We’re back from our 4 day (which ended up being 5 days thanks to our return flight being cancelled due to weather) trip to Iceland! We loved every minute of our visit to this fascinating country and we were blown away by the scenery and geology that we encountered. I have so many posts and pictures to share but will start in chronological order by listing some things to do and see in Iceland’s capital, Reykavik, which is absolutely worth at least a 1 to 2 day visit. Because we were on a tight schedule, we only spent 1 day/night in Reykavik but we were charmed by this lovely city. Below is a list of a few things to do if you have limited time to spend here.
Visit the Hallgrimskirkja Church and its Tower
This Lutheran church sits right in the middle of downtown Reykavik and was built starting in 1945 but it took 41 years to finish it. It’s one of the tallest structures in all of Iceland. The architecture reflects the natural basalt columns that you’ll see all over Iceland and which are frequently mimicked in buildings throughout Iceland. There is also an observation tower at the top of the church that can be reached via elevator for about $8 USD and gives you great views of Reykavik and the ocean. Like just about every place we visited in Iceland, the interior is very simple and austere with clean lines and no fussy decoration. Very Scandinavian in its aesthetic.
Try some Local Icelandic Food
I was pleasantly surprised by the food in Iceland. Sure, we had a few things that weren’t my cup of tea but we had some delicious meals here. My favorites were some lamb chops we had in Vik, a lobster soup in Stokkreysi, a skyr cheesecake in Reykavik and the famous “Icelandic hot dog” in Reykavik as well.
Restaurants in Reykavik that I can recommend are Cafe Loki near the Hallgrimskirkja Church, the Baejarins Beztu Plysur hot dog stand and Restaurant Laekjarbrekka for traditional food such as Arctic Char, lamb and fish soup. We also had great meals in Vik at the Icelandair Hotel where we stayed and a fantastic burger at Smidgan Brueggehaus. We skipped anything too gross like the fermented shark meat and sour lamb testicles, which no one eats except tourists, and decided to focus on local and fresh ingredients instead.
Shopping on Laugavegur Street
Another must do is to go shopping in Reykavik. We loved the shops on Laugavegur Street, which also has lots of street art and murals on the buildings. There are also tons of cafes, coffee and pastry shops and brewpubs along this street. We shopped for everything from locally made jewelry, to wool sweaters and scarves and cheesy souvenirs. I became obsessed with the adorable stuffed puffins everywhere and ended up buying two small ones and a puffin coffee mug for myself.
Stop by the Harpa Music Hall
It’s free to go inside the main lobby of the Harpa music hall and look around. This is another building that mimics the shape and look of the volcanic basalt columns but this time it’s done with glass instead of stone. It’s definitely worth a stop and look-see just to admire the architecture and the views of the harbor from here.
Sample some Local Brews
As you may have heard, alcoholic beverages in Iceland are very expensive because they are taxed so heavily. This is especially true for spirits and wine, most of which are imported. So, to save a little money and try some local flavor, I highly recommend trying some of the locally brewed beer. I’m not a huge beer drinker and prefer wine but I was very pleasantly surprised by the local beers, many of which are made with glacial water so they have a crisp, clean taste. We popped into a local pub and tried a flight of Viking Icelandic beers. Other locally made beers are Gull Beer and Einstock beer, which are very common.
There is definitely more to see and do in Reykavik but with only one night, we just didn’t have time to see it all. Some things we missed were the old harbor area, which is supposed to be very scenic with lots of fish house restaurants and several of the museums about Icelandic history or local wildlife such as whales.
For our one night stay in Iceland, we stayed at the Hotel Kvosin, which I can highly recommend as it was very clean, modern, had spacious rooms with small kitchenettes and very comfortable beds. It was also located right in the middle of downtown and walking distance to all major sites. Our room rate also included a very nice breakfast spread in the morning and the staff was very nice and helpful. Like many hotels in Iceland, it wasn’t exactly cheap but we felt the room rate was justified.
After our one night in Reykavik, we picked up our rental car the next morning and headed out to drive the Golden Circle and then head south to the town of Vik.