I’ve been to Iceland three times now (addiction isn’t always a terrible thing) and I don’t doubt there will be more trips to the land of ice and fire in my future. I see plenty of blog posts about this fantastic country and to be honest, sometimes it feels like I’m just reading the same thing over and over again. I’m not pointing any fingers in particular – heck, I’ve been more than guilty of writing my fair share of obvious posts covering what to do in Iceland. And there certainly are a lot of options out there. Horse riding, snorkelling, experiencing the Midnight Sun, the golden circle (which I STILL haven’t done), the northern lights.
Come prepared. Bring loads of cash.
I rarely however, see anyone harp on about what a fantastic little city Reykjavík is, which is something I don’t understand. It was Reykjavík that got me hooked on this small island – not the countryside, or an interest in geothermal energy. Not glaciers, volcanoes, black sand beaches or puffins. Nope – it was Reykjavík that I was most interested in, so excited to see. And this little 120,000 person strong town has won me over, time and time again.
I in no way consider myself an expert. After all, I’ve spent a grand total of about two and a half weeks in the city. Going with percentages, I feel about 67% confident in my knowledge of Reykjavík’s highlights. I feel like that’s a good enough figure to work with for a blog post, in any case.
So take this as a Birdgehl’s guide (not green – I’ll get back to that very soon, I promise) to having a good time in Reykjavík, Iceland.
1. Visit the Penis Museum
The Icelandic Phallological Museum is by far one of my favourite highlights of this kooky city. This space contains a collection of more than two hundred penises, sampled from almost all the mammals that originate in Iceland. Highlights include the ginormous sperm whale schlong, the silver penis sculptures of the Icelandic Handball team (commemorated as such as they won second place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics), and a tiny jar that allegedly contains an elf wang (invisible to the naked eye).
For a long time the museum remained devoid of the genital organs of one particular mammal which has roamed the earth for many years – a human male. There are many certificates framed and presented on walls – contracts pledging the willies of various individuals to the museum after the owner’s demise. Eventually, someone followed through with their donation. Fun fact: a documentary entitled The Final Member was made about the founder’s quest for a human specimen.
I have a photo of the human penis, but I’ll refrain from posting it on this site. I do however feel like I need to let you know that the dude in question was a ginger.
2. Catch a Flick at Bíó Paradís
Reykjavík’s resident art-house cinema features many films from around the world – including Icelandic films. I personally recommend Hross í oss (Of Horses and Men), Sigur Rós: Heima and the particularly sick, but equally as amusing 101 Reykjavík.
3. Try to Time Your Visit With Iceland Airwaves
Airwaves is a music festival held on the first week of November every year. Reykjavík somehow turns into even more of a party town, as people from all corners of the globe and music floods the streets of the city. I attended the festival in 2015 – read my full account of the week here.
4. Take the Lift to the top of Hallgrímskirkja
This stunning church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson and is said to have been designed to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape. Although it is used primarily for worship, visitors are able to take a lift to the top of the tower for 6.000 ISK, where they can take in 360° views of the city and harbour.
5. Grab some Sushi at the Local 10-11
Eating out in Reykjavík can get expensive, but it’s necessary – the food there is SO GOOD. One of the surprising highlights is the ready-made sushi available at the 10-11 convenience stores in town. It comes from Osushi, the local sushi train, yet the packaged store version somehow tastes so much better than the sushi at the actual restaurant. I’d pick it up earlier on in the day, as it tends to have flown out the door by the evening.
6. Sample an Icelandic Sheep’s Head
One of the strangest things I’ve done in Reykjavík has to be consuming an Icelandic sheep’s head. I like the idea of eating the whole animal and it was utterly delicious in any case.
You can order the head from the BSI (bus terminal) outhouse. It comes with mashed potato and turnip, hot or cold. Having had both, I’d recommend hot, absolutely. Don’t be put off by the eye – it’s the best bit!
7. Visit One of the Local Outdoor Pools
It’s pretty trippy to take a swim in a heated pool when it’s 6 degrees or snowing outside. Although the Blue Lagoon is a must see, a much easier (and cheaper) option is to take a dip in one of the local swimming pools in Reykjavík.
The main pool is called Laugardalur Swimming Pool, but I frequent Vesturbæjarlaug, which is lesser known and therefore nowhere near as touristy. Entry is 9.000 ISK and you can stay as long as you like. There is a lap pool, a sauna, a heated pool and several hot tubs (and a cold tub, which is maintained at 8-12°C. Hop in, if you dare). As with the Blue Lagoon, all patrons are required to shower naked before entering the pools, in designated locker rooms for men and women respectively.
8. Grab Some Fermented Shark From the Local Markets
Plenty of places offer tourists the chance to try Hákarl (rotted shark) with a sip of Brennivín, a popular Icelandic liquor. If you go to the local flea market (which is open on the weekends in a large warehouse down by the harbour) you can sample it for free at a fishmongering stall, or buy it for 890 ISK to give to unsuspecting family members or friends.
It’s really not as bad as people claim – I thought it smelt and tasted a bit like very, very strong cheese.
9. Do Your Laundry and Have a Skyr at the Laundromat Café
The Laundromat Café is quite touristy but undeniably fun to eat out at. Chuck your clothes in a washing machine, pull up a seat and grab a meal. The food is all right, but I thoroughly recommend the Skyr – an Icelandic dessert that is a mix between yoghurt and cheesecake. They serve it with blueberries, crumbed cookie and white chocolate. It is heavenly.
10. Consume Your Body Weight in Hotdogs
Reykjavík is famous for its hotdogs, served on toasted buns with a whole range of delicious sauces and dried onions. The best place to buy them is at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (aptly and modestly translates to The Best Hotdog in Town), which has served the likes of Metallica and Bill Clinton. An honourable mention deserves to go to the Lobster Hut food truck as well. Their soup is delicious.
Reykjavík, I love you. Don’t ever change.