Reykjavik was our base to explore Iceland. Out of six nights in Iceland, we spent four in Reykjavik and two on the South shore of the country. We would hop on to a day tour bus early in the morning and get back in the evening… perfect medley of exploring the untouched country side and enjoying the lively nightlife. We couldn’t spend much time exploring Reykjavik itself… just a day! The next time we are in Iceland (Yes! We will go back… in summers), we will set aside some more time for Reykjavik!
Reykjavik has an array of museums… like a lot of other European towns. We weren’t carrying a list of ‘must see places in Reykjavik’. Our idea was to roam around the city and simply soak in the local culture. Here is how we spent our day…
Meeting the locals
We were extremely lucky! If you have read our previous post on ‘Vegetarian Food in Iceland‘, you may recollect that we made friends with a lovely lady who was part of the in flight crew on our flight. Well, must be some karmic connection… but she offered to show us around Reykjavik… lucky us! Sadly, we were booked on an aurora watching tour that night. Lady Luck shined again… her husband offered to take us around the city on the last day that we were in Reykjavik! Her husband, Thor (Thorgrimur Thrainsson), is a famous football player and used to play for the Icelandic national football team. He is now a famous author… and a lot of locals know him! Imagine being taken around the city… with a local star! Thor took us to his place and got us introduced to his family. Somehow, we never felt that we were meeting him for the first time. He knew so much about Indian culture, without having ever been to India… sitting in Iceland… a land so far, far away!
Hallgrimskirkja is the Lutheran parish church in Reykjavik. It it the largest church in the country. We were able to sight its top from quite a distance… the sight gave us a feeling of coming back home!
Hallgrimskirkja is 73 meters high. While it is the sixth tallest building in Iceland, it will seem to be the tallest building so long as you are around the city centre. The buildings taller than this are mostly radio masts!
Entry to the church is free. However, if you want a bird’s eye view of the city, you will have to buy a ticket to get on the lift that takes you to the top. The ticket costs ISK 600. We hopped on the lift and spent a few minutes admiring the sloping roofs and colourful houses. When we got back to the base, we realised that there was soup, bread and butter being served in the church dining hall. Soup of the day was leek soup (vegetarians ahoy!), which cost ISK 800… and allowed refills… made a complete meal!
There is no denying that Iceland is expensive. Actually, I will go a step further and say that it is super expensive! You are better off bringing what you need from home… you surely will regret your forgetfulness if you are forced to shop here! That being said, the winter wear in Iceland is worth every penny. Hand knitted sweaters, called lopapeysa, with the typical yoke design around the neck, are extremely warm. I got myself a lopapeysa with a matching hat and mittens. The mittens kept my hands really warm…no wonder Ankur was all so romantic and held my hand through the trip!
If you intend to travel to the Arctic or visit the cold climes again, it makes sense buying winter wear from Cintamani or 66 North. These are local Icelandic brands that understand the frigid weather and manufacture stuff accordingly …and they are stylish enough to make you want to walk the ramp…. especially 66 North! Whether you are a shopaholic or a window shopper, you must spend some time in the down town area, walking through Laugavegur Street and Bank Street. Forget Zara and GAP when your are here! These streets are lined with local brands that store unique designs that wouldn’t be found anywhere else in the world!
I am not a peeping tom… but I still loved looking at windows of the Icelandic houses. The white lace curtains, that fluttered gently behind the glass panes had such a dream like feel. Reykjavik looked like the city I drew on the drawing board when I was in school… bright coloured walls, sloping roofs and picket fences.
On the far side of the residential area, at the sea shore, stands a glass building that looks very modern. It’s the most modern building that we saw in the entire country… glass facades…glittering lights…I could almost feel its pulse. This is the Harpa, the concert hall of the city. The building has been constructed recently and opened its doors in 2011. It is indeed a marvellous piece of architecture.
If you can, try watching a concert here. If that isn’t possible, have a cup of coffee in the building as you watch the waves hit the shore.
What do parents and kids do on a day off? Something fun? Well, they go swimming! Even though Iceland is an island, very few people swim in the ocean waters… they are always cold enough to give you goose bumps. Families go to to heated pools. The pools are either naturally heated (geothermal pools) or artificially heated to about 35 Centigrade.
Don’t forget your swimsuit when you are packing for Iceland… whether it is summer or winter! Even the tiniest of towns has a pool. Every child over the age of 5 has to compulsorily learn swimming. It’s a land of water babies!
You can choose which pool to go to depending on where you are staying. The Reykjavik city card (72 hours) allows entrance to all the the pools. Exercise to burn some calories or simply splash some water in the geothermal pool as your relax… it’s a perfect place to spend a gloomy, snowy afternoon. We would highly recommend that you make some time to visit the Blue Lagoon, which is close to the Keflavik International Airport.
Where to stay in Iceland?
We spent two nights in Loft Hostel. We cannot think of a better location if you want to be in the heart of the city. Restaurant and coffee shops are opposite the hostel… can’t get any closer. Its on the main street… the Bank Street (shopping paradise), above the Cintamani store.
The dorms and beds are sparkling clean. We stayed in an eight bed dorm and made friends with three girls who were met with bad weather since the day they arrived. Exchanging travel stories is the most exciting part of hosteling.
We loved the bar and common room…lively and buzzing! The kitchen was well equipped …will let you whip up a meal of your choice. We were so happy the vegetarian food in Iceland that we never bothered cooking!
I￼t was great to know that there was someone at the reception 24 hours… So check in and check out never seemed to be a problem. The staff was great fun and helped us sort things when we missed our tour bus. If you have a backpackers heart and soul, this is the place for you rest your tired feet and make some friends!