Jenny and I arrived in Reykjavik super late. Iceland has an excellent tourism industry, with activities, lodging, and services for any price range. We reserved our shuttle ahead of time, so our names and flights had already been paired with a direct service to Kex, our hostel. At 2 am, we shuffled into our 14-bunk room, and attempted to locate empty bunks without waking the other sleeping travelers. Impossible. I almost threw my duffel on top of a person disguised as a comforter, and Jenny had to stomp her way to a top bunk. After a disorienting visit to to the communal bathroom, we finally bundled in to get some sleep.
The next morning, we were happy to discover that our hostel was centrally located. Just a few blocks away, we found Harpa, the city concert and events hall, and the Kolaportið Flea Market. Neither of them kept our attention for too long, but they would be good places to find original gifts and souvenirs.
After a tasty lunch of fish & chips with several kinds of skyr sauce… Hold up. I can’t go any further into this post without declaring our newfound love for skyr, Iceland’s “yogurt” made with skim milk. It has a texture similar to greek yogurt, with a milder flavor. You can buy skyr anywhere in Iceland, in many different forms – snack pack, dessert, smoothie, dipping sauces… Jenny and I saved a lot of money on food by just eating skyr all the time. Skyr skyr skyr skyrrrr Ok I’m done. Sorry. Skyr.
Anyway, we took a free tour after lunch, which was a great way to not only learn about Reykjavik’s history and famous landmarks, but also their celebrity gossip.
– Iceland’s government personnel and buildings have little to no security, because the country has very little crime. Reykjavik’s only jail is located the center of the city, right across a rowdy bar scene. The inmates claim this is the worst punishment of all.
– In a scandal referred to as “the situation,” many children were born to single Icelandic women after WWII soldiers stationed in the area had moved on. Icelanders are given last names based on their father’s first name. These children were given the family names Hansson and Hanssdottir, or simply “his son and “his daughter.”
– Iceland was originally a pagan country, but country became Lutheran after respected community leaders came together and decided. Once a decision had been made, the entire population essentially shrugged and converted.
The tour brought us to an area of the city not often frequented by tourists – the Holavallagardur cemetery. The legacy of Iceland’s pagan viking heritage is still apparent today – each grave plot is marked by a dark, twisted tree.
Then, I had the terrible idea of proposing a walk to the south side of the city to check out Nautholsvik beach and the Perlan observatory. Nautholsvik attracts locals with a free swimming area and an outdoor hot tub, both heated by geothermal springs. Unfortunately, we hadn’t counted on over an hour of walking, through mostly industrial areas, with only a paper map to guide us, as Iceland’s daily rain shower swept in.
Having arrived in a far corner of the city, with no bus in sight, our only remaining option was to stay the course and make our way to the Perlan. We were treated to an amazing view overlooking the city and Mount Esja, plus a cafe for cappuccino and more skyr.
Forging ahead into the drizzle, we circled back towards Hallgrimskirkja Church, the tallest building in Reykjavik, and the Einar Jonsson sculpture garden.
Kex Hostel was hosting a block party that night, so we spent the evening enjoying a free concert and fraternizing with fellow travelers and the occasional hipster. As the concert ended, we followed the crowds to experience the infamous Icelandic nightlife at Austur. We spent the next several hours dancing with beautiful and welcoming Icelanders to an amazing DJ set. At 3:30 am, we headed home past clubs with lines still out the door, and the sun already rising behind us.