I received a message from an old friend in the U.S. recently. He’ll be visiting Iceland in early November and his schedule only allows for a single day in the city. He wanted to know how best to apportion his time. I wrote back saying “sure thing” (I’m a lovely and obliging fellow) and proceeded to concoct an impromptu schedule for his benefit. Looking back on that draft now, I realize that it could have done with some fleshing out (Messenger is hardly the format for eloquent descriptions). For the sake of our readership, I’ve amended my previous suggestions, with added details.
So if you only have a single day in Reykjavík, here are some suggestions.
Visit the Local Swimming Pool
To begin with, I recommend rising early and visiting a local swimming pool.
As the tag line for an as-yet-released documentary reads: “The Finns have their saunas. The Russians have their Vodka. The Icelanders have their pools.”
There are over two dozen public pools in the greater Reykjavík area, although the one in West Reykjavík is my favourite (Vesturbæjarlaugin). That’s where – among other things – a troop of locals convene every weekday morning, at around seven-thirty, for so-called Müller exercises (a decade’s old exercise system invented by a Danish pioneer). They’ve been doing this for forty years. Some of them have progressed to a near Biblical age bracket. It’s quite the spectacle. If you can’t make it in time for Müller, I suggest showing up just prior to sunrise.
Once there, I want you to follow my advice closely.
- First, slip into your bathing suit in the outdoor locker room not the inside one. Getting naked beneath a similarly nude sky is invigorating (all patrons must shower in the nude).
- Second, swim a few laps to get the old ticker going. The endorphins will do you good.
- Third, visit the glass ‘yurt’ that houses the pool’s steam room and soak. Really soak. When you can’t hardly breathe, I want you to return outside and relish the cool air.
- Fourth, stroll over to the shallow tub in the corner. It’s filled with frigid water. Lower yourself into it, to the neck (you can keep your hands above water if you prefer) and struggle against the pain for as long as you are able (without endangering your health, of course).
- Finally, proceed directly to the hottest hot tub in the area and savour the sensation that follows; it’s like having one’s internal organs massaged by some aquatic geisha.
Brunch at Snaps
I don’t know the meaning of life – but I’m relatively certain it has something to do with food. Or, worst-case scenario – you need the food to pursue whatever meaning life may possess. Or, on the flip side, given that the existentialists maintain that every man must make meaning for himself, food is a viable option. Anyhow, if food gives you meaning then Reykjavík is not a bad place to find yourself. The city’s rife with savoury restaurants. As far as brunch goes, I recommend Coocoo’s Nest by the old harbour, Snaps on Þórsgata, Sandholt on Laugavegur, to name a few. Of these, Snaps may be my favourite. Some have compared the restaurant to a French bistro, which sounds about right – except the wait staff isn’t congenitally averse to the English language. Being an adventurous and unpredictable kind of guy, I always go for the same thing. Eggs Norwegian. That’s Eggs Benedict with salmon instead of bacon. I also recommend some pancakes for dessert.
The Saga Museum
I don’t believe in God but I consider it a sin – visiting a foreign country and failing to acquaint yourself with that foreign country’s history. In orer to avoid transgressing against the undersigned’s conception of religious law, I suggest the Saga Museum by the old harbour in Reykjavík. It’s a simple affair. Pay admission. Receive a pair of headphones. Press play. Proceed along the designated route and admire the silicone representations of Icelandic historical figures, while a disembodied voice explains how those figures relate to key moments in Icelandic history. The Saga Museum is open every day between 10:00 and 18:00. The audio tour is available in Icelandic, English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.
Someone once described the Saga Museum as an “educational Madame Tussauds.” I wholly agree with that sentiment.
Order a Beer, Take in the Atmosphere
An unfortunate by-product of the consumerist society is society’s ingrained habit toward productivity. Life is lived according to a laundry list of unfinished business – where everything eventually loses its lustre and devolves into a tiresome chore. The best way to counteract this phenomenon is through the art of “idle nothingness, ” which is less “Jus Do It” and more “Just Do Nothing.” The most practical accessory to this pursuit is alcohol. If you only have a day in Reykjavík, and if the weather permits, find a table outside and order a beer. Among the city’s most pleasant watering holes are Skúli, Veður, and Prikið, just to mention a few.
Personally, I am partial to the Icelandic breweries Borg, Einstök, and Malbygg.
My go-to local beers these days are Úlfur (Borg), Sæmundur (Borg), Bóndi (Viking), Galaxy (Malbygg), White Ale (Einstök).