Approaching Reykjavik by aeroplane is a unique experience. The city appears meticulously laid out, compact studded with all kinds of parks, and flat with buildings proportional to its small size. Everything blends well, and the harmony of landscape and man-made structures are remarkable.
The capital is small, wealthy and democratic island nation is also the cultural and economic centre of Iceland. Reykjavik, home to approximately 130 000 souls, by all accounts is a unique city, where all buildings are heated by geyser water, free-of-charge, sourced just outside of the city. Icelanders are unfailingly polite, reserved, well to do, and known to enjoy a drink or two, despite inordinately high prices due to excessive taxes on alcohol.
Iceland and Reykjavik in particular, attracts millions of visitors because of its relatively clean air, unspoiled landscape, cleanliness and friendly citizens. Loftleidir, the national airline, flies daily from New York via Reykjavik to Luxembourg and London, offering not only the lowest scheduled transatlantic flights, but also allows passengers free of charge stopover.
All types of accommodation is available on the IT, by any North American travel agent or at the Reykjavik airport’s friendly tourist bureau clerks. In Reykjavik tourists feel comfortable, because should anyone get lost, there are also always citizens willing to help. Most speak English.
Geographically ignorant people believe Iceland to be very cold, in reality the Gulfstream helps modify the climate. Temperatures oscillate between 0 – 25 C, and abundant free energy prompted entrepreneurs to erect greenhouses cultivating tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. Other vegetables are also being experimented with.
Still produce is expensive; as almost everything must be imported from as far away as Arizona (iceberg lettuce) or California or Florida (citrus), beef from the United Kingdom, before the hoof and mouth disease decimated their herds. Now Icelanders eat Canadian and American beef.
Seafood and mutton are available and always fresh. Actually it is seafood that keeps the Icelandic economy afloat. Sheep thrive on the vast pastures and outnumber the population much like in New Zealand, but here the animals are husbanded for their wool more than their meat. The botanical gardens of Reykjavik grow coffee, bananas and all kinds of tropical fauna in hothouses, but only for research.
The city is charming, architecturally stimulating, and enjoys extra long summer days! For a short time during the year there is daylight 24 hours per day. Here you can swim in public outdoor pools throughout the year free of charge, shop for handcrafted sweaters, toques and artisanal souvenirs.
Icelandic restaurant food used to be boring ad predictably consisted mainly of fish and mutton including pickled tongue, and roasted head of sheep. Gastronomically, Iceland made significant progress mainly due to the efforts of young, talented, and dedicated chefs, who, after serving an apprenticeship, went to France, or Italy, or Denmark to expand their culinary horizons and repertoire.
Rex, the brainchild of Sir Terence Conran (a British entrepreneur with an interest in restaurants) serves “modern” food presented imaginatively. His restaurant in Reykjavik caters to the “in-crowd” of New York City, London, Copenhagen, Oslo, and other European capitals.
Since Reykjavik is equidistant between North America and Northern Europe, the “glitterati” prefer to meet here.
Friday through Sunday, any type of accommodation is difficult to find. Young, talented actors and actresses flock there, determined to have fun! They drink, enjoy recreational sports, “potent herbs”, and generally mingle to connect!
A bottle of imported beer costs a small fortune in a neighbourhood bar. If you are up to partying, buy your drinking needs at the duty free shop coming in, and if so inclined, also outbound. Needless to say, duty free does not mean profit free. Always compare prices. In some duty free shops prices are higher than in town.
Reykjavik is a party town par excellence because of its setting, friendly, young population famous for it s civility. The parliament of Iceland, reputed to be the first in Europe, happens to be small but definitely worth visiting.
Visiting geysers, an hour’s drive from the city, is an absolute must to admire their power and unpredictable nature. Visiting Iceland and not visiting geysers is akin to visiting Rome and neglecting Vatican. Iceland may be for weekend partiers, but mostly tourists go there to hike, bicycle ad enjoy unspoiled nature at its best.
Starting Monday evening through Friday downtown Reykjavik looks deserted. There are few people on the streets, fewer still in the bars. But at the height of summer months when nights run into days, partying goes not only in hotel suites but in bars and pubs around the clock, and occasionally even longer.
Recently city fathers were forced to extend beverage service hours from 3 a m to 6 a m on weekends, which in turn lead to a welcome influx of “party minded”, well heeled young tourists looking for fun.
If you are in the mood to have fun Monday to Friday head to Keflavik, the second largest city of Iceland, and host to a large American air force base.
American airmen know how to party.
More from Reykjavik.