Impromptu Iceland
June 1, 2012 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Four days free next week in Reykjavik. What to see and do? Love to get out into the mountains and glaciers, but also city things. Catch: no car.

I'm in Reykjavik next week from Monday to Saturday. I have three free days at the beginning, and one free day at the end.

I'm looking at the various one-day hiking tours offered from Reykjavik — in Thingvellir/Eyjafjallojokull/Thorsmork etc. Any recommendations from experience would be brilliant!

Also, any recommendations of things to see / do / eat / drink in Reykjavik itself?

I'll probably be mostly staying in Reykjavik downtown youth hostel. I'll be travelling solo. No driving license, so I can't hire a car.

posted by matthewr to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (9 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
If you head down to the harbour (about 20metres from your hostel by the look of it) you can pick up a whale watching trip, the hostel may be able to set this up for you over the phone. Dress up warm.

You can go horse riding, the hostel will have leaflets and you can get a pick up to one of the sites.

Wander the main shopping strip in town; go up to the cathedral for the view but you can also get a good view from Perlan (the pearl) which is a hot water storage facility serving the city's district heating supply, there's a restaurant on top with viewing platforms, you don't need to eat to use the platforms. It is on the edge of the city but walkable with woody paths up the hill to get there.

There is a geothermally heated beach at Nauthólsvík if you go from Perlan to the other side of the city airport (ie not Keflavik). You can get a bus there apparently. When I say beach, I mean they pour hot water into the sea inside an open harbour so that people can bathe there. No idea when they start heating it, best to check before you go.

Blue Lagoon of course, there is also a geothermal power station (Svartsengi) attached to the blue lagoon, as the blue lagoon is actually a byproduct of geothermal power generation. This might also give you some insight into why Iceland can afford to heat open North Atlantic seawater for people to swim in.
posted by biffa at 4:57 PM on June 1, 2012

Do the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. Also go to the top of Hallgrimskirkja and take in the view. But DEFINITELY do an ATV volcano safari! I did one through Fjallajepper and it was amazing. There are a bunch of different ones available.

You don't need a car in Iceland; if you sign up for any sort of tour package you can get buses to pick you up at your hotel and take you to the Blue Lagoon and any other destination.

Beer is very expensive in Iceland but have a Gull just so you can say you did. People party really, really late and crazy in the city so be on the lookout for broken beer bottles and detritus!
posted by tetralix at 5:47 PM on June 1, 2012

Hang out and decompress at Café Babalu in Reykjavik. I went hiking on the Sólheimajökull glacier. Next time I go to Iceland, I'm interested in going ice climbing.

Go out to dinner some night and try the puffin.
posted by deanc at 6:21 PM on June 1, 2012

Also, previously. Really.

In addition, if you can afford a flight to Iceland, you can afford a guidebook.

To be a bit blunt about it, Iceland is a small country. There are a fixed number of things to do when you only have a few days and are staying near the capital: take one of those hiking tours, go to the blue lagoon, hang around Reykjavik, and possibly go to one of the geothermally heated pools. Nothing that the users of MeFi can tell you will be anything different than you can learn from a guidebook (how do you think we found out about it?). If you want more interesting, more obscure information, consult an Iceland-specialty website or the like or make connections with people who are from Iceland.
posted by deanc at 7:27 PM on June 1, 2012

I was there about a month ago.

Found the food to be generally kinda bad. The cheap and readily available stuff was mostly bad american stuff. Hot dogs, pizza etc. Apparently some good Thai food though.

We did have one AMAZING meal at a restaurant in Reykjavik called Dill. The food and service was incredible. The 7 course tasting menu is about $100, which sounds pricey, but felt like great value (You know, four hours, crazy full, great experience). They also do a 3 course and 5 course version for less. This was a great end of trip splurge meal for us.

There are apparently a good number of bus tours that will do the south coast in a day. Worth it, i think. Though we had wheels, so I can't recommend anything specifically.

It's the most beautiful place I've ever been. Can't wait to go back.
posted by Sleddog_Afterburn at 8:09 PM on June 1, 2012

Best answer: Some very disjointed suggestions from a Reykjavík resident:

Dill is brilliant. Can't recommend it enough.

Get some grilled whale at the Sea Baron. Delicious and rather unique experience.

Any sort of hiking tour packages offered by a company like Reykjavik Excursions are going to be your best bet. Anywhere around Þórsmörk or Landmannalaugar is brilliant this time of year. Any sort of glacier climbing, volcano stuff, etc. ... it's all pretty interesting. You have to do the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon at least once.

Most definitely check out the Icelandic party-scene, wander Laugavegur past midnight on a Friday to get a feel for it.

Go to a public swimming pool. Laugardalslaug is my recommendation. Newly renovated and it's in the middle of a really nice park. Warning: no-tolerance policy of not getting completely naked in the changing rooms.

Absolute must: Bæjarins Beztu, hot dog stand downtown. Get one with all of the trimmings (remoulade, crunyons, caramelized onions and Icelandic-style mustard) a.k.a eina með öllu (Icelandic for "one with everything")

Babalú/Kaffismiðjan/C is for Cookie - Nice cafes to hang around in.

Listasafn Reykjavíkur - Art museum, right by the harbour. Some interesting stuff to check out. Erró, Iceland's most well-known contemporary artist has a huge exhibit there. I love his stuff, personally.

Ísbúð Vesturbæjar - little ice cream shop. Delicious. And I've never quite found any other ice cream that tastes like Icelandic ice cream. This place is way better than anything you'll buy in a store. It's soft-serve-ish style and you add in candy as toppings. Kinda like a DQ Blizzard, but way better.

Feed the ducks at the pond.

Otherwise I'd say just walk around. The downtown area is full of some really nice colourful buildings, and just observe life. Basically, the area bordered by Lækjargata (the pond) to the west, Sæbraut to the north, and Snorrabraut to the east. Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur are the main streets, any street around them is pretty cute.

Eat Skyr, it's tasty.

If you have free time over the weekend, go to Kolaportið, the flea market down by the old harbour. Get yourself a lopapeysa (Icelandic style sweater) and try some hákarl (rotten shark) and harðfiskur (dried fish, really is yummy). Puffin is also a great meal, Íslenski barinn has on offer a menu of some 'traditional' specialties and a good selection of Icelandic beer to boot.
posted by csjc at 8:52 PM on June 1, 2012 [13 favorites]

I recommended it in the other recent Iceland thread, but I really really liked KEX as a hostel and as a bar! It's in a former cookie factory, with great industrial decor.

We had a tour golden circle tour in a small mini bus led by a guy called David, originally british i think, but who's been living in Iceland for a decade, and it was super nice. I think it might be this one, but i booked on the phone and have no trace left in my email to check...

And also, a lovely afternoon of horseback riding on the hills around Reykjavik, which we also booked locally, booked super last minute for us by the super nice staff of the tourist info.
posted by PardonMyFrench at 1:30 AM on June 2, 2012

Please take some tips/hints on what to see and do, especially foodwise, from my trip report here:

Specifically the southern coast day tour from grey line is NOT to be missed.​AH35_South_Coast_%28AND%29_J%2800%29kuls%28a%29rl%280%29n_​Glacial_Lagoon/
posted by TestamentToGrace at 2:35 PM on June 2, 2012

Just got back from Iceland yesterday. My (totally subjective) observations:

-Personally, I think the Blue Lagoon is quite beautiful and nice, but also overpriced. Unless you have money to burn, I'd stick to a local hot pot.

-I had a nice meal at Icelandic Fish and Chips. They make sauces out of Skyr, and it's reasonably priced.

-Don't forget the penis museum, if you're into that sort of thing. Beware: they seem to be the only place in Iceland that doesn't take credit cards. (Something about hard cash, maybe?)

-There's a free walking tour of downtown Reykjavik that starts at the harbour. I did the non-free Haunted Walk -- as the only guest -- and found it a bit underwhelming, especially for the price, but if you don't mind some Icelandic humour, I'm sure the walking tour will be nice.

Have fun!
posted by greatgefilte at 7:31 PM on June 2, 2012

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