It’s 10.30 on a Saturday morning and it’s pitch black.
A cold breeze hits us as we leave our hotel, and the roads are still quite empty. It is the weekend after all. Empty booze glasses on the kerb. We are in Reykjavik, capital city of a country I had never visited until now: Iceland, so called, apparently by a viking’s mistake.
I loved our weekend here. Despite the cold and the long dark hours during winter, I felt this is a place where the lifestyle is actually quite good.
We met a lot of foreigners working in the hospitality industry, the shops in town are beautiful and full of cool designer gear, jewellery, art galleries. The city is clean, easy to navigate and with some pretty buildings, mostly nicely manicured and kept. Hidden in corners are loads of funky graffiti and murals, playgrounds that would make British health and safety inspector cry in fear, but that I am sure local kids love.
While we spent most of our short break in the capital,we also did the classic day tour of the ‘Golden Circle’ with a bespoke tour with a driver. It was very expensive and we did not find the driver particularly friendly nor helpful, yet we stopped by the classic sights and had a taste for what seems to be a truly wonderful country with some unusual and unique landscape.
The three primary stops on the route are the Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Though Geysir has been mostly dormant for many years, Strokkur continues to erupt every 5–10 minutes. I was hit by its force while walking past, our tour guide kindly failing to alert me of its incoming spray. I had water inside my boots and in places which don’t usually see the light of the day!
We also walked to the National Museum of Iceland which was an incredible surprise, thanks to its rich collection of artifacts pertaining to the country’s history. The medieval objects were beautiful and for me, of huge interest. We spent way longer here than we’d anticipated!
Basement french inspired wine bars open late all week all year round, 50s diners, old fashioned Icelandic restaurants and trendy tapas style bars, there is something for everyone.
We did not have that much time, but we made the most. Our first breakfast in the dark was at Laundromat, a kind of hip, American inspired venue around the corner from our hotel (and very centrally located). The brunch plate was expensive, filling and of medium quality.
A mish mash of flavours, it had everything in it, from chocolate butter (yes, really) and bread to sausages (more like cocktail wursts), potatoes, yogurt and muesli, crispy bacon and even a refreshing ginger juice. It was nice, but not memorable and for the price we paid, we think we get much better quality in London.
Another quick meal was a late lunch at nearby Cafe Paris. Again, overpriced compared to London but my Bagel with smoked Icelandic salmon, dill cream was delicious, filled to the rafters and the bagel itself was crispy on the outside and nicely chewy.
We enjoyed this place, buzzy and busy with great service.
For the evening, I had spent some time checking out the supposedly best restaurants of the city.
One caught my eye as we did our morning walk by the harbour. Rustic looking, open space and chefs prepping, I thought it looked interesting. recently opened, Forretta Barin is a ‘starters’ restaurant, another name I guess for small plates / tapas / sharing concept that is now everywhere in London but not maybe so widely spread in Iceland. We liked it. Some dishes were less creative than others (such as smoked salmon open sanwdich).
Each dish is priced at around £7 and quite small – but they offer a Christmas Mystery tour which for around £25 included 4 savoury and one dessert plate.
I opted for this, although the waiter warned me I could not actually choose – it would be up to the chef. I was invited to say whether I was allergic to anything or if there was any dish I would definitely not like. Sure. Which one did I pick? The only dish that is for Icelanders almost a national dish, like pizza for us Neapolitans.
I really could not even consider trying a whale steak. The waiter was quite put off and tried to convince me to try it. This, I did not appreciate – I understand his point of view but I am a paying customer, and from a different country. Most of the rest of the world does not eat whale nor likes the idea of whaling, so deal with it.
This did put a bit ofdamper on the evening for me – yet I enjoyed the dishes I was served, particularly one of Pork Belly which was absolutely delicious. Hopefully the grumpy waiter was content when I was served Reindeer Meatballs. They were nice, but quite dry and hard, well garnished by a blue cheese & cranberries dressing.
The next morning we did a 4×4 tour – and picked up breakfast in a service station. Worth mentioning this was the cheapest and most fairly priced meal of the holiday and actually really good. Well done service station, your breakfast freshly baked goods are lovely!
|Fish and chips (potatoes)|
The second evening, tired after a cold windy day in the countryside, we opted for a less fancy place made our way yet again towards the harbour for @bmcboy’s choice of venue: Icelandic Fish and Chips.
This was a suprise. A nice, pleasant couple of rooms, with tealights, good wine selection and beers, and an interesting menu of locally sourced fish (and no whale!).
You can choose the fish, the salads, the dips. I went for Mango red fish, and I enjoyed it. The batter was a bit oily but the whole dish was simple and fresh.
The dessert selection was fabulous – I got to try Skir finally, with crunchy hazelnuts and mixed berries, and @bmcboy a chocolate tart. All in all, a great, easy meal.
|Hot dog, Icelandic style|
We also managed to squeeze in a late night snack – having missed out on the northern lights, we took a long evening walk and at the end, we stopped by the famous hot dog stand conveniently located outside our hotel. I can’t say it was ‘the best’ ever, it wasn’t – but judging by the flow of people, it is certainly popular!
Finally our last morning – a Monday morning with clear blue skies. We wandered off towards Laugavegur (the shopping street) in town, and ended up at Prikid, the oldest (allegedly) restaurant in town and a must-see place. I really wanted to take a peek inside and it was the perfect time of week and day.
At 10am on a Monday morning we were the only customers for a while. It felt like stepping back in time.
Everything is 1950/1960s original. The music playing was from American Graffiti and the menu is American (cheesily named after Pulp Fiction). Doesn’t matter.
Eating a pancake with bacon and maple syrup, listening to ‘The wanderer’ while looking at the slow light of the sunrise outside was an indulgent, lazy moment which concluded our short break in the land of the volcanoes.
We enjoyed Iceland – a strange, different and interesting country. Hopefully we will be back to witness the longest days of summer.
We flew: Icelandair
We stayed: Hotel Radisson 1919
We spent: £££