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10 Things No One Tells You About… Reykjavik

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Whether you land in Keflavík International Airport (KEF) before sunrise, or find yourself left in the dark by the typical guidebook’s uninteresting regime, these 10 tips and tidbits, which you probably won’t find in a guidebook, will help you navigate your way to a locally-inspired and budget-friendly visit in Reykjavik.

Save Big With Happy Hour Specials…

Reykjavik is a notoriously expensive city, especially when it comes to drinking. To keep some Icelandic króna in your pocket, drink like the locals and stick to the happy hour specials happening around town. My favorite is Kaldi Bar/Café, a cozy spot that serves beer from its local microbrewery — you can enjoy happy hour-priced drinks from 4:00pm – 7:00pm every day. Skål!

Sample local brews at happy hour prices. Image courtesy of Kaldi Bar/Cafe’s Facebook page.

…Or Better Yet, Stock Up On Duty-Free Liquor Before You Leave the Airport

Prefer to make it a late night? Then you’ve voyaged to the right place. The local bar scene in Reykjavik tends to heat up later in the evenings, and most city-dwellers will drink at home before heading out. If you’re looking to stock up on “pre-game” spirits, do so before you depart Keflavík International Airport (KEF). The prices you’ll find at the duty-free shop are better than anywhere else in the city. Even if you land at 4:00am local time, the shop will be open — talk about a warm welcome!

Stop by duty-free before you leave the airport to save time and money. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Stock up on booze at the duty-free shop before you leave the airport to save time and money. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

The Water Might Smell Funny, But it’s Still Safe to Drink

Feeling a bit dehydrated after all those local pints and spirits? Great news: the tap water is perfectly drinkable — and free. However, before you down that glass of water, a quick warning: city water has a sulfuric smell (read: it’s kind of like mild rotten eggs) since it comes from a volcanic ground source. The smell is completely normal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get used to it.

Hillside geothermal hotwater station to supply Icelandic town with natural hot water. Hissing tap detail
An Icelandic geothermal water station. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Snorkel Silfra in Thingvellir National Park

FYI: There’s a gap between the Atlantic and European tectonic plates known as the Silfra fissure, and it’s located in Thingvellir National Park just a 35-minute drive from downtown Reykjavik. Melting glaciers created a lake within the fissure over thousands of years, and today you can snorkel in its incredibly clear — and incredibly cold — fresh waters. And, if you’re a certified Scuba diver, you’ll have access to places where you can dive down and touch both continental plates simultaneously.

Snorkel the Silfra fissure, just one hour from Reykjavik. Photo courtesy of <a href="">Shutterstock</a>.
Snorkel the Silfra fissure, just 35-minutes from downtown Reykjavik. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Don’t be Afraid to Visit During the Winter

If you’re lucky enough to visit Reykjavik when there’s a bit of snow, don’t be caught off-guard by its almost instantaneous disappearance during your walk around town. The method behind the madness? The city of Reykjavik invested in an underground heating system for its sidewalks and streets, saving the roads from destructive snow-plowing, while also saving countless pedestrians from falling on the snow-laden, slippery ground. Brilliant!

Navigate the city streets with ease, even in the winter. Image of Skólavörðustígur Street courtesy of <a href="">Shutterstock</a>.
Navigate the city streets with ease, even in wintertime. Image of Skólavörðustígur Street courtesy of Shutterstock.

Leaving Babies Unattended is a Normal Occurrence

Now that you’ve averted crises thanks to the no-slip sidewalks, you can explore the city carefree. As you’re making your way toward a café, you notice a bunch of strollers lined up outside the door. Taking a closer look, you notice there are babies inside them. Fear not — this is a perfectly normal part of Icelandic society. In fact, Icelanders believe that fresh air greatly benefits a child’s immune system, not to mention their babies sleep longer and more soundly outside. Not to worry, regardless of the temperature, those babies are warm enough. And yes, Iceland really is safe enough to leave your baby outside unattended.

Snoozing al fresco is part of the Icelandic way of life. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

The City is Your Oyster

Perched over the capital city is Perlan — or in English, the Pearl — the perfect combination of photo fun and function. This place offers stunning panoramic views of the city, while simultaneously storing all the hot water used by Reykjavik residents from nearby geothermal plants. Some of the best views of the city can be found from the outer rim of this landmark building, and there’s even a revolving restaurant if you’re interested in a fancy, 360-degree fine dining experience. If that’s the case, be sure to make reservations ahead of time.

Rotate while you dine in the dome or see Reykjavik from the balcony of Perlan. Image courtesy of <a href="">Shutterstock</a>.
Rotate while you dine in the dome or see Reykjavik from the balcony of Perlan. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Three Cheers for Áfram Ísland!

The Iceland national football (soccer) team has made an extraordinary climb in the FIFA rankings in recent years — 109 spots to be exact — earning the chance to play in its first-ever Euro championship games earlier this year. To support the team’s penultimate match against England, 99.8% of TV viewers tuned in to watch Iceland win. No one’s really sure what the other 0.2% of the population were up to, but I’ve heard handball is also a local favorite.

An Icelandic football fan supports his team during the Euros. Image courtesy of <a href="">Shutterstock</a>.
An Icelandic football (soccer) fan supports his team during the Euro championships. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

When in Doubt, Head to a Geothermal Spring

While Iceland is touted for its country’s geysers and glaciers, visitors can experience these two temperature extremes right in the city center. On the geothermal beach at Nauthólsvík, “sea bathers”can soak in the public hot tub and then, after a short walk across the sand, dunk themselves into the water of the nearby lagoon. The hot tub is heated by geothermal water from the Perlan (mentioned above), while the lagoon is full of freezing-yet-refreshing seawater, so just when you’ve had enough of one, you can scoot back to the other extreme.

Nauthólsvík, Iceland. Image courtesy of Nauthólsvík's Facebook page.
Nauthólsvík, Iceland. Image courtesy of Nauthólsvík’s Facebook page.

Remember to Go Green on Your Vacation

Icelanders are uber environmentally-conscious. They’re also incredibly resourceful, harnessing and living sustainably off nature’s forces of wind, steam and melting glaciers. In fact, there’s an entire museum dedicated to educating the public and visitors alike about the importance and impact of using natural power — head over to Reykjavik’s Geothermal Energy Exhibition to see it for yourself.

A geothermal plant in Iceland. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
A geothermal plant outside Reykjavik helps locals live off the land’s natural resources. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Have you ever been to Reykjavik? What are your favorite things to do there?

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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