With our second and third day in Iceland spent mostly on bus tours to the Golden Circle and the south coast, Reykjavik remained our “hub” where we could grab dinner and recharge after long, sunny days. If you only get to experience Iceland for a few hours or a day because of a layover, I say skip the Blue Lagoon and head into Reykjavik. I enjoyed the city so much more than the tourist trap that is the Blue Lagoon. While the city center is small, there is plenty to see and do and is a great foodie destination. I may have mentioned this before, but prior to my trip to Iceland I was warned time and time again that the food prices are what break the bank. I was fully prepared to fork over a good amount of money to try the very best that Iceland had to offer, but surprisingly I found that the prices really weren’t as bad as people had said. The food was delicious and was a highlight of our time in the country.
One thing that was hard to get used to was the midnight sun. It never got dark while we were there and it was bizarre to be out and about in the city at eleven o’clock at night with the sun still on the horizon. Maybe it was the never-setting sun or just how Reykjavik always is, but there was never an instance where we felt unsafe in the city.
24 hours of light meant that we didn’t have to follow in the standard night time rituals that society has crafted around the rising and setting of the sun. Most bars in Reykjavik stay open until 5 or 6 AM and tourists are willing to give up sleep in order to take part in the fun. It felt like our time in Iceland was just one very long day. We actually did try to stick to our normal sleep schedule but with the constant sunlight and bustling bar crowd it was hard to get a restless night of sleep.
No matter what time of day we would look out of the main entrance of our hotel we had a great view Leif Erikkson and Hallgrimskirkja. The position of the church allows the sun to shine directly on its front facade during sunset. The main stretch of road that leads to the church offers that unobstructed view and filter of light.
As mentioned earlier in this post the food turned out to be one of our favorite things about the city. On our first night we stumbled upon Reykjavik Fish which was the BEST fish & chips either of us had ever had. The jalapeño sauce to go with the fish is a must. Of course we also tried an Icelandic hot dog which was perhaps the most budget friendly meal we had. The hotdogs in Iceland are a blend of beef, pork, and lamb which gives it a bit of a different taste than what you would eat in the US. What makes the hot dogs here iconic though are the toppings. Order yours with “everything” and you’ll receive raw onions, fried onions, mustard, Icelandic catsup, and a special mayo. The cost for one hotdog was around $5, so not too bad for a lunch option.
Another great meal we had while in the city was a burger with a chutney sauce and a side of fries. We ended up sharing this to cut down on cost and were glad we did. The portion sizes in Iceland are very large and half of a burger worked out perfectly for us. In total my meal this night was $22 for the half plate and a beer.
Perhaps my favorite thing that I ate while in Reykjavik though was something so unsuspecting and sort of off the beaten path. We stumbled upon a food truck near the Hard Rock Cafe that served crepes and waffles with toppings of your choice. I opted for a waffle with caramel and cinnamon sugar and handed over my $3 for the treat. It was so good that I went back the next day and got another one.
Look, I don’t know what the heck kind of waffles we’re eating in America, but they don’t have anything on this one from a simple food truck in Reykjavik. Here’s a tip for anyone traveling to Iceland: Find the Volcano Food Truck and get a waffle!
Our last night in Iceland we decided to try out the restaurant ROK which was right next to our hotel. We walked into a busy dining room and patio space and were able to snag the last table without a reservation. Before I get into a review of ROK, I will mention that this restaurant should definitely be on your list while in Iceland, but make sure to make a reservation if dining during the peak tourist season. Also, I didn’t pack any “night on the town” outfits so I was stuck with jeans and a nice sweater but I would recommend dressing it up if you’re planning to eat here. Heads up: This is not the place for hiking boots.
Since the weather was so nice we sat out on the patio and were welcomed with soft Game of Thrones style blankets draped over our chairs. The menu for ROK is strictly small plates and they recommend 2-3 plates per person to make up a full entree. I thought this was a bit strange at first but ended up liking the opportunity to try things that I normally wouldn’t pair together. Some of the more unusual dishes on the menu included reindeer and fermented shark but if you’re not an adventurous eater there are still plenty of options for you.
I have to admit, I did consider trying the reindeer but instead went with the chicken skewer with hummus and garlic. This plate was a perfect main for my entree and the chicken, you could tell, was very fresh. To complement my main plate I choose the baby potatoes with chorizo and parmesan which was probably my favorite part of this meal. The potatoes had a mayo-like chipotle sauce drizzle and the chorizo added a crispy texture to the dish. For both dishes and an Icelandic beer my bill total was $27 which I thought was very reasonable for the quality of food that was presented. If you’re looking for a nice sit-down restaurant in Reykjavik, go here. You can’t beat the menu options, location, and price.
With our time in Iceland coming to an end, the only thing left to do was pick out souvenirs to bring home with us. I will admit while I was on the day tours to the waterfalls & beaches in Iceland I did choose one small stone from each place to bring home with me. This, I have found, is a great way to actually take a piece of your travels home with you and is free.
As for finding gifts to bring back for my family, I already received a request from my little brother for a puffin. And so I went in search of a puffin and finally found the perfect one. I guess I should mention that Reykjavik is full of tourist shops; If you’ve been in one shop, you’ve been in them all. Even with that knowledge in the back of my mind it didn’t stop me from going into each and every one.
Puffins, viking helmets, and Icelandic sweaters seemed to be the most prominent souvenir featured and while the sweaters certainly enticed me, the price tag deterred me. Alas, I bought the puffin and carried my new friend around with me while we continued our shopping.
Another gift I ended up bringing home with me was Icelandic licorice which has a much stronger and more bold taste than what is available back in the states. According to my dad, the licorice was so good that a trip back to Iceland just to purchase more would be justified. There is unique candy and snacks available at many locations in Reykjavik and along the tour stops. One of my favorite things to look for when I travel abroad are the different chip flavors. I was excited to find that Doritos offers Red Bell Pepper, Lightly Salted, and BBQ flavors here and so, of course, I tried them all. One thing that I found kind of funny was that the expensive, premium bottled water, Icelandic Water, which is offered back home for a rather hefty price was the cheapest bottled water option here. I guess this would be as expected seeing that it is the local distributor, but it still came as a shock.
Along with the carbon copy tourist shops in the city there were also a few specialty stores thrown into the mix. One of these stores carried only viking replica items including helmets, swords, and books. The Blue Lagoon also has a store in Reykjavik that sells mud & silica masks as well as lotions that claim to rejuvenate your skin. We skipped this store having already experienced the Blue Lagoon for ourselves…
My absolute favorite store in Reykjavik was the Christmas Shop called Litla Jólabúöin. This store was fully decked out for the Christmas holiday and had great, handmade ornaments that were perfect souvenirs. I bought a viking ornament, trying to stick to the Iceland theme. Along with ornaments there was also gift wrap and decorations available for purchase.
The charming facade and beautiful ornament selection was enough to make this my favorite store in the city but the cherry on top was the owner of the store. When we asked her about the elf-like figures on display she explained that Iceland has 13 Santas that come to visit on a specific night in December. She then went into great detail on each Santa, adding depth to her story by mimicking their voices and personalities. During her explanation of each Santa a group of tourists had gathered around to hear what she had to say. Our time in the Christmas Shop was much more than browsing- it had turned into a wonderful Icelandic story.
There are so many experiences that made me fall in love with Reykjavik. I think my favorite part was the unobstructed view of Hallgrimskirkja from our hotel and seeing the city from the top of the church. Already I am mentally planning my return trip to Iceland with hopes to go during the off season to perhaps catch a glimpse of the northern lights. Other than the time of year, I don’t think I would stray too far from my original itinerary. I would take out the Blue Lagoon and maybe look into renting a car so that I had more time to spend at each place along the South Coast. All in all, I thought my Iceland planning paid off and the weather certainly made for an even better experience than I had expected.
My last two Iceland blog posts are yet to come and trust me, I’ve saved the best for last. Reykjavik & the Golden Circle were amazing, but South Iceland was the place that made me feel like a little kid, giddy with excitement. That’s the feeling I chase every time I go on a trip and our South Iceland tour gave me 12+ hours of that excitement.