Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Iceland III: Reykjavik

For its size, Reykjavik is a relatively modern city, only being found in 1786 and urbanely developed in the 18th century. Even though visitors are often distracted by the countless natural wonders surrounding this capital city (check out part I and part II of this travelogue), Reykjavik does have much to offer on its plate, be it for culture, history or dining. The downtown area has a quiet sentiment, which is far cry from the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan city, hence it was a refreshing change. Walking around at night felt safe, and you can very often get a glimpse into the Ikea-look-alike apartments while walking in the streets as their windows tend to be wide open. I love the balanced mix of the modern city and the natural wonders in the background! We didn't dedicate much time at the start for exploring the city, but we compensated for this during our last few days of the trip. Here are some ideas that might be worth checking out:

1. Reykjavik concert hall and conference centre
I don't have a picture of the building, but it sports an interesting exterior architecture which was the recipient of the Mies Van der Rohe award for architecture. It's along the bay so a nice stroll after dinner would be perfect. It houses the Icelandic symphony orchestra as well as the Icelandic opera, you can check it out on their website for concert dates if you're interested. It's located at Austurbakki 2, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland.

2. Walk along the coast
It's a beautiful sight to just walk along the coastline, which is minutes from the downtown area. The views were equally stunning, as you can see the mountain ranges in the distance as well as enjoy the coastal breeze. Seems perfect for leisure city cycling and stone throwing. I really enjoyed the unobstructed view of the sky because of the low buildings and the mountain ranges in the far distance - something a metropolitan city can never offer.

3. Walking around downtown area
As mentioned, even the downtown streets have a peculiar quiet charm about them! Commercially, there are the usual international brands that are housed here as well as local craft shops which support Scandinavian designers. There are also tons of souvenir shops in the belt of Kringlan, which stocks merchandise from puffin plushies to viking hats. We were amused by a restaurant logo which resembled the London tube logo, which caught our eye almost immediately. There's a small tourist office located at Adalstraeti 2, 101 Reykjavik if you happen to get lost.

You can also get glimpses of the mountain ranges or the Hallgrimskirkja church, which is a tall building with staggered step-like architecture with a bell tower (you can pay 6 Kronas to get to the top for a panoramic view of the city.)

5. Höfði House
Built in 1909, the white wooden house is said to be the most historical and beautiful buildings in the city. It marked the venue in which the end of the Cold War was effectively official, hence the historical significance. now, it's owned by the city officials and is used for official receptions and meetings. It's interior is not open to the public, but you can explore the house from outside, peeking through the windows and using the explanatory panes outside as a history guide. It is located at Borgartún, 105 Reykjavík and is overlooking the waterfront.

6. Icelandic hot dogs 
If you type "Iceland hot" into Google, the second keyword you get is hot dogs, and boy are they right! I'm no fan of hot dog buns but this really made it in my good books. If you happen to travel down to Iceland, please do yourself a favour and go down to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur to grab a standard hot dog snack. Serving them for more than 60 years, the stand's name can be loosely translated as 'Town's best'. The bits of crispy onion and honey mustard blends well together to bring out the flavour of this humble snack, we loved it so much that we snagged some last-minute ones en route to the airport. They cost 280 ISK.

7. Old harbour area and dinner at Höfnin
The old harbour area of the city is gorgeously colourful and exudes a certain vibrancy, it's home to many marine activities where you can take a boat out for whale watching and puffin tours. I loved the stillness of the harbour, which reflected the pink gradients of the sky perfectly - it felt almost surreal to have captured the moment. It was also hard to imagine that the harbour used to be bustling with activity! There are also rows of restaurants by the harbour which offers a good view whilst being in the warm indoors - we went into Höfnin which is located at Geirsgata 7, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland, and they serve a mean lobster soup. I wasn't a fan of the thick soup after a few sips, but the lobster was fresh and it was really unique. Some of us also tried reindeer balls (meatballs) and fish dishes.

8. Fiskmarkaðurinn
Located in the city downtown area of Aðalstræti, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland, we came to know of Fiskmarkaðurinn through visitor guides and subsequently made our way down for a special meal at this lavish restaurant one fine night. Loosely translated as 'fish market', the restaurant offered a repertoire of exotic Icelandic meat, ranging from puffin to whale to cod. Each dish was presented beautifully, and the service was great! Although it was a pretty lavish restaurant, it seemed really popular and we waited close to an hour for a table for 8. We were told that we were lucky to have been able to get a table without making reservations, so I'm guessing booking beforehand would have been a good move. I can't remember which dish is which, but we had appetizers to share like puffin, whale, beef,, our main courses were a good mix of monk fish, cod, bass, volcano maki, etc. They were all pretty decent, but our Singaporean taste buds had us concluding that puffin tastes like char siew and whale tastes like fishy beef.

Before long, it was time to head back to London - good bye Iceland, you're been an amazingly beautiful country and I hope to be back soon in summer for your wondrous surprises.

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