Iceland’s capital is a progressive, vibrant city despite its provincial village-like appearance
My favorite trip of 2011 had to be my weekend escape to Reykjavik, Iceland, the world’s northernmost capital city. Reykjavik is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in Iceland. Despite it’s provincial appearance, Reykjavik has been dubbed the “the nightlife capital of the north”, with clubs that stay open past 4 a.m. Don’t be put off if you aren’t much of a raver, the city and its surrounding areas offer a mixture of nature, adventure and relaxation. The solo female traveler should feel more than comfortable in Reykjavik, the city is virtually crime free and almost everyone speaks perfect English.
Since Iceland is so far north during the winter months Reykjavik gets about 4 hours of daylight, where the sun doesn’t rise till about 11:00 in the morning. In the summer there is almost 24 hours of daylight in some parts of Iceland. I visited Reykjavik at the tail end of winter, in late February when it was abnormally “warm”. The days were starting to get longer so I had a ton of time to explore the city center and beyond.
|A girl can wear heels even in the winter! The sidewalks are heated in Reykjavik, so no ice!|
On my first full day in Reykjavik, I went on the Golden Circle Tour. The Golden Circle refers to the popular route that goes from Reykjavik to central Iceland covering some of the most beautiful natural features of the south. The tour took me to major tourist attractions in Iceland, Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Haukadalur, a geothermal valley.
|Mid Atlantic Ridge where North American and Eurasian Plates Meet in Þingvellir National Park|
|Me and the beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall, it was really slippery and FREEZING!|
|Active geysir in geothermal valley, Haukadalur|
The tour lasted for about 11 hours covering 300 km in the southern region of Iceland. Once back in the city center, I went to a restaurant recommended by a friend. I wanted to be adventurous and try a whale meat burger. It tasted like a fishy gamey steak, yuck. The super friendly waitress, who happened to be a TWA (teeny weeny afro) rocking black American, let me return it. Everyone thought we knew each other because she was talking my ear off instead of working :/ She gave me the lowdown on the nightlife and even invited me out to where she was going after work. Making connections with perfect strangers is one of the highlights of solo travel.
|Thar she blows….right on back to the kitchen.|
The following day proved to be my best travel day to date, from beginning to end it was total perfection. I booked an excursion which included riding a 4×4 along the coast and then relaxing in the Blue Lagoon. As a city girl, I have to admit that was scared crapless.
|Regulators: Mount up! MOMMY!|
I had no idea how to ride a 4×4 and initially lagged behind in the group. I actually started doubting myself, thinking I had a made a mistake. The other two girls on the trip were speed demons, going almost 120 kph on those damn things. I kept getting stuck in the mud, landing in ditches and the leader of the tour had to keep coming back to get me. At one point he instructed me to follow directly behind him and the other riders could go at their own pace, taking pictures and catching up when they needed. I finally got the hang of it and soon I was going close to 100 kph, I was so proud of myself, that I started crying. Never in my wildest dream would I have imagined that I would be in Iceland off roading. Solo travel gives you the freedom to try new things and push your own boundaries in your own time.
|One of my best travel moments, off roading and dressed like a Power Ranger|
The only thing more exhilarating than driving up and down the coast was the view. We saw some of the most beautiful landscapes, moss covered lava rock, black sandy beaches, and even a shipwreck! Iceland is only 3 hours and 30 minutes from Berlin but I felt like I was transported to another planet.
|This totally looks like that scene from the Goonies, right?|
|There is a cool story about this shipwreck…|
|Roads, where we’re going we don’t need roads.|
After spending about three hours on the open road we drove to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is the most popular geothermal spa in Iceland. The water is rich in silica and sulfur and contained in a natural lava field with a rough and uneven floor. (Be careful) The lagoon is said to have amazing healing powers for skin ailments with water temperatures ranging from 37–39 °C (98–102 °F).
|Looks beautiful but smells of eggs due to the high amount of sulfur|
Before entering the Lagoon you have to shower first. (Warning: leave your prudish attitudes towards nudity on the plane) It is also best to protect your hair. Although the minerals are good for your skin, your hair will get totally stiff from all the minerals. I took precautions but the Lagoon totally stripped my hair of the hair dye I had. It took weeks for me to condition my hair back to normal.
|Inside the lagoon, it’s steamy due to the high temperatures|
Once in the Blue Lagoon, you can find silica mud in buckets at stations or on the bottom of some of the rock formations. This mud is said to have amazing exfoliating and cleansing capabilities. You can use it in the Lagoon but you can’t take any out, they sell it in the gift shop though, go figure. They are serious about their mud. There are guards around the perimeter making sure people don’t sneak any out.
|Getting my rejuvenation on.|
I just wanted to sleep for days after the excitement of the off roading and then relaxation in the Blue Lagoon. I must have marinated in the water for about four hours. The day was perfect, it ended with an amazing meal at the Fish Company. (I highly recommended it!) If I had enough energy I would have caught a late tour to see the Northern Lights. Apparently they were great that night with blue and green flares and I missed them.
I have no regrets, though.
Useful Tips for your Reykjavik Visit:
- Three days should be enough for a crash course on the capital city and the natural features around it
- Purchase alcohol at the duty free when you arrive. Booze is super expensive in Iceland, pre-partying in your room might save you a small fortune.
- Reykjavik locals have a very open mind towards sexuality, interpret that as you wish.
- Don’t worry about transport in the city, all eateries, clubs and bars are within walking distance around one main road in the center of town
- There are many cheaper and sometimes free geothermal hotspots that locals use, just ask!
- Take care of your hair in any geothermal pool! Saturate with water and slather it with conditioner, a cap might not be the cutest but it might be the best bet to save your hair.
- On your next trip to mainland Europe from America, try and arrange a stop over in Reykjavik for a few days you won’t regret it! Iceland Express and Iceland Air allow you to arrange a stopover of up to 7 days for FREE– (thanks Oneika for the caveat in the comment section!)
Have you ever been to Iceland? If not would you ever consider a visit?