Reykjavik: Dos and Don'ts

This picture (aka me trying to capture the beauty of Iceland through the #artsy filter of a rainy window) basically sums up my stopover in Reykjavik. 

I made it to France with a little help from Iceland.

Icelandair allows stopovers with no additional airfare cost, so I broke up the trip with a day in Reykjavik. I stayed at the Reykjavik Hostel Village, which was a great place. Central location, friendly reception, nice beds, good water pressure in the showers, and an optional breakfast--what more can you ask for?

I was in Iceland for about 36 hours, and I actually think I managed to do a lot. I feel like time moves slower in Iceland, not only in that people didn't feel very rushed but also in that I could look at my watch (ok let's be honest my phone) feeling like I was short on time and see that I actually had hours left to explore.

I also arrived in Reykjavik knowing very little about the city itself. And when I got there, I realized that maybe I should have prepared more. So, in my efforts to help you prepare for a trip to Reykjavik, here's a do and don't list.

Do: Ditch the map.

Following large print-out maps can get hard, especially in Iceland, where strong wind and rain can strike at any moment. Luckily, Reykjavik is small enough that you won't get lost if you decide to just wander around, but big enough so that you won't be walking in circles. I found lots of cool things while exploring without a map, including but not limited to:

An old cemetery (that was locked, but still)
Iceland's only Catholic cathedral
The US Embassy
QuizUp headquarters
A Star Wars-themed bathroom
The Icelandic Penis Museum
The oldest house in Iceland (that now sells wool)
A place advertising "Texas Style Pizza"
Lots of cool statues

One of the cool statues in question. This is Ingolfur Arnarson, one of Iceland's first permanent settlers.

Don't: Assume that every gas station has a convenience store. 

Sometimes they only have a fro yo place. And you'll have to live with that and go buy deodorant somewhere else.

Do: Tourist-y stuff.

Sometimes, like it or not, you end up being a tourist. I got a ticket for one of those hop on/hop off city tour buses, and I'm really happy I did. Yes, I was one of those people on top of a double decker bus taking pictures, but I got to see parts of the city, like The Pearl and the docks, that I probably wouldn't have ventured to otherwise. Plus, I got to learn more about the history of Reykjavik through the bus's audio tour. So don't worry about "looking like a tourist" if you're short on time and want to see as much as possible.

Outside of Harpa concert hall, where the bus tour begins. 

Don't: Mix up Vikin and Viking.

I misunderstood and thought I was going to the Viking Museum when actually I was entering the Vikin Maritime Museum, which had little to do with Vikings and more to do with Iceland's fishing history. It's an interesting museum in it's own right, but a little disappointing if you're expecting Vikings.

Not a Viking ship.

Do: Try the lamb.

This suggestion comes from my mother. I'm not a huge lamb fan, so I probably would not have done this had it not been for her insistance. Iceland has a lot of sheep, and their lamb is only really in season right around now. For my last Icelandic meal, I got meat stew and a smoked lamb flatbread. And, well, thanks Mom, because it was really, really good.


Don't: Make the mistake of thinking Reykjavik has only one airport and one bus depot. 

There are two airports (the international and the domestic one) and at least two bus depots. Don't get confused thinking you're at one when you're actually at the other. Especially because you'll probably be hauling luggage around at either of these places. And because in my case "luggage" was "stuff for a year abroad and also a mandolin," I can tell you: it is stressful.

Do: Take a day trip. 

There are so many possible day trips from Reykjavik. I saw ads for volcano hikes, Northern Lights watching, spa days at the Blue Lagoon, and even a Game of Thrones tour. Even a half day or quarter day trip is worth it.

I took a quick ferry ride over to Viðey, an island that was once an active volcano and is now home to Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower.

There's also other art installations, the former schoolhouse, the remains of some houses from when people lived there, a beautiful old church, the first house in Iceland built with stone (which is now a café/museum), and a stable that houses a few Icelandic ponies. 

Speaking of which, Iceland has tons of horseback riding tours, so if I ever go back, I intend to go on one.

Don't: Be afraid to ask for help. 

I didn't meet a single mean person when I was in Iceland. Someone was always willing to help when I had a question about culture or didn't understand an Icelandic menu or was confused as to how krónas worked. (1000 krónas sounds like a ton of money, but is actually about eight dollars.) So don't go it alone and resist help when there are plenty of people who are willing to help you. 

Do: Climb Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja is Iceland's largest church and one of the country's largest structures. By "climb" I mean "take the elevator up eight floors because that's what they tell you to do and they never mention stairs as an option," but whatever. Do it anyway. The view is breathtaking. 

And who knows? Maybe you'll even catch a rehearsal for an organ concert when you come down. Because it's Iceland, and Iceland is pretty magical.

That statue is of Leif Erikson.

Don't: Get so caught up in the amazing view at the top of Hallgrimskirkja that you forget to watch the time. 

The church bells ring every fifteen minutes to tell the time. And if you forget this, and if you forget to check the clock on your watch or phone or whatever when you are basically standing in the bell tower, it will be very startling for you. 


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