What can I say about Iceland, besides it is one of the most amazing places on earth, filled with friendly people and adventures awaiting. For such a tiny country, Iceland has unique features and activities everywhere you turn from the Northern Lights in the winter, and the midnight sun in the summer, to glacier walks, puffin watching, and natural mineral spas and hot springs just to name a few possibilities.
Iceland is also very close to the United States, and only took me five hours flight time from Washington, D.C. Icelandair offers a special free layover in Reykjavik if you fly with them for up to five days. So on my way to Scotland, I opted for a two day layover, why not?
Unfortunately, I arrived at 6:00am and was unable to check-in to my hostel right away. I chose to stay at Kex Hostel, and was transported directly there by the airport shuttle. Kex, meaning biscuit in Icelandic, is centrally located in Reykjavik right next to the ocean, and is a pretty large hostel found inside a former biscuit factory. They have a bar and restaurant inside the hostel, which is perfect for socializing in the evenings,and it serves a breakfast with vegetarian and some vegan options (toast, jam, cereals, fruits) for an additional fee. The staff was very helpful, and directed me to the main part of town after stowing my bags.
Camera in hand, I walked around Reykjavik , appropriately named “smokey bay” in Icelandic, for the morning and afternoon, trying not to fall asleep at any point. I walked down along the water, towards the harbor, and took some lovely photos. Then I walked up to Laugavegur Street, which is the main street in the city full of shops, restaurants, bars, and travel information.
Killing time, I checked out some food options and poked around some stores and galleries. This was actually very productive. The store owners were very friendly, and many of them sparked up conversation with me, and gave me some very useful tips on what to do. Following one of my tips, I walked up to Hallgrimskirkja. which is a large church, with an observation tower. There is an elevator to the top, where there are open spaces to view the entire city of Reykjavik, and take some panoramic photos.
Soon after, I decided I should eat something to try and adjust to the time change. Upon arriving to Iceland, the one concern I had was about food, as they are an island, seafood is the prominent cuisine, and Hakarl, fermented shark meat with a strong fishy taste, is Iceland’s best known dish. However, my fears were quickly quelled as I walked five minutes through the main street. I immediately spotted two vegetarian restaurants, an Indian and Nepalese place, a falafel shop, and a middle eastern place, all with vegetarian and vegan options. There was also a grocery store called “Bonus” with a decent produce section, which I later found out was the grocery store where Icelandic people shopped due to lower prices.
Since I had had breakfast at the hostel, I just picked up some nuts and fruit at the Bonus, and then went to a tourist information center to find out about some activities for my next, and final day in Iceland. This is when I learned how much there really is to do in Iceland, and how expensive Iceland currently is for tourists. Their currency is very strong, and eating, drinking, and activities turned out to be quite pricey in Iceland. However, delusional from the lack of sleep perhaps, I booked an excursion which included horseback riding and a trip to the infamous Blue Lagoon Spa, for the next day.
After finally taking a little nap, I headed out to find some food. I ended up at a restaurant called Meze Restaurant, which had Turkish cuisine. During happy hour, they have some discount on appetizers and drinks, which made this place a great deal. I got a sampler of three “Meze” or appetizers, hummus, a salad, and tabbouli. Great for vegans and vegetarians.
I really wanted to call this post “Rage-kjavik” because I heard the nightlife scene in this city is excellent. However, on my only night out in Reykjavik, I found out too late that the nightlife starts late, like after 12:30. My guess is that because the sun sets so late, people have to wait until dark to want to go out. But anyway, some local suggestions for nightlife were Lebowski Bar and Kaffibarinn. I checked these places out, but I am sure if you went later, they would be great party locations.
The next day, I slept in, ate my first of many falafel sandwiches at Durum, a shop in town, and then waited for my excursion with Reykjavik Excursions. One very nice thing about Iceland is that their tourism is very organized. The tours and airport shuttles picked me up and dropped me off where I was staying, and they were very punctual and helpful. After the van arrived, I went horseback riding. There were only a few others in my group, and since I rode horses when I was younger, I broke off into the “fast” group. It was just the instructor, me, and another American Katie, and we rode for two hours, until I fell off, luckily in such an epic way that I fell on my back, rolled over twice, and was not seriously injured. I did however, struggle the next two weeks on my trip and could only walk at one, very slow pace.
Thankfully after this, I had booked a trip to the Blue Lagoon, a natural mineral spa which cleansed me of my ailments, well as much as possible. I stayed at the spa for a few hours, it was very large with many places to swim around, and even a bar in the middle. You could spend a whole day here, as they have food in the cafe’s as well.
This was my last day in Iceland, so I thought as I woke up the next morning at 4:30 am, hopped in the airport shuttle, and witnessed the late-night nightlife I had missed out on the previous night. When I got to the airport it was a mess, and I found out my flight was cancelled due to a continuation of the Icelandair Strike. The pilots did not come to work, so I got put up in the Reykjavik Marina Hotel, and was treated to complementary meals at the hotel. This hotel was very nice, had a wonderfully friendly staff, and were very accommodating to my veggie needs during meal time. There was a nice buffet for breakfast and lunch including plenty of vegetarian and some vegan options, and during dinner, there was a set meal, but the chef made something vegetarian especially for me, how nice!
Since I was now down by the Marina, an area I previously had not gone to, I walked around and went to the Flea Market. If you are looking for unique, cheaper souvenirs, this is definitely the place to go. After wandering around the market stalls, I checked out the modern art gallery. They had a small, but representative collection of Icelandic art, featuring a well known Icelandic artist, Erro, who is well known for mixed media, combining cartoons, childhood characters, and iconic imagery to form political and social commentary.
In the mood for some art, I set out to find some street art around town. Something I really loved about Rejkavik was the city’s style, and participation in street art. I found many fascinating works simply from walking down the street, and really got a feeling of the Icelandic people’s mentality and political beliefs. Like many northern cities, Iceland had the grungy, rebellious style, with an attention to green issues, and featured pops of color as an alternative to gray skies and buildings.
To end my night, I walked by the water one last time and enjoyed the beautiful, out of this world scenery in Iceland, before I headed to bed, and off the Edinburgh Scotland the next day.