europe, iceland

24 hours in Reykjavík

It’s early April and we have finally embarked on the long awaited trip to Iceland after booking very reasonable flights through easyjet (thank you January sales!). After a ‘tough’ time at the airport -both our bags were searched going through security and I nearly lost Conor to the whiskey salesman in duty free – we finally arrived in Reykjavik early evening. Our hotel is called Reykjavik 100 and it is pretty much the cheapest hotel in the capital, but don’t let this fool you – it is clean and in the BEST location, right on the main street. We quickly drop off our bags and go to eat pizza across the road and then explore Reykjavik by night. The streets are beautiful and surprisingly quiet for a capital city. However the city is littered with graffiti as well as lots of propaganda posters (many written in English) from the recent demonstrations in Reykjavik due to the panama papers leak; which a tour guide later explains angered the Icelandic people – and quite rightly so. There are lots of creative looking gift shops and coffee shops on the main street which are open until late, as well as an array of quirky bars. We also pass the beautiful Harpa, the city’s concert hall, looking magnificent lit up at night. In the daylight, Harpa glistens in the sun. Henning Larsen architects, the brain behind the building, wanted the many windows to represent fish scales but also the northern lights (some are different colours). Then, as we were both quite tired, we decided to retire relatively early, ready to explore the city the next day.

Next morning, as we awoke, Reykjavik was bathing in beautiful spring sunshine. We picked up some breakfast from a supermarket (Skyr, the Icelandic yogurt and a pastry) and sat to eat it by the sea. We then went to have coffee at Reykjavik Roasters – the location where I am currently writing this blogpost! Reykjavik Roasters is a little coffee shop not far from the cathedral, the coffee is lovely – as, we have just discovered, is the breakfast – and the vibe is laid back and friendly. It is also not particularly expensive by Icelandic standards! Before leaving England, Conor had booked us on a free walking tour of Reykjavik. He told me that he had started a few walking tours around other European cities but never actually stayed until the end of any of them so I am apprehensive and intrigued to see how long we last on this tour. The tour was absolutely brilliant. If you are planning a trip to Reykjavik, go and book a free walking tour through City Tours RIGHT NOW. Our guide, Eric was a history graduate and he was extremely knowledgeable, anecdotal and funny. As we walked around the city, he pointed out typical tourist sites, as well as explaining lots about the history of Iceland, the Icelandic culture and Icelandic people. I really couldn’t recommend one of these tours enough if you are visiting, they’re only two hours long so you won’t get too tired or lose concentration too much. Also, in addition to learning a lot of new and interesting things, it really helps you to get a feel for a city and gather your bearings.

After the tour had finished, we went to get hotdogs. We’d read from other peoples blogs that hotdogs were a typical cheap Icelandic food and Eric (and the extremely long queue outside) informed us that this little hot dog van sold the best hotdogs in Reykjavik. We didn’t try any others but they were very good. If you’re looking for the van, it is situated behind the main street in front of the Parliament buildings, nearby to the Icelandic Museum of Art. We then visited the cathedral. The view of the cathedral from below is magnificent and the view of the city from the top of the cathedral tower is even better. Definitely worth a visit. We also visited the Laundromat Café in the afternoon for coffee and cake (fellow cake enthusiasts, note that the Carrot Cake is extremely good).

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Whilst exploring Reykjavik, everyone we meet is extremely friendly. Our tour guide informed us that Iceland has the third lowest crime rate in the world (tax evasion is apparently the biggest crime, I’m unsure whether this is true or just a jibe at recent events!). The country is also a very feminist country, with Eric informing us that 29 of the 63 MP’s being women, a statistic that they’re very proud of. Walking through the city, we see other monuments dedicated to Icelandic women. We also see lots of colourful street art dedicated to the gay pride festival that took place last summer, my favourite of which is the statue of a famous Viking, one of the founders of Iceland, whose lips are painted pink. It occurs to me that many other cities would have removed this ‘graffiti’ but the Icelandic people appear relaxed and modern thinking.

Fast forward to the next morning and we are about to pick up our rental car and leave the capital. We are headed to the national park and then onto Laugarvatn where we will stay tonight. I’m excited to see what the next part of our adventure brings but for now I will leave you with my five favourite things that I have learnt about Iceland so far:

  1. Iceland is sat on two continental plates, the North American plate and the European Plate. Reykjavik is sat on the North American plate so I wonder if this means that I can claim that I’ve visited America now?!
  2. Daylight increases by 7 minutes every day leading up to the Summer Solstice where there are only 1 and a half hours of darkness. From then it then decreases by 7 minutes each day up until the Winter Solstice when there is only 2 and a half hours of daylight each day.
  3. Tourism has only become big in the past 8 years. Iceland today is a very expensive country to visit, but before the financial crisis everything was twice as expensive and almost no tourists could afford to visit.
  4. Prohibition was lifted in 1989 (ironically the year Conor was born, he claims that it’s a sign that he should drink the Icelandic beer…), interestingly the prohibition was only on beer; spirits were still allowed. This was originally put in place as the government thought that beer contributed to alcoholism.
  5. Finally my favourite new piece of information: apparently around half of the Icelandic population believe in elves. Brilliant. Scattered around Iceland are ‘Elf Rocks’. These are rocks that people cannot, or will not, move due to them being put there by elves. You can apparently spot an elf rock quite easily, they are rocks that appear random in their surroundings and you would be unsure as to how they arrived there. Apparently, the elves need to be asked for permission before these rocks can be moved. This often results in the rocks not being moved and whole roads being built around these rocks, often costing much more money. Interestingly, these elves apparently don’t look like what we typically imagine an elf to look like. They apparently appear as humans and look like ourselves, but will only reveal themselves to people who are true elf believers!

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