My recent trip to Iceland was so full I cannot do it justice in one blog post. Today I’ll just talk about the capital, Reykjavik, one of the most relaxed and enjoyable towns I’ve ever visited.
First of all, we arrived in the world’s northernmost capital at about 11 pm, but with the summer solstice right around the corner, we had daylight throughout the hour-long bus ride from the airport in Keflavik and, in fact, did not see darkness tonight or any other night for the next week and a half. Ostensibly, the sun did set for a few hours each night, but even after 1 am and as early as 3 am, I never saw anything more than dusk. My kind of place!Being jetlag deniers, we were up at a decent hour for our first day of exploring despite an overnight flight to Europe, 12 hours in Dusseldorf, Germany where we ran on fumes and beer, a 3 ½-hour flight back to Iceland (simple explanation: free ticket), and the one-hour bus from the airport. Our first stop, even before breakfast, was Hallgrímskirkja, the distinctive landmark church from which there is a grand bird’s-eye view of Reykjavik. The city is a clean, colorful spread, broken up by water and greenery; I can only imagine how sparkling it looks in the sun, which did not deign to appear until our next-to-last day. 😦
We strolled trendy Skólavörðustígur Street and poked into as many little shops and galleries as a 20-something guy would allow (i.e., not many) and then began a search for brunch. We settled on Bergsson Mathús, a fantastic choice. Son A had a plate of lamb shawarma and three side salads and I had the veggie plate of salads only. So good, and the relaxed café vibe (and the chewy bread!) added greatly to our pleasure and started our Reykjavik stay on a very positive note.
For the rest of this day and the next, we followed a “When in Rome/Reykjavik, …” plan and hit as many coffeehouses and bars as possible and meandered all over the city in between. We loved The Laundromat Café with its walls full of maps and shelves full of books, we had Sunday coffee and read the Grapevine paper with the locals at Kaffismiðjan (or Reykjavik Roasters), and we whiled away a few hours with our books and laptops at Stofan Café one afternoon. All of the coffeehouses morph into bars at night and by late afternoon, our coffee mugs became beer glasses full of Brio, Gull, Boli and Úlfur.
Our stomachs were filled and our wallets emptied by a string of great meals. Our splurge was a dinner of monkfish and salmon at Fiskmarkaðurinn, a sleek, high-end spot with Icelandic-Asian fusion dishes, and our budget-offset meal was a hotdog from the famous Baejarins Beztu Pylsur stand, which I had to try (and enjoyed!) despite years of vegetarianism.
Other favorites included K-Bar (more fusion; this time Korean-Icelandic), Vegamót (nothing to do with vegetables!), and Micro Bar. All of Iceland’s prices are shocking and appalling, nowhere more so than in the restaurants and bars, where a basic hamburger goes for $19 and the cheapest beer we found was about $9. (Later posts will reveal our best food budgeting strategy – eating in gas stations – which is not only common in Iceland but surprisingly satisfying!)
We rounded out our time in Reykjavik with a free walking tour, an evening show at Harpa (the stunning concert hall and conference center on the water), a leisurely stroll on the main drag, Laugavegur Street, and a long haul out to the harbor and docks to find Farmers Market, a sought-after shop “where heritage meets modernity” and where I found beauty met unaffordability! We peeked into the real farmers market on Saturday morning; the goods were not so good, but the dried fish and razorbill eggs were fun to see. The sun showed its face for about 30 minutes late one afternoon and I zipped outside along with about 75% of Reykjavik’s citizens, it seemed, to sit in a square and eat an ice cream cone.
I adored Reykjavik and would go back in a minute. With Icelandair’s stopover deals to Europe, this may be in my future as I’d love to introduce more of my family members to this lively city that combines small-town charm and big-city energy. Reykjavik is quaintly quirky and sleekly sophisticated, home to both craggy-faced old men in worn Icelandic sweaters and natty young professionals in slim-fit suits. Having seen the city in its summer light, it might be fun to go back and cozy up in those coffeehouses and bars in the endless winter darkness someday.