After covering a good part of Iceland's south short, we spent the second half of our week in Reykjavik, a delightful city that captures the quirkiness of the Icelandic spirit. For context, even though over half of the Icelandic population lives in Reykjavik, this only means approximately 200,000 in the greater capital area. So don't expect a bustling metropolis but more appreciate it for it's pockets of character.
We rolled into the city in the early evening and went to our Airbnb in the downtown area. This apartment was great.
|A classic blend of simplicity and IKEA decorations|
It was super cute, in a neighborhood with lots of parking that was super close to the areas that are fun to go out in. And it wasn't too close to the main area where all the hotels are. We walked into the closest restaurant nearby (that we only spotted because it had a green bean on the sign), which turned out to be Kryddlegin Hjortu, a place that won a certificate of excellence from Trip Advisor in 2015. They have an unlimited soup and salad bar, which is just what you want on a cold day when you're starving but still trying to stay healthy. After being pleasantly surprised by the meal, we walked around a bit, then went back to the AirBnb to get situated. We started getting ready for a late dinner because it's not really vacation unless you are eating an immense amount of food at all times. Pro tip: Before walking outside on a winter evening in Iceland, be sure to have a couple glasses of that wine you picked up in duty free to make sure your "wine coat" is securely snug.
We hit the nearby Lebowski Bar, tailor made for American tourists (there's also a Chuck Norris bar down the street and something literally called "American Bar" which sounds like a red solo cup nightmare). They have a selection of about 20 different flavors of white russians and a good 10+ types of burgers. The drinks were strong, they were showing soccer matches, and the food was nothing special. So exactly what we expected it to be.
|The dude abides in Iceland.|
The next morning we woke up and were of course hungry, so we went to brunch (do non-Americans "brunch" or do they just breakfast) at The Laundromat Cafe, which came recommended. It's in the main tourist area where most of the hotels and hostels are, so there's usually a bit of a weight but the ambiance is cozy and the food is good. We had pancakes with sides of bacon that came in coffee cups and met a guy who's trying to become an Instagram influencer.
|Pancakes and cups of bacon for the most important meal of the day|
It was nice to be in Reykjavik around the holidays because all the streets are decorated and it felt super quaint, even on a gloomy and rainy day.
Then it started to really rain, so we ran over to the Harpa, a concert hall and conference center with multiple gifts shops where you can get Icelandic gifts. The building is on the water's edge and is one of the more modern architectural highlights of the city.
|The outside looks like fish scales|
The architecture inside is really cool, almost trippy. Walking up the stairs is almost like being in M.C. Escher print. The texture on the outside of the building carries through to the inside in a more metallic version.
|Like a never-ending spiral of staircases|
But let me get to the main reason we were in this beautiful building and one of the reasons I love the randomness of Icelanders. We were there to appreciate their local celebrity hero, by participating in a Bjork VR experience!
Basically you would go from room to room and be given an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive and watch 2-3x Bjork music videos in 360 and basically "dance inside Bjork" if you weren't careful. It was one of the coolest, trippiest, exhibits I've ever been to and I have to say, she makes the best music videos.
|Space aged "dancing"|
After avoiding total VR vertigo, we went to try the culinary dish Iceland is most know for... the hot dog. True story. One of the best places to get it is this 80 year old outdoor stand, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. I've seen photos were the line for this place is a block long but since we were willing to eat under drizzly weather conditions we had minimal wait.
|Spot the Jessica!|
In order to truly experience it, we went with the classic "one with everything," which means ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, crisp fried onion and raw onion.
|Yes, it looks disgusting. It's not bad. If you like hot dogs|
After that we walked along the main streets of Laugavegur, Skolavordustigur, and Hverfisgata (don't ask me to pronounce any of these) to do some window shopping while we made our way to the Icelandic Phallological Museum aka "the penis museum." It's the largest collection of penises from animals all over the world, plus penile paraphernalia, stories, and famous molds. It's... interesting.
|Endless jars of mammal penises|
After that we headed back to the apartment and got some serious "wine coats" on because it was quite cold out. Since it was Thanksgiving in America, we decided to treat ourselves to the tasting menu at Dill, which we heard was one of the best places in town. Usually you need a reservation but since we were there in the off season we put our names in, then went around the corner to grab drinks at Mikkeller & Friends. For context of how pricey drinks can get in Iceland, two irish coffees (albeit the strong irish coffees I've ever had), came to $50. Back at Dill, we have one of the most delightful tastings I've ever had. I won't go through everything in painstaking detail, as I feel that this photo montage speaks for itself.
|Amuse bouches, and bread nuggets, and fish dishes, oh my!|
For brunch the next morning we traipsed a little further across town to this area that felt like a shipyard to eat at the Coocoo's Nest. Looks for the robin egg blue door, that looks like a cute entrance to a concrete bunker. Once you're inside, the ambiance is super warm and cozy. I got a chai and eggs florentine with homemade rye bread. It was totally worth a quick trek in the cold.
|It's like you're in a super cold surf shack|
For the next adventure of our day, I need you to bare through some very Icelandic words. We started walking to see the famous church, Hallgrimskirkja. To get there, we walked down the main road, Skólavörðustígur (how anyone navigates around with these road names is beyond me). On these street we were window shopping and stumbled across this really cool photography shop, Fótógrafí. I highly recommend making a stop here for any gift needs. Amazing photography in any size and it's affordable.
|Perfect for hipsters|
We then continued onto the church, which is the main architectural attraction outside of the Harpa. We heard that the unique structure is made to resemble a waterfall but on Wikipedia it says it's supposed to looks like a lava flow, so take your pick. It's a Lutheran church built in 1986 and one of the tallest buildings in Iceland (there's not a ton of competition). The statue guarding the outside is Viking explorer OG, Leifur Eiríksson. You won't find any nods to Christopher Columbus here.
|Don't go chasing (cement) waterfalls.|
The inside felt very cathedral-like. Sadly we didn't have time to wait in the elevator line to go up and get views from the top, but we did get a good look at the impressive organ in the interior. There are 102 ranks, 72 stops and 5275 pipes and it wasn't finished until 1992!
|I bet the sound quality in here is EPIC!|
We had places to get to... it was time to get our diplomas at Elf School! I hear about this on John Oliver and it seemed like a must-do for the perfect work desk decoration. Additionally, as we started to travel around Iceland we noticed tons of elf "shrines" and that many rationale people we met legitimately believed in elves. So we hopped in our car and headed to what I would equate to a strip mall in the suburbs.
|But I've never seen this in any American suburb...|
You walk into what should be an office space but instead resembles the house of a hoarder. If that hoarder was obsessed only with elf paraphernalia. I want Elf School to be a surprise and joy to everyone so here's what I'll say: prepare yourself for 4 hours of rambling elf, hidden people, and mer-people stories from around the world told by the most jovial old man.
|He will seriously keep you interested for 4 hours|
His husband will keep you continually fed with decision snacks. We even had a guest appearance from a psychic who also rents space in the building (they're both members of the Iceland Paranormal Society). And at the end you get to take home a 70 page study guide and you get an official diploma without actually having to take any tests!
For our last dinner, we went to test our luck again by trying to get into Fiskmarkaðurinn (I kid you not, I can't make up these words), one of the fancier fish restaurants in town that does tasting menus and sushi. The only way we were getting in without a reservation was the last two seats at the sushi bar, but that was fine with us. Our sushi chef was an awesome guy who grew up in Vic, and yes, legitimately believes in elves. He taught us all about their many Christmas elves while making some of the most beautiful sushi platters I have ever seen.
|This fish is fresh AF|
The next morning was our last day in Iceland. Our only activity of the day was to hit the Blue Lagoon on the way back to the airport. Since it's so close to the airport, everyone recommended either going directly there upon landing or when you leave. I would recommend making it your very first Icelandic activity, because once you've been to places like the Secret Lagoon (with only 20 other people and a legit geyser erupting next to you) this place seems super touristy. It's pricey, there's a ton of people, tour buses roll up on a regular basis. Pay a little more for the express pass, you also get an additional facial mask throw in and two drink tickets (can be alcoholic, green juices, or yogurt smoothies). The restaurant there feels almost like you're in an overpriced American spa, but that all food options are heavy on the cream and not so healthy.
|Spa fish. It doesn't look creamy but it's there...|
But it's cool to look at and actually blue. Plus there's lots of sauna and steam room options. I'm just saying make it your first stop so you really appreciate it before you experience all the other wonders Iceland has to offer!
|But how is it blue?? Oh the molecules...|