When people first heard that I planned a trip to Iceland, responses fell into two categories. There was a lot of “Iceland? Why?” (Answer: they just started doing direct flights out of Dulles, are having a great sale, and why wouldn’t we want to check out an isolated, island country in the middle of the Atlantic!) Though anyone who knew anything about Iceland tended to respond with, something like “It’s great there, but really small, you know?”
This brings us to the biggest takeaway from my weekend trip to Reykjavik. Sure, the volcanoes are fascinating, Icelandic horses are adorable and friendly, sure it’s exciting to be in the world’s Northern-most capital city, but Iceland, Reykjavik particularly, is tiny! The whole population of the country is only 300,000 people. There about three times that many people in Wyoming. Though despite being a tiny country without all that many people, we found lots of good things to see and do.
Downtown Reykjavik is definitely worth a visit. It’s brightly colored buildings and pretty harbor views were great even despite the chilly and rainy weather.
Hallgrimskirka, perhaps Reykjavik’s most notable building, is lovely. A statute of Leif Erikson stands outside, and for just a few kroner you can go to the top and see pretty views of all of Reykjavik.
Austurvöllur Square and Lauvagaver Street were the main streets where we spent most of our time. Lots of stores with expensive, but cute clothes that leave one wondering when, exactly, in Iceland would one wear such tiny little dresses and summery clothes. They also had lots of great coffee shops and fun souvenir shops.
Warning: you can buy just about any puffin or volcanic tchotchkes that one can imagine, but they’re not cheap. I left with just a few postcards, candy bars, and a Viking trinket. Yes friends, I promise I did strongly consider buying you puffin t-shirts, and thought an Icelandic wool sweater would be a perfect Christmas present for my brother, but the equivalent of $35 for a t-shirt and $200-$300 for a sweater just wasn’t going to happen.
Most native Icelanders were friendly and more than happy to put up with our nonstop questioning about “So, have you always lived in Iceland? Do you like it here? Which Icelandic candy bars should we try immediately?”
Food in Reykjavik was also an experience. As with most travel and food experiences, a little research went a long way. Most of our food was rather mediocre, though Magical Mystery Tours’ very own Stephanie Whitesel was kind enough to give us some restaurant recommendations.
Fiskfélagið (translation: Fish Company) was our best Icelandic food experience by far. We ordered whale, not expecting all that much from it, but add a little sweet potato puree and barbeque sauce and it’s pretty tasty!
Puffin was also on a number of menus. We were initially torn about eating such cute little birds, but figured we should try it. And yes, if you go to Iceland, you should try it too, but don’t get your hopes up too high. Even a blueberry sauce couldn’t disguise the taste which was basically like swallowing a mouthful of ocean water while eating the most foul-y birth you’ve ever tasted. (Note: the helpful concierge at our hotel told us that real Icelanders do regularly eat whale, but mostly save the puffin for tourists.)
Reykjavik’s also known for it’s crazy nightlife, which is rumored not to start until about 1:00am. Maybe we were off season, but honestly, we didn’t see it! European celebrities are rumored to weekend in Iceland just for the nightlife, but we saw nothing of the sort. We checked out some fun, low-key bars (including one rumored to be partially owned by Damon Albarn from Blur), but that was about it.