Guys, this Ape and Rachel took a vacation to Iceland and Scotland, but first things first...Iceland is straight outta a fairytale. It’s a surreal and beautiful country— untouched landscape with rich greens, deep blacks, unbelievable blues, and everything in between. But that’s not to say the city life isn’t happening. Reykjavik and all the other towns we visited had their own hard-to-leave-behind charm. Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city at ~130k population, was the first stop on our 6-day Iceland journey. The welcoming Vikings (we got drunk with a guy who undoubtedly came from Viking lineage), dense downtown area with interesting bars on every corner, expanding food scene, and round-the-corner natural wonders, made our three-day stay in Reykjavik unforgettable. I realize that 3 days hardly makes us locals, but we definitely wore out our shoes exploring the downtown area and day trips outside the city. Here are a few things Ape recommends if you make it out to Reykjavik. Days 1-3, Reykjavik:
First. Some Housekeeping. General Iceland Tips:
Rent a car
Tours are great, but there’s nothing like being able to explore a new place on your own terms. Use the web to plot your path, maybe get lost, and enjoy the view. We used Lagoon Car Rental.
If the car doesn’t come with a GPS, add one. They come in handy. You’re going to be doing a lot of driving, and your phone might not work as well as you hoped— namely because of battery and signal.
Note your coordinates
Because a lot of the natural attractions don’t have an address, coordinates come in handy. We’ll provide some below and throughout the guide.
Iceland is expensive
Be prepared to spend around $12 for a cheap beer, and upwards of $60 for a dinner for 2 (with drinks).
If you drink and budget is key, pre-gaming is the name of the game
The liquor stores, Vínbúðin, in Iceland are government regulated, and they are your best bet for affordable alcohol. Don’t go on a Sunday, though...turns out they aren't open on these days.
Take waterproof layers
The weather out there is temperamental. Don’t like it? Wait 5 minutes. You’re going to be walking outdoors a lot, potentially in rain and snow. We’d recommend rainproof pants and a jacket so you can comfortably drive around for hours.
What to do in Reykjavik:
We didn’t do much of this, but there are a lot of cool shops in downtown Reykjavik. Laugavegur is the shopping street with everything from Iceland’s 66º to little home goods shops. I noticed a couple record shops around town, too, but didn’t exactly want to pack those on our trip back home.
Visit Hallgrímskirkja (church with cool architecture)
This Lutheran church is a bit hard to miss. It’s the tallest structure in the city (2nd tallest in Iceland, actually) at around 250ft. Make sure to stop here for the coolest view of the city. It costs about $10 USD for the observation tower, but it’s def worth it. Because it towers over the city, you get a legit 360 view of Reykjavik.
Leave the city:
Hraunfossar — 64.7029° N, 20.9772° W
Visiting this amazing waterfall is a great day trip. Without stopping, the drive is about an hour and a half from Reykjavik, but 2+ hrs with stops. You won’t regret the stops, though. Look at these pictures. I’d say it’s safe to assume you don’t need more convincing
Fossatún Waterfall and Hotel
Stop here on the way back from Hraunfossar for a troll walk and another beautiful waterfall. The troll walk takes you through a story with a troll statue at each stop. We didn’t stay here, but it seems like a nice hotel to spend a night. Especially if you get one of the rooms with a waterfall view.
Raufarhólshellir, Lava Tunnel — 63.9406° N, 21.3971° W
You can make this a half or full day trip. The tunnel is about a 30-minute drive from Reykjavik. The tour takes you through this tunnel that was formed from a volcanic eruption that happened over 5,000 years ago. The one hour tour takes you to the end of the platforms where on top of witnessing amazing formations, you get to experience complete darkness. And the longer “extreme” tour, takes you through the whole tunnel, past the platforms.
Of course, there’s plenty of eating and drinking to do Reykjavik. The places below are the ones we hit up. If it’s not enough, or you have recommendations from elsewhere, by all means, hit them up and let us know how good it was. According to a shuttle driver we had, it’s hard to find food that isn’t good.
Where to eat in Reykjavik:
Icelandic Fish and Chips
Being the 4th largest exporter of fish to the EU, you can expect fresh seafood throughout the country. Fish and chips is definitely a great way to enjoy the catch of the day. At Icelandic Fish and Chips, you pick your fish, your side, and enjoy a nice drink. Expect to pay around ~$70 for two (with drinks).
This was the fanciest dinner we had. It’s a lot of small dishes, like the ones you see on the Food Network. I’d recommend sharing a few plates and saving room for dessert or round 2 elsewhere. The dishes are good, but I considered them expensive for their relative size.
The internet kept recommending ice cream when I searched for dessert, but I found this place. And the donuts are the bomb. The actual shop is a drive outside of downtown, but we found out that they have a pop-up in downtown on weekends (thank the Viking gods). I bought half a dozen when we spotted it, and came back for a dozen more after grabbing some beer.
Brauð & Co.
We didn’t try other bakeries in town, but I’m pretty damn sure this one’s the best. Their cinnamon rolls are so. damn. good. The workers seem kinda pushy, like they just want to get you out— which, I guess, makes sense because the place is consistently full— but yo...I’m just trynna enjoy this bread experience.
Fries (with all the sauce options) and beer. Need I say more? Great place for a snack or for an appetizer. Oh! And the music. They bump hip hop all day. Great jamz.
A warm coffee shop with delicious desserts. Well, we only tried an apple pie, but everything else looked delicious. The workers were very friendly and welcoming. They made us feel like we were regulars.
Drunk food that a Viking (he said he came from Vikings) suggested we try. Nonnabiti is like a dank Subway. It lived up to the Viking's recommendation.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Apparently, Iceland is well known for its hot dogs, and this is the place to get them. I wasn’t impressed. I guess you try it because the internet suggests it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you look for it, it’s a little red booth. Google will help you find it.
Rachel didn’t like this place, but I did because it felt like a place that locals frequent for a bite and brew. The burgers are decent, and it’s one of the more budget-friendly joints in the area. Dinner for 2 was about $40.
This is like the Blue Bottle of Reykjavik. Good coffee. Good pastries and snacks.
Joe and the Juice
You’ll be introduced to this chain at the airport. It’s like a cool coffee shop had sex with a Jamba Juice and is dating a DJ. Decent coffee, good sandwiches, and delicious juices. I’m not sure if it was just the airport location, but they had a great playlist.
Where to drink in Reykjavik
Micro Bar is a cozy basement bar with a great beer selection. I’m not sure if it’s micro because of microbrew or micro because it’s tiny. Either way, I’m a fan. Maybe it’s micro because of both…
Pablo Discobar (get it??)
I’m glad they weren’t kidding about the “disco” part of their name. There are great disco jams and craft cocktails all night. You’ll recognize this bar from their cool neon sign that doubles as a sign for the Mexican restaurant, Burro. Yeah, even their sign is cool.
The English Pub
It felt like an English pub you’d find in LA—dimly lit, an older crowd, and several blonde beers on tap— but with live music. They have this wheel of fortune up on the wall where you can win anywhere from 1 to 8 beers. Rachel spun and won the 8 on the first try (while I had a beer in mind hand, mind you). It was a fun night to say the least.
Loftid felt like a speakeasy tailor shop bar...minus the tailor, plus his/her tools. There are leather seats and wood everywhere. Not to mention more light bulbs than you’ll want to count hanging around the bar (and just about half of them light up). It was also one of the more expensive bars, up there with Pablo Discobar.
Dillon Whiskey Bar
Emphasis on the bar, less on the whiskey. They seemed to have more of your typical whiskeys— Jameson, 7, jack, etc.— than their name claims. Dillon Whiskey Bar seemed like a cool place to start the night, though. But just for one drink.
Koffi shop by day, bar by night. With most of the bar lit by candle, they’re all about that mood lighting. It’s a great place to sit down for a drink and talk. We had the beer here, so I couldn’t speak for their cocktails.
This was one of the more affordable bars we visited, and actually came back to. It’s very spacious, feels dirty, but there are 3 floors (and an outdoor space) of options depending on your mood. This is where we met the very friendly and nonchalantly hilarious Viking who recommended Nonnabitti (the dank Subway).
Kex is a hostel with a bar. It’s another option for relatively inexpensive (in the Iceland sense) drinks. The area doubles as a small music venue, too. So if you’re lucky, you’ll get live music. There’s a lot of space, but between the hostel guests and people showing up at the bar, it gets kinda crowded. Show up during the earlier part of your night as they close early to let their guests sleep.
We spent about 3 days in Reykjavik. And it was awesome. We left on the third day, at around noon, to begin our tour around the popular Golden Circle. Stay tuned...give me a few days to write it.
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