Bars, bars, bars: Barhopping in Reykjavik
Yikes, only a few posts into this blog and I’m already awful at it! It’s been over a month since I blogged, but in that time I went to Iceland, helped friends plan (and pack for!) a trip to Paris, and am now helping other friends plan a vacation in Iceland and France. So I have been keeping busy on the travel front; I just haven’t been sharing it with you fine folks.
Well, last time we left off at restaurants in Reykjavik, so this post let’s chat about a few of the bars — only this time I have the added bonus of in-person knowledge.
I got into Reykjavik on a Saturday at 5:30am. As a result, I was totally out of sorts all day and unfortunately didn’t get to appreciate the full Saturday-night pub crawl that normally happens (starts at 11pm, ends ????). So, most of my bar experiences happened midweek when Reykjavikers don’t normally hang out, and to be sure, I mostly met ex-pats on these adventures. Still lots of fun, still great people and good conversations, but less “authentic” perhaps. (I still met my fair share of Icelanders, though, so you can put your tiny violins away; I shall soldier on!)
Anyway, without further ado, let’s talk about bars!
Mikkeller and Friends Reykjavik: Mikkeller is a Danish brewery that I really wanted to go to when I was in Copenhagen, but didn’t have enough time. They brew a vast amount of beers and let you sample before you buy, which, if you’re a completist, can probably get you in some real trouble! I came here directly from my dinner at Dill (they share a building) and wasn’t ready to go home yet, and I’m glad I did.
It’s a dude-heavy atmosphere for sure (men at a beer bar, go figure) but very laid-back; I felt totally comfortable coming here on my own. I chatted with a Spanish guy who lives in the same town as my parents — small world, amirite? — and his Icelandic friend, so it’s definitely a great place to get a mix of locals and travelers.
Drinx Bar at Kex Hostel: Kex is not your typical youth hostel filled with young backpackers touring on the cheap. They have a variety of rooms at different price points, so all sorts of folks stay here. It’s also really well integrated into the town, and Reykjavikers often come here for a drink or two at Drinx. I spent my birthday in Iceland, which was a Monday night — not exactly a huge party night for Icelanders — and figured Kex would be a good place to grab a drink since it has an international “population,” if you will.
The bar is beautiful: it’s done up to look like the library in a manor home, and it faces the bay, so you have a view of the water and the mountains across the way. (How’s that for poetry.) They serve food and of course also have a decent drink selection — it was here that I tried Brennivín, one of the most famous Icelandic schnapps, and affectionately nicknamed “Black Death.” There was a ton of people there, even on a Monday night, so I was able to make some friends and properly ring in my new year!
Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar (or just Ölstofan): This was where I attempted a leg of the Saturday night pub crawl, mostly because I had heard that it was a good fit for the 30something crowd. Turns out it was just the thing for my jet lag; I was able to have a quiet drink while still feeling right proud of myself for managing to be out on the town. It’s very neighborhoody, very chill: when I first got there it was about half-empty but over the hour or so I spent it got calmly raucous. The bartenders will chat with you and you can also talk to your neighbors; if you’re feeling less social there are tables around the perimeter where you can hole up and do your own thing.
Snaps: I had dinner here my first night in town, still in a jet-lagged haze. In fact, I almost didn’t go here at all, but it conveniently was a 5-minute walk to my apartment, so it was my compromise with myself. It ended up being a fantastic spot with delicious food. I suppose it’s mostly known for being a restaurant, and a very popular one at that: if you don’t reserve in advance you’re probably going to be sitting at the bar, which is where I happily ended up. Almost the moment I sat down my two seatmates and I got to talking, and we more or less spent our entire dinner in conversation. The bartenders/waiters were awesome and really accommodating — good-naturedly humoring my neighbor when he asked about four different waitresses what the catch of the day was when he didn’t believe it was a type of catfish. Snaps was a fun and delicious introduction to the town, and it rightly earns its title of one of CNN.com – Reykjavik’s coolest bars.
Tiu Dropar / Le Château de dix gouttes: I didn’t expect to go to Tiu Dropar, only because it’s a French restaurant and I was mostly looking to keep to more Icelandic spots. But, having just spent 10 hours on a tour bus careening through drizzly weather, I was chilled to the bone and in desperate need of coziness. This is a basement-level spot, a bit dark but cheerily lit by candles: it’s the kind of place you want to hole up in on a dark winter evening (or a summer evening that’s 45 and rainy). The bar is quite small so it’s more a spot where you grab a table and read, or write, or just gaze off into the middle distance and contemplate life. That is, of course, when you’re not eating waffles and whipped cream. Which should really happen more often. In fact, I’m not quite sure why I’m not eating them right now.
Well, it hopefully will not be as long between posts from here on out. Like I said, I’ve been working on a lot of travel-related things, so I just need to get them up here!
Verði þér að góðu! Or, this is how the Internet told me how to say “bon appétit” in Icelandic
At this point we’ve done a lot of groundwork: we’ve talked about why making fantasy itineraries can help you beat FOMO, what kinds of resources to check out when you’re planning these trips, how to figure out what kind of traveler you are….
And, well, I’m pretty talked out right now! What I’m envisioning for this site is to share itineraries, to crowdsource awesome trips, to have a collective space to brainstorm — and ultimately, to get y’all fired up enough to take these vacations yourself!
So let’s get to some of the good stuff today. Since I’m taking a vacation in Iceland this summer, I’ll share some restaurants I’ve scouted. Now, I only have a week in Reykjavik and there’s no absolutely no way I can eat at all these places, but remember, this is a wish list! I always like to find way too many places and have them on hand: that way, I can do dinner according to my location and mood. Just want to make that clear in case any of you break out in hives thinking I’m just eating eating eating my way across Reykjavik.
Not that I’m too good for that. I am packing these after all.
- Fish Market (aka Fiskmarkaðurinn) and Grill Market (Grillmarkaðurinn): These are owned by the same people and were a favorite with my vegan friend who visited. Everywhere I read, peole are raving about the Grill Market bathroom being really cool?? Per a Tumblr post that’s not letting me link to it (but this is the original author), “it made you feel like you were underwater with the lighting and the waterfall for the sink.”
Dill: Right now this is regarded as one of the best restaurants in Reykjavik; it puts a new spin on traditional Nordic dishes and the menu changes weekly. I have a reservation here and this is going to be my Treat Yo Self 2015 meal.
Bæjarins beztu pylsur: You know what I’m also not too good for? Street meat. (Ok, here’s where I out myself as the world’s worst vegetarian; don’t worry, my stomach punishes me plenty for my sins.) Scandinavia is famous for its hot dogs and these ones are apparently the best!
Cafe Loki: All I know about this place is that a Twitter friend had rye bread-flavored ice cream here. That’s all I need to know, frankly.
Chuck Norris Bar: Seriously?? This is apparently your standard burger/fries/milkshake fare, only…Chuck Norris-themed.
Forrettabarinn: This was recommended on Fathom, one of my new favorite travel blogs. They serve Icelandic tapas, basically: you can get a taste of a lot of the local flavors. The menu right now says they serve seahorse??? I’m hoping that’s just a clever name for a totally normal fish, like how people in Miami eat “dolphin sandwiches” and they’re really just mahi-mahi. Because otherwise D: D: D: BUT! They also serve other totally normal- and tasty-sounding dishes, so I mean, just make sure you’re reading the menu thoroughly I guess!
Kaloportið Flea Market: Ok, this place is a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, this is supposed to be a really cool flea market where you can browse through vintage clothing and Nordic tchotchkes for hours. On the other hand, this is where you can find traditional Icelandic foods like pickled lamb testicles and hákarl, fermented shark. Now, there’s no way in H-E-double hockey sticks I’m going to try any pickled lamb testicles, but I am curious to try shark, if only as a feat of strength. It did Bourdain in, it almost conquered Andrew Zimmern; I’m horrified but I can’t look away. Wish me luck (or sanity), I guess.
Of course there are tons and tons more. I have a whole other list of restaurants that are also famous for having great bars, so I’ll work on getting that up sometime this week as well. Until then, verði þér að góðu!
[Arcade Fire lyrics about neighborhoods go here!]
When it comes to FOMO-chasing trip planning, one of the key parts is figuring out where to stay. Depending on the town you’re looking at, there may be a huge variety of neighborhoods to choose from. This is where the answers to your questions from this post about travel preferences come in handy once more.
If you have lots of tourist sites on your agenda, that’s an easy one: you’ll probably want to stay as close as you can to these, budget allowing. I’m about the opposite of that — no shade! I’m just not a fan of crowds — so I usually have to do some creative research. Here are some of the ways that I’ve narrowed down places to stay.
- Googling “Hipster [city name]” (Shut up, I hate myself)
- Looking for online neighborhood guides. Airbnb has a handy one, as does Fodor’s and TripAdvisor, though the guides aren’t on a central page, so you’ll have to hunt. Here are Paris ones from Fodor’s and TripAdvisor as a start.
- Reading through the New York Times’ 36 Hours In… series. I love these, though to be fair, they’re basically a combination of my Googling “Hipster [city name]” (see above!) and “Completely blowing my budget in [city name].”
- Picking a neighborhood based on its proximity to:
- A restaurant, coffee shop, or yoga studio I want to check out.
- Food markets, flea markets, or farmers’ markets. (The best one so far as been Torvehallerne in Copenhagen. Oh man, I’m drooling just thinking about it!)
- Holiday markets, I can’t forget those! ChristmasMarkets.com is a great resource if you’re like me and are positively obsessed with mulled wine once there’s the slightest chill in the air.
- Weird tourist attractions. I looooooove bizarre museums, creepy graveyards, strange statues (the Mary Tyler Moore statue in Minneapolis, anyone?): stuff that’s just generally off the beaten path. I’ll punch stuff into Google like “Weird things to do in [city name]” and inevitably find sites like Atlas Obscura, Roadside America, Cool Stuff in Paris, and so. Perfect Internet black hole material!
- Crowdsourcing on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll see if anyone else I know has been there and has recommendations on where to stay.
- Going analog. While my research is normally digital, I still love to go to the bookstore and browse the travel aisle. You’ll of course find the Lonely Planet and Time Out guidebooks, but Karen Brown’s Exceptional Places to Stay books are also hugely helpful.
- Checking out a map, plain and simple. I want to see the geography and get an idea of what’s nearby, how walkable it is (or how close public transport is), and if I’m around any neat spots that my research hasn’t turned up.
So those are the basics I follow for picking a neighborhood. I know, I know, it may sound pretty crazy to put so much effort into a trip you may not ever take (and don’t get me wrong, it totally is). But I’ve always found that the more detailed I get, the more excited I get, and the easier it is for me to forget about the FOMO in the first place!
How do you even plan a trip, anyway?
Today I thought I’d write about a very real trip I’m taking this summer, to Iceland. YOU GUYS I’M SO EXCITED I CAN’T EVEN STAND IT. Let me see if I can get through this without breaking into hysterics (but already this doesn’t bode well).
So I guess I’ve traveled by myself a few times, but usually it’s been to a spot I’ve already visited, or it’s been for business, or there’s some other technicality I’ve made up. This trip, though, is officially a solo endeavor. I’m both delighted and terrified, and to deal with that I’ve been planning my itinerary since November.
To kick things off, I’ll cover the prep work I’ve done to sort out my trip. The first thing is to figure out what kind of traveler you are. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you a true tourist or do you want to try to blend in? Do you have a checklist of things to do? Do you want to live like the locals do and find hidden gems? Are you somewhere in between? If you’re mostly interested in sightseeing, you may love guided tours where everything is already planned and you really just have to show up. Or the thought of a tour bus may cause you to break out in hives!
- Do the inhabitants speak your language? If you’re going somewhere where your language is not commonly spoken, this could be a challenge! It’s never a reason to skip the trip — I mean, I got myself around Japan at age 15 speaking almost no Japanese — but you also need to be ok with making a fool of yourself. (In my case I inadvertently stole from a food stall, thinking the food set out was a sample ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
- Do you want to be in a city or do you want to get off the beaten path? If you’re a city dweller at heart, this means you may be able to skip renting a car and instead use public transport. (Bonus: this also opens up budget for other areas!)
- Will you stay in one spot or travel around? A sightseeing vacation may involve a rental car and multiple places to stay. In a place like Iceland, roads can be inaccessible depending on the season — you’ll definitely you’ll want to know this in advance.
- Are you a planner or would you rather go with the flow? If you like a schedule, you should figure out your can’t-miss sites. Also, consider what you’ll do if that site is really, really hard to get to, and decide in advance how much BS you’re willing to put up with. Travel inevitably throws curveballs at you, so if that statement already stresses you out, you need to prepare, prepare, prepare.
- What do you normally spend money on: food, clothes, experiences? Focus on these same things when you travel. If everyone tells you to check out some life-changing restaurant, but you really couldn’t care less about food, skip it! And don’t believe anyone who says it’s sacrilege to go to Paris and skip the Louvre. The Art Police will not in fact take you away, I promise.
When I answer these questions, it looks like this:
- Tourist/blender-inner: I like to play at being a local as much as I can. Tour groups actually drive me bananas, so I’m figuring out my Iceland trip by myself (as much as possible, anyway).
- Language: I’m in luck that a lot of Icelanders speak English, but I’ve made an effort to learn some key phrases in Icelandic. (Auður, who runs ihearteykjavik.net, has a great podcast series where she teaches some common – and less common – phrases.) I may end up sounding like an idiot, but in general locals are a lot more receptive when you at least try to speak their language.
- City mouse/country mouse: I’m pretty happy in the city or the country, so… next question.
- Stay in one spot or travel: I’m keeping Reykjavik as my home base. I’d love at some point to do the Ring Road tour, but that’s a ~10-day trip and I only have a week. Also, most of the things I want to do offer free pickup and dropoff, so I’ll still end up seeing different parts of the island!
- Planner/go with the flow: I go either way. There are a few things I’m dying to do, but since I also like to blend in, I’ve left a few days open so I can just explore.
- What do I spend my money on?: I normally spend on food and experiences, so I’ve already reserved two dinners and signed up for two adventure trips (horseback riding and scuba diving).
What have I missed? What are the first things you consider when you’re planning a vacation?
In my next few posts, we’ll look at restaurants, lodging, sightseeing, the eternal question of whether or not the Blue Lagoon is a big tourist trap (opinions, please! I’m still not sure), and so on. Happy trails!