Iceland in June
June 18, 2010 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Visiting Iceland/Reykjavik from the 23rd to the 30th. What can two dudes who like good food, interesting museums, live music, geekery, comfortable drinking establishments and other dudes do there? What kind of weather should I pack for? Any insider or native tips for not annoying the locals?
posted by The Whelk to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
penis museum. it's right in the center of town.
posted by newpotato at 8:33 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

penis museum moved. it's now a few hours and a car rental away.
posted by countrymod at 8:41 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is from 2009 trip -- my travel notes written up for a fellow traveler. Excuse the obnoxious cut and paste but I think most of this is still relevant. It's also apparently quite long. Enjoy!

Notes from me:

There is a shuttle company called flybus (or netbus) that will port you from airport to hotel and on assorted tours. Recommended and very easy. Also on the day you are leaving Reykjavik they do a package of picking you up from hotel, transporting you to blue lagoon (luggage in tow), and picking you up to take you to the airpot. This is a fantastic way to get back to the airport and the blue lagoon is a nice way to relax before the flight (added shots of black death also not a bad option).

Netbus is cheaper than the flybus -- smaller tour buses but a fine tour company. You don't really need to make any advanced plans for the tours you want to go on -- your hotel will be able to book them for you the day before and there are seemingly infinite numbers of tour companies with space available (at least in late winter).

If you don't have a hotel yet, I stayed at the Downtown Hostel which was perfect in every way imaginable. Right in downtown, clean, quiet, friendly, cheap. If you are going the hostel route bring sheets or a sleeping back/sleep sack.

Everyone speaks beautiful english. So much so that it is rare in the first day to find yourself in a room where icelandic drowns out the other languages. Everyone is also absurdly pleasant and accommodating (and organized). Strangers with children will stop to offer you advice and directions. And they'll tell you to go eat at this little fishing restaurant down by the pier which is really quite good. Everyone will call this restaurant a slightly different name and have a slightly different description. Take up that advice and go to eat there. Eat lobster chowder, drink beer, think about how tasty it is.

This is the restaurant:

Go to this place early in your visit -- you might need to go back.

Food. Food is generally um, flavor challenged and expensive. You'll spend more money feeding yourself than you will on hotel. I recommend Icelandic Fish & Chips (there are a few), the Saegreifinn place, and a fancier restaurant called the Fish Market.

Fish Market must is the rack of icelandic lamb in something like blueberry sauce? Um maybe one of the best dishes ever -- and the food is good but not everything is perfect. I'd skip dessert. I had a very odd cheesecake experience which was something like um blobs of pudding in a bowl.

The more local the food the better it tastes -- this means fish is exceptional as are icelandic meats but vegetables are questionable. Whale is also common on the menu as sushi and as a main dish and is quite strong so.... order it in the smallest quantity possible if you must. Think of liver texture with the flavor of a rare steak. I only tried it after my dinner companion ordered it and couldn't finish it so don't think me morally bankrupt for eating the whale.

I also went whale watching. Oh the mind reels. There are whale tours leaving from the harbor nearish the Saegraefinn. Lots of fun but can be quite pitchy. If you are prone to sea sickness exercise caution. We did see humpback and dolphins but no sighting is promised.

I went on the northern lights tour. This was a waste of time in terms of actually seeing the northern lights but a great adventure in being out in the middle of iceland on a bus in a major wind storm. At one point we were encouraged to get out of the bus and in stepping out of the bus I nearly blew over. This is a significant statement as I am fairly grounded but also not the stature of one prone to blow away in the wind. Adventure. Bring layers, bring hiking boots.

In downtown there are many tourist centers which will also book tours for you -- with many brochures of the tours you can go on. I am bummed that I did not ice hike on a glacier. I didn't even really know that was a viable option until I finally ventured into a tourist center late in my trip. So do stop by one of these things and see what amazing things you didn't know about are possible. These tourist centers seem to be just a part of the public service that is iceland as a tourist destination. They are there for you to use as are the remarkable number of maps you'll be handed as you negotiate the downtown.

I did do a golden circle tour and it was fun but........ man I wish I'd ice hiked on a glacier.

OH AND you can tour Greenland. For something like $350 US you fly up for the day, tour Greenland, come back to Iceland. I am planning a revisit. Greenland is officially in the arctic circle and quite odd -- odd in the sense that they don't have hospital and medivac their injured over to Iceland. So word is be prepared to see something a bit rough around the edges. Not sure there is a working sewer system and there are only 2 or 3 hotels. Bring your own water. That being said, do it if you can.

And there is kayaking in the fjords of northern Iceland.


Notes from an Icelander:

The bus system here in Reykjavík isn´t the best, and they don´t really run that frequently. But if you are town town a lot of things are in walking distance.


Nasa - I would guess here you would find more of a younger crowd. The place opens at 12 am, and you will have to pay 1500 ISK to get in. The alcohol is usually pretty expensive there.

Organ - You will have to pay 1000 ISK to get in and it will start around 11 pm.

Dillon - Dillon is a pretty small place, but you will not have to pay to get in there. It will start around 10 pm.

Rosenberg - always has some live music.. sometimes you have to pay to get in there and sometimes you don´t. It´s usually a bit more sitting down kind of thing.. but still you can really find everything there. Good and bad.. depends if you are lucky :). I like this place usually.

Players - this place is not down town RVK. It´s a bit out (in a town called Kópavogur) so you would have to take a taxi to get there. But it would take you no more than 10-15 min to get there.

I think you would have more fun going to see some bands playing. People in Iceland love to go out and have fun and they can get pretty drunk, so don´t be surprised.. maybe even more now when the situation is like it is here.. but it´s all good at most parts.

take a look at this site, it´s very interesting museum at Perlan. Perlan (the pearl) is also interesting to visit, it´s a restaurant. It´s an expensive place but you can go there during the day and get coffee and cake with out getting broke ;) and look at the musem while you are at it.

Over the weekends there is a kind of a flee market down town at Kolaportid. It´s quite interesting to visit.. people go there to sell all kinds of stuff..

posted by countrymod at 8:46 AM on June 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

penis museum moved. it's now a few hours and a car rental away.

It's moved to Husavik, but it was still totally worth it. And from Husavik, you can also do whale watching excursions. Although we had a rental car, so I'm not sure how you would get there by other transport.

We drove the Golden Circle, which was amazing and beautiful; it really gives you an idea of who geologically strange Iceland is. And even though I was worried that the Blue Lagoon would be totally cheesy, it was actually really wonderful. And as mentioned, it is very easily accessible from Reykjavik. The ride out there will make you feel like you are on the surface of the moon.

I must say that I only spent 36 hours in Reykjavik proper, and while we enjoyed it, I think that for you to really experience otherworldly character of Iceland, you need to get out of the city. Part of the wonder for me, besides the geology, was the utter remoteness of the countryside. There is a stillness that I've seldom felt anywhere else.
posted by kimdog at 8:58 AM on June 18, 2010

Response by poster: Oh! if it helps, we're staying At the Hotel Borg - which I'm told is in the dead center of town.
posted by The Whelk at 9:06 AM on June 18, 2010

The highs will probably be in the 60s, and it will often be windy.

For live music, grab a copy of The Grapevine, the free English language paper. They list all the venues and who is playing when, and the middle page has a map of downtown. Sodoma is a great place to see local bands - keep an eye on who is playing there.

My favorite bar is Prikið. Laid back during the week and party all night on the weekends. I used to hang out there Sunday nights and they would play a movie and have popcorn. Right downstairs from the previously mentioned Sodoma there is Bakkus, which is another great place to hang out. Both Prikið and Bakkus tend to draw a younger crowd. Oh, and for a good grungy rock bar, there is Bar 11. (This is, of course, leaving off the standards, like Kaffibarinn, which is great during the week and impossible to get into on the weekend.) Café Cozy is, I think, the only specifically gay bar / cafe. (Most of the bars are cafes during the day)

For food, Icelandic Fish and Chips is great. I really liked 3 frakkar, which is another seafood and fish stew kind of place. And don't forget the junk food! You've got to have a hotdog, but they're best at 3am, and stop at Hlolla Batar for a lamb sandwich. A lot of people recommended Tapas to me, and their Icelandic tasting menu was very nice.

I definitely recommend visiting the city pools.

I don't really have any tips. Almost everyone will speak English but appreciate attempts at Icelandic. (livemocha has a free course you can take.) People tend to be direct and will expect the same of you. Oh, and don't get lost and make the rescue squad come and get you.
posted by Nothing at 9:16 AM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, forgot Saegreifinn for food, but it looks like countrymod has it covered. Also thumbs up on Dillon.
posted by Nothing at 9:20 AM on June 18, 2010

And practically everything I mentioned is like 100 feet from your hotel.
posted by Nothing at 9:21 AM on June 18, 2010

Best advice, as kimdog said, don't stay too long in Reykjavik. It's a great town and a good base of operations, but the country outside is incredible. Rent a car and see the country side. I lot of the roads are gravel, so something bigger with 4 wheel drive is better. (My wife and I drove around in a Yarus, but it was harrowing.) Some places can be white knuckle, but don't be too afraid to go off on the side roads, you will be rewarded.

The Blue Lagoon is nice and all, but you can also go to the local pools. They're well equipped with saunas, hot pots, and all the other extras, but they're much cheaper, more accessible and have more local flavor.

For food, try Segumo. The food is fabulous and amazingly cheap. The menu changes weekly depending on what's available. There are always five items, three of which are a meat, a fish, a veggie dish. Last June (our second visit), my wife and I ate there twice in one week. I still remember both meals. It's located in the Boston Club on Laugavegur along the main drag down town. You can easily walk there from Hotel Borg.

You also need to hit the hot dog stand on the corner of Tryggvagata and Posthusstraeti. It's fairly famous; former Pres. Clinton would stop there late nights during Summit meetings.

The weather is usually relatively cool and some times rainy. In addition, there are geysers and waterfalls everywhere, so pack some rain gear. This time of year the sun is up pretty much all the time and people are out constantly, so also bring sleeper masks and ear plugs if you're a light sleeper.

Icelandic people in general are very personable. Everybody we ran into was friendly and genuinely interested in talking. That said, way too many people fly in thinking that Icelandic women are (pardon the expression) easy lays. One of the biggest complaints locals have is that tourist constantly and aggressively hit on every female waitress, bartender, or barrista.
posted by chrisulonic at 9:48 AM on June 18, 2010

Everyone's covered most of the recommendations (Icelandic Fish and Chips was delicious), but I absolutely loved the food at Vid Tjornina--ESPECIALLY the lamb. I've also heard good things about Orange restaurant, which is now inexplicably called Square if you're into that whole molecular gastronomy thing.

There's a delicious waffle truck that parks in Lækjartorg (the square near the Greyline bus station) in the middle of downtown Reykjavik starting at around midnight on weekend nights. Chrisulonic mentioned Segurmo, which is at Boston Bar and was host to a really awesome funk/soul night when we were there. Kaffibarinn was pretty low key at around midnight on a Sunday but had great music.

If you want to try hakarl without having to order a plate of it or buying a whole carton of it (odds are, you won't want more than a taste), ask one of the fishmongers for a sample at the flea market downtown.

When I was there in September 2009, we did the Gulfoss-Geysir and Snowmobiling tour, which is essentially the Golden Circle tour plus snowmobiling on Langjokul. I couldn't possible recommend it more. There was nothing like standing at the top of the glacier, where both the sky and the ground are pure white and you can't quite tell if you're touching the ground or flying.

I loved it so much last year that I'm planning on returning in October for the Airwaves festival. We're booked on the Walk through Ice and Fire tour, and I'm planning on diving Silfra.
posted by superquail at 10:49 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

A great day trip from Reykjavik is to rent a car for the day (60 bucks for a nissan micra from cheep jeep as of last month) and head down to Reykjanes. It's only an hour from Reykjavik by car, and there are lots of little gravel roads to explore. (Here are some pictures for my afternoon there.) A longer drive out to Jokullsárlón is also a good day trip, if you stretch "day" into something close to 24 hours. I left Reykjavik at 7am, stopped at Selfoss, Skogafoss, Vik, Skaftafell, and a bunch of other places , and got to Jokullsárlón around eight pm. Spent a few hours, then headed back, getting back to Reykjavik at 4 or 5.
posted by Nothing at 11:13 AM on June 18, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone - one quick question - what are the prices like? I've been converting sample menus and getting a touch nervous - I know food is expensive in Iceland, as is alcohol but as a Manhattanite should I be prepared for sticker shock? Like Paris prices or London prices? (I'm not gasping THAT much cause a lot of the places linked seem like nice places, your average around the corner place, is it cheaper or are prices standard in town?)
posted by The Whelk at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2010

Food prices are high. I think I spent more on food (and alcohol) than I did anything else. And the better restaurants are definitely pricier. I believe Iceland's McDonalds closed as it would have been the most expensive McDs with a big mac at like $8 -- partly because most food is imported.
posted by countrymod at 6:08 AM on June 25, 2010

Response by poster: countrymod speaks the truth.
posted by The Whelk at 7:00 AM on June 25, 2010

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