what to pack
Iceland is insanely beautiful!! It’s the land of geysers, volcanoes, black sand beaches, ponies, and glaciers! Reykjavik is the worlds’s northernmost capital city and is a perfect jumping off point for numerous day trips into untouched, rocky wilderness. The city itself is easy to explore on foot, but I would highly recommend having a car to investigate what lies beyond the edge of Iceland’s most populated urban area. I have been there for work numerous times, but if I were to head there for vacation, I would plan on bringing all of my favorite albums and have a music-a-thon while driving the Ring Road, the highway that circles this island country.
Before we get outside of Reykjavik, let’s talk about the city itself. It’s quaint nordic vibe and relaxed modernity make it a very user-friendly place. The main street, Laugavegur, and it’s side streets are full of cool shops and restaurants and the locals are friendly and helpful. Reykjavik has a super creative vibe and there are a lot of artists and musicians. While I was there, I happened upon an art show by the Icelandic artist “Shoplifter” who’s main materials are synthetic hair and other fibers. You may recognize her work from some of Bjork’s album covers. I also was lucky to check out an outdoor music festival in the countryside that was headlined by the electro band Gus Gus. It was in July, so at midnight the sun was still up– that makes it a little too easy to party all night!!
Fashion-wise, there’s definitely a look in Iceland. For example, at the concert, it was a sea of lopis, the traditional Icelandic sweater– it’s a take on the fair isle and ALL the kids were sporting them! The lopis are made from the wool of the Icelandic sheep, which is known for it’s softness, sturdiness, and water resistance. Iceland is so sparsely populated that these special sheep out number people three to one! Beyond the casual “lopi and jeans” look, there is a Euro/Scandinavian sensibility. The women wear modern shapes, bright colors, and have a sense of whimsy- like they aren’t taking themselves too seriously. At night, I saw sequins, capes, and fur hats. The weather, of course, adds a practical edge to their look– people are warm, cozy, and ready for whatever is on the radar– but all the girls still manage to look uber stylish.
You can dress for the city and going out at night, but it’s good to be more practical for outings to the countryside. On that note, let’s talk about what you might find in Reykjavik.
Jet Korine This stylish shop became known for its chic winter coats made from “life blankets”, the blankets used in emergency rescues when someone has been stranded in extreme weather. You can see one in the “what to pack” section above. She is also known for dying amazing cottons with tea and coffee. Everything has a a very touchable vibe, and feels hand-made, yet sophisticated. The designer is often in shop and will be happy to tell you what looks good on you– what works for your color, body type, your vibe– she is an artist!
Geysir Geysir is Reykjavik’s answer to a tourist shop but it’s still totally cool. You can find modern takes on the traditional lopi, fur hats, amazing jackets, and Fjallraven backpacks. It’s a great place for gifts and keepsakes, but don’t be fooled– these are not throw away pieces. Geysir is stocked with stylish, quality winter staples that you will wear season after season.
KronKron Kron Kron is Iceland’s answer to Barney’s COOP. If you need a quick fix of Marc by Marc, See by Chloe, or Acne, you’ve found your spot!
Kisan Kisan is a cool shop in Reykjavik that has a sister store in NYC’s Soho. It carries Isabel Marant (buy her tax free in Iceland- word to the wise), Vanessa Bruno, and Tsumori Chisato. There are also great gifts and spendy kids clothes. I always pop in there to see if there are any deals to be had. It has a soft, colorful, feminine sensibility and there is always something to covet.
Best Musical Instrument Store Ever– I can’t link to this place because I can find no evidence of it on the internet. I do not know it’s name but it surely has eighteen letters. Every time I go to Reykjavik, I spend some time in this shop. If you ask around, you will find it– it’s in the center of town on a side street off of Laugavegur. It is full of gorgeous, hand made instruments– from sitars and xylophones, to hand drums and ukeleles, to you name it. There are also these amazing architectural, hand-carved wood seats that are stringed. One person sits in the chair and the other person strums the harp strings near the sitter’s ears. It apparently is used in sound therapy for people recovering from trauma. If you are a music nerd like me, you will not be disappointed. I bought a beautiful thumb piano mounted on a hand drum and it makes the most resonant, dreamy sound. I also bought a mini steel drum that I plan on using to make some earthy, tropical jams in the near future. This is a pic of the interior….
Saegreifinn This was one of my fav spots in Reykjavik. It is basically a shack in the shipping harbor– it’s name translates to “the Sea Baron”. I am a big fan of salty, buttery seafood soups and this is “that kind of stuff” heaven. You can try local delicacies like shark and puffin, but I stuck to good old, rich, creamy, buttery lobster stew— ughhhhh— divine. After a cold day, it will put you right.
Fish and Chips This is another good spot near the harbor. It’s simple comfort food– basically fried fish with different dipping sauces and a salad. Basic and good, you can’t go wrong, but you have to like fish, obviously.
Hotel 101 This is the best place to stay in Reykjavik. It is modern, comfortable, and stylish and has a great lounge with art books and good wine. The restaurant is also recommended. They mix up the menu so when you tire of fish, fish, and more fish, you might find a curry chicken dish or a great burger on their menu.
Kaffibarinn and Boston are both fun places to have a drink in Reykjavik. In the summer, the sun never really sets and the locals stay out all night. They definitely like to get rowdy and often drink this black, licorice tasting liquor (among other things). The locals usually start the festivities at home and head out later in the evening for drinks…
There are lots of good restaurants– sushi, argentine, thai, etc. If you ask around, you will be surprised by the quality and variety, but to me the best things were the local, authentic Icelandic spots.
I really cannot begin to explain ALL of the noteworthy things to do near Reykjavik. I can’t even scratch the surface. Maybe this should be Reykjavik Post 1, which will be followed by 2, and then 3. There is SO much to see and do– it is an outdoorsman/ outdoorswoman’s paradise.
There is Budir, Hotel Ranga, Vik, the glaciers, the geysers, volcanos, the northern lights, Icelandic ponies, whale watching, snowmobiling, hiking, camping, music, etc. I really recommend watching the band, Sigur Ros’ film Heima. See it before you go and it will give you a glimpse of the landscape, the people, the country’s sensibility…. Put it on in the background if you have a party, give it as a gift. It’s a meditative pleasure.
One thing that the locals would call a tourist trap is the geothermal Blue Lagoon. Yeah, yeah, scoff all you like Icelanders, but it’s pretty special. Just the color of the water alone is sensational. Every Icelandic city has hot springs where the locals hang to unwind, catch up, and even do business– we visited some and they are like public pools in the U.S., but they are piping hot and warmed by the earth’s thermal energy. Either way, visit the lagoon or a pool, it’s a part of the local culture and it’s soooooo relaxing….
Where to begin? As I mentioned earlier, this is a real music place. It’s not just that there are lots of musicians and people passionate about music. It’s that there are so many beautiful places to drive long stretches and listen to yr fav songs. Why does driving in beautiful places make music sound even better?
A couple suggestions: let’s start with the appropriate Agaetis Byrjun by Sigur Ros (maybe overplayed in some circles, but a classic nonetheless. It came from this landscape!). Atlas Sound’s Parallax (echo-y pop with a nostalgic edge), Led Zeppelin III (for the viking in you), Bjork’s Vespertine (genius album, warm and feminine and liquid-y– she will make more sense to you when you see where she’s from). Let’s throw in Holy Ghost’s Holy Ghost (to keep the party rolling into the wee hours).