Reykjavik – Friendly People, Charming Old Town
March 4, 2016
We made Reykjavik our home base while we were in Iceland and it certainly offered everything that we needed. When we visit Iceland again in the future, and we expect that we will, we’ll probably stay in smaller towns in different parts of Iceland, but for our first trip, we’re glad that we were able to spend time in Reykjavik. We hadn’t been in Iceland for a full day before we had already vowed that we’d be returning and that a week was not enough time to see everything that we wanted to see in this beautiful country. From the very first person that we talked to upon our arrival in Reykjavik (not the airport, that was a different story) to the very last person, every interaction was genuinely friendly. The people were as helpful as in any city that we’ve ever visited and we never once worried about crime while we were there.
We drove into Reykjavik before the sun had started to rise, which was about 8:00 a.m. After one wrong turn, we quickly found our hotel and were fortunate enough that our room was available. We had requested an early check-in in advance, but were surprised to find that it was available that early. Additionally, our room included access to the executive lounge where we could get a cooked breakfast until 11:00 a.m. After grabbing a quick bite at the hotel, we walked into Old Town, which was about a fifteen minute walk from the hotel, a walk that we would make about eight or nine times over the course of our visit. Reykjavik has a great bus system that will allow you to get around pretty easily, but we chose to walk so that we could see more of the town as well as get some exercise.
The main street of Old Town, Laugavegur, is lined with shops and restaurants. Towering over it all is Hallgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland. You can pay to go to the top of it and apparently on a clear day, something we didn’t have, you can see the Snæfellsjökull glacier, but we got much better views when we drove up to the peninsula. Outside of the church is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson (Leif Erikson) who is the Icelandic explorer that first discovered America. Inside the church, there is an enormous pipe organ that is impressive and beautiful. The church is definitely worth visiting while you’re in Reykjavik.
One of the interesting things that we learned is that the people of Iceland are proud of their beliefs in elves and trolls. The most common things to find in stores are the hand-made wool sweaters, stuffed animal puffins, and figurines of elves and trolls. We even bought a plate that has the images of the thirteen Yuletide Lads, who are supposed to be descended from trolls and are boogeymen that are used to scare the children into behaving at Christmastime. Considering their Viking heritage and the harsh environment that they endure, surrounded by volcanos and harsh winters, who can blame them for believing that there might be mythical creatures hidden in the mountains.
Another feature of Reykjavik are the colorful homes and buildings that line the streets. When seen from above, it is a tapestry of color throughout the town and brings some warmth to the cold winter days. Walking through the streets of Old Town down towards the old harbor, you will enjoy seeing a variety of historic buildings, each housing different businesses all owned by locals. You won’t find any chain restaurants or stores in Old Town Reykjavik. You’ll be greeted by the store owners and restaurant owners, all extremely proud of the goods, services, or food that they offer. Take the time to talk to them, they will be happy to tell you the history of their store, of Iceland, or just to chat with you for a few minutes.
We really enjoyed our time in Reykjavik, it is truly a charming little city. The people are incredibly friendly, the shops are filled with interesting goods, and the restaurants are incredible. We also enjoyed the hotel where we stayed, which was the Hilton in Reykjavik. Every evening we enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine in the lounge with other guests, many of whom were from a film production crew. We knew this because they would quietly talk about directors, screenwriters, actors/actresses, all hushed, but loud enough that we couldn’t help but overhear. We never asked them what they were there to film, we knew that Game of Thrones was filmed in Iceland, but after we got home we found out that Star Wars Episode VIII was being filmed there during the same time as our trip, so perhaps that is what they were there to film. Reykjavik was just one of the reasons that we had an incredible trip travelling to Iceland.