Thursday, July 7, 2016

Iceland trip review - Part 2

The last part of my Iceland trip review has been a bit delayed since I was offline for a couple weeks.  But I did want to get back to it before too much more time passed!  The first part of my trip review was about things outside of Reykjavik and this one will concentrate on things we did in Reykjavik.

First, some information about the city.  It is the capital city of Iceland the world's northernmost capital city.  About 2/3 of the country's population lives in the capital region, but that is still only around 200,000 people. Also, the city is about 45 minutes from the airport.  Flybus was an efficient and inexpensive way to travel to and from the airport.

The first day, we had made plans to go on a walking tour and to go whale watching.  Well, we learned that it was a mistake to plan timed things for the first day.  The flight was more than 2 hours late so we couldn't make the walking tour on time and the whale watching tour was canceled because the seas were too rough.  Thankfully, the whale watching tour let us schedule for another day and skipping the walking tour allowed us to have a more leisurely introduction to the city.  So that was a lesson learned about scheduling things on your first day.  But here is some of the stuff that we did do in Reykjavik.

Street art - There seemed like there was fun, quirky art everywhere we looked in Reykjavik.  This ranged from weird sculptures to giant murals to charming little paintings.  I enjoyed checking out the street art pretty much every time we stepped out of our hotel onto the streets of the city.

Harpa concert hall - This is a beautiful building.  It is one of the main sites that Reykjavik is known for.  It is on the water and has stunning architecture and they offer behind the scenes guided tours.  We didn't see a show there but did watch a short file they have about the northern lights.  The building is definitely worth seeing but I wouldn't necessarily recommend the film for the price, but it was bad weather on our first day in Reykjavik and we were looking for indoor refuges.

Whale watching -  I would absolutely recommend taking a whale watching tour.  We had an amazing experience seeing several humpback whales feeding.  We saw some harbor porpoises as well.  Do your research because there were several types of boats we saw heading out for whale watching tours, and some were definitely smaller and more adventurous than we needed!  We used a company called Special Tours and we were very happy with them.  The only thing I regret is that I didn't have some sort of water proof photo taking solution.  (Take waterproof everything is one of the tips I learned for next time.)  Depending on the time of year, puffin tours may be available too.

Museums and tourist sites -I mentioned earlier that we had some bad weather our first day in town and were looking for indoor things.  We accidentally stumbled upon the Settlement Exhibit and I'm glad we did.  I felt like this one was worth the cost and I really enjoyed it.  If you're interested in archaeology and history, this place is for you.  Here is the description from the website.

"In 2001 archaeological remains were excavated in Aðalstræti, which turned out to be the oldest relics of human habitation in Reykjavík, with some of the fragments found dating to before 871 AD. During the excavation a longhouse from the tenth century was also discovered. The hall and a wall fragment are now both carefully preserved at their original location and form the focal point of the Settlement Exhibition Reykjavík 871±2 - a fascinating exhibition about life in Viking times
As part of the exhibition the construction of Viking Age buildings is explained using multimedia technology and enhanced with computer technology to provide an insight of what life was like at the time of the first settlers. Exhibits also include artefacts from archaeological excavations in central Reykjavík."

Other tourist sites we visited include the Perlan and the Hallgrimskirkja, both of which offer amazing views of the city. 

Nautholsvik Geothermal beach -This was my favorite thing we did in Reykjavik.  It was a little harder to get here than most of the other tourist sites.  That is probably because this is frequented mostly be locals.  But if you are up at the Perlan, there is a small trail to the left of the sculpture of musicians outside the building.  You can follow that trail down to the beach.  It was probably a 20-30 minute walk downhill on the way there and uphill on the way back.  We did have to ask for directions once but finally made it there.  The trails in this area also seemed like a popular choice for running.

From the website:  "Nauthólsvík was opened in 2001, to the delight of residents and tourists alike and now attracts an estimate of 530.000 guests each year. The creation of the geothermal beach was an ambitious, but a very successful project, involving the construction of a lagoon with large sea walls, where cold sea and hot geothermal water fuse together resulting in higher temperatures."

I'm not going to lie, the water was still cold.  I got into the ocean area up to about my thighs.  But then I must have hit the area where there was more ocean water and less geothermal water in the blend and it was downright icy.  Thankfully, there are also hot tubs on the beach filled with the natural geothermal water so we were able to run back to the hot tubs and continue our soak in more comfortable temperatures.

Restaurants and nightlife - I would be remiss if I didn't talk a bit about the restaurants and nightlife in the city.  Especially because everywhere we ate, from a small burger stand to a fancy farm to table restaurant, was amazing.  Expensive, but still delicious.  And I was able to find vegetarian options pretty much everywhere.  The tapas restaurant we went to even had a vegetarian tasting menu.  Here are some of the places we ate:  Tapas Barinn (Icelandic inspired tapas), Grillmarkadurinn (fancy farm to table),  Bergsson Mathus (limited menu but delicious, simple fare in rustic surroundings), Hamborgarbullan (small burger stand by the harbor, that has veggie burgers too).

The nightlife was great because it was midnight and still light out!  We generally had early morning touring plans so didn't stay out too late but did manage to stumble on to a whiskey bar that had a pretty good live band playing and we spent our last night in the city at the rooftop bar of one of the local hostels. Here are some of the places we went for drinks: Dillon Whiskey Bar, Kaldi Bar, The Lebowski Bar, and the Loft Hostel Bar.

Around midnight!

In summary, Reykjavik was an amazing city.  We really enjoyed having 2 days to explore it.  I know a lot of people say that the best parts of Iceland to see are outside the city and while that may be true, I definitely making time to see Reykjavik as well if possible.