The best thing about living in London, and why I cannot imagine living anywhere else, is because of the ease with which you can get anywhere, anytime. Take Iceland, for instance. It is only a two hour flight away, and it literally feels like you’ve been transported to a different world.
I’ve been to Iceland several times before, as those of you who’ve been following the blog for a while know, but always in the summertime. This was my first experience in the winter, and I loved it just as much, but for very different reasons.
Rather than travel around the country, A., C. and I decided that it would be best to stay in Reykjavik, and travel with a group tour. The roads could be treacherous, we figured, and none of us had spent an extended period in Reykjavik anyway.
Below are a few things I really enjoyed during our weekend-long excursion to Iceland.
Staying in Reykjavik.
We got an Airbnb right in the centre of town, on the same street as most of the bars and nightclubs. Since I’ve spent most of my time in Iceland driving the countryside, this was a really different way to look at the country, particularly since Reykjavik is its only city- you can get a good feel for things! Since the sun comes up at 11am and is set completely by 5pm, which means really, really short days, its nice to have the backdrop of the city to do things in the darkness- which actually isn’t so dark because there are lights EVERYWHERE, particularly around Christmastime. We found that pretty much every house has a tree up and in front of a window, and there are loads of twinkly lights in trees and on buildings around the city.
Central Reykjavik is totally walkable- we walked the shopping areas, main bus stops and seaside in just a few hours’ time. Every moment is perfect picture time, since it feels like you’re in a perpetual sunset (even at sunrise)!
Like I said, don’t let the grey sky fool you. Everything is actually super cosy and the light and decorations around Christmas really help you embrace the cold and dark. I felt really comfy the entire time I was in Reykjavik.
Just make sure that you make plans to walk between around 11am and 3pm, or else things will get too dark for you to take good photos, or enjoy the architecture and sights outside.
You’ll probably hate me after you do this, but it is an Icelandic delicacy and I am happy I tried it, even if writing about it makes me feel slightly nauseated. Hakarl is rotten shark, buried in the sand on the beach for several days and then hung up and fermented. It is then chopped into tiny pieces and served. Our waitress told us she eats it for a snack in front of the TV!
It looks like little cubes of cheese, but don’t let the appearance fool you. The taste itself is not too bad, but the after taste reminded me of lye soap. Why should you try it? Not only is it a delicacy you may just like (C. liked it enough to eat about half before the taste overpowered him), its a nod to Icelanders ancestors, who often had nothing but hakarl to eat in the dead of winter. Just imagine!
Take a day tour.
I’ve done the Golden Circle a few times, but always by way of rented car, and always in the summer. The winter offered a really new perspective on Thingvellir, Gulfoss and Geysir, and having a guided tour also had the added benefit of learning little facts that you don’t get when you’re driving around on your own.
I also was happy to return to the continental divide in Thingvellir (where the European and North American plates are growing apart at a rate of 2cm a year, fun fact). However, now I’m very concerned and confused about where my allegiances lie!
It was also fascinating to see Gulfoss, pretty much frozen. The bottom tiers of access are even closed off in case of slips and spills on the icy edges.
Definitely wrap up warm if you’re going to brave the Golden Circle in the winter months, it was bitter cold!
Go out for Runtur.
I’d heard of runtur on a previous trip to Iceland, but since I was poor and focused on the countryside, I didn’t really push to learn more. Turns out, runtur is the phenomenon where most people use the excuse of a long weekend winter’s night to get sloshed and dance until the wee hours. I’d highly, highly recommend buying your liquor, beer and wine from the duty free shop at the airport and pre-gaming at your hotel or Airbnb, because drinks in Iceland are insanely expensive (I paid about 50 GBP for three rum and cokes). But then go out and get your dance on!
Since the sun doesn’t rise until 11am, you’ll have plenty of time to recover before the next morning.