For the first full day in Reykjavik we decided that we would book a tour to get to know the city and not have to worry about driving all over the place. In my many hours of research before we left I found the I Heart Reykjavik blog which is an invaluable resource for anyone planning on going anywhere in Iceland. The morning would be spent on the walking tour showing us all the real sights of Reykjavik, where to buy the best food and interesting local insights, followed by a whale watching tour by a partner company.
We aren’t usually ones for going on group tours, hence why we decided on hiring a car and driving ourselves around, but from all the reviews and information on the website this tour seemed different and we weren’t disappointed. Waiting by the statue at the big church (much easier to remember than Hallgrímskirkja) was “The boyfriend” as he is known on the blog, who was going to be our guide for the day. It was only a small group of 9 with a mix of English, Scottish, American and German. Once we had all arrived we started on our way.
As we were guided through town towards the old harbour we were pointed towards a number of great restaurants and bars as well as the best coffee shop in Reykjavik (Reykjavik Roasters) which is a must see for any caffeine addicts like my fiancée. The most interesting parts were the insights in to the local people and culture. Firstly I never knew that all the unusual food that they have to offer like whale and shark isn’t a staple part of the Icelandic diet, it is simply bought for tourists. I am glad that we found out about this so that we could enjoy the real delicacies rather than the tourist traps. Second was about all the wonderful street art throughout the city.
Apparently there is no crime in the city and the only gangs are graffiti gangs. They will put their “art” on any free space that is left to them. To combat this the locals have come up with a genius trick. They hire a local “artist” to do a mural on one of their walls. There is very little that the graffiti artists respect but each others work is one of them. If there is artwork on a wall or garage the other artists will won’t touch anywhere on the house or area. Clever isn’t it?
The last gem that we were told about is the Icelandic water. All the water in Iceland is completely natural, with no additives, and is pure enough to be drunk by anyone; which is very different to traveling in other parts of Europe. This is one of the main reasons that locals laugh at tourists when they buy really expensive bottled water from the supermarket rather than using the tap. Even in the bookshops (the equivalent chain to Waterstones in England) there is a coffee shop with a jug of iced water that anyone can help themselves to. Always good to know when you get thirsty walking around the city. Especially as they all have a toilet that you can use; just need to get the key from the staff.
At the end of the tour we stopped at the town hall and was directed either towards to famous hot dog stall or Tommi’s Burger (the best burger in Iceland and apparently David Beckham’s favourite burger joint in London). We had enough time to grab some food before heading over to the harbour to find our tour boat. We decided on the hot dog stall which was an excellent choice. Following the advice I had read on the blog we went for two with everything and we weren’t disappointed. White bun, grilled onions and some super crispy onions that are kind of like bacon bits (if you have heard of that before) followed by the hotdog with mustard, ketchup and béarnaise sauce (an Icelandic favourite). Delicious!
With a full stomach it was time to walk down to the old harbour and find the tour boat. With our printed confirmation in hand (which I had to get the hotel reception to print in the morning because a certain unnamed fool didn’t read the email properly until then) we found the big boat with the right name on it. We then did something very un-british. There was a bus that had just dropped off a load of people who were all queuing so I decided to just ask the staff at the front by the dock if this was the right place, they looked at the confirmation, smiled and let us straight on. It’s not often I would ignore the ingrained rules of queuing but this time it worked in our favour.
Overalls donned, gopro setup we were ready to venture out on to deck and enjoy the view. Stepping out onto deck we were hit by a blast of cold air and so we were both quickly grateful for the extra layer of warmth the overalls offered. The water was fairly choppy, so after stumbling around for a bit we perched ourselves on a seat and took it all in. We could see the mountains in the distance that were the backdrop to the mornings excitements as well as the open ocean.
After a while of standing on deck, trying to fight off the strong winds and taking pictures we decided to go back down and get warm. I am usually pretty good when it comes to boats and travelling but the boat was churning so bad I thought I was going to be seeing the hotdogs again sooner than I planned. After having a drink and some strong menthol sweets I felt a little better and actually fell asleep for a short time which my fiancée took great pleasure in capturing as she always does when I’m sleeping.
Unfortunately we didn’t see any whales but there were a lots of dolphins that we managed to see on our way back to harbour. There was another tour bout out as well and we ended up dancing around them to see the dolphins which only helped in making the boat rock harder than ever. It was a new experience which I am glad we had but I can’t say that I will be going whale watching again any time soon. As much as I eventually want to see a humpback shooting water into the air sitting on a swaying boat and clenching my jaw to hold down my lunch isn’t an enticing prospect.
Once the tours and excitement was over we decided to go and enjoy a nice meal to celebrate our engagement. The restaurant of choice was The Old Iceland Restaurant. We arrived just as it was opening and they happened to have one table that was available for the next hour and a half. We didn’t realise it at the time but they are pretty much fully booked every night and you can rarely get a table until late in the evening if you walk in. Must have been my lucky day. We sat down and enjoyed the cold complimentary bottle of Icelandic water and the first of many tasty treats. Fresh baked bread with truffle butter and blueberry salt. The butter was like a whipped mousse. Perfectly smooth and with tons of flavour. We even got a second bowl once we had made our way through the first.
Whenever we are at a restaurant in a new place we always order two different meals and taste each others that way we always get to try twice the amount of new food in the limited time we have. For starters I chose the traditional Icelandic lamb soup and my fiancée had cured salmon, pickled cucumber with fennel and dill mouse. Both were amazing! For such a simple soup I can’t believe how much flavour they managed to pack in to it. The cured and pickled parts of the other starter were really interesting to. I believe that this is popular there due to the need to preserve all the fish and food back in the Viking days (don’t quote me on that though).
Plates cleaned and the mains were next. Icelandic Charr with parsnip puree, dill sauce, roasted vegetables and some pearl barley mixture underneath. I say mixture because I don’t know exactly what it was but it tasted damn good. I also got to try some of the second main we ordered; slow roasted lamb shoulder and lamb fillet with vegetables, parsnip puree and red wine sauce. I’m not sure the pictures I took did it justice but hopefully it shows how amazing they both looked before we wiped these plates clean too.
At this point our time was up so we happily paid and stepped out in the cold air to enjoy the slow walk back to the hotel. It was only the beginning of the holiday but it was an amazing start. As I have said before I remember our trips by the food we eat and the places we see and Reykjavik didn’t disappoint. The next installment will explore our tour of the golden circle and another afternoon spent wandering Reykjavik in search of food.
Ciao for now!