Every year, my girlfriends and I take a trip to somewhere different. This year, it was Reykjavik, Iceland. How did we choose such a place, you ask? Well, I’m obsessed with Iceland, and we were between there and Colombia the day we picked and it was hot that day and we decided we’d had enough of hot.
That photo pretty much sums up the trip, but if you follow me after the jump, I’ll give you the inside scoop on what’s the what in Reykjavik and the surrounding areas. Be forewarned: In another time, I would have been the lady making you look at her vacation slides over fondue.
So first things first: Iceland is a strange place. Wonderful, yes, but also very odd indeed. The entire nation has about 300,000 souls, the capital city was basically invented in the 1800s when they realized they needed something like that, and after their banks collapsed in 2008, they were like, “well, having all that cash was fun while it lasted, but I guess we’ll all go and be fishermen again, huh?” The entire parliament consists of people with other jobs, like gardener, doctor, or shopkeeper, and everyone is Lutheran. They have a the world’s first lesbian head of state, their mayor is the Icelandic equivalent of Jon Stewart, and every single person there is tall, athletic, hip, and blonde. In short, I loved it and never wanted to come home.
I’m going to try to give you my best advice based on my travels. Before we get to the specifics, here are some good ideas for you to have before you embark: You’ll need a car for certain, and you definitely want to get the optional gravel insurance. In the winter, you get an hour or two of daylight (“naturally, I was very depressed and drinking very much, so I hit on him and he never talked to me again”), and in the summer, you’ll get about two hours of dark. You will never know what time it is ever, but neither does anyone there. Almost everyone under 40 speaks English, and even if, like me, you’re someone adept at picking up other languages, you will struggle to parse their linguistic-isolate tongue. Food and drink is very, very expensive comparative to all but the priciest cities I’ve visited, so definitely pick up some duty-free stuff at the airport shop. Hit the grocery and eat a very light dinner (less drinking!), and make lunch your main meal out. I’m serious- Gull, the Icelandic Miller High Life, will run you almost $10 a can. We stayed at Kex; I recommend you do the same.
All said, here’s what to do:
Eat & Drink:
- Boston. This was hands down our favorite bar in all of Iceland. They do half-price beer and wine at happy hour, and the decor and atmosphere is superb. This is the ideal place to start your night, without a doubt.
- Mamma Steina. Want puffin? Fermented shark? Whale jerky? This is your place.
- The Bill Clinton Hot Dog Stand. I don’t know its real name, but I do recommend it heartily. Ask any native to take you to the Bill Clinton Hot Dog Stand and they will gleefully take you there. Icelandic hot dogs have unusual condiments and are delightful.
- Litl Bondabaerinn. I got coffee and a pastry every morning at this place, which is owned by a really charming English guy who moved to Iceland for grad school, fell in love, and stayed. Everything is organic and fair trade, and he sets up a teeny farmer’s market on his stoop on weekends.
- Hemmi and Valdi. Cool coffeehouse by day, crowded, drunken club by night. This is a more-common-than-one-imagines business model in Reykjavic.
- Glaeten Kaffiboka. A weird mix of Lutheran bookstore, cafe, and living room. This place has inexpensive, filling breakfasts, free WiFi, and pleasant service. Also, ice cream. I love ice cream.
- Kaffismidja Islands. Hip. Out of the way. Excellent coffee. That’s all there is to it.
- The Fish Market. Definitely a splurge for us, but allegedly the nicest restaurant in the country. I had some of the best salmon I’ve ever had, and they did a great array of small plates, too. Reservations required.
- Lebowski Bar. This is exactly what you think it is and you definitely want to go.
- Shalimar. I wasn’t expecting to find a ton of non-Icelandic food in Reykjavik, but they have a not-tiny Indian and Vietnamese population there. We liked how cozy this place was!
- Seabaron. If you skip this, we are not friends. If you get something OTHER than lobster soup, we are not friends.
- Stofan. Cozy cafe and bar that is central, easy to find, and nicely decorated. I stopped here a few times when I needed to Skype work or just wanted to read quietly.
- Noodle Station/Pho. Hard to say if this place is called Pho or Noodle Station, but it’s the cheapest, tastiest meal in the city as far as I’m concerned. It’s decidedly different than the Vietnamese food in America– it’s Vietlandic?
- The Icelandic Museum of the Penis. Oddly, this was WAY more informative than I thought it would be, and is also a riot. It is the life’s work of a medievalist from the local university. Please, please, please send me a postcard.
- The Blue Lagoon. This ran us each about $60, but we left looking like Charlize Theron. You can stay in the geothermal pools/saunas/pools/spa areas for a whole day, and it is the most relaxed you’ll ever be.
- Geothermic pools. There’s this one in Reykjavik, and it’s the best $3 you can spend.
- Go to the clubs. I don’t “club.” I especially don’t club when everyone is 6’1” and blonde. But when Remix comes on, you will feel like you invented dancing. These gorgeous people have ONE shortfall: they are bad grinders.
- Pony rides. Hey, wait, where are you going? This is super fun! Ride a horse, see some land, feel like a conquering Viking. Win/Win.
- Gullfoss. Huge, beautiful waterfall outside the city. Walk up there, gaze. The road to Gullfoss takes you by several great parks that have geysers, cliffs, scenery, lava fields, and the like.
- Hiking. If you’re into that, you can be on a glacier, wandering, in a matter of a few hours. Definitely worth it, since there aren’t going to be glaciers in like 5 years. Ask basically anyone where to go and enjoy.
- Menningarnott. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there for “Culture Night”, a national holiday invented in the mid-90s to celebrate Icelandic culture. Free admission to the great museums, games, fireworks, reenactments, and street food for all! If you aren’t there for that, hit up the museums and galleries anyway. Still really great.
- Bio Paradis. They do indie films, sure, but also Icelandic ones. We saw When the Raven Flies, and oh, my god, I cannot recommend it enough.
Shop: In an effort not to totally bungle the names of all the shops I visited, I’m just going to tell you to consult this list, walk down Laugavergur and just stop in here and there. If you take that street straight down, the name changes, but it takes you to the central square. There are tons of cool shops up and down, full of cool stuff made by Icelandic designers. I remember liking Einvera, going to the Kolaportio Flea Market, Lucky Records, and all the metal and leather shops scattered about. Again, the names are not coming to me at all, but you can do some great vintage shopping, find some very chic new stuff, and pick up amazing gifts just by wandering the city.
Have you been to Iceland? What would you add to my list? Planning a trip there soon? Let me know.