Iceland / Travel

Insane About Iceland: Reykjavik, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Eat: While cured shark (hákarl) is a traditional dish in Iceland, don’t worry that you’ll starve trying to find something to eat. People from around the world have settled in Iceland and, as a result, the cuisine is diverse–there are Italian, French, Mexican, Thai, Japanese and even Ethiopian restaurants. There is plenty to choose from, whatever your taste. Here are just a few that I recommend.

  • Icelandic hot dog-- a must-try!

    Icelandic hot dog– a must-try!

    Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur: Icelandic Hot Dogs. Don’t ask, just eat: these hot dogs are served with ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion, remoulade and sweet relish and are surprisingly tasty.

  • Icelandic Fish & Chips: using organic ingredients and fresh seafood (the restaurant is steps from the harbor), this relaxed restaurant creates its own skyr-based dipping sauces which are worth a visit on their own. Try the tartar on your fish and the ginger wasabi on the roasted potatoes.
  • Tapas Barinn: An opportunity to try some of the more unusual dishes in a small portion, this restaurant has great service, a cozy vibe and amazing food. While it may not be everyday Icelandic fare, it’s worth a try to expand your palate. I sampled the fillet of Icelandic foal with chorizo sauce, smoked puffin with blueberry Brennivín sauce, Minke whale with cranberry sauce and the lobster tails in garlic butter, which was possibly the best lobster I’ve ever had.
  • Lamb Stew at Íslenski barinn

    Lamb Stew at Íslenski Barinn

    Íslenski Barinn (Icelandic Bar): I’d heard that, despite it’s less-than-creative name, Icelandic Bar had some of the best traditional Icelandic food in town. I didn’t have the appetite to try everything on the menu (though I wanted to), but the lamb stew, served in a mason jar, was heavenly on a rainy afternoon.

  • Saegreifinn – The Sea Baron: known for its lobster soup, the Sea Baron is full of character in addition to some great food.

Drink: Reykjavik is known for its nightlife, which starts late on Friday nights and often wraps up at breakfast time the next day. However, the scene is more than just shots of Brennevin, the national liquor (also known as Black Death). Beer is starting to emerge as the drink of choice  and, for those teetotalers out there, Reykjavik’s cafe scene will satisfy the most discerning coffee connoisseur. Note: Many of the cafes turn into clubs or bars after dinner time, so don’t be surprised when the place where you grabbed a sandwich for lunch is recommended for later in the evening.

  • The large draft selection at Micro Bar

    The large draft selection at Micro Bar

    Micro Bar: a newly opened bar specializing in microbrews, this popular spot has a great selection of Icelandic beers as well as an extensive selection of brews from around the world.

  • Dillon’s Whiskey Bar: the closest thing to a biker bar in Iceland, Dillon’s is a mix of locals and tourists with an owner who is happy to switch from Metallica to Neil Young in a heartbeat.
  • Grái Kötturinn (Gray Cat): not a bar, but a cozy, cool coffee shop across from the Culture House. Apparently also has a great breakfast, though I didn’t make it for that.

One of the things I loved about the Reykjavik was that, in addition to the massive bookstores that offer plenty of reading material, restaurants like The Laundromat and cafes like Grái Kötturinn are filled with paperbacks that seem to operate on a book swap type of system.

Stay: As with most major cities, there are plenty of lodging options to suit almost any budget. I chose to stay in hostels and was extremely pleased with my choices. However, I met plenty of folks who were staying in some of the larger hotels, some who were on a package deal with Icelandair. I don’t think you can go wrong with whatever you choose–just be aware that some of the larger hotels are located quite a bit away from the downtown area.

I stayed in two hostels while I was in Reykjavik.

The front door of Our House.

The front door of Our House.

Our House: This awesome, homey guesthouse is run by Bedda. A great location, free breakfast, comfortable rooms, a rooftop (almost) balcony to watch for the Northern Lights and a sauna downstairs make this a fantastic home-away-from-home in Reykjavik. I was sad to leave. Update: I couldn’t stay at Our House for my entire time in Reykjavik because it was closed for upgrades–Bedda converted the two dorm rooms into individual rooms, among a few other changes. So, it’s up and open for business when you decide to visit.

Reykjavik Backpackers: I stayed here for one night after my self-driving tour of the south coast. A pretty typical backpackers accommodation it’s the second largest hostel in Reykjavik and will get bumped to third largest when construction is finished on what will be the largest. Another great location and a nice bar/lounge area make this a comfortable place. There are more people staying here, so it’s a bit easier to find someone to say, rent a car with you, but it’s not as crazy as some other Backpackers I’ve stayed in previously.

Other travel notes:

  • Flights to Iceland actually land in Keflavik (an USAF base was located there until 2006), and it’s a 45 minute bus ride to Reykjavik from the airport. Book the Blue Lagoon and Airport tour for your way home and you’ll be picked up at your accommodation and taken to the airport after your dip.
  • There are lots of companies that offer trips and activities all over Iceland. If you’re limited on time or don’t want to rent a car, these are excellent ways to see the country. I particularly liked Arctic Adventures, which I booked through another fantastic travel site, Viator. Viator offers trips and experiences in just about every location in the world and makes booking easy. Plus, there are user reviews and photos, so you know you’re getting the best advice.

While I was in Reykjavik, I took two full-day trips outside of the city: the “Blue Ice” tour, which explores the Sólheimajökull glacier and the “Black and Blue” tour, which included snorkeling in Silfra Fissure in Þingvellir National Park and lava caving in the Blue Mountains area. I then rented a car to explore the Golden Circle on my own, then followed the Ring Road down the southern coast up to Jökulsárlón on the southeast coast. Posts on those adventures will follow.

Images around Reykjavik

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