The Travel Edit: Exploring Reykjavik With Kris

Here on The Wednesday Edit, we are a community. We have a talented pool of guest bloggers who have signed up to write informative and enjoyable content for us. 
This week we have the beautiful Kris from Nomad By Trade, who is sharing her City Guide to the beautiful city of Reykjavik. She's perfected the art of traveling and she is here to make us jealous with her wanderlust road trips!
Get your passports ready, it's going to make you travel hungry! 

Iceland is definitely trending as a travel destination right now, and most visitors begin their trip in Reykjavík, the island nation’s capital city. Small for a capital, it's a charming city and a great base for exploring southern Iceland.

Viking History

Iceland was settled by Vikings over 1000 years ago, and Icelanders are proud of that history. Learning about some of it before exploring the rest of the country is a great way to get a deeper understanding of the culture you're about to experience. Stop by the Settlement Exhibition, an underground museum housing the excavated remains of an old Viking longhouse. The Saga Museum, near the Old Harbor area, tells the stories of several notable figures from the sagas with incredibly realistic wax figures. And as a bonus, you can dress up as a Viking for pictures at the end.

Other sights to see

Reykjavík isn't known for its spectacular architecture, but there are still some photo-worthy sights. Hallgrimskírkja, a Lutheran church modeled after the volcanic basalt columns found throughout the country, is a must-see. It's located atop a hill and features a dramatic Leifur Eriksson statue that was gifted by the United States. For 900 IKR, you can take an elevator to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the city, but lines for that can get long.

The enormous concert hall, Harpa, is located down by the harbor and is a sight to see day or night. In addition to the performing arts facility, it houses souvenir shops and cafes. Try to visit on a sunny day to get the best views of the scenery and the unique glasswork on the exterior of the building. If you're in the area at night, check out the light display, as the glass panels are lit up in beautiful patterns.

The Perlan, a building used for hot water storage, is located a few minutes away from the downtown area. There is a free rooftop viewing area that offers a spectacular view of Reykjavík, and a café that sells drinks and desserts - their peanut butter cheesecake was delicious. The building is currently being renovated to house a new museum dedicated to XXX, and the descriptions of future attractions posted around the construction area sound like they're worth re-visiting for.

Be sure to visit the swans who frequent Tjörnin, the lake near the city center. They're beautiful birds and their proximity provides great photo ops. Don't get too close, though, as swans can be aggressive, especially when nesting.

Where to Dine

Two of the best places to get a taste of Icelandic cuisine are right next to each other in a row of historic houses. Torfan specializes in seafood, and serves up delicious langoustine (shellfish similar to lobster). The brave can try smoked puffin as well.

Lækjarbrekka has a wider ranging menu, with chicken, lamb, and beef entrees, as well as traditional fish stew. If you want to try the notorious fermented shark fin, you can also find it on the appetizer menu here.

Cheaper Eats

Food in Iceland is expensive. We rarely came across entrees for less than 3000 IKR, even in fairly casual restaurants. If you're on a budget, try a Pylsa - an Icelandic lamb hot dog. These are served at numerous stands throughout the city, and were by far the most affordable dining option we found. Mine had a nice snap and very good flavor.

If you're in town on the weekend, a group of food trucks may be available late in the evening. The owner of one said that they come out on all of the "party nights" ie Friday and Saturday to feed the bar crowd. Options during my stay included quick foods like hot dogs and burgers, Belgian waffles, and some of the most delicious donuts I've ever had.

Where to stay

You can't go wrong staying in the city center area. There are numerous small hotels and AirBnBs in that area that will put you within a few minutes of most of the major attractions. There are other suburban areas further out that may offer cheaper accommodations, but you would have to travel in from the outskirts in that case.

Getting around

Reykjavík is very walkable if you stay in the main downtown area. Most of the attractions are within a few blocks of each other. It has a reputation as a very safe city, so I felt comfortable walking around alone even at night. There are numerous hotels and AirBnBs available in the central area, so these would be ideal places to stay. There is also bus system available if you choose not to stay right downtown or don't want to walk around the area.

Getting out of Reykjavík

Many of southern Iceland's top attractions are within a few hours of Reykjavík, so you could base yourself in the city and do daytrips from there if you choose. Renting a car is the easiest option, and depending on the size of your group, can be the most economical. There are also plenty of bus tours taking tourists throughout the area attractions. Day trips are regularly offered for places like the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Golden Circle, and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.

Boat rides to view whales and other types of marine life depart from the harbor area. You can also take Northern Lights tours that offer a chance for visitors without their own vehicle to get out of town if you don’t have your own vehicle. There are also tours to an ice cave in a nearby glacier, but this one is manmade unlike the naturally formed ones in other areas.

Other tips

  • It gets windy there and the weather is constantly changing. Bring a good waterproof coat to protect you from both.
  • Always dress in layers so you can readily adapt to the different conditions. 
  • For winter visits, you'll want sturdy walking shoes or boots with good tread as the sidewalks can get icy. 
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