In April of 2015, I decided that Iceland was my next major bucket list destination! But why? Why would anyone, who dislikes the cold as much as I do, want to travel Iceland? Easy, I was on a mission to complete 3 Bucket list items:
95) See the Northern Lights (aka: Aurora Borealis)
134) Swim in the Thermal Blue Lagoon in Iceland
Though I failed seeing the Aurora Borealis, what I did discover was a land of unbelievable adventure, great food, and amazing beauty! There was a thrill of discovery everywhere I went. It was the first time in forever that I felt like everything I saw was a new revelation. I loved that childlike feeling of discovery and amazement.
In my humble opinion, Iceland is not just a “quick trip.” So, I have decided to split up my review into two parts:
Part 1: Reykjavik
Welcome to Reykjavik
Reykjavik is the capital and largest city in Iceland. Being the world’s northernmost capital, it is a popular tourist destination. Its long history states that it was established by Ingólfur Arnarson from Norway around AD 870. Reykjavik is not just a Viking heritage site but a modern city filled with remarkable food, unbelievable art, and exciting history. So here are my top bucket list items to see or do in Reykjavik, Iceland:
The majestic Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church
The Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church is Iceland’s official church and is the 7th tallest structure in Iceland at 244 feet. As you walk up to the church you are greeted by a statue of explorer Leif Eriksson. Inside, the simplicity of the Church is breathtaking and the columns and ceilings are said to resemble the basalt lava flow pillars similar to those witnessed along the Southern Shores of Iceland. Above the entrance, the church houses a large beautiful pipe organ by the German organ builder Johannes Klais.
One of the cool things to do is to purchase a ticket to the observation deck. This allows you to take the elevator and then hike up 3 flights of stairs up from the clock of Hallgrímskirkja Church where you will have a bird’s eye view of the beauty of Reykjavik, the ocean, and mountains.
Take A “Free” City Walk Tour
The City Walk tour takes you on foot around the heart of Reykjavík with English speaking locals. The main focus is the general history of Iceland and the evolution of Reykjavík as a town. They also tell you about elves, vikings, food, nightlife, music, economic aspects and political affairs. Additionally, they include the funny facts about Iceland and the places you must see in Reykjavík. The “free” City Walk runs 100% on donations from guests, which are offered to the guide at the end of each tour. The tour runs daily, even multiple times a day starting at a park, named Austurvöllur in front of the House of Parliament. To learn more or reserve your spot on the tour click here: CITY WALK TOUR or visit http://CityWalk.is
Walk down Laugavegur Street
Laugavegur Street is the main street of Reykjavik. The name means “wash road,” as it used to lead to the hot springs in Laugardalur where in olden times the women of Reykjavík took their laundry for washing. As you walk along the cobblestone road, you will find tons of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and unique shops to satisfy any explorer or souvenir collector. At night, Laugavegur becomes the center for fine dining as well as music and entertainment.
One of the novelty highlights is to visit The Icelandic Phallological Museum where you can explore according to their mission statement, “the serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion.”
Visit the Tourism Information Center
One of the coolest things about traveling is finding all of the fun and free local stuff to do – maybe next Thursday I can compete in the Tom Selleck mustache contest!
Visit the Perlan Observatory
The Perlan Observatory offers fantastic views of the entire city both from a viewing platform open to the public and a rotating restaurant at the top. If the restaurant is too expensive for you (it is for most), there is also a small cafeteria on the same floor as the viewing platform.
Check out the Cemeteries
Perhaps this is a New Orleanian thing, but in my opinion, cemeteries are always beautiful outdoor museums of art and history. In Reykjavik, both Fossvogskirkjugarður cemetery beside a bay called Fossvogur and Hólavallagarður cemetery, on the western edge of Tjörnin pond offer a unique beauty. I visited the extraordinary Fossvogskirkjugarður cemetery which has a unique memorial that commemorates the vessels which were lost in the North-Atlantic Ocean during the Second World War. Another beautiful nuance was tons of gravesite ornaments and lanterns around the headstones.There is so much to do in Reykjavik! Its on my bucket list now for sure! #Reykjavik #Iceland Click To Tweet
Watch the Birds at Tjornin
Tjornin, the beautiful city “Pond” is a small lake in the center of the city where the locals often gather to feed the ducks. The southern end of Tjörnin links it to the Vatnsmýri swamp, a small bird reserve with paths open to the public except during egg hatching season.
This is a perfect place to sit, relax, and perhaps have a picnic.
Go to the Beach for a Swim in the Atlantic
From May 15th until September 15th, use the city’s small airport to take a trip over to Nautholsvík Thermal Beach. Here you can swim in the Atlantic, because they pipe hot water into the ocean. A beach of golden sand has been created and a “pool” enclosed nearby, where the water temperature is about 20ºC.
Visit the Höfði House
The Höfði House is a beautiful white house that sits alone on the shore of the Reykjavik coastline. It is best known for being the spot where Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War once and for all in 1986.
Renowned guests of Höfði House include celebrities and heads of state, amongst them the Queen of England, Winston Churchilll and Marlene Dietrich. In addition, the house is believed to be occupied by a ghost, “The White Lady,” and experienced by its former resident, a British Ambassador. She caused so much distress that he persuaded the British Foreign Office to sell the home.
Eat Hot Dogs, Puffin Birds, and Rotting Shark meat – then drink Black Death
Apparently the #1 street food in all of Iceland is the hot dog! Known as pylsurs, the hot dogs are made mostly with lamb (and sometimes a little pork) and traditionally topped with mustard, ketchup, fried onion, raw onion and remolaði, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. You can find them anywhere and they are all delicious, but the king of the pylsurs is Bæjarins Beztu, the stand located down by the harbor on Tryggvagata! In 1998, Bill Clinton ate here and declared it was the best hot dog in the world. James Hetfield, vocalist of the popular heavy metal band Metallica apparently couldn’t get enough either! To find Bæjarins Beztu CLICK HERE or visit www.bbp.is.
You will also find tons of micro brewery restaurants, casual sit down places, and fine dining all throughout Reykjavik. For those who love seafood, this may be a foodie paradise with the many fantastic fish restaurants serving fresh ocean to table menus.
However, for those more adventurous or wanting to tackle unique Icelandic fair, take a trip over to Íslenski Barinn (aka: the Icelandic Bar). Here you will be able to sample small plates of Hákarl (Fermented shark), harðfiskur (dried haddock), Grillaður lundi (Grilled puffin), and Langreyður (Whale Fin Meat).
When eating Hákarl you’re supposed to wash it down with Brennivin also known as Black Death. I don’t know which tasted worse, the fermented rotting shark meat or the horrible liqueur, but it was a fun culinary experiment and the Puffin was phenomenal.
Sit and watch the sun set by the Solfar (the Sun Voyager)
The Sólfar (the Sun Voyager) is a unique piece of art in Reykjavik. This sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, is located next to the Sæbraut road in Reykjavík, Iceland. According to Árnason, “Sun Voyager is a dreamboat, an ode to the sun. Intrinsically, it contains within itself the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.”
Planning a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland soon? Hopefully this guide will help you make the most of your time in this magical northern capital city. If there is something you’re still curious about, or if you have any follow up questions, please feel free to reach out in the comments below and look for my next post: The Bucket List Guide to Iceland – Part 2: Iceland’s Outdoor Adventures (Click Here)