Once a month one of our locals flies the nest and writes up their wanderings to offer you a guide of some of Cuckooz favourite cities. This month, Bryony has flown the nest and landed in the frozen and magical city of Reykjavik, Iceland.
Cultured, insanely beautiful and yes - very very cold, Reykjavik is the perfect destination to visit for those in need of a spot of inner calm and restoration. As someone who intrinsically LOATHES cold weather, I was half debating whether or not the trip was worth my while. After all, I had heard many tales of how expensive the city was to visit, but strangely enough, this icey paradise quickly became one of my most memorable travel experiences to date.
First things first, you’re going to have to invest in some quality thermals if you haven’t already. I was lucky enough to borrow some off my housemate (no stranger to hanging off cliff faces for days on end) and I am resolutely positive that this made my trip a million times better. Good quality thermals should be light weight and therefore easy to wear under your regular clothes or pack in your hand luggage should you need to. They may cost a pretty penny from branded outdoor stores, but UNIQLO have a pretty decent array of products if you’re in a pinch. I wore Dr Martens for the entire trip (well gripped shoes are a must) and these generally sufficed with two pairs of socks underneath, though you might consider investing in something a little more made-for-purpose if you’re planning on braving the elements for significant periods of time. Overall, this destination strongly favours substance over style, so focus on practicality and bring one nice outfit if you must - day to day you will be wearing as many layers as possible. Do away with your makeup and let the wonderful Nordic air work it’s magic on your skin (on that note, the water here tastes like a freaking elixir of life and does wonders for your skin and hair.)
Secondly, although I have known of friends who travelled Reykjavik by public transport alone, I really would recommending a hire car if you can afford to. Points of interest are few and far between, and the public landscape is so beautiful that getting from A to B really is a joy, though waiting around in the freezing cold for your bus to arrive might take the edge off a tad.
So, with these two points firmly in check, you’re ready to explore this stunning landscape of ice and fire. To help you step in the right direction, I’ve put together a list of my personal recommendations of places to eat, drink, see and do.
Grandi Mathöll is a tapas style food hall where you are encouraged to sample as many cuisines as you can stomach, with a beer or two to boot. There’s a fantastic array of great tasting vegan options, alongside beautifully fresh fish dishes and the usual pasta or burger options you’d expect from this kind of set up. It’s the perfect meeting spot for those who want to explore the harbour - filled with boutique shops, ice cream bars and museums.
Matur og Drykkur is a beautiful restaurant which focuses on traditional Icelandic cuisine, with a modern twist. The menu is seafood heavy, and pairs fresh ingredients with inventive combinations. Their famous dish is a whole cod’s head with chicken and berry glacé - perhaps not for the faint hearted, but exquisite nonetheless. The dish even comes with cod tonsils which I must admit was a rather surreal experience to eat (though in fact tastes just like scampi!). The cocktail pairings are equally as delicious, though a word of warning - the cost of eating out in Iceland is a fair bit higher than London; expect an average of £80-£100 per head including one alcoholic drink.
OK, so full disclosure - the only drinking I did on this trip was at the restaurants I visited (and of course the imperative hot chocolate I poured in my thermal each day), though through a wee bit of scouting around, I came across the following venues which I can officially stamp with the Cuckooz seal of approval.
Probably the number one rated sightseeing tour you will find listed on any website referring to Iceland, visiting the Golden Circle is the type of experience which will last with you a lifetime. The Golden Circle consists of three jaw-dropping destinations in southwest Iceland: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss waterfall. All three site lie within a two hours trip from Reykjavik, and can therefore all be done in a day.
A really thoughtful executed, and stunning example of Icelandic architecture. No doubt you would have seen countless images of this famous Lutheran church of Iceland, but nothing beats seeing the real thing in the flesh.
Whilst I wouldn’t count on seeing them whilst you’re in town (the weather has to be really cold, and the sky has to be super still), seeing the Aurora Borealis in person really is a magical, incomparable experience. Though it isn’t a guarantee, you can check the Icelandic weather reports ahead of your trip, which provide useful indicators on the likelihood of their appearance.
Visit the Blue Lagoon
Not only is it visually, just a beautiful place to visit, the Blue Lagoon is also probably one of the best places to relax in the whole world. A geothermal spring pumps 40 degrees Celsius water into a stunning pool surrounded by mountains. Going into essentially a giant bathtub when you’re braving minus temperatures (and a blizzard in my case) in your swim suit is definitely a strange experience, but completely rewarding, and there’s even an in-water bar you can swim to to grab a prosecco or three whilst you’re at it. Each entrance fee entitles you to what I’m assuming is an unlimited supply of mineral facemarks to apply whist you’re in the pool, leaving your skin soft and hydrated.
Last but not least, I couldn’t finish this write up without giving a shout out to one of my favourite highlights of my trip. Though I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes for probably an hour afterwards, sledging with a pack of dogs in the serene and magical Icelandic landscape really was a memory which will stay with me for a long time. The experience will set you back at least £75, so make sure you save up in advance for the experience.