Reykjavik, Iceland

Old town views

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Reykjavik's old town is a calming, peculiar mix of Scandinavian wood houses, modern buildings, cafés and shops.

Iceland’s capital city with its university, businesses and infamous financial district calls for meetings. The town is relatively small, but hosts nearly 50 per cent of the country’s population in its close vincinity. A new concert and congress hall is currently under construction, and will certainly call for congresses and conferences soon.

Reykjavik is a typical Scandinavian town with high security, relaxed atmosphere, and tidy roads. Scandinavian tax levels and beer prices are up to expectations, too.

Cultural heritage is presented in museums and galleries, while a local swimming pool with hot tubs offers a cheap alternative to the fancy and pricey Blue Lagoon in walking distance.

Tour operators offer pick-up service from hotels and hostels. Their tours offer the full portfolio of Iceland adventures as day trips: Sightseeing excursions, scuba diving the mid-atlantic ridge, glacier walks, volcano sightseeing, Iceland pony riding or jeep trips to nearby geysers, waterfalls and hot springs.

Summertime presents the conference and meeting visitor with a number of festivals, of which the music open air festival in the streets of Reykjavik in August is the biggest.

What to do

  • Use city swimming pool. There is one in nearly every vilalge, as drawing the warmth from the earth is cheap on Iceland, and the weather calls for a hot bath more often than not.
  • The Sculpture Museum contains a vast collection of Icelandic sculpting art.
  • Visit the Hallgríms church. The white, modern protestant church is made of concrete columns that resemble volcanic basalt rock found all over Iceland. Catch a view of the town and surrounding mountains and glaciers from Hallgrímskirkja’s tower
  • Visit Perlan (a combined museum/shopping mall/water reservoir).
  • Walk the promenade and the shopping road (Laugarvegur) near the harbor and conference center.
  • Visit a volcano, or at least a geyser and a fumarole field.
  • Local waterfalls and nature in general are  nice – and the Hengill volcanic park is just 30 minutes away.
  • Check out local elves and trolls (preferably elves, trolls tend to be unfriendly). Iceland has a government agency for the preservation of elves, which employs negotiators to make contact with the more mythical residents of the island.

Where to stay

  • The City or Downtown hostel are clean and affordable. The cheapest way to stay in town. Clean hostels, organized in Hostelling International. The brand new Downtown Hostel is in the heart of the old town, while the classic City Hostel with its campground resides approx. 2 km from the center and new conference hall. Rates are between 2500 and 3500 ISK per night. The City Hostel is located right next to the city swimming pool – the cheapest way to enjoy Icelandic themal bathing, with admission fees of ca. 3€.
  • City campground next to the city hostel  (make sure to bring a tent that won’t get brought down by strong winds, as well as an appropriate sleeping bag).
  • One of the many business hotels in the center and around the harbor. More pricey, they offer the usual standard to the business traveler.

Getting around

Usually, you’ll enter the country through the Keflavik airport, 50km south of Reykjavik. Some people who bring their own cars or campers along use a ferry from Europe into Reykjavik. However, for the sake of a business meeting, it will be airplane travel (hopefully not disturbed by volcanic eruptions).

  • Within the city: walk or use the local transportation!
  • Into the country: From 15.5.-15.9., the public long distance bus network will get you to many plances in iceland.
  • Use a rental car – some offers are quite cheap leately, particularly with companies that rent out well-used cars, e.g. Sad Cars (based at Kevlavik Airport).
  • Get picked up by tour operators or guides at your hostel or hotel. If you book the classic day trips to the Golden Circle or the glaciers, you’ll be transported by the tour operator.
  • Never hitch-hike in Iceland. When locals resort to driving, they usually pack their cars with the whole family and dog. Success rates are very low. Plus, you don’t want to be left out in the weather for days. When you have to walk to places, you realize that Iceland is bigger than it appears on the map.

Where to eat

  • Restaurant Balthazar is centrally located on Hafnarstraeti 1-3 in the town’s bar and party district. A bistro and café at day time, the place turns into a night club and cocktail bar at nighttime. Their menu offers barfood (burgers, steak, fish & chips), fish, pasta and some Icelandic dishes. Plokkfiskur, a potato-fish-gratin, is highliy recommended!
  • The small sushi take-away Sushibarinn in Laugavegi 2, tel. 5524444, offers fine sushi made from Icelandic seafood. Particularly whale sushi and whale sashimi from Icelandic-caught mink whale, and Iceland horse (pony) meat are a specialty not served anywhere else.
  • Make sure to have the most expensive beer you can find. Even if you feel abused initially, the most expensive Beck’s you ever had will make a great story and will pay off in the long run. Hard Rock Cafe Reykjavik used to be a great place for this, as it had the most outrageous beer prices ever. Sadly, it is closed now. Beer and wine are not on sale in regular shops, only in the monopoly shops, like in most nordic countries. The shop in Reykjavik is located across the street from the main post office in the downtown area.

Brennivin - an Icelandic aquavit

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Brennivin uses a traditional poision and acid bottle used in pharmacy stores in the good old times. The producer reacted on the Icelandic alcohol prohibition by filling these bottles with his 'poison'. Brennivin is not for those faint in heart, or sensitive in their taste buds. Best enjoyed at -15 C right from the freezer.

What to bring home
Typical Icelandic souvenirs – other than volcanic rock, volcanic ash, and photos – are to be found in Reykjavik’s art shops and galleries. However, some specialties are worth some extra attention.

  • Brennivin, Iceland’s answer to Akevit/Aquavit. Best enjoyed at -20C (calms down the flavor buds). The glass bottle is actually an old poison bottle inspired by old pharmacy bottles – which, according to the legend, was a reaction of the producer to increasingly restrictice alcohol regulation in the last century.
  • Dried fish snacks, and salt fish. The fish snacks are enjoyed best with beer, while the salt fish is a great raw material for dishes such as Bacalao and Plokkfiskur.
  • Jewellery, pottery or fashion from the artist’s shops around Laugavegur (the shopping road) and Skólavörðustíg (the road to Hallgrims church).

Maps

  • Actually, Google Maps doesn’t offer too much detail for anything outside the city center – see below. It seems that Iceland is best enjoyed with a decent topographic map, along with the free maps available all over Reykjavik in any palce that offers touristic brochures.

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