy to take you through a Reykjavik night. The streets are piled with restaurants with great seafood and plenty of watering holes to quench the driest of thirsts. As with any place I travel to, I want to find a few great places to get a drink! If by chance you happen to be a fan of The Big Lebowski like me then you may already be aware that Reykjavik is home to 1 of the 7 Lebowski Bars around the world. If you didn't know that, then at least now you do. So might I suggest starting there with a White Russian to kick off the evening? The Dude will certainly abide. As I mentioned earlier, food and drink does come with a bit of a heavier price tag here that you'll certainly notice quick (beers $10-12 USD, average sit-down meal $15-30 USD) but almost every bar does have a happy hour around 4-7pm, so that helps. Either way you're in Iceland, so relax, order a pint and have some fun!
The 'craft beer' scene certainly did not escape Reykjavik, so if you are a fan of the hops and barley you'll definitely be very satisfied around the city. Just about every bar you'll walk into will have Viking, Borg, or something else local on tap. There are plenty of great domestic and Scandinavian regional beers to choose from, especially if you make a stop into Skúli or Micro Bar. And if you're still looking for some of the rarer beers you won't easily find most other places (before or after dinner) then Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavík is not to be missed.
Now, especially after a few pints, would definitely be the time to find something to eat if you haven't already. If you're a fan of fresh seafood you'll have your choice of plenty of it on every corner and every street. There are too many to even begin to name. As many times as I've heard all about it I still couldn't bring myself to try the fermented shark, so if you're braver than me, I commend you. If a sandwich and fries is more your style, no worries. There are plenty of great places for that too, especially the Laundromat Cafe. Really, there is no possible way you could go hungry here. It's a bustling tourist-friendly city, so you can get just about any food, in any style, for any diet.
After you’ve filled your stomach step back out onto Austurstræti and have your pick of plenty more bars and pubs. There is something for everyone's taste. If you're feeling lucky and have some extra Króna burning a hole in your pocket try your hand at spinning the wheel game that can be found in many of them (about $20 USD). You may get nothing more than a ‘Sorry’. You may win yourself a shot of Iceland's signature aquavit, Brennivín aka "Black Death". Or you could win 8 beers like I did.. And if you do, I'd suggest you start drinking fast since they will all get poured all at once for you right then and there. Or if this happens to be your last night and depending on how early your flight out is the next morning you may want to think about passing a couple off to some of the other folks in the bar. At the very least, it will be a great and quick way to make a couple of new friends!
Next time I'll know to spin the wheel before I order my first beer...
Then finally if you have one more left in you, consider it my personal recommendation to night cap with a glass of FLÓKI, Iceland's first single malt whisky made from 100% Icelandic barley. It has more of a spice character similar to an American rye than a single malt made in Scotland, but still very tasty. It can be found in most of the downtown bars and also available in duty free back at the airport if you want to take a bottle back home! Obviously that part was a no brainer for me.
Check out my tasting notes for Floki HERE!
There is plenty more to be had in Reykjavik. Just as the title says, this is only a taste of what could be done in a day for roaming around, so consider this the appetizer to the main course. You can always make another go-round through downtown again afterwards. The real sights to be seen lay outside of the city, and there are certainly plenty of them! Waterfalls, geysers, ATV tours and glacier hikes were just a handful of them for me. Check out my next article, A Few Days in Iceland: Pt. 2 Choose Your Own Adventure for all of that!