Iceland: Arrival & Reykjavik

This is pretty much the first impresson when arrving in Iceland:

It’s pretty much a moonscape, with endless, empty lava fields, with nothing growing but moss in all shades of (sometimes pretty psychedlic-looking) greens.

Luckily, it gets better: the landscapes stay heavy on lava fields and moss, and low on houses and people, but get much, much prettier – the long drive from the international airport into Reykjavik features some of the least pretty views iceland has to offer.

Also on the way from the airport: the so-called blue lagoon, a somewhat-not-really natural pool of hot water created by the runoff of a hydrothermal power plant, that appears a milky turquoise blue due to the silica in the water.

And then the people had the genius idea of creating a real pool within the rocks, and making a public pool and spa out of it. The water is pretty hot (even had to take a break for a bit, and ironically got my only sunburn of the trip in the cool iceland weather by falling asleep on the rocks), the surroundings are beautiful, the entrance includes a free facemask and a drink in the bar set right into the pool – what else could you ask for after a long flight?

It’s very touristy, and a little overpriced for what is bascially one large hot pool, but a perfect stopover on the way from the airport.

Hotels in Reyjkavik can be pricey, so I found a nice Airbnb right downtown in a typical old wooden house. Turned out to be a real gem, complete with a cozy living room, good coffee, lots of bookshelves, and even house cats. All you need to add is a piano, and I’d never leave.

Time to explore Reyjkavik. Starting with a free walking city tour offered by a history grad student – those are pretty much alway a good choice in a new city. That brightly painted wooden house is pretty typical for the older neighbourhoods in Reyjkavik.

The seat of the president of iceland. Pretty unpretentious, and with no visible guards or security – apparently it’s not uncommon for tourists to wander in, and ask the president for directions.

The monolith-shaped tower in the background is Hallgrimm’s cathedral, which dominates the “skyline”.

A bit weird, but quite pretty in an Empire state building / Art deco sort of way. I like it.

The interior is quite bare, though, and the view from the tower is not really worth it – Reykjavik is not that large, and has not much in the way of landmarks, it looks more like a smallish town with outlying suburbs from above.

The “harpa” concert hall at the harbour is one of the most modern, and futuristic-looking, buildings in town.

Its facade gives a nice view of downtown from inside.

Yup, icelanders do hunt whales, and they don’t apologize for it. And quite next to it are boats offering whalewatching tours – wonder how those two get along…

A, or rather the, famous hot dog stand at the harbour, where apparently all kinds of celebrities and visiting dignitaries have visited before. Well, the hot dogs are tasty, and cheap – unlike regular restaurants, where a completely normal meal in a completely normal, non-fancy restaurant might run 40 or 60 euros. I’m not sure if it’s the exchange rate, or the fact that most things are imported, or that iceland is a welfare state with high taxes and corresponding high wages – but pretty much everything is about 50% more expensive than expected. Guess I’ll be eating a lot of hot dogs.

No idea what the sign says, but it sounded cool. The icelandic language is quite unique, apparently hard to learn even for people who speak Danish or Norwegian, from which it split centuries ago, and due to the geographic isolation iceland is quite close to the original old Norse.

Speaking of language: While you can pick your last name relatively freely, e.g. whether you’ll be named after your father or mother’s first name, as an icelander you have to pick a first name among a relatively small list of approved, properly icelandic first names.

The picture above is from a govenment building (I think), that had an alphabetic list of such icelandic names on its facade. And guess what? Elmar is a good icelandic name! Since my name is unusual enough in German that it never, ever comes up when you have e.g. cups or souvenirs printed with you name, I was happy to find my name included on the list here.

Another rule of thumb: When in a new country, and in its capital city, go visit the National Museum. Reyjkavik’s is small, and quite good.

An exhibition about scandinavian architects and designers. I enjoyed the sparse, unpretentious looks. Remindes me a lot of Ikea furniture – so it looks like Ikea ripped off was inspired by democratized the styles of some quite famous designers.

In a shopping mall-like food court: The most high-tech public toilet I’ve seen, complete with wireless credit card payments. Credit card payments are extremely common, and accepted everywhere – probably easier to find a place that does not take cash, than one that does not accept credit cards. German shopkeepers, please take note.

Not an art museum, just a statue of Thor inside a souvenir shop.

Dinner was at “icelandic street food”, a real find in downtown Reyjkavik. Simple, but hearty and yummy traditional stews and soups, priced incredibly fairly by icelandic standards, served by the very friendly owner, who will be happy to give you a “refill” of not only the food you ordered, but also anything else on the menu, as long as you have space in your stomach. Highly recommended.

I’ll finish the day with a view across the ocean, with a weird viking boat art sculpture looking across the bay.

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