We spent four days in Reykjavik as the third destination on our honeymoon. We arrived with the sun shining. For somewhere that was grey for 99% of the time we were there, this was quite a good start. Reykjavik was a really memorable place, but we did have mixed feelings on it.
Here are the main things we did and saw during our stay and some thoughts on it as a city.
Tjörnin (‘the pond’)
As ever, we started out to get our bearings. We were staying in an apartment on the banks of Tjörnin (‘the pond’), a lake that is home to a lot of wild birds. It’s quite picturesque on a bright evening, but be warned. The Icelandic midges give Scottish ones a run for their money.
National Museum of Iceland
On the other side of Tjörnin is the National Museum of Iceland, which is well worth a visit.
While we were there, they had a fantastic exhibition on about the role of women and feminism in Iceland – right up our street. What a progressive country. I had serious regrets about not buying a feminist mug but I was pushing the suitcase weight to the limit already.
There are also lovely views across Tjörnin from this side.
Graffiti and street art
Reykjavik is known for its graffiti/street art, and there really is a lot of it.
There’s even an amusing statue of someone with a massive rock on his head (near Tjörnin if you want to find him).
Probably the highlight of the city is the view from Hallgrímskirkja, the church that looks like it’s been made of Lego or something. Inside is quite spectacular, but the view even more so. I’ll leave that to speak for itself.
The impact of tourism
We spent two days of our days in Reykjavik being surrounded by tourists (and yes, the irony of us also being tourists is not lost).
Out of everywhere we went on honeymoon, our hearts were most set on Reykjavik. It was somewhere we’d both dreamt of going to for years. Perhaps we overhyped it.
But the sheer ratio of British, Kiwi, Aussie and American tourists compared to locals was quite a shock. Having come from Sweden and being surrounded by locals chatting in Swedish, it felt funny hearing everyone talking about their travels in English around us rather than hearing locals chatting in Icelandic!
We are used to being a bit off the beaten track, but as Reykjavik is fairly small as cities go, it was almost impossible to escape the hordes – especially if you don’t drive. The tourism industry seemed to have taken over the city centre.
The ‘Golden Circle’ tour
With this in mind, it was a welcome relief when the day came to do our tour to see more of the island. We did the ‘Golden Circle’ tour with GeoIceland. Deffo recommend that. Obviously, it’s a tour for tourists, but you know that’s what you’re getting and you’re out in the open countryside.
We started at a very impressive waterfall, before moving onto the main HUGE double waterfall (it zig-zags and has to be seen to be believed).
The tour then took us to the Geyser hot spring area (genuinely worth seeing some water shooting into the air!). That was incredible and we both enjoyed Little Geyser (cute).
What a spectacular ending to the tour Thingvellir rift valley was. You can see the results of the tectonic plates of the earth having a good old rumble.
Icelandic horses and Árbæjarsafn open-air museum
Most importantly, we met some Icelandic horses (ponies at under 14.2hh but aren’t known as that!) during the Golden Circle tour. I’ve had horses all my life and they’re very special to me, so I was really looking forward to seeing some. For any horsey readers, they had the same attitude as a Welsh pony!
We also met some more during our afternoon at Árbæjarsafn open-air museum. Now that really did get us away from tourists – there was no one there.
It used to be a farm and is now a trip back in time, with farmhouses, outbuildings and a church kept as they were in times past. I promise it’s more interesting than it sounds!
Iceland has a US influence for historical reasons, and the national snack is a hotdog. But we weren’t quite prepared for how Americanised a lot of the food was. Plenty of pizza, burger and other fast food places.
A lot of restaurants in Reykjavik were very ‘trendy’ – and a little bit fake and designed for tourists. We’re used to Scandinavian prices, but we baulked at the cost of some of the menus in Reykjavik. You had to really dig to find affordable meals.
A standout expensive meal, though, was the tasting menu at Matur og Drykkur. It was admittedly very trendy, but was an extremely memorable experience. Considering eating out in Reykjavik is not cheap, the price of the tasting menu was similar to other tasting menus we’ve had, especially in Sweden and Denmark. And it was delicious and very interesting – sheep dung smoked trout featured…
All in all, we liked Iceland and it was definitely worth going to. The scenery was mind-boggling and like nowhere else on earth. We’ll never forget it.
But it’s probably not somewhere we’ll go back to soon. Reykjavik as a city just felt a bit false and too touristy. I don’t feel we got much sense of the real Icelandic people or culture because everything was aimed at visitors. The fact we don’t drive didn’t help because without much in the way of public transport, you can’t get out easily. There was chatter in the press and between the local people (when we found some!) about the impact on the city of this sudden tourist boom: perhaps it’s just too ‘cool’ a destination at the moment.
Four days in Reykjavik: useful information
How to get there
We arrived from Stockholm, which is probably quite a niche journey to detail on here so it’s probably easier to tell you that it would have been about two and a half hours from Manchester airport. From Reykjavik airport, there are buses to the centre. It’s about 50 kilometres away and took about an hour when we were there.
Where to stay
We stayed near Tjörnin or ‘the pond’ – a lake full of wild birds. It was very central so handy to walk into the main drag. We wouldn’t write home about the apartment we hired, though.
How to get around
Everything is walkable within the centre, and there are buses if you want to venture out, such as to the open-air museum. However, if you want to get off the proverbial beaten track, apparently you have to drive. Obviously there are no trains and trams. People we know who have hired cars to drive there have enjoyed it but have had to be very careful on the roads. We don’t really drive at home, never mind abroad, so didn’t attempt this!
When to go
May was a good time to go – we had a couple of sunny days with good light for photos. But it was very busy so it depends on what you’re after. There’d be fewer crowds out of season.
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