Iceland is perhaps not the most obvious place to go for a city break but with a flight time of only 3 hours from London, less from Glasgow, you could find yourself exploring the world’s most northerly capital city, Reykjavik.
In the crepuscular light, flashes of red, gold and green danced across the geometric shaped, coloured glass panels of Harpa, the spectacular concert hall on Reykjavik harbour, and reflected in the mirror-like water below. Beyond that, the outline of the mountains above the glacial carved fjord, Kollafjordur, added an atmospheric backdrop in the fading light.
By morning, the water had a different reflection. It looked cold. The Harpa flags blew energetically in a strong easterly wind and streaks of little white waves broke in the bay and snapped at the harbour wall. The dark moody mountains were draped in cloud which effused from their glacier flattened tops like a science experiment and halted at an imaginary line a few hundred metres above sea level.
By the time we left the hotel after breakfast, the wind had died down and the sun was highlighting the peaks. But we’d been warned about Iceland’s changeable weather, so we packed windproof and waterproof layers, sunglasses and sunscreen and used them all before lunchtime.
Explore Reykjavik on Foot
Reykjavik is small enough to explore on foot, the colourful streets are a medley of boutique shops painted in bright primary colours, with contrasting coloured roofs. Most Icelandic buildings are constructed from concrete and corrugated iron and few, if any, have been left in their original colours – a cheerful sight during the dark winter days.
|A colourful row of houses in a Reykjavik street|
The Downtown area of the Harbour is well known for fish restaurants including one that has won awards for its world famous lobster soup – It was rather tasty but never having had lobster soup before, I feel somewhat unqualified to comment on whether it was the best in the world.
You will find a more varied menu in town where the restaurants have a more international flavour too, like Nepalese, Thai and Italian but despite the alleged growth in popularity of the British national dish, I never saw anyone tucking into a plate of fish and chips.
Day trips from Reykjavik
Although you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied in Reykjavik, you may be tempted to explore a little further. Some of Iceland’s incredible natural features are doable in a day and depending on your level of adventure, there are plenty of companies willing to escort you in a luxury coach or over the lava fields in a 4-wheel drive all terrain vehicle.
You can visit Strokkur, a geyser that co operatively explodes every 8 minutes or so; see the backside of a waterfall, and the front of many more, or walk to the top for a sweeping view of the south coast and the newest island to emerge off the coast of Iceland in the 1960s, Surtsey. You can stroll right up to the Myrdalsjokull glacier or book a trip to do a glacier walk. And you can visit the puffin colonies at the black ash beach in Vik.
|The Backside of a Waterfall|
From the harbour, you can embark on a whale watching trip with an experienced guide. Take advantage of the padded, red baby grows supplied on the ship; these survival suits will make your whale watching experience in the north Atlantic, much more comfortable.
|Survival Suits - pretty cool at keeping you warm|
Bird watching on the whale watching trip is almost as exciting as spotting a humpback. Terns and arctic skuas, gannets and gulls converge on the shoals of fish, which of course, also attracts the whales.
But the puffins did it for me. The superfast colourful little seabirds have a long breeding season in Iceland and can be seen until the end of August dashing backwards and forwards to their nests in the cliffs with beaks full of sand eels.
Puffins, along with Vikings and trolls, are big business in Iceland which means that puffin souvenirs are abundant. You will see them on tea towels and china mugs, soft toys and key rings, in felt and on T-shirts but the funniest one we saw was dressed in a Viking helmet holding a shield and sword in its wings.