“Something for everyone” is such a tired cliché; it usually means an excess of boring, bland activities. That’s not the case with Iceland; it’s only as boring and bland as you are. Outdoor adventures, thermal spas, great food and nightlife all combine to make Iceland someplace special. We decided it would be a great destination for our buddy’s bachelor party, and it didn’t disappoint!
The forty-five minute cab ride from the airport felt like driving through “Mordor;” I’m pretty sure we passed Frodo and Sam alongside the road. There are no trees, and at first glance there’s nothing idyllic about the rocky, barren terrain. Off in the distance, steam rises out of the earth, reminding you you’re in an active volcano zone. We were there in August, when there are about nineteen hours of daylight, but I couldn’t imagine spending a winter in that desolate landscape with only a few hours of sunlight each day.
The city of Reykjavik, however, is warm and inviting. Three hundred thousand people inhabit Iceland, and two-thirds live in the city. The eclectic variety of bars gives Reykjavik a “college town” vibe. There’s everything from trashy dance clubs to live music and low-key pubs.
Bar 11 (Hverfisgata Street) was by far my favorite. The band performing as we walked in was a cross between Tool and Pink Floyd (two of my favorites), and I was immediately in love with this place. Black walls, covered with tattoo “flash,” made Bar 11 feel like something out of an Ozzy Osbourne video.
Dillon, a little farther away from the main square on Laugavegur Street, was also a bastion of rock and roll. There weren’t live bands, but the DJ played some great music and seemingly everyone had tattoos— this was my kind of place, through and through!
We hit the English Pub our first night for a relaxed, low-key time. For 1500 Kroner ($12 USD), we spun a wheel for a chance to win beer or crap-out with nothing. We hit the grand prize on our first spin— one meter of beer (about 10 glasses). We handed out a few and made some friends, and drank the rest ourselves. Beginner’s luck and an auspicious start to a great, long weekend!
Trashy dance clubs abound as well. The most notable was b5. The line can be long on weekends, but somehow my buddy got us past the line and into the club. The entourage of people we had accumulated by that point was pretty impressed, as was I. The drinks are pricey and the music sucks, but the women inside b5 are beautiful. Olive and Hresso are also clubs, but they blurred together in my memory. Bar hopping seems to be the thing to do, especially because there’s as much going on out in the street as there is inside the bars and clubs.
Traditional Icelandic cuisine brings to mind pickled fish and rotten shark, but there are really good restaurants doing modern dishes with local ingredients. We happened on Grillmarkadurinn or “Grillmarket” (Laekjargata 2a) by accident while looking for another restaurant. This place had the best food we ate during our stay. All kinds of meat grilled to juicy perfection. We started with a sample of three mini burgers— puffin, whale, and langoustine, though I felt a little guilty eating whale. We also got an order of pork ribs and monkfish skewers to start. The grilled lamb entrée was one of the best, most perfectly cooked pieces of lamb I’ve ever eaten; so good that I made sure to get it again when we returned to Grillmarkadurinn on our last night!
We also ate at Fish Company, not to be confused with Fish Market or Fish Factory. I started with a small portion of grilled Puffin steak— red meat, like ostrich, but more gamey. Not bad, but not spectacular either. The fish trio entrée was excellent; the freshness of the fish was evident in each delicious bite. Grilled halibut stood out amongst the perch, Atlantic char, and langoustine. Good meal despite me not being a huge fish lover.
The milky water of the Blue Lagoon was warm and inviting, but there were too many people for it to be a relaxing experience. It seems to be one of the things every visitor to Iceland does. The place is packed and the water is warm, but only really hot near the vent where it enters the pool. The milky color comes from silicates in the water. Before the water enters the Blue Lagoon, it is pumped through an energy plant where the steam turns turbines and generates electricity— along with solar and wind, this is the cleanest source of energy that can be found. The water is perfectly safe, there’s nothing toxic about the power plant. The Blue Lagoon was ok, but I was hoping for better.
We got up pretty early to make our way over to the Arctic Adventures office for our glacier hiking tour. The two-hour drive to Sólheimajökull (don’t ask me how to pronounce it) Glacier on the southern coast of Iceland gave us an opportunity to see the true beauty of the Icelandic landscape— greener than the ride from the airport. We arrived, got our crampons and ice axes, and were on our way. Sólheimajökull is a small glacier, and although a larger glacier feeds into it, it’s receding at a rapid rate (150m last year). Receding glaciers leave behind an unsorted mixture of rocks and boulders that have been picked up along the way, creating a surreal sight— a barren wasteland you’d expect to see on the moon. Sólheimajökull is covered in patches of ash from a nearby volcano, so it may not be the most picturesque glacier— it looks a bit more like snow the day after a snow storm, when it’s been plowed, trampled on, and driven over, but nonetheless, it’s an impressive site! Hikers touring with Arctic Adventures have the opportunity to rappel down into a crevasse and climb out with ice axes. I have a fear of heights. However, I knew if I didn’t do this, I would regret it for a long time. So, I leaned back, didn’t look down, and trusted the rope and our guides. I climbed my way back out so fast that I barely registered what I was doing— the power of nervous adrenaline!
On our way back to Reykjavik, we stopped at Skógafoss Waterfall. This 60 meter (about 200 feet) waterfall is incredible! The force from the water hitting the riverbed below is enough to stop you in your tracks and knock you backwards— nature’s strength at its best and most beautiful.
It was early evening when we arrived back in Reykjavik, and the city was hopping with its annual “Culture Day.” We went back to our apartment, took our sulfur-stinking hot showers (the water is taken right from the ground, already hot), and prepared for an all-out bachelor party celebration! We got our buddy a cheesy Viking T-shirt and headed out for an awesome night— that’s where that story ends, except to say that the sun was well up over the horizon when the bars closed down and we made our way home. A strange end to a tremendous night!
Iceland is astounding! The people are friendly, the food and drinks are excellent, and the activities are incredible. It ended up being more beautiful than what we saw at first glance, but there is a strange feeling being in a place with so much daylight, as I imagine it would be strange in winter with so little. In a place so dramatically shaped by nature, it feels a little unnatural.