One trip I won't forget (and nor will everyone I've spoken to since I returned, who can now recite all the details of my travels too), the tourist route in south Iceland takes in stunning scenery and completely surreal surroundings. Iceland is a geography textbook come to life, with an endless supply of waterfalls, live plate boundaries and an eternally moody sky. Though the Northern Lights never made an appearance on our trip, the country illuminates itself with pure exhilaration and beauty. Make sure to take in the Kerid volcanic crater, the geysirs at Strokkur and top it off with the Blue Lagoon on the way back to Keflavik Airport. And then bore everyone senseless with telling all your stories six times over when you're back home.
Fly into Keflavik International Airport, Reykjavik. Hire a car or use one of the numerous tour companies offering Golden Circle day trips (one being Netbus: www.bustravel.is/)
These are just brilliant- great people doing fantastic things. Many people find their daily free walking tour around Reykjavik a great way to find their way round the city. You will find them by the old harbour - look for the turf roof and totem pole next to Elding Whale Watching offices.
However the real treasures are the day tours out of Reykjavik. I have just returned from their Glacial Lagoon Day trip, and it was so much more than anyone could anticipate. I am still amazed at what I saw and did in one day
They go that extra mile and don't work to a strict timetable, but adapt to the wishes of the (small) group and the weather. On our day we not only saw (and took a boat trip) on the Glacial Lagoon where we saw seals, but were also taken to another hidden one, walked on a glacier, walked on black beaches, rolled on springy moss in a lava field, stood behind a waterfall in the midnight sun, bathed in a geothermal pool at the base of Eyjafjallajökull, and so much more, all the time being given a real insight into Icelandic nature, culture and history.
These are small group trips (there were only four of us along with our guide) with interesting people and so far removed from the scripted tightly timed tours one normally experiences, it really was like a day out with friends. And what a day - probably one of the most memorable of my life.
Don't let the published prices put you off. We were out for 19 hours and saw and did so much that it makes it excellent value - much better than the usual bus tours (and anyway one can't put a price on what one experiences with them). If you ever go to Iceland, well worth looking up- I can't wait to return!
Hugely popular with Reykjavikers seeking an affordable spot for lunch who come for its fresh baked bread, home made soups, and its fantastic fish of the day (fish cakes on the day I went), Ostabúðin doesn't seem to be on the radar of the tourist guidebooks.
Ostabúðin’s little hidden secret is its cosy restaurant on the bottom floor, open during lunch hours, (from 11:30 to 14:30). The small space only has a couple of seats and usually fills up quickly every day, but as the service is fast you don't have to wait long.
Interesting day trip from Reykjavik, although I went for a long weekend just for the diving. You get to scuba dive along the volcanic cracks where the European and North American plates meet. Utterly fantastic visibility of 100m or so underwater. You get guided through and can hire all equipment. The more experience you have beforehand the better to enjoy it rather than fight a hired drysuit for the first time. If you show you know enough they may take you to the lower levels, which are up to 40m deep and totally enclosed - great fun, but not for everybody. Go in wintertime as it is quietest then.
On a week's holiday in Reykjavik last November, I went swimming every morning outside(!) in the thermal pool at Vesturbaejarlaug.
The pool is in a suburb of Reykjavik and filled with all the local grannies gossiping in the (very) hot tubs and school children doing lengths. There is a sauna and steam room and it's a fabulous way to mix with the locals and get a real taste of Reykjavik life. So refreshing. It's great to walk around outside in just your swimming costume, you don't feel cold, but if you do, the hot tub will cook you up like a lobster.
Hofsvallagata, 107 Reykjavik
+354 411 5150
Google map: bit.ly/hj16Fw
Open Mon-Fri 06.30—22.00
Entry 360ISK adult, 110ISK for 6-18 years, free for seniors and under 6
Sauna 450ISK extra
Entry, towel, swimming costume 850ISK
Entry, towel, swimming costume, sauna 950ISK
Kolaportið is Iceland's only flea market. It takes place at weekends in a large warehouse building by the harbour.
In Kolaportið you can buy everything from old records to jewellery to voluminous knitted patterned jumpers to liquorice to second hand clothing to vacuum-packed salmon to fermented shark. Kolaportið is open only during weekends.
A cavernous and dark café, where homesick football fans can watch all the matches live on Sky, from Premier League to Barca and Inter Milan games. It's relaxed and friendly with the generous Bulgarian barman, Georgi always on hand to help. Pizzas cost 1300—1750ISK and there are 120,000 songs available on the karaoke machine.
+354 770 3151
Google map: bit.ly/h9hAaq
In November 2010 I went on a fantastic boat trip in the Faxafloi Bay to see whales.
The three-hour boat trip was an unforgettable experience and a great way to spend an afternoon in Iceland.
The various types of whales commonly sighted include minke whales, white-beaked dolphins, harbour porpoises and the popular humpback whales. We were also accompanied by sea birds such as gannets, puffins, guillemots, cormorants, gulls, kittiwakes, arctic terns, and many more. Our trips took us past several islands inhabited by colonies of puffin – a great photo opportunity!
Elding Whale Watching
+354 555 3565
This is a fabulous place down near the Old Harbour. Service is semi-canteen style in a slightly industrial setting. There are burgundy tables and chairs, velvet curtains, dark grey stone counter, daily fish offerings and specials all chalked up on the blackboard.
The ingredients are all organic.
Haddock 1290ISK, garlic chips 450ISK, tap water is free (as always), tzatziki skyronnaise 250ISK. My meal came to 2000ISK (£12.50) for three huge bits of fish in a really nice light batter, the fish was perfectly cooked inside. The chips aren’t French fry matchstick style, but potato wedges, and a little oily.
The skyronnaise (the bistro’s own mayo/sauce made with skyr instead) is really great:
the price for all skyronnaise sauces is 250ISK and you can choose from lots of different ones such as basil and garlic, coriander and lime or rosemary and green apple.
Trúnó is a friendly, laid-back café with tiny library of queer literature, easy listening background music, and lilac walls. Apparently the word ‘trúnó’ translates as ‘when you sit down and have a heart to heart with somebody and tell your deepest secrets….’ (according to the friendly Norwegian waitress).
The fabulous nightclub, Barbara, is next door, you can't miss it with its bright pink walls and rainbow flags everywhere. Start the evening with a cocktail at Trúnó then party late into the next morning with Barbara.
Café Loki is located up by the iconic church, the Hallgrimskirkja and is found upstairs above the craft Textíll shop.
Cafe Loki has a real buzz about it. Every visitor I met in Reykjavík was talking about it, either planning to go there or having had a great time.
The Estonian waitress/manager is very friendly and welcoming. The menu offers traditional Icelandic favourites like plokkfiskur, rugbraud and svidasulta.
Café Loki, Lokastigur 28, 101 Reykjavík
+354 466 2828
Google map: bit.ly/gsE4Xt
Average main course price 1,300ISK
Café Loki open Mon-Sat 10.00—18.00, Sun 12.00—18.00
Textíll open Mon-Fri 12.00—18.00, Sat 11.00—15.00, closed on Sun.
Reykjavik Bike Tours were started by experienced tour guide Stefan Valsson, a native Reykjavikian and his German wife, Ursula. A bike ride is the best way to discover the city.
Cycling around this bike-friendly city a great way to see Reykjavik, get your bearings and hear history and anecdotes from a local.
The 'Classic Reykjavik' tour covers a distance of 7km, lasts 2.5hours and sets off from the Old Harbour including all major sights in Reykjavik and some hidden treasures.
Or try the 'Coast of Reykjavik' tour which takes in 18km of wonderful coastal paths.
It's a magical way to experience Iceland's evening sun from a bicycle saddle. A bike ride along Reykjavik's coast is the perfect way to spend a midsummer's night in town. The route usually includes the Perlan area, Nautholsvík thermal beach, Seltjarnarnes peninsula and bird sanctuary, Grotta tidal island and lighthouse.
It is a magical experience, feeling and smelling nature on a bicycle instead of rushing by in a coach
Reykjavik Bike Tours
Fish Factory (Fiskfélagið) has been open for 18 months and is really shaking up the Reykjavik world of fine dining.
23-year-old wizzkid chef Gústav Axel Gunnlaugsson won the Icelandic Chef of the Year 2010 award.
Gústav Axel was born in Húsavík and is the youngest person ever to win this award.
His ‘Around Iceland’ menu gives a real taste of this Arctic land, where flavours spice up the dark winter months.
Fish Factory is housed in the unusual Zimsen building, dating from 1884.
Previously, the house was located in another part of Reykjavik, but in 2006, the building was uprooted and renovated before being replanted at Grófartorg in 2008.
Fish Factory’s philosophy is to use Icelandic ingredients fused with herbs and spices from around the world.
Icelandic chefs are very proud of local ingredients such as lamb, langoustine, whale, puffin and, of course, fish.
Fish Factory highlights produce from all parts of Iceland in a fun, comfortable, yet classy setting.
The interior is dark and cosy with light streaming through stained glass windows.
Eric the Red is - without a doubt - the best guesthouse in Reykjavik.
Found in a convenient, central location next to the iconic church, the Hallgrimskirkja, and seven minutes’ walk from the bus station, Eric the Red has simple, clean rooms, free WiFi and great breakfasts.
Charming host Rúnar is a carpenter and art lover and he and his partner Edda have filled the house with paintings by local artists and treat all guests like long lost relatives. There are 12 rooms, although Edda also has an apartment to let a few minutes' walk away.
Breakfasts are great and a good opportunity to try the delicious skyr (a bit like yoghurt). Edda and Rúnar help with travel information, tales of Icelandic life, history and culture on long chats in their cosy kitchen and their ginger cat, Raki, is friendly and welcoming, like all Icelanders.
Reykjavík is often dubbed "the nightlife capital of the north". It is famous for its nightlife during the weekends. Icelanders tend to go out late so bars that look rather quiet can fill up suddenly—usually after midnight on a weekend.
One of the main causes for this is that alcohol is relatively expensive at bars. People tend to drink at home before going out. Beer was banned in Iceland until 1 March 1989, but has since become popular among many Icelanders as their alcoholic drink of choice. Beer, however, is expensive: half a litre of beer in an Icelandic bar can cost between 600 and 850 krónur (approx. US$5–7, €3–5, or £3–4 as of August 2009). Consequently, revellers will often leave home late and are already inebriated when they arrive at the bars in the city centre.
There are over 100 different bars and clubs in Reykjavík. Most of them are located on Laugavegur and its side streets. It is very common for an establishment that is a café before dinner to turn into a bar in the evening. Closing time is usually around 6am at weekends and 1am during the week.
This comfortable Reykjavík budget hotel offers guests a complimentary breakfast and free Wi-Fi internet access. Capital-Inn has spacious and newly renovated budget rooms.
The hotel is just a short walk from the Kringlan Shopping Centre, Perlan and the beach, which has geothermal heated seawater. Guests at Capital-Inn also benefit from complimentary private parking.
It is a hotel a two hour drive from Reykjavik. I went in 2007 with a school trip and stayed for a few nights to experience the Northern Lights. It is set within the amazing landscape of Iceland and offers a 360 degree view to capture the incredible displays. It is singly placed meaning there is not a disruption from other hotels or settlements.
It's a small thermal beach with (imported) white sand, sea swimming, thermal waters and hot pools. It's free to visit and has a really nice atmosphere.
Catch bus no 19 from town, or walk down the road between the Perlan and the airport.
More info: www.freecitytravel.com/event_detail.aspx?ID=81
The world’s most northerly capital combines colourful buildings, quirky people, a wild nightlife and a capricious soul to devastating effect. Most visitors fall helplessly in love, returning home already saving to come back.
The city’s charm lies in its many peculiar contrasts, which, like tectonic plates clashing against one another, create an earthquake of energy. Reykjavík offers a bewitching combination of village innocence and big-city zeal. It’s populated by darkly cynical citizens who are nevertheless filled with unstoppable creativity and enthusiasm. In summer the streets are washed by 22 hours of daylight; in winter they’re scoured by blizzards and doused in never-ending night. Reykjavík is a city that treasures its Viking past but wants the future – the very best of it – NOW!
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