Hæ again, and welcome back to Iceland week. (That’s Icelandic for “hi,” and it sounds like…”hi.” Very exotic.) This is the second of three posts about our July trip to southwestern Iceland, and today it’s all about Reykjavik. You can find the first post, about the south coast and Golden Circle, here.
With only four full days to explore the island, we opted to base ourselves in Reykjavik for the duration and take day trips, rather than find lodging outside the city. Obviously travel is 93 percent about the meals, so among other benefits, this approach allowed us to eat more of Reykjavik.
We’ve had uniformly good experiences renting apartments through Airbnb in our family travels. In Reykjavik, we stayed in this lovely two-bedroom home in the embassy district, close but not too close to downtown. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re traveling with kids, the flexibility offered by a place with a kitchen and a little extra space can make all the difference between a relaxed vacation and a hassled one. We also love staying in a city’s residential or semi-residential neighborhoods as opposed to its tourist districts. It really gives you a false and overinflated sense of belonging, in the best of all possible ways.
Reykjavik is a very manageable city, to the extent that people joke it would be considered a mere town in almost any other country. It reminded us a lot of a smaller Helsinki, which reminded us of a smaller Amsterdam. It always comes back to Amsterdam with me. Amsterdam is my Kevin Bacon.
Here’s the view from the tower of the iconic Hallgrímskirkja Church. Kinda looks like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, right? (None of this is to minimize the awesomeness of Reykjavik — it’s comfortable but also formidable in its own Nordic way. Hey, it was settled by Vikings and runs on geothermal power. Don’t mess with it, okay?)
The church itself, visible in the photo below at the end of the street, looks like nothing you’d find in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Ironically, though, it sure does look like it would be right at home in a place called the Land of Make Believe. Hallgrímskirkja is a relatively new addition to the landscape, designed by Guðjón Samuel in 1937 with Iceland’s volcanic basalt columns as inspiration, and not completed until 1986. It boasts a very impressive organ and is totally worth a visit.
Reykjavik is home to some pretty spectacular and whimsical street art.
Some of this street art is functional, like these bicycle gates that close off the main shopping street to car traffic during the summer.
Some is purely Icelandic, like these Huldufolk, or hidden people. Icelanders don’t mess around with the possibility that they share their countryside with giant elves. As recently as 2014, highway construction in a suburb outside Reykjavik was stopped until a 150,000-pound rock that may or may not have been a Huldufolk chapel was moved out of the way. Hey, if I lived in Iceland, where lava can flow by your house on a not-never basis and nature generally does not mess around, I might be among the majority of the population that doesn’t rule out elfin presence.
And some “street art” is not so much art as marketing that makes half the family want to hug it and buy souvenirs and the other half want to break out the lice repellant shampoo. Does anyone know whether Purell comes as a spray tan?
Speaking of retail, Reykjavik is full of quirky shops that make you want to buy everything — at least until you do the krona to dollar conversion and decide to make due with a photo or two of your reflection instead. This approach won’t get you home with any knitted mushroom stools, but it will remind you to appreciate the inherent coolness of a city constructed largely from corrugated iron painted in a vibrant rainbow.
Okay, but seriously. What about the food? I hear ya. Here’s what we learned. View full post »