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Reykjavik, Iceland Travel Advice: Dining, Nightlife, and Day Trips

Updated on June 19, 2013
The Church of Hallgrimur is the tallest building in Reykjavik.
The Church of Hallgrimur is the tallest building in Reykjavik. | Source

Most people want the same things from a vacation. They want to relax, take in a few sites, eat some new food, and perhaps meet a few new friends. When we envision ourselves on vacation we tend to yearn to be in a warm place, on a beach, with a margarita in hand. That’s fine, go for it. But, sometimes, just sometimes, it is necessary to think outside the box and realize that a great trip can be had in the some of the most unique destinations, and no, they do not need be close to the equator. In fact, one such location can offer you everything you want in a vacation, and it just happens to be (or at least some of it) in the Arctic Circle.

Iceland, believe it or not, is not a far trek from the East Coast of the United States or Western Europe. In five hours or less, you can be walking the streets of Reykjavik enjoying the people, the food and drink, and their World class spas.

About Iceland

Iceland is a relatively small place (approximately 40,000 square miles) with a population no bigger than a medium sized city in the United States or Europe (about 300,000 people). Because it is isolated from the rest of Europe, it has developed in way that is unique, yet sophisticated. Originally settled by Celtic and Norse settlers it has developed into a country that has a unique blend of Scandinavian and Western European tastes. Think of it as France, with Viking flair. Its modern citizens, who are proud of their own unique language, are amongst the most educated on the planet. There will be many languages present in the streets, on the restaurant menus, and in the bars. The majority of the population is English speaking and they will have good laugh at your expense if you try to speak in their native tongue, Icelandic. They are, for the most part, healthy, happy, and interesting people to visit with.

In terms of climate and geology, well let’s put this simple: Iceland is one giant thermal pressure cooker. Surrounded by water and located directly on the Mid-Atlantic ridge, Iceland has its share of volcano’s, earthquakes, geysers, thermal baths, rivers, and waterfalls. Sounds a little scary, but all in all, the country will provide you with some of the most breathtaking scenery you may ever see.

Despite its name, Iceland isn’t nearly as cold as you might expect. Temperatures in Reykjavik rarely top 50 F, but they rarely dip below 25 F either. Sure there is a little snow from time to time, but in all seriousness, most, if not all, of New England has harsher weather than Reykjavik.

Reykjavik is a small place, which adds to its charm.
Reykjavik is a small place, which adds to its charm. | Source
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Would you try it?

Would you eat rotten shark?

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Reykjavik Dining Options

When you arrive in Reykjavik, you will be surprised how small it is. The largest building in the city is a church. Most other structures are neat, tidy, small buildings built in a colorful, but clearly Scandinavian style. Once you get yourself acclimated (do yourself a favor and stay in the center of town), you must, let me repeat, you MUST sample some of the Icelandic food. When else will you ever have the opportunity to eat puffin, horse, whale, or rotten shark? I know, I know, sounds gross (it is), and immoral (probably is), but what's life without taking a few chance? What story would you rather have, “I could have eaten rotten shark”, or "I DID eat rotten shark”?

Whether you choose to indulge in the Icelandic traditions or not, you are likely to find any kind of cuisine you desire. On the casual side, you can walk down to a small fish shop on the harbor that makes a fish stew or chowder, or enjoy one of the famous Icelandic hot dogs with fried onions. If you are willing to splurge, you will not be disappointed. The people of Iceland take food very seriously and have a reputation for great restaurants and chefs.

But seriously, eat the shark; just be sure to wash it down with the equally bad Icelandic schnapps, Brennivin.

Thr Runtur is not for the faint hearted!
Thr Runtur is not for the faint hearted! | Source

Reykjavik Nighlife: The Runtur

The standard opinion is that the nightlife in Reykjavik has been exagerated by the media over the past decade. Ya, that's what I thought too, until I got there. These people do not mess around. Perhaps it's due to the lack of light for part of the year? Perhaps they are just bored? But on weekend nights the city goes crazy. I am not just talking about the youth, I'm talking about all ages. They dress up, they go out late, and stay up to ungodly hours of the night/morning. Everyone seems to know each other (they probably do) and it is a great time. The dancing, eating, drinking, and conversing pours into the streets until the sun comes up (when it does).

The Runtur, or traditional pub crawl, is standard practice on a Friday or Saturday night. Have a drink here, have a drink there, have a drink everywhere. This is life in Reykjavik. I suggest you try it.

Reykjavik Side Trips

Because Reykjavik is so small, it is easy to take a day or two and explore more of the Icelandic country side. The following are some of the top excursions to take out of the city:

The Golden Circle Drive

Gullfoss waterfall
Gullfoss waterfall | Source
Geyser: an area filled with, well you guessed it: Geysers.
Geyser: an area filled with, well you guessed it: Geysers. | Source
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is where you can observe where two tectonic plates have, and continue to seperate.
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is where you can observe where two tectonic plates have, and continue to seperate. | Source

Glacier Hiking

Hiking a glacier is a once in a lifetime experience.
Hiking a glacier is a once in a lifetime experience. | Source
Try your hand at ice climbing, many tours will offer this on your hike.
Try your hand at ice climbing, many tours will offer this on your hike. | Source
The drive to any of Iceland's glaciers will be filled with other scenery, including numerous waterfalls.
The drive to any of Iceland's glaciers will be filled with other scenery, including numerous waterfalls. | Source

The Blue Lagoon

This spa is popular with tourists and locals alike.  Be sure to rub some of the mud on your face, it's known to have magical qualities.
This spa is popular with tourists and locals alike. Be sure to rub some of the mud on your face, it's known to have magical qualities. | Source

Have a Great Time!

Iceland is not your typical vacation. But, if you pack your sense of adventure, you will not be disappointed. You may even find that it was more relaxing than that beach destination.

Happy Travels! Be sure to check out my other travel related articles below:

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    • jantamaya profile image

      Maria Janta-Cooper 4 years ago from UK

      For many years I've been thinking about going to Iceland. This is a great place. However, I wanted to rent a house there and discovered that it was absolutely too expensive, so I gave up. Perhaps I should just choose a nice hotel. It'll do also, I think. Thanks for writing about this interesting place. Well done. Voted up.

    • Boulism profile image
      Author

      Boulism 4 years ago from Short Beach, CT

      We rented an apartment and it was very reasonable. Try tripadvisor's HomeAway for ideas. I did have some friends who rented a suite at a hotel and it too was good for the money. Either way,it's a great place to visit.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      A really interesting write about Iceland. Sounds great and I love all the photos, too.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I am not eating rotten shark, not for any reason! The photos look cold but beautiful. My brother was stationed in Iceland while serving in the Air Force. He stated it was severely cold, but the people were nice. Interesting to post.

    • profile image

      Noel 4 years ago

      I like to experience the life in Iceland and enjoy the view of ice landscape.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

      This is a very well written hub about Iceland-thorough and useful information. I liked the photos as well. Rated up/I/U and will share.

    • Boulism profile image
      Author

      Boulism 4 years ago from Short Beach, CT

      Thanks for reading Denise, appreciate the comments.

    • profile image

      Jess 4 years ago

      ahhh your photos are beautiful and remind me of my trip to Iceland a few years back. I'm so jealous that you got to hike a glacier, It was something I definitely wish I could have done!

      http://travelingponytail.blogspot.com/2013/02/icel...

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Thank you for this fantastic walk down memory lane. My family and I spent three very full days in Reykjavik and the surrounding area. We drove along the coast to a small village called Vik and enjoyed the beautiful beach. Gullifoss is nearly indescribable. We saw numerous waterfalls, hiked (on our own) on a glacier, drove to the top of a magnificent overlook of the ocean and peaked over the edge to see the puffins. The food is phenomenal. Thanks for this well written and researched hub. I am delighted.

    • daydreams profile image

      Marianne Sherret 4 years ago from Scotland, UK

      This adds to my desire to go to Iceland. Hopefully I will soon.

    • profile image

      bambooforest 3 years ago

      Great article! I love Iceland, as that is where my family is from, a few generations back of course. I was lucky enough to be able to take Icelandic for two years in college, and for my graduation present, my parents took me to Iceland! My first night there, on the bus ride from the airport to our hotel, the bus driver was shocked to find out I spoke Icelandic, and we had a nice conversation.

      I think my favorite thing that I did there was eating at a little lobster restaurant in Stokkseyri -- it was seriously the best meal of my entire life. Such good lobster; I'm still salivating while writing this.

      If anyone is dubious about visiting this country, don't be! It really is a one of a kind place, one that you will never forget. Ég elska Ísland!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This is were I'd love to go, and when I tell people that they think I am crazy. Thank you for writing about it. Photos are gorgeous. On a family trip to France last year, we took a route that had a layover in Iceland -- the closest I've ever been. It just made me want to go visit even more. In watching videos about the country on Iceland Air and in reading your description here, I am deeply concerned about the food thing though. Not only yuck but deeply concerning for me (eating puffins, whale?).

    • Thief12 profile image

      Thief12 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Interesting. Cool pictures too. If I ever travel to Iceland, I'll have this hub in mind, hehehe.

      Congrats on HOTD too!

    • pocono foothills profile image

      John Fisher 3 years ago from Easton, Pennsylvania

      Great Hub. Very informative. I have flown over Iceland on my way to Russia on multiple occasions, but it was most beautiful from the air in January (IMHO). Voted up!!!

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Wow that is beautiful, and great photos. I've never been there but it's someplace I would love to go someday. Awesome hub, congrats.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      This was a very interesting article about a place that few of us will probably ever get to, but maybe we should try.

    • profile image

      anndango 3 years ago

      Thanks SOOOO much for this. Iceland is high on my list of places to visit. People always give me a strange look when I tell them I'd prefer to go to Iceland over Jamaica or Hawaii. The place intrigues me!!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      This is a great hub - congrats! I was thinking about an article I wrote about Richard Wagner, in which I mentioned how he was influenced by Iceland's history - sagas - for his epic "The Ring"

      Excellent - voted up!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      I must be thinking outside of the box because I have looked into trips to Iceland. I'd love to see the Aurora Borealis or the Novht Lights whatever they call it. I have also heard about the night life in Reykjavik and I would love to experience that also. You wrote a great hub about Iceland that is I TextEdit g and informative. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us and your photos are beautiful!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      I forgot to congratulate you for HOTD! So congratulations on a terrific hub. Corrections: Northern Lights; interesting and informative.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 3 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Congrats on getting HOTD! Your photos are gorgeous. I would love to get out there someday. I appreciate all of the tips.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Twenty-odd years ago, Stanford Outing Club's leader planned a trip to Iceland. I would LOVE to have gone, but couldn't afford the $5000. Apparently neither could anyone else, because he wound up cancelling the trip.

      To this day, visiting Iceland remains on my Bucket List!

    • MJennifer profile image

      Marcy J. Miller 3 years ago from Arizona

      It was interesting to check into HubPages this morning and see your featured hub, as I've recently been reading up on history and geography of Iceland -- thinking someday I'd like to travel there. I found your information useful (and encouraging) and your photos gorgeous. Perhaps I'll make my own way there after all. I'll have the puffin, please!

      Congratulations on your well-deserved recognition.

      Best -- MJ

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