Greetings, Fellow Travelers!
BLUF: This four-part AAR covers the journey, destination, and activities of our trip to Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing wonders: waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and fresh air. Over the past five years, Iceland has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists. In turn, Iceland’s tourism infrastructure has risen to the challenge to accommodate that influx with new hotels, bars, restaurants, and a fantastic airport. I recommend a visit, but more than most places, seasonal differences in airfare, room rates, activities, and crowds prevail. Definitely do your research.
Today’s AAR takes us to Iceland.
The Avis counter reminded us multiple times to observe the posted speed limit during our stay. Icelandic police are unforgiving to speeding tourists especially during the 45-minute journey from KEF into Reykjavik. Without incident, we made our way into downtown Reykjavik (thanks, WAZE!) and to 101 Hotel, a Member of the Design Hotels (a Marriott brand).
The quirky, boutique nature of the Design Hotel made our stay in downtown Reykjavik a very walkable one. Located near old town and the marina, 101 Hotel offered great amenities (a full-spa and whirlpool; wifi; and continental breakfast) but no dedicated parking. We found street parking for our stay. Of note, hotels are not cheap, but before the summer rush, they are reasonable. The 101 Hotel room rate was $250/night. By late May, the rate would increase to $420+/night.
The room was small but comfy, and the décor was slightly weird but in an arty way. We kept the windows open to breathe in some fresh air and enjoy the city sounds. Our room faced a park and the amazing Harpa Concert Hall.
From the 101 Hotel, we were able to walk everywhere to visit some key landmarks and take some nice pictures. We wandered the charming streets of downtown and old town, enjoyed a Thai dinner (it was NOT spicy at all!) and some good after-dinner baked goods. Reykjavik is full of coffee shops and bookstore. It reminded us of Portland, Oregon with everyone in big sweaters and wool hats.
On Saturday, we booked a whale watching tour. We opted for a luxury three-hour tour aboard a converted yacht with a full snack bar. Another option was to ride a speed boat and chase down whale sightings. Even though it was April, the weather was still quite cold and rainy on the water, so speed boating around the coast was not an option for us. The guide and the crew were very nice as was the boat. Sadly, we didn’t see any whales, but we did see puffins who were migrating back north for the summer. The puffins fly fast and low along the water alternating between landing on rocky outcrops and the water.
Reykjavik has a lot of bars and pubs read-made for live music and good times with friends. With the daylight still visible at 10:30pm, the city remains lively for both young and old. Another plus to the rise in tourism is the popularity of pop-up restaurants. Pop-up restaurants are food truck-like establishments with small and concentrated menus. We found Ramen Momo, the first ramen house in Iceland. Made up of one long counter and a small kitchen, the staff prepared some outrageously good ramen. Again, even when asked for, spiciness does not seem part of the Icelandic palate. Still, the ramen was fresh and full of flavor.
Opened in May 2011, the Harpa Concert and Convention Center is a massive structure designed by a Danish architectural firm. The 28000 square meter facility houses one large concert hall and three smaller venues and is the center of culture in Iceland. The windows are geometric-shaped octagon, hexagon, and pentagon glass panels in hues of greens, blues, and oranges. As the outer wall leans outward from its base, when inside, one gets the sensation of tipping over as you enjoy the views from the upper floors.
In sum, Reykjavik has a lot to offer. Staying in the city center is the best way to sample the city without having to drive. The city center is slightly hilly but relatively small. If you plan a shoulder season visit, you’ll likely find the best hotel and tour deals.
Next, Part 4: Waterfalls, geysers, and moonscapes…
Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.
“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”
Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler