10 Things No One Tells You About... Reykjavik
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!
...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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever been to Reykjavik? What are your favorite things to do there?