* Prices may differ from that shown
As mentioned in my previous review of Icelandair, I recently went on holiday to Iceland, staying in the capital city, Reykjavik. Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world, and is also the smallest capital city in Europe, but then Iceland itself doesn't have the largest population either. Greater Reykjavik has a population of just over 200,000 people, which is two thirds of the population of the country as a whole. A small island to the north west of Britain, it does tend to get overlooked when concentrating on mainland Europe, but from what I'd heard it seemed like an interesting place to visit, and after seeing signs all over the Tube advertising the place, I took it as a sign that I needed to book a trip!
I booked my trip with Icelandair and the flight from Heathrow Airport took around three hours. During my time in Iceland I went on the Golden Circle tour, bathed in the Blue Lagoon and explored Reykjavik.
The flight from London to Reykjavik takes around three hours. Planes land at Keflavik Airport and you need to catch the Flybus or take a taxi (a more expensive option) to get into Reykjavik. The currency is the krona, which went down in value considerably in 2008 after the financial crisis, so Iceland is no longer quite as expensive for the visitor as it was. It's best to exchange your money there as you'll get a better exchange rate (I exchanged mine at the airport) and currency can be difficult to obtain back home. British nationals do not need a visa to enter. Iceland is a member of the Schengen Agreement: nationals of countries that have implemented the agreement do not need a visa either. Iceland is not a member of the EU, and you can therefore purchase duty-free products and get tax relief on many purchases there.
Tap water is perfectly safe to drink in Iceland. Medical facilities are good and available to UK citizens with an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card). The climate is milder than you might expect for somewhere so far north - it was around 4 degrees Celsius when I was there at the beginning of April, though the weather can be changeable, and it's unwise to go off exploring unless you know what you're doing.
***A potted history of Iceland***
Did you know modern day written Icelandic is close enough to Old Norse for Icelanders to be able to read the language of the old sagas? Or that 80% of Icelanders are descended from Scandinavian and British men but Irish women (since Viking raiders headed to Ireland to kidnap prospective wives before sailing off to Iceland)? These were just two of the interesting facts I learned on my trip to Reykjavik.
The first settlers are largely agreed to have landed in Iceland in the ninth century and claimed land in order to farm. A Parliament, the Althing, was held (in what is now Thingvellir National Park) annually to decide the policies of the Icelandic Commonwealth, until Iceland was brought under the rule of Denmark and Norway in the 13th century. Centuries of poverty followed, with Iceland being hit by the Black Death on two separate occasions. Christianity had been introduced during the medieval period, but during the sixteenth century the nation converted to Lutheranism and the last Catholic bishops were beheaded. During the nineteenth century, a growing independence movement inspired by romantic and nationalist ideals eventually helped to bring about a referendum in 1944 in which Icelanders voted to become a republic.
(This is an extremely short and greatly simplified version of Icelandic history!)
***A little about Icelandic geography***
I wouldn't normally go on about geography in a travel review but Iceland's geography is so unusual and rich that I thought it worth mentioning. Iceland is on the mid-Atlantic ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly moving apart at the rate of about 2 and a half cm per year. In fact if you visit the Thingvellir National Park (the Golden Circle tour comes here) you can see the edge of the North American plate which looks like a cliff looking over the plain below. This situation explains why Iceland is prone to so many volcanoes (including the infamous eruption last year, from which you can buy bottles of ash in several places in Reykjavik!), which helps enormously when trying to date archaeological excavations. In addition it explains why you get geysers and hot springs as well as the geothermally heated Blue Lagoon and other similar pools, heated by the flow of magma beneath the earth's surface.
Although Reykjavik is Iceland's capital city, it has the feel of a seaside town, with old buildings, a harbour, and brightly-coloured metal panelled houses. I stayed near the historic centre in the Leifur Eriksson Hotel, which was small but clean and comfortable. My hotel was right next to the Hallgrimskirkja, a unique modern church with a tall spire. It's possible to go up to the top of the church tower to get a good look around the city - one advantage of it being new is that there is a lift instead of the winding spiral staircase you normally get! An advantage of staying here was that it was impossible for me to get lost in Reykjavik - anywhere I went, I could see the church spire at the top of the hill so all I had to do was follow it!
It was simple and easy to walk around the city and I found that I got my bearings very quickly - impressive considering that my sense of direction is less than wonderful. I found it to be a very quiet, sparsely populated place on the whole - very different to the bustling atmosphere of London. Down by the sea it could get quite windy. Further in, the old buildings were unusual and very Scandinavian. I seemed to see lots of fairy lights in windows wherever I went - perhaps to compensate for the long winter nights, although at the time of my visit daylight hours were longer than those in Britain.
I knew that the crime rate in Iceland was very low, and I felt completely safe and at ease during my time there. However there were a few times when I was walking around in the evening and it was getting dark, there were few people around, and the wind was whistling through the buildings that I actually felt quite spooked. The atmosphere at these times was rather eerie and I can't really blame the Icelandic people for being superstitious!
Below I discuss the different places I visited in the capital. I haven't normally given prices as they are subject to change, but I thought costs in general were reasonable.
-Reykjavik Welcome Card-
This card is available to buy from the Tourist Information Office for 24, 48 or 72 hours and gives free entry to several museums, as well as free travel on central buses and access to the city's thermal pools. I got the 24 hour card which got me free entry to the National History Museum, the Culture House, Reykjavik 871 ±2 Settlement Exhibition and the Reykjavík Maritime Museum which worked out as excellent value for me.
-National Museum of Iceland-
This museum was hard to find as it was slightly out of the city along a main road and looked nothing like a museum. It had the appearance of a factory or out-of-town office block and I only knew it was the right place because a. the map told me so, and b. there was a small sign in front of it with 'Museum of Iceland' on. I had to walk to the end to find the entrance and to my relief it looked much more like a museum on the inside.
The museum tells the story of Iceland in chronological order over two floors, beginning with the first inhabitants right up to the modern day. I found the exhibits were well-chosen and the accompanying text informative and interesting. There was an excellent balance between giving plenty of information and not boring with too much.
-National Art Gallery of Iceland-
This museum was very small and there were only three or four rooms. Most of the exhibits were modern paintings and sculpture. Modern art isn't my favourite thing in the world, but there were a couple of works that caught my eye.
-Reykjavik 871 ±2-
This exhibition was possibly my favourite, being an underground room in the centre of which are the remains of a Viking longhouse, dated to the year 871, plus or minus two years (hence the exhibition's name). The house itself would be very interesting to see, being very well preserved, however the creators of the exhibit have not relied on this, instead creating a fascinating interactive exhibit on the surrounding walls, providing information on how Vikings lived and the history of the Icelandic people. There is also an interactive table with a plan of the house: you can click on different sections to find out about different areas, with text in Icelandic, English and even runic script. I found all of this incredibly interesting and spent about an hour there - not bad for what is effectively one room!
-Reykjavik Art Museum-
This museum was pretty much full of modern art. I wouldn't recommend going to this unless you're a huge fan of the stuff. There were some interesting collages on the first floor using images from American popular culture, but that's about it.
This museum was right on the harbour with a large boat just in front. It was over two floors and there wasn't a great deal to see, but it was reasonably interesting, particularly the model of the inside of the fishing boat.
The Culture House is the former National Library of Iceland, and now houses manuscripts of the Icelandic sagas. As a librarian and a bit of a rare books geek, I loved looking at these! They are incredibly important works of literature and it was awesome to be able to see the original manuscripts.
***Food and Drink***
Iceland is famed for two main kinds of food: fish and lamb. I didn't try the latter, but as a pescatarian made the most of the former. Vegetarians should have no trouble finding suitable food as there are plenty of Italian restaurants serving vegetable pizzas. I also noticed a surprising number of Thai restaurants. I think there are several Thai immigrants in Iceland and I imagine the food of the two cultures blends well together as both use lots of seafood.
For lunch, I tended to have a coffee and a pastry: there are a number of coffee shops in Reykjavik, but no global chains - no Starbucks or even McDonalds! On the Golden Circle tour there was a café at the geyser area serving sandwiches, salads and fast food such as burgers and chips.
I ate out three times: the first time at an Icelandic fish and chip restaurant near the harbour. It was a kind of café/restaurant where you had to pay at the front but your food was brought out to you. All the food is organic and I thoroughly enjoyed my battered Icelandic cod, which was fresh and thoroughly tasty, as well as the accompanying oven-baked chips. The meals are served with a skyrone of your choice - a mayonnaise-like substance based on skyr, a national dairy dish. Mine was basil and garlic flavoured and was delicious. In many ways the restaurant resembled a British one - not least because of the wartime jazz music playing in the background!
On the second night I ate at a nearby Thai restaurant, which again was quite informal as you needed to order food at the bar. I had fish again, in a Thai sauce served with rice. Again this meal was delicious.
On the third night, I didn't have such a good experience. I decided to eat at an Italian restaurant called Caruso as it was mentioned in the guidebook and had good reviews. However when I went inside and asked for a table for one the waiter looked surprised and said he had to go and see if that was okay! I honestly think if he had gone out of my line of sight I would just have left. The other waiter he asked (more senior, presumably) didn't bat an eyelid and showed me to a table. My meal was lovely but my experience was rather spoilt by this as I felt awkward and a bit silly, and just wanted to leave as soon as possible!
As you can see, however, there is a wide choice of food in Reykjavik so there is sure to be something for everyone. Meals can be slightly more expensive than in the UK but not overly so, particularly at the more informal places.
A lot of people go to Iceland for the nightlife as Reykjavik is famed for being a party city. I didn't see much evidence of this on my visit - perhaps because Icelanders tend to drink at home owing to the high cost of alcohol in bars and clubs before heading out at around midnight (by which time I was tucked up in bed!). I could see plenty of bars as I walked around the city, though the quiet atmosphere that was generally present was a far cry from, say, Newcastle on a Friday night. As a female travelling alone, I wouldn't have been comfortable going clubbing by myself but I did have a quiet drink in a bar every so often.
***Golden Circle Tour***
I'm going to write a separate review on this so I won't go into a massive amount of detail here. The tour is the most popular tour taken by tourists in Iceland and it's easy to see why - the tour is run as a day trip from Reykjavik and is very impressive. It takes in Gullfoss, which is an impressive two-tier waterfall; the geyser and hot springs area, at which you can see water bubbling and the most active geyser, Strokkur, erupting into the air every ten minutes; and the Thingvellir National Park which I mentioned above. I found the tour to be well worth the money spent: there was lots to see and the guide was cheerful and friendly.
Again, I'm going to write a separate review on this so I won't go into too much detail. The Blue Lagoon is a famous, geothermally heated pool and it's one of the most popular places to visit. I booked an excursion so my payment included return coach travel and the entry fee. It was incredibly surreal to be bathing outside in water as warm as your average bath, while sunlight almost blinded me and the wind whipped the skin off my face!
Overall I loved my trip to Reykjavik and I'm really glad I went. There was so much to see and do and it was nothing like I'd ever seen before. I do recommend it as a destination. It's unusual enough to be different, enjoyable and sound impressive when people ask you what you did on your last holiday, but it's also a safe and comfortable place to be with effectively no language barrier. Definitely worth considering as a holiday destination.
My first impressions of Reykjavik were based more on smell than sight. We arrived at Keflavik Airport in December, with darkness falling fast and went straight onto a bus to get to the central bus station. Everybody drives incredibly slowly in Iceland and as we crept along I was vaguely bothered by this whiff of sulphur, which seemed to come from the very fabric of the bus. I noticed the smell everywhere that first evening, on people and their clothes, in the reception area and finally realised when I washed my hands in the sink, that this is the smell of the hot water.
That evening, Dad and I took our first walk along Laugavegur, the main shopping street. Reykjavik combats the prolonged darkness by lighting every corner of this street and this combined with the many neon signs and Christmas decorations to create pseudo daylight at ground level. The street's not exactly jam packed with shops, most are single storey cabins and are spread out with other buildings and residential side streets between them. Nor was it busy with people. On a Tuesday night, we saw almost no-one out and the cars creeping slowly along reminded me of the vampire film, 30 Days of Night.
Seeing Reykjavik in the daylight the next morning was a surprise. The huge snow capped mountains surrounding the town and the icy sea are as good as invisible outside daylight hours. We walked down along the harbour and visited the Cathedral, Hallgrimskirkja, climbing the tower for a view as the sun rose. The tiny town centre has an American look about it, with New England style town houses and Wild West type cabins. Even the oldest building here looks like they put it up last week. There are certainly none of the decorated buildings you expect to find in a capital city, just weatherproof and practical homes. The Indian embassy, for example, resembled a petrol station. However, the view from the Cathedral was well worth the 200 ISK we paid to go up there and we were very nearly deafened when the bells chimed.
Looking around the cathedral itself, the decoration is plain, but that only enhances the architecture. Incredibly imposing from the outside, Hallgrimskirkja's form imitates a shooting flow of lava, while the white pillars inside are based on glaciers and ice caves with perfect symmetry. The font is a solid block of crystal and walking back towards the door, we paused for a while to see a small but magical nativity scene. There were no other tourists and no fuss, the whole experience was a world away from the crowded Catholic shrines of the Mediterranean.
We visited the art museum and the photography museum and by taking a wrong turn, the library. If you only have time to see one thing in Reykjavik (other than the Cathedral), the Museum of Settlement should probably have that honour. Being underground and well heated, it's also a good bet for days when the weather and light are against you. There are interactive displays and even the remains of a Viking Longhouse.
The harbour itself is interesting up to a point; there are old whaling ships and war ships to be seen through the misty twilight. This is also the place to go if you want to try out one of the whale watching cruises. Given the cold, we didn't fancy that idea and in any case I've yet to hear from someone who actually saw a whale on one of these trips. Walking from the harbour to the pond takes you across the old town in only a few minutes and though the pond is hardly fascinating, you can take some pretty photos of corrugated metal churches.
You can do any number of day trips from Reykjavik, including the Northern Lights, Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon (see my other reviews).
Shopping in Reykjavik isn't bad. At the time we went (December 2009), the exchange rate meant that most prices were on a par with those in the UK and in some cases a lot cheaper. There are a variety of stores selling kitchen wares, a Christmas Shop full of chintzy decorations, vintage clothing stores and chocolate shops. We didn't buy a lot given that most of these things are available in Britain anyway and the few things that were unique to Iceland, such as the traditional patterned hats and sweaters were ridiculously pricey. Dad favoured the local sweets (when we tried these on the coach, they were dipped in salt and not sugar!) and we picked up quite a few bags of these and a pocket full of unspeakably disgusting 'Salt Liquorice' to take home.
A lot of the shops opened late into the evening on a Thursday and we meandered round a warm bookstore with a built in café, looking for a postcard of the power station to send to my uncle. We also had a good look at a new book entitled 'The Yule Lads', which gave the background of the Icelandic Santas and went a long way to explaining why a great many of the Christmas displays in the shops looked like they were leftover from Halloween. Possibly the most interesting display we saw featured a real stuffed Reindeer distastefully dressed in a beret and scarf. This had been arranged so that its glassy eyes caught your gaze as you walked past.
It had crossed my mind before we took this trip that eating out could be difficult. Dad eats anything and everything, but I'm vegetarian and the Icelandic cuisine, quite logically, is based on meat and seafood. Looking up and down Laugavegur, the choice was incredible and I had absolutely no problems; every restaurant did at least a couple of vegetarian dishes. It seemed every country of the world was represented with the exception of Iceland itself; Italian and Balkan restaurants and takeaway sushi bars dominated this stretch of road. If you want to eat what the locals eat, we were told that the best things to try (for carnivores) are the Icelandic fish and chips at the harbour or the hotdogs from the street stands. We didn't manage to visit either of these as they seemed to be perpetually shut or only open right after we'd eaten. The worst thing is apparently the local delicacy of rotted shark meat.
We ate at three restaurants, all of which were of a really high standard. The first was Tivoli, an Italian restaurant where I had a gorgeous vegetable spaghetti and Dad tried the catch of the day. The second was the unpronounceable but friendly 'A Naestu Grosum' where we had vegan Icelandic-Indian food including a healthy and extremely cheap curry. The third was Vegamott, which was like a trendy nightclub with huge tables of laughing women and big potions of Mexican food.
I can recall numerous magazine articles where we were fed this rubbish about Iceland being the trendiest place to go clubbing. We weren't on that kind of holiday, but looking around, there were only two places in the old town with any life. The people stood outside the vodka bar, 101 and the nearby night club looked perpetually angry like something was about to kick off. The state run off-licences keep strict hours and high prices and the customers from the Irish bar emerged looking like they needed to be hospitalised. Allegedly things are better on a Saturday night, but we left on Saturday morning and I can't comment except to say I don't think I'd go on a drinking holiday here. In any case you'd have to go out for the evening in three coats and a polo neck jumper.
We found the Icelanders to be really friendly and incredibly trusting. There seems to be very little crime and people are happy to leave their babies outside restaurants and shops in prams for you to make faces at. English is widely spoken, tips are not expected and everyone smiles a lot. (We were actually pretty surprised when a man in a puffa jacket demanded cigarettes from us, then later we saw him roughing up this trampy bloke outside the gingerbread house style tourist office. But that was it as far as unsavoury people went.)
WHY GO TO REYKJAVIK?
I'd recommend going to Reykjavik for a short family holiday or a romantic break. It's not a huge town and there's a not lot to do, so any more than a week would be stretching it. Picking hotels in the town centre is a good move in winter, and we didn't feel we'd missed out on anything by going at a time of year with less daylight. I'd love to go back in summer and use the town as a base for walks along the coast and wildlife watching.
I would fly in the face of the official line that this is a young trendy town and say that in my opinion Reykjavik is like a cute frontier town full of friendly middle class citizens. It didn't feel cutting edge, but it was fascinating and unique and most importantly, uncrowded. We had a brilliant break here.
If you want to know more about Reykjavik, http://www.visitreykjavik.is/ is the official website and all the facts and figures about population and location can be found at loneyplanet.com and on wikipedia.
I hollidayed in iceland a few years ago, and stayed in Reykjavik for 3 nights. I had planned to stay there longer.
I was very dissapointed in Reykjavic. I had been led to belive that the city was a fun loving alcohol iduced non stop party. At least the alcohol was right. The problem was that it wsn't anyone fun loving drinking it. There is such a problem with alcholoism in Iceland that you can only buy it in bars or government run shops. Prices have been escalated to a point where it is barely affordable. To give you an idea the cost of a 70 cl bottle of vodka costed more than a tank of petrol in the UK.
This government policy only seems to have stopped the average person from drinking - yes the bars were full but the was not the party atmosphere i was told about, but there were plenty of unsavory drunks and drunk homeless people (how can they afford it!!) in the streets.
Reykjavik does not have any beautiful architecture or any natural beauty spot within the main city. However within driving distance there are beautiful areas such as the Blue Lagoon on the Geezer - both of which are amazing. It also runs whale watching trips from the city harbour where Mink wahles and occasionally sperm whales can be spotted. these highlights can be done without having to saty in the city though.
I would recomend anyone travelling to Iceland not to waste any time in Reykjavik and to get out to see the natural beauty of the rest of the country (and the rest fo the country is well worth the visit - truely amazing).
Reykjavik is a blight on Icelands otherwise beautiful natural landscape, which is why it gets a rating of just 2 stars from me.
The problem I find with travel reviews, in particular those you can find in guide books is that they rarely say anything negative about a place at all. Therefore you often have an idyllic view of somewhere before having gone there. Summing up Iceland's capital Reykjavik - I would probably call it an over-rated tourist trap that lives off its name as the world's most northerly capital.
On the up side - there is an alcohol shop! Having been to Akureyri on a Sunday when everything was closed and our previous sip of the golden juice dating back to the previous week when a can of warm Viking was gifted to us by some Czechs who had travelled about 200km to stock up on it, we were in dire need of a beer! Better yet, there's a lot of immigrants in Reykjavik - so the shop was filled with decent foreign beer as opposed to the Icelandic water!
There's nothing in the way of natural wonders in comparison to the rest of the country but one wouldn't really expect that from a capital city. Instead, you will find suburbs with wide roads and enormous jeeps often with personal number plates (with only 300,000 Icelanders - it's easy not to clash!) such as the humorous "Big Boy" I managed to photograph. The centre is less rigid, in its road design but doesn't impress with bland architecture and expensive but ultimately dull boutiques that makes its southerly neighbour capital Torshavn look like Paris.
Perhaps the two buildings of note (other than the aforementioned bottle shop) is the impressing and uniquely shaped Hallgrímskirkja. Perlan, another inventive building is a glass dome on 4 water tanks which looks good from a distance but is fairly tacky inside with an expensive bar/restaurant and the mandatory souvenir shop (or are they called artefacts these days?!) Tjornin "The Pond" is a relatively nice area of the city near the city hall and a handful of museums and is very much the quintessential duck feeding destination.
The whale sighting tours (which I'm about to review) aren't a patch on the ones in Husavik and the guides seem to be aware of this as they spend the majority of the time talking about sea birds instead.
There are some nice woolen goods and there is the attraction of getting tax back at the airport due to Iceland's non EU status but any other souvenirs are mostly tacky and Viking or puffin related.
Iceland's most boring destination by far and probably the least interesting capital city in Europe, I would say. Reykjavik's so-called amazing nightlife is also a bit of a lie, in my book - whilst the Icelanders do like to get tanked particularly at the weekend and particularly at home, pubs and clubs don't really get going until about midnight when the locals are already to drunk to have that much fun. There is an array of live musicians though who mostly play that melancholy arty indie sound not too distant from the country's success stories - Bjork and Sigur Ros. Some of the expensive clubs regularly have world reknowned dj's - so you may appreciate it if you like dance.
Hotdogs are stunning value in Reykjavik and the backbone of a budget traveller's diet there, banks are also an awesome little adventure (or were until the crisis at least), they are a bit like five star hotels with free water, coffee, biscuits and internet!
I have just returned from a family holiday in Reykjavik, the most northerly capital in the world. No one in our family is suited to the heat and we are not drawn by beach holidays. We were attracted by the reported beauty of the city and Iceland promised adventure with its volcanic landscape, geysers and waterfalls, puffins and whales. We were not disappointed and we left keen to return and explore more of this beautiful country.
Perched on the edge of the Arctic Circle, Reykjavik sits on the south west coast of Iceland, oh so many miles north of Scotland in the north Atlantic Ocean. It is rapidly increasing in size, mostly from people migrating here from other parts of the country. Iceland is very sparsely populated, two thirds of a total of only 300,000 Icelanders live in the Reykjavik area. This was one of the most striking aspects of our visit to me, the fact that there are just so few people. October is certainly not the peak of the tourist season, either, and so we never had to queue at all and sometimes had the café or the viewing platform or even the museum to ourselves! It really was refreshing to take a break from the crowds of our busy little island, especially as on a daily basis Im either fighting for a seat on a commuter train into London, struggling for air on the hot and overcrowded Tube, or following the swarm of mums, kids and siblings on the frenzied school run.
The city has gained a reputation for cool with those long, long Summer nights being the perfect opportunity to party pretty much all night at the ever more common and ever more cool bars and clubs. I would love to tell you how deserved this reputation is, but with a 3 year old and a 7 year old in tow, we didnt have the opportunity to test it out. The most I can say is that we went into one bar on Laugevegur (the main shopping street and centre of the nightlife scene) to use their loo when my 3 year old got caught short and there were 2 themed bars downstairs that were totally cool. One was set up like a prison, with bars separating the 3 or 4 dark wooden tables, with elaborate dark wooden chairs, chandeliers and flock wall paper, the other one was all white plastic and 70s kitsch. I understand that the prices for booze are quite high, so come prepared!
Icelanders have a very strong sense of their Viking and Celtic heritage and are proud of their relatively short history. The first settlers came to Iceland in the 9th century from Norway, attracted by free land. The harsh conditions must have been quite something for early settlers and as a nation they are self-dependent and tend to pull together for the common good oh how far this is from our own competitive nation driven by self-interest. You can get a real feel for the nations settlement and history from the National Museum and the Settlement Exhibition (more on this below).
The mountains and hills around Reykjavik make for a dramatic backdrop in particular the mountainous island Videy which sits over the harbour of slate grey water, which received a dusting of snow part way through our visit just to add to the drama. You dont have to go too far out of the city to experience the volcanic landscape of Iceland: Geysir (where you can see the geyser from which all other geysers take their name), the dramatic Gullfoss waterfall and Pingvellir National Park are all accessible from Reykjavik on a day trip.
For those more active amongst you there is plenty to do here from whale watching to fishing, hiking to horse riding, and, very popular amongst Icelanders, swimming in outdoor geo-thermally heated outdoor pools, the most famous of which is The Blue Lagoon, 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik and possibly Icelands most famous attraction.
This modern, concrete, Lutheran cathedral, with its tall main tower, resembles a space rocket taking off, or probably more appropriately, a volcano erupting. It sits on a hill in the heart of Reykjavik and so as well as providing a useful ever visible landmark so that you always know where you are, it affords excellent views over the city. You can pay to go up in the lift to a viewing platform in the bell tower. The day we went, we arrived as soon as it opened and were the only people there. Its a great place to start any visit to Reykjavik as it gives you a sense of the geography of the city and an overall view of how attractive it is. The cathedral has a superb organ, so if you visit, dont forget to go into the church and then turn around and look above the entrance youve just walked through Ive never seen an organ like it (?!). We were lucky enough to see the organist practising on it, but had to make a swift exit when my 3 year old comment that he has a funny face. Kids!
Just outside is a superb statue of explorer Leifr Eiriksson the first discoverer of America, in an iconic Viking pose - axe in one hand, cross clutched to his chest in the other, standing at the prow of his ship. Superb.
October is a little late in the season for seeing whales in Faxafloi bay, but we were determined to give it a try. There are two main companies that operate tours from the harbour in Reykjavik and you pay a serious 4000Kr (£38ish) each for the trip (and half of that for children of 7 and over). We didnt see the Minke whales that were spotted by the time we were looking in the right direction, theyd dived never to be seen again, but we did see a group of White Beaked dolphins who raced alongside the boat. This made the trip totally worth it. Id like to say that the kids enjoyed it, but the youngest slept for almost all the trip and the eldest suffered with sea sickness, as did quite a few other kids on the boat. Wed picked a pretty still and sunny day considering the time of year, so it would be well worth considering this before taking your kids on the trip.
~~~The Saga Museum, National Museum and Settlement Exhibition~~~
The Saga Museum is set in the sci-fi style building south of the city centre which houses tanks of thermal water that supplies the city. The museum is made up of a series of wax works, each depicting a famous character, or famous moment in Icelandic history. The waxworks are truly lifelike and some of the scenes were disturbing for the kids (particularly the Viking woman holding a sword to her bare breast as she stands over her man whos just been killed by a stone to the head by native Americans). It wont take you long to get round the museum, but when you do, theres a very interesting film playing on a loop that shows the making of the museum and its waxworks. Its walking distance from the BSI bus station, but probably a bus ride from the centre of town, especially if youve got young kids in tow. Pick up a bus map from one of the tourist info centres in Austerstraeti or Laugevegur the number 18 goes closest.
The National Museum has only recently opened after a major renovation. Its a really interesting, well thought out and laid out place, split of 2 main floors. The first floor covers the history of Iceland from the Settlement to the 17th Century, with lots of interesting artefacts displayed alongside words that explain what they tell us about life in Iceland at that time. The second floor takes you up to the modern day. There are 2 rooms aimed at kids on the first floor, with lots of hands on puzzles and clothes to try on.
The Settlement Exhibition centres around the excavated ruins of a Viking long house. It is situated in its own purpose built hall under Aoalstraeti in the heart of the old town. The walls around the ruin are given over to images of the surrounding area as it would have looked in the time that the long house was in use. A very interesting visit. Again, plenty of nicely laid out information and another very recently opened museum.
~~~The Blue Lagoon~~~
The Blue Lagoon is to Reykjavik what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris it is probably the most commonly recognised Icelandic attraction (and features in my sons superb Usborne Great World Search book). This outdoor, geo thermally heated pool is situated amongst the lava fields 40 minutes drive outside of Reykjavik, close by to Keflavik airport in fact many people choose to tie their visit into their arrival at or departure from Iceland. The pool is fed by the subterranean thermal sea water that also explain the power plant next door and is deliciously warm, milky-blue water, apparently very good for your skin, but from experience, very bad for your hair given the high mineral content youll need to give it a really good wash and condition afterwards. It is quite an experience to visit here, with the cold air whipping around your ears, but the salty warm water making you feel very relaxed, particularly as it is very easy to float in! The Blue Lagoon has only this year finished its expansion and I must say that the facilities are immaculate, a real pleasure to use. The pool itself is quite big, but once more, though this was the busiest place we visited, it was still not that crowded compared to tourist attractions in most other countries!
~~~The Golden Circle~~~
You can take a day trip out of Reykjavik to the Geysir, Gullfoss and the National Park Pingvellir. I would strongly recommend you make the effort (and pay the price) to do this if you visit the city, as it gives you a real insight into the raw natural beauty of this country. Despite the drive, it was a really engaging day for the kids, being able to get so close to a geyser, which after all is just like a giant, natural jack in the box, and to a waterfall. In Europe or the States, these sights would have barriers to keep you well away from them, turning them from natural phenomena to tourist attractions. Not so, Iceland. Its as well to remember this with small children in tow!
I would not hesitate to recommend visiting Reykjavik, particularly if you want to avoid tourist traps and crowds. The landscape is weird and beautiful all at once, unlike anywhere Ive ever been before.
The main drawback to the place is the price. It is understandable that prices here are higher - with such a small population nothing here has a very big market to drive costs down. I would urge you not to visit and complain about it, but to plan your visit, choosing where you stay and how you eat carefully, or keep it to a long weekend if you want to limit your spending. You could see all the highlights above in one long weekend.
The weather is also for the hardy. Clearly, the summers would be milder, but during our October visit it was basically cold rain and wind punctuated by some small pockets of sunshine. Go prepared with the right gear and you wont be too uncomfortable.
The city is not child friendly in the conventional way we think of in the West (childrens menus in restaurants, museums aimed at children, theme parks), but the lack of people is a major bonus when youve got small kids and it means that they can look around places without you having to hold onto them at all times and worry about them disappearing in the crowd. Most attractions are free for kids under 11, which saves on expense. Kids also hate queues (we saw none of those here) and long flights (only 3 hours from Gatwick to Keflavik)! If your kids love adventure, exploring, swimming, well there is plenty of opportunity for this in Iceland.
For me a great trip is one that sends you home with your perspective slightly changed, and this one did. It woke up my senses (how could swimming outside in 5 degrees not?) and shook me out of my sedentary life of trains and office work and reminded me how it feels to be alive. I learned loads about the geology of the area and about Viking history and Im even thinking differently about the British weather as our guest house owner said, we Brits are always complaining about our weather because were looking at Spain with envy. The Icelanders look to Britain with envy and I have to say, this October seems tropical to me now weve returned!!
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/worldguide/destinations/europe/iceland Lonely Planet Guide
http://www.bluelagoon.com/ The Blue Lagoon
http://www.re.is - Reykjavik Excursions for the Fly Bus and day trips out of Reykjavik
http://www.goiceland.org Iceland Tourist Board site
Reykjavik is probably the coolest city in the world - and not just because of its position as the most northerly capital, either. The geographical isolation of the city has given it a virtual license to be different, creative, quirky and ground breaking in many areas, a strangeness that is mirrored perfectly in the surreal natural beauty of the surrounding countryside. But before I plunge onwards with my review, let me just make it clear where I am writing about, as there may be some confusion as to which of the islands of the north Atlantic the city is on. Reykjavik is on Iceland, smaller of the islands and mostly green in cover - it is often mixed up with Greenland, the larger of the two that is mostly covered in ice. I'm glad we got that sorted out. ;-) But why did I decide to go there of all places? Well, I think it is fair to say that when it comes to holidays I am not overly fond of hot places and nor do I like the thought of lying around on a beach for an entire week. I am what you might call a culture vulture; I like to visit places different from home, to try new foods and experience the culture and history of the places I visit. And when it comes to cool and cultured, you can't get much better than Reykjavik. Iceland is rapidly becoming a fashionable place to visit, but yet still retains a sense of being uncommercialised - how many modern cities do you know where the main shopping district contains not a single McDonalds, nor even the merest suggestion of a Starbucks? - A Bit of Background Reykjavik means "smoky bay" in Icelandic, being named after the steam rising from the surrounding geothermal springs was mistaken for smoke by the first settlers. It is located in the south west of Iceland and is currently home to around 112,000 people - which makes it sound a very small capital city indeed. However, when you consider that this is three fifths of the total population of the country, you begin to see the i
mportance of the city. The country as a whole covers an area equal to England and Wales combined, although outside of Reykjavik the population is rather sparse and spread out around the coastline. The interior of Iceland is too inhospitable to live in, being largely a desert wasteland with around 11% of the land is covered in glaciers, including Vatnajökull, the largest in Europe. The discovery of Iceland is usually credited to the Viking explorer Flóki Vilgerdarson in around 850AD, although it is possible that the island was known before that. Greek sources from 300BC mention an island they call Thule, the most northerly island in the world, six days by sea north of Britain. It is not known if this was definitely Iceland, but Thule is certainly the oldest name for the country and was used extensively in the Middle Ages. The first permanent settlement of Iceland is credited to national hero Ingólfur Arnarson in 874AD, and from this time onwards the country (especially the Reykjavik area) was settled by people of Scandinavian descent. By 930AD the country's population had expanded to around 60,000 people living in 36 municipalities, and it was clear that some form of central government was needed. As Iceland had no monarchy, it was decided amongst the leaders of the municipalities to meet annually at Thingvellir - this meeting (the Althing) is now recognised as one of the world's first republican parliaments. Iceland was later to lose its independence to Denmark, but regained Home Rule in 1904, and finally became an independent republic again on 17th June 1944. This day is now celebrated as Iceland's Independence Day. The language that has developed into Icelandic is actually the closest of any modern language to the Old Norse used by the Vikings. Icelanders are very proud of this Nordic heritage, and are alone in upholding another Norse tradition, that of using patronymics rather than surnames. In this system, an Icelander's Christi
an name is followed by his or her father's name and the suffix "son" for men and "dóttir" for women. This means that people in the same family can have a variety of second names, which can seem a little confusing to visitors, although sounds wonderfully exotic (providing your father hasn't been blessed with a name such as Trevor, mind). - Getting to Reykjavik While it is still possible to sail to Iceland (see www.smyril-line.com), most people choose to save themselves a couple of days travel and fly instead. Reykjavik does have an airport of its own but it is for domestic flights only - any international flights arrive and depart in Keflavik airport, around 50km from Reykjavik, mostly by Icelandair. If you are in Britain, Icelandair flights depart from Heathrow (twice daily) and Glasgow (four times a week) and take 3 hours and 2 hours respectively. I am unsure of the exact cost of these flights as they were included in the cost of my package holiday, but my guidebook informs me that they are in the £300 region from Heathrow and around £270 from Glasgow, although they do vary depending on the time of year you travel and at weekends. Flights to Keflavik are also available from several European airports and from North America (where you can fly direct or have a stopover in Iceland en route to Europe). For more details, visit: For British travel information: www.icelandair.co.uk For North American travel information: www.icelandair.com For the global website: www.icelandair.net Incidentally, getting the 50km from the airport to the city is relatively easy, as one the local tour companies (Reykjavik Excursions) operates a Fly Bus service that will take you direct to the door of your hotel - and pick you up from there to come back. There are relatively few flights per day into Keflavik, so the bus just arrives to meet each one and runs a timetable to meet all outgoing ones. My tickets were included in
the price of my holiday, but one of the other travellers buying tickets was charged 1000ISK. - Things To Do, Places To Go... You may well be wondering how a city as apparently small as Reykjavik could provide anything much to do. Well, I found that there was plenty going on, despite the peak tourist season having officially ended on 31st August. My great disappointment was that the Icelandic National Museum (with all its lovely Viking treasures) was closed for renovation, and indeed had been for many months with no sign of the work being completed any time soon. But Reykjavik was not named a European City of Culture in 2000 for nothing, so I did find other attractions to fill the time I had set aside for the national museum. This is my selection of the best things to do in and around Reykjavik: *The Culture House A culture house is a popular Scandinavian term for a local history museum. Situated on Hverfisgata in the heart of the old city centre, the Culture House was the idea of the first Minister of Icelandic Affairs under Home Rule, and was opened to the public in 1909 in a bid to demonstrate Icelandic national pride. It is a large and impressive building, originally housing all of Iceland's principal national treasures (the national library and archives, the national museum and natural history museum) but as the collections grew and were relocated around the city, the building took on a new role. It currently has displays on Icelandic culture and history (in both Icelandic and English), covering the Viking age of settlement, ancient maps, the oral tradition of the island and Icelandic literature. Most importantly, the House currently displays the priceless Saga manuscripts that are at the very core of Icelandic culture while the National Museum is getting its makeover. I found this to be well worth a visit, and was especially pleased that I could see the Sagas even though the country's principal museum was cl
osed when I visited Reykjavik. A visit here will take about 2 to 2.5 hours and costs 300ISK (surprisingly good value given the expensive costs of just about everything else). The Culture House is open 11am to 5pm daily throughout the year, has a small shop and café and good wheelchair access to the exhibitions. *The Saga Museum Located on the ground floor of the Pearl (a city landmark that also houses spectacular viewing platforms and a revolving restaurant), the Saga Museum is a new and modern centre that aims to interpret key moments in Icelandic history. You are taken on a tour guided by a CD player around reconstructions that are very reminiscent of the Jorvik Viking centre, which allow you to move at your own pace. It is colourful and well presented, and full of bloodthirsty battles, feuding Vikings and gruesome events. An absorbing and highly recommended way to pass an hour or so, in a visit that you can combine with breathtaking views out over the city and bay from the viewing platforms. The Saga Museum is open 10am to 6pm in summer, and 12pm to 5pm in winter - it will set you back 800ISK for adults, 600ISK for students and 400ISK for children. www.sagamuseum.is *Hallgrimskirkja Hallgrimskirkja is one of the major churches of Reykjavik - although some of you may have well guess that from the name, as "kirk" is still regularly used to mean "church" in parts of Scotland and northern England. The building itself is rather stark and rugged from the outside, designed to be reminiscent of a volcanic eruption, of which Iceland certainly has a few! Inside, the church has a beautiful vaulted ceiling and a magnificent organ, but the real purpose of visiting here is to go up the tower and take in the aerial view of the city (for a modest 300ISK). The church does hold classical concerts from time to time (which my tour guide informed me are very good), but unfortunately there were none on during my visit. T
he church can be found at the end of Skolavördustigur, although it is very easy to find as it can be seen quite clearly from most parts of the city centre - the 74m high tower stands way above anything else in Reykjavik. *The Botanical Gardens This was a rather pleasant surprise I must say, not least because I didn't think somewhere as northerly as Iceland would have much in way of flora and fauna. But that is really the whole purpose of the gardens. As well as welcoming visitors, the gardens are a centre for research into finding species that can tolerate the harsh climate of the country, and they have done so with great success so far. Since opening in 1961, the Botanical Gardens have grown to cover 2.5 hectares of space in Laugardalur valley and have cultivated an astonishing 5,000 species. If you are lucky enough to visit on a sunny day (as I was) then the gardens are a wonderful place to walk around, relax and have lunch - they also house a café with some of the best chocolate torte in existence! The other pleasing thing is that the gardens are off the beaten track for most tourists (as they are well away from where most hotels are situated), so tend to be quiet and peaceful. They can be reached quiet easily by taking a number 5 bus, though. The gardens are open 10am to 10pm daily, giving you plenty of opportunity to visit - and entrance is free as well. *Whale Watching Now, this has to be a real highlight of my holiday! Since renouncing whaling (more or less), Icelanders have instead been offering tourists the chance to go on whale watching tours - and they take them very seriously, too. The boat I was on was led by an experienced guide (who gave commentary in three different languages - Danish, English and German) and was accompanied by a marine biologist. There are several companies in the harbours in and around Reykjavik offering this service with varying prices and length of trip, but whichever you go on the
re will be at least a 90% chance of spotting these wonderful creatures during your trip. My excursion was booked via my travel operator and was on Moby Dick tours, operating from Keflavik harbour with hotel pick-up included. These tours leave at 10am daily between April and October and cost 2700ISK per adult, and 1400ISK for under 12s for a 3 hour trip. Expensive this may be, but they do include an offer in their price that if you see no whales on one trip, you get another for free. So did I see any whales? Yes, several Minke whales and some harbour porpoises and it was an experience I would recommend to anyone. Worth the cold and the seasickness! Depending on the time of year, you may also glimpse dolphins, humpback whales, fin whales and even Orca whales. You do need to reserve these trips in advance as they are rightly very popular - your travel agency or the Reykjavik Tourist Information will be able to do this for you. Oh, and one other thing. This particular operator works within the codes of conduct laid down by Greenpeace and the Iceland Whale Watching Association, so it rates highly on the Murphy-ometer too. *The Golden Circle This is the classic tour for visitors staying in Reykjavik to take, and is the most popular tour run from the city by all operators. This is a day tour that takes in three of Iceland's finest natural features - the "Golden Falls" waterfall at Gullfoss, the spouting geysers at Geysir and the national park at Thingvellir, site of the original Viking parliament. Gullfoss is a massive two-step waterfall and a dramatic sight whatever the weather. The force of the water pouring over the falls throws up huge clouds of spray, and if you are lucky enough to visit on a sunny day, then a whole rainbow of colours can be seen shining over the water. Visiting Gullfoss is free, and there are two observation platforms situated a short walk from the car park - one above the falls (which involves climbi
ng quite a steep flight of steps) and a lower one that takes you close to the upper step of the falls. If you are planning on using the lower, closer viewing platform then make sure you take a waterproof with you! Just a few miles down the road from Gullfoss is Geysir, site of the hot erupting springs that gave its name to all such features around the world. While the original geysir has not been active since an earthquake a few years back, a visit to this site is still well worth it. Strokkur (a smaller geyser) still erupts to a height of around 25m every 10 to 15 minutes to the delight of onlookers, the active hot springs continue to bubble away and the strange, lunar landscape would almost make you think you were on another planet (if it were not for the coach loads of tourists regularly turning up, that is). Across the road, there is a rather good visitor centre (with geoscience centre, café and shop). Care must be taken when visiting the springs though, as earthquakes can and do weaken the crust in places, and some of the water is at boiling point. Thingvellir offers yet another type of dramatic sight - an active rift landscape. For the non-geologists amongst you, this is the area where the mid-Atlantic ridge rises onto the surface of Iceland, the point at which the North American and European plates are tearing apart and new land is being created at a rate of 2cm a year. The ridged landscape created by this action was site was also the site of the Viking parliament (but you will already know that if you were paying attention when reading the background information!). Unfortunately, the national park provides no interpretation panels to visitors, so this is where it is really worth being on a guided tour. All natural features in the Golden Circle are free to visit. A guided day tour of the sites will cost you between 5500ISK and 6000ISK, including hotel pick-up. If not booked through your holiday agency, places can be reserved at the
Tourist Information offices for you. - My Opinion To say that Iceland is unique feels like something of an understatement - yet how else would you describe a country like this? Reykjavik combines the openness and style of a Scandinavian city with a warmth of hospitality that only a place so unused to hordes of tourists descending upon them can have. It is still relatively unspoilt and undiscovered and I can't suppose it will stay that way for very long. If you are considering a visit to Reykjavik, I would strongly suggest you do so in the next few years, before a good deal of this charm is swamped beneath tourist coaches, bland chain coffee shops and temples to greasy food just like every other city in the developed world. It is a good destination for a week or less (any longer and you could well be remorgaging your house to pay for it), for singles, couples and friends of all ages. I would not especially recommend it to those of you with small children (not that Reykjavik isn't child friendly, just that the expense may not be quite worth it for the very young) or with an aversion to walking (as Reykjavik is essentially a walking city). Older children, especially those with an interest in nature, would doubtless thoroughly enjoy a trip to Iceland, though. What more can I say? I had a great trip, and I would love to go again....but once the National Museum has re-opened, mind. - Other Useful Information Climate? Not as cold as you think, actually. The average temperature when I went in September was a comfortable 9°C - although the weather is very changeable, so remember to take warm clothes and waterproofs with you whenever you visit. Currency? Icelandic Krona (ISK). There are currently around 114 to the £. Duty Free? Yes!!! Although part of Europe, the lovely Icelandic people are not part of the EU, so duty free shopping is still available in Keflavik airport. A perfect opportunity to stock
up on Icelandic vodka and schnapps. ;-) Food? Very expensive, usually around double what I would expect to pay for similar food in similar restaurants in the UK. Specialities are fish and hangikjöt (wonderful smoked lamb), although at prices of around 2000-3000ISK you won't be eating out much! Other things worth trying are skyr (divine Icelandic yoghurt) and the local pastries, especially kleinur ("Icelandic doughnuts"). Souvenirs? Iceland is still not terribly touristy (thankfully), and while you can get a small range of cheap souvenirs (mugs, keyrings, t-shirts, etc) they are generally not that good. You may want to buy some Icelandic knitwear or silverwear, though, if you have any money left over from feeding yourself. - Five Things I Liked About Reykjavik 1) Everyone was friendly and polite, and most people speak excellent English 2) The air and water are the freshest and cleanest anywhere 3) Very little penetration by international brands (yet) 4) The city is very clean, well maintained and feels safe to walk in 5) Some of the most stunning natural landscapes I have seen - Five Things I Didn't Like About Reykjavik 1) I didn't get to see the Northern Lights (bah!) 2) Everything is very expensive due to the country's remoteness and 15% VAT 3) The length of time the National Museum has been shut for 4) Skyr is far too addictive and I can't get it at home 5) Ummm, did I mention that things are expensive? - Five Things I Learned From Visiting Iceland They say travel broadens the mind... 1) It is not a good idea to stand downwind of a geyser 2) There is still a widespread belief in Elves 3) Iceland produces the best lamb and worst croissants I have ever had 4) It is still possible to get friendly, courteous and personal service 5) It is very difficult to describe the beauty of what I have seen in a D
ooyoo review! - Other Sources of Information The main excursion providers: www.icelandexcursions.is and www.re.is Tourist Information: www.visitreykjavik.is Footprint books produce a handy pocket guide to Reykjavik by Laura Dixon, £7.99 in the UK and $11.95 in the US (ISBN 1903471591).
Ever since I can remember I've always wanted to visit Iceland, even the name conjures up a magical sensation far far away from British life. And so it was decided upon a trip to Reykjavik in December. This may seem as a bad idea at this time at the peak of winter, but suprisingly at this time of year the temperature is a few degrees warmer than here.The trip began from Glasgow airport with Icelandair. As flights go the 2 hours and 30 minutes went very quickly with onflight food giving an idea of the type of food to be expected although seeing as all plane food tastes bad we were still positive.We arrived around 1pm and immediately the rain started. It was getting dark as during the winter there is only light for a couple of hours with the sun setting around 3:30. The airport is situated 30minutes from the main city of Reykavik and a shuttle bus can take you straight to your hotel. On this journey you get to see the volcanic fields and immediately you see that Iceland is not what you first expected. The land is very barren, there was hardly any snow when I visited there and the mountains could be compared to those of Scotland. It is definately not what i expected, the images i had in my head of snow covered glaciers were not to be seen.They were far away somewhere which meant paying around at least £30 to go on a day trip to see that side of Iceland, and seeing as it was constantly dark I had to miss out on this. As well as missing out on the Northern lights which I was really looking forward too.Iceland is very very expensive and i only visited for 3 days but in that time I completely ran out of money and the local bank stole my credit card! A pint of lager generally costs around £6 no matter where you go and £2.50 for a small glass of coke is average. Food prices follow the same route with a bread roll with a filling costing around £5.00.We stayed in a hotel called the Royal Oak which was comfortable enough and was in wal
king distance to the main town thankfully as taxis were unbelievably expensive. There are always lots of trips to go on and things to see and do although unless your a millionair the main city centre tends to get boring as it is really only one main street with not really anything for tourists to do.Iceland i'm sure is a magical place if you have money to make the most of all the geographical phenomenas but if you don't my advise would be to wait until you do.
Reykjavik is the strangest but probably most intriguing capital city I have been to in Europe. It has a population of 100,000 but in terms of Iceland's population this is a third of all people. Its setting is impressive. The actual name is supposed to mean "smoky bay" - this is from the geothermal steam that rises and actually provides all hot water and power for the city. Reykjavik these days is quite spread out, but the nicest area is the old city centre. There is a long pedestrianised shopping mall this runs through the centre leading to Austurvollur, the town square. You will find many recognisable shops in this area - Top Man/Shop, H&M etc. Most of the pubs are also in this area but beware - it is about £4 a pint at the cheapest and often much more. Near the centre of Reykjavik is the Tjorn (lake) which is quite pleasant to walk around with many birds on the water. On the side of the lake is the city hall which is very modern but I think looks quite good. Worth seeing here is the huge land relief map of Iceland. Also on the side of the lake is the National Gallery with displays of Iceland finest artists. Reykjavik airport (not Keflavik airport which is 40 mins away and is the internatinal terminal) is situated just south of the lake and it is quite a site seeing quite large planes swoop over the top of the city hall as they are landing. The main church in Reykjavik in the Hallgrimskirkja which was only completed in 1974. This dominates the skyline in Reykjavik and is a controversial building which personally I like. It is well worth paying to go up the tower and getting the view of Reykjavik from the air. The old houses (actually not that old dating from 1800 plus) have multcoloured roofs which look very attractive from the air. You can also see much further afield. Another landmark building in Reykjavik is the "Pearl" - another modern building which is situated on top of Oskjuhild hill. I
t consists of 4 metallic water tanks with a revolving restaurant spinning round the top. It also hosts displays, concerts etc. The restaurant is very expensive even for Reykjavik but it is definitely worth seeing and has an artificial geysir outside. Reykjavik even has a small man made beach which I can proudly say that I went to in the height of summer with it being warm enough to sunbathe. Reykavik has good restaurants and as perhaps can be imagined, the best tend to be the fish restaurants. My favourite was called Laekjarbrekka in the centre. Night life is good especially in summer when it is light for much of the time. It is loud and fun. There is an endless progression of cars driving round the main block with dance music playing. It seems to go on nearly all night and its a bit of a laugh joining in. Nightlife is a mixture of trendy cafes, pubs and various night clubs. The young locals generally seem up for having a good time and are very friendly and intregrate you into their night. At the nightclubs, everyone ques outside drinking cans of beer from the off license to try and save some money indoors. It is easily possible to party from early afternoon until 9 the following morning if you have the stamina. If you do this, the best way I found of recovering was going to one of the swimming pools and sitting in the naturally heated pools for a few hours. Around Reykavik there are many day trips to be done - from the Blue Lagoon which seems to be on everyone's agenda to the Golden Circle of local sights. One word of warning - I have no idea what this place is like in winter. I imagine very dark!
Iceland.... I went to Iceland last Easter, it was really enjoyable and my only regret is that I didn't stay longer. It's not as far away as you think- especially from Scotland and although expensive for consumer goods, if you are careful you can stick to a reasonable budget. Accomodation wise it's best to stay in a guesthouse,I stayed in guesthouse Isafod which was 10 minutes from the town centre- a much better bet as some of the hotels are pretty remote, especially the official airline one ******** which is a good hike from the town centre. I went through www.artic-experience.co.uk, who were really good- my guesthouse only cost £30 a night which is excellent for a single room and included a breakfast (eat loads, It's £8 for a meal in McDonalds). One word of warning, Icelanders take their religous holidays very seriously (bizarre, as they don't seem to be particularly reverent in their weekend 'party' behaviour), so if you go around Easter, or Christmas you will have problems finding things open- even resturants. Saturday is half day for shopping anyway- in the town centre, but there is a 'mall' a 20 minute bus journey away - I think it's called Kringlan or something like that where the shops are open til about 4pm. Another point, if you are thinking, unusual holiday therefore I'll come back with loads of nice memento's you will be a bit disappointed, most is awful tourist tack, T-Shirts with Vikings on it and little gonks! .It is however the place to go for all your wolly jumper needs! I wouldn't worry about the language barrier at all, only one person that I met didn't speak English. Most people go to Rekjavik- a lovely bay town , but don't just stay there, loads of places are accessible for bus tours, if you hired a car (expensive!) or used public transport you could do it independantly , but then you would need more time. I went on the 'Golden Circle Day tour, (c £
45), which takes you to the ancient seat of the Icelandic Parliament, The Gulfuss Waterfall the Geysers ( the real biggie is gone, but it's still fun to see the steaming land and other geysers) and the place where the american and european plates meet. It's touristville though,so maybe best to go slightly out of season. The best thing I saw there was the volcano show _ I can't recomment it enough, basically it's a guy who spends his time filming erupting volcanos and running a cinema so you can see the films. It's the smallest cinema that I have been in, and has some really impressive shots. The only thing I regret is not staying longer, there's loads more to see including the ultimate day trip, if you go in summer you can take a day trip to greenland! What could top that?
International visitors to Reykjavik fly into Keflavik airport, which is over 40 kilometres from Reykjavik itself. The journey can most easily be made by schedules bus, the Flybus, which takes about 45 minutes to do the journey, and costs 600 kroner (about £5.50). However, in Summer 2000, the bus service in Iceland was plagued by strikes, leaving two other options for making the journey to Reykjavik - car rental (at upwards of 3500 kroner (about £32) per day, plus VAT and including only limited daily mileage) or taxi (which costs around 6000 kroner (about £55) each way!). It is worth checking whether buses are running before you arrive (they don't operate between September and June anyway!), and pre-order a rental car if they're not running. It's also worth mentioning that Keflavik is the only airport in the world which allows you to shop duty-free upon entering the country. The shops in the airport are pretty good, and considerably cheaper than the rest of the country, so this is a handy place to pick up cheap Icelandic gifts before leaving, such as decomposed shark (hakarl), pickled herring (sild) or dried haddock (hardfiskur). The airport is also, quite obviously, partly a NATO base, and both civilian and military aircraft fly from here, which makes for interesting viewing if you have to wait there a while. The city of Reykjavik itself is notably small for a capital city. The population of the whole country is less than 300,000, and more than half of them live in Reykjavik. The city is very colourful, especially when viewed from the air, as all of the roofs have been brightly coloured. Close to, the lack of diversity of building materials becomes abundantly clear - most houses have either been made out of concrete or have sheets of painted corrugated iron nailed to the outside. The city is certainly in a beautiful location, with the North Atlantic Ocean to the west, and mountains to the north and east. It's also conveniently s
ituated for exploration of the country, being within a few hours drive of Langjokull glacier, the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle. You can get buses from your hotel to visit any of the tourist attractions, though these organised trips can often be very expensive. It would be nice to say that there were restaurants in Reykjavik to suit all budgets, but it would be a lie. Most of the restaurants are stunningly expensive, and you can expect to spend about £12 for a basic meal without a drink. The best way to explain what prices were like is to describe the prices in Reykjavik's McDonald's. A Big Mac meal in this, the world's most expensive McDonalds, is about £6.50. If you imagine food prices in every restaurant are this much more expensive than they are in the UK, you'll get a good idea of what it costs to eat there. Several of the restaurants in Reykjavik serve unconventional foods, such as shark, puffin, or dolphin, but at an exorbitant price. However, if you want to offend conservationists when you get back home, it might be worth paying that little bit extra. Bars in Reykjavik are pretty lively in the evenings, and stay open through the night. However, if you're planning on driving in the city centre, you would be best advised to park outside and walk in. Throughout the night, Icelanders drive in circles round the city centre. It's unclear why they do this, but you see the same cars going past through the night, so obviously they get something out of it? It's about the only place I've been where you can see a traffic jam at 3a.m. Of course, the other thing to watch for in Reykjavik's bars, if you haven't guessed yet, is the incredible price of drinks. A bottle of beer costs about £4.50, so getting drunk is going to be costly. However, this stunning price doesn't seem to stop most Icelanders getting completely hammered. In terms of things to do, the biggest tourist attraction in Reykjavi
k is Hallgrimskirkja, the big church in the centre of the city, modelled after a mountain of basaltic lava. From the top of the tower (it costs 500 kroner to go up), you get an excellent view out over the city. There are a surprising number of galleries dedicated to Icelandic sculptors in Reykjavik, as well as a national gallery. For families, Fjolskyldugardurinn and Husdyragardurinn, a fun park and zoo, provides some entertainment. Videy Island, about a kilometre off the north coast of Reykjavik, is well worth a visit too, though the ferry only operates twice per day. Oh, and what listing of the tourist attractions of Reykjavik would be complete without mention of the city's phallological museum, located up a back passage (tee hee) off the main street, and boasting a penis from every species of mammal found naturally on the island? When I visited the museum, I was its only visitor, and because the curator seemed so very earnest about his collection, I had to try to resist the temptation to have a smutty giggle at the exhibits. And in case you're wondering, no, there's no human penis on display yet - but the curator has been promised by two different men that they will contribute to the museum upon their deaths! Apart from the monumental cost of living there, Reykjavik's a nice city. It's very quiet, has some lively and fun bars, it's in a great location, and it has quite a few things to do. The geothermally-heated water stinks of sulphur, so it's worth taking heavily scented soap though!
Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland, its largest city and, with a latitude at 64°08' N, the world's most northern national capital. It is located in southwestern Iceland, on the southern shore of Faxaflói Bay. With a population of more than 115,000, it is the heart of Iceland's economic and governmental activity.