Not only does Icelandair offer pretty cheap flight prices to the US, but they also allow for an extended stopover (of up to a week) in Reykjavik for no extra cost. I thought that this was a clever move backed by the Government to boost tourism to the country in the wake of the economic crash a few years ago, but apparently they’ve been doing this since the 1960s. Who knew?
Almost every time I’ve flown with them, I’ve toyed with the idea of taking advantage of this offer, and finally we decided to do so on the way back from our long trip Stateside. We settled on four nights, and booked into an AirBnB in the centre at a cost of about 60 quid a night. It couldn’t really have been in a better location: just ten minutes from the main bus station, and right next to one of the city’s most famous landmarks: Hallgrimskirkja.
No, I did not remember how to spell that from memory.
For a small fee you can go to a viewing platform one floor up from the clock faces, which reportedly offers the best panoramic view of Reykjavik and its colourful buildings.
Look how amazing the mountains appear
Click through on the picture below for a full size version.
Grace isn’t a fan of heights, so she headed back down to the clock faces pretty quickly.
It might sound weird, but I don’t usually really look forward to trips all that much; just taking them as they come and enjoying the experience when I’m there. Probably a hangover from my cynical younger years. Despite this, I found myself really looking forward to visiting Iceland; looking up everything I could find to get an idea of what this fascinating country would be like. If you’re looking for something similar, this blog by an American ex-pat is well worth a read.
There are only three hundred odd thousand people in Iceland, and over two hundred thousand of those live in the ‘Capital Region’, with one hundred and twenty thousand in Reykjavik itself. That means the population of Iceland is about equivalent to that of Coventry, in England. In other words, it’s pretty damn tiny.
Reykjavik is fairly spread out despite its small population, though the very centre is compact: filled with interesting shops, restaurants and bars.
Including this cool wee photo gallery with cameras hanging up all over the inside.
Somebody had stuck signs up all over the insides of the billboards, presumably in solidarity with the people of Paris after the attacks.
Wandering around the streets was great, and even after just a few hours both Grace and I felt unusually relaxed. That could well be something to do with the fact that Iceland has been listed as the safest, and most peaceful country in the world for years running… something evident in the scores of children who would be out playing on their own, as Grace commented: ‘It’s just so different to how things are back in the US’.
To be honest though, it was something else. Life here just didn’t feel too rushed, or all that worried about what was going on elsewhere. It felt like the Icelandic people could weather pretty much anything and not be fazed by it; an infectious attitude.
They also managed to retain a healthy sense of personality and humour whilst doing so…
Note the middle finger.
Oh, that’s one thing to mention. It was cold. Not like, bloody freezing cold – but pretty damn cold. It reminded me of being up North in Scotland, where the wind cuts through you like a knife. Since we were packing for 2 months worth of travelling, we weren’t really equipped for this. Luckily (if not surprisingly), Iceland has some famous wool products to hand.
We both got gloves, and I splashed out on this handmade jumper.
I was unsure I would suit one, but I’ve come to love it. Just as well, since it wasn’t cheap. According to Grace, ‘everybody knows’ that Vikings are some of the most attractive people around, though I’m not sure where she gets that from. Either way, I’ll just continue to peddle the completely unfounded myth that my ginger beard is a sign of Norse descent.
When the skies cleared up, the view of the mountains was pretty amazing. The camera doesn’t do it justice, of course.
The air was beautifully crisp though, and wonderfully clean – something we appreciated even more coming from the dry Denver climate. Despite this, we passed a bunch of Chinese tourists that had those anti-pollution face masks on. If there was ever a place they didn’t need them, it was here. Maybe they just couldn’t handle the slight sulfur smell that comes off the hot water taps.
One ‘downside’ of the visit was that everything was extremely expensive – even compared to the UK. A pint of beer could easily be around £9, and despite buying food at the supermarket to cook back at the flat and save money, it was still pricey. The currency looked cool at least though, and one thousand Icelandic Krona equals about Five Pounds Sterling.
It didn’t stop us having a few drinks mind you.
Especially not when there were flights of local beers available at a place called ‘Skuli’. The guy joked that if I could pronounce the name of one of them he would give me it for nothing, but didn’t seem to expect that I’d do a fairly good job at it. Never challenge a Scotsmen when there is free alcohol involved; that’s all I’ll say.
We also checked out the local Mikeller bar, as there isn’t any in the UK that I know of. The decor was predictably awesome.
and the beer was pretty amazing too. Sadly, it was incredibly expensive – due to the high import taxes incurred for alcohol to Iceland. Try around £8 per 200ml for the good stuff. Ouch.
The first full day we were there though, jetlag got the better of us – and we both ended up awake at 6am. What do you do when you can’t sleep? Get up and seek out fermented shark for breakfast of course!
Okay, so we didn’t necessarily seek it out, but we did eat it. It was part of an ‘Icelandic Taster’ board at the nearby cafe Loki, along with smoked lamb on gluten free flatbread, smoked trout on rye bread, some sort of mashed fish and potato thing on rye bread, and dried fish with butter.
Everything was delicious, including the dried fish… with the notable exception of the shark. When we ordered it the waitress laughed and warned us not to smell it… recommending a shot of the local spirit Brennivin to wash it down with. It became clear why later on, as the shark cubes stunk of ammonia, and tasted terrible – or ‘like poison’ to use Grace’s words. One to check off of the ol’ imaginary bucket list.
Another foodstuff that we ate and loved though was some famous lobster soup, in a quirky place called Sea Baron.
It was seriously good, and if you like fish, you can get a whole load of different kinds done kebab style.
Reykjavik was amazing; one of the coolest places we’ve been – but some of the most interesting parts are to be found outside of the city, in the rugged natural landscape. That makes things a bit tricky if you’re visiting. As a result, we ended up doing a few trips through a company called Reykjavik Excursions. It’s something that I would normally avoid, but we decided that renting a car and dealing with the country’s wintery conditions was probably not the best idea.
On the final day we took a full day out to tour the South Shore, including some of the waterfalls and the black sands. That’s worth a whole separate blog post though, so until next time…