Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reykjavik, Iceland - A weekend tour

For some reason people have Iceland on the brain this winter. I've had two friends this week ring me up for tips on what to see and do, as they are in the process of making a booking for a long weekend. So, as promised, ladies, here is everything you need to know.

Where to stay:
Radisson Blu SAS 1919: One of my top choices, this Radisson shows and feels like a boutique hotel. I love that the building is historical (dates back to 1919, of course) and used to be the headquarters of the first Icelandic shipping line. Modern silver sculptures in the lobby and the original marble staircase add a great punch of juxtaposition, linking the old and the new. Wonderful bar and restaurant for both a good meal and a pre-dinner drink in a trendy, lounge-vibe atmosphere.
Hotel Borg: Originally the first luxury hotel in Iceland, new renovations have established this as the Art Deco hotel in town. Ask for a room on the 5th floor or in the back, the front of the hotel is too loud on weekends with revelers in the square it sits on. Love their trendy restaurant, Silfur, more on that below.
101 Hotel: Another very trendy design hotel set in a good location. Don't share a room with anyone you don't know intimately, bathrooms have no doors and double deluxe rooms have tubs that sit in the middle of the floor. Their cocktail bar is the place to see and be seen.
Hotel Klopp: For a more budget conscious option, this hotel is in a great location off the main shopping street in Reykjavik. I've stayed here once on business and rooms are very basic and clean, albeit small, but feature nice wooden floors and modern black slate bathrooms.

Where to eat:
Seafood Cellar: Also known in Icelandic as Sjavarkjallarinn, this is my #1 restaurant pick in Reykjavik. Located in the oldest cellar in Reykjavik, this is an asian influenced Icelandic fusion restaurant and the food presentation is amazing. If you have the time and the money, go for the chef's exotic tasting menu and get ready for sensory overload. This place is on par with some of the most sophisticated eateries in the world. Here is a picture of our sorbet, presented in bamboo baskets with smoldering dry ice:
Lobster House: Don't let the name throw you off, it's call Humarhusid in Icelandic, this is one of the more famous restaurants in Reykjavik. Located in a charming old house on the main street, this is a romantic and cozy spot. Lobster is the specialty but they also have lots of other fish and meat.
Silfur: As mentioned above, this restaurant is in the trendy art-deco Hotel Borg. The dining room looks out onto the pretty Austurvöllur Square, has trendy all white tables and chairs and serves Icelandic seafood, game and meat. Very sexy setting.
1919: Many of you may remember this restaurant when it was called Salt, now it is named 1919, still situated in the Radisson Blu 1919 hotel. Arctic char, smoked puffin and Icelandic mountain lamb are among the highlights on the menu. Also nice is their trendy cocktail lounge for drinks.

More Casual Dining Options:
Vegamot: Casual and affordable bistro-cafe-bar mix, with diverse menu offerings, like mexican, italian, indian, hamburgers, sandwiches and a big American style Sunday brunch, there is something to please everyone here. Laidback but bustling by day, Vegamot turns into one of the hottest night spots by night where you can party until 5am the next morning.
Cafe Solon: Ultra cool bistro offering various international dishes as well as a healthy menu for lighter options. Try the quiche for sure. On weekend nights this place changes entirely into a hot and heaving nightclub.
Thorvaldsen: Another more casual, but still very hip dining option. There are plenty of bar food options if you want a nibble with your Viking Beer (native Icelandic brew) or for a full meal, salads, soups and main courses as well. I had drinks here late one evening, this is another place that after 10pm becomes a beautiful people hangout.
Nightlife in Reykjavik consists of a sort of pub crawl on weekends, and when you party until 5am, it makes for a long night, so no one stays at one bar for too long. In addition to those places I mentioned above under "Casual Dining Options" that become nightspots, make sure to hit the following pit stops on your nightly gallivant through town: Hotel 101 bar (listed above) B5 (housed in a former bank), Boston (Laugavegur 28b) though don't be put off by the "whore house meets hunting lodge" decor, and Cafe Oliver, a restaurant that pushes all the tables aside after dinner and creates space for a make-shift dance floor. I danced all night here and had an absolute blast with the locals (and a few international bankers).

Things to do:
Blue Lagoon: It sounds silly and touristic, but you absolutely have to do this! I went in November in the middle of a snow squall and the run outside in the elements from the locker room to the lagoon in my bathing suit was, to say the least, a shock, but all part of the experience. 

The process is all very well organized, you pay an entrance fee and receive a towel and a locker with key, and there are shower facilities for when you finish your bath in the lagoon. A few tips: do not get your hair wet, you will never, ever, get a comb through it again, and if possible, bring an old bathing suit you don't mind throwing away after your swim. You can put your wet swimsuit in a plastic bag, but believe me, the rotten egg smell (sulfur) will contaminate all your clothes in your suitcase on the way home. I went swimming here on my way to the airport for a flight back to Boston and it relaxed me for the entire flight home.
Strokkur Geyser: if you have transportation and can get out of the city center, it is a fun trip to see the Strokkur Geyser. It is literally hot steaming water from underground that shoots up straight in the air. The geyser erupts about every 5 minutes and it is very interesting to watch the progression.
One last thing I would suggest is a visit to this wonderful bakery on the main street in Reykjavik: Sandholt Bakery. I spent an entire Sunday morning in here with a big hot chocolate and some sweets. The bakery dates back to 1920 and is therefore steeped in tradition. They make some of the most beautiful pastries, chocolates, jellies, breads and other baked goods. They also have a large glass window where you can see into the kitchen and watch these delicacies being made. Pick out some of your favorite chocolates and bring them back to friends as mementos from your trip.

                                (Above photo © Sandholt Bakery)

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  1. Great review, I'm totally going. More fun if you come with though :)

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