Many tourists visit Iceland to explore the nation’s rugged landscapes and photograph the country’s splendorous wildlife, while others prefer to spend their stay in Reykjavík, learning about the capital’s vast cultural history and dining at several of the city’s luxurious restaurants.In recent years, Iceland’s largest city has been garnering international acclaim for its diverse culinary selection, as well as its thriving night life and fascinating walking tours, which take travelers on a compelling journey through centuries of European history.
Zeb and Catherine Jones, two Bostonians who work in the biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry, decided to take a second vacation to Iceland in order to celebrate Zeb’s birthday, explore Reykjavík more in-depth, and gain further insight into Iceland’s distinct culture and way of life.
Walking Across the Capital
Zeb and Catherine first visited Iceland back in 2012, and they couldn’t help but notice how much Reykjavík has changed since their initial trip.
“It seems like they’ve done a lot of construction, especially as the tourism industry has grown,” Zeb remarks, scanning the foyer of Harpa Concert Hall. The adventures the couple had during their first stay in Iceland left such an impression on them that they decided to come back to celebrate Zeb’s birthday this year: “We’re staying for four nights and we actually leave tomorrow,” Zeb explains.
“We’ve based most of our trip in Reykjavík, with only a couple tours outside the city. We took a walking tour of the city this morning, and we’re going to the Blue Lagoon tomorrow. That will be the fourth time we’ve been there!”
For Catherine, the walking tour of Reykjavík was the highlight of their second journey, as she loved learning more about the city’s intriguing history and asking questions about Iceland’s government and culture.
“There’s a rich heritage and culture here,” she reports. “We heard all the stories about the Vikings, the Danish, the British and even the Irish. I found it interesting and fascinating to learn about the parliament and how the government works.”
Both Zeb and Catherine were also pleased to hear about Iceland’s achievements in equal rights for women. “Our tour guide talked a lot about the gender equality here,” Zeb reports. “I think they said 29 of 63 parliament members in Iceland are women, which is pretty impressive.”
“The food here is amazing!” Catherine adds, when asked about some of the most memorable aspects of their stay. During their visit, the couple made a point of dining at Café Loki, a quaint restaurant near the towering church Hallgrímskirkja, which is famous for serving traditional Icelandic food—whether fair or foul.
“We tried several different meat dishes, including smoked lamb (hangikjöt, a festive Icelandic meat dish usually consumed around Christmastime) and foal, which were delicious,” she recalls.
Zeb adds, laughing: “We didn’t feel brave enough to try the fermented shark, though.”
One of Iceland’s most infamous local dishes is hákarl, Greenlandic or sleeper shark that has been dried and fermented for several months. An acquired taste, hákarl is known for its sharp, pungent flavor and ammonia-rich odor. Trying it is not for the faint of heart (or stomach)!
A Destination That Stands Out
During both trips, Catherine and Zeb found Icelanders to be approachable and jovial people, and they appreciate how well they treat and accommodate tourists.
“Icelanders have been extremely friendly to us, very welcoming and very helpful,” they explain.
When asked if they would recommend Iceland to other vacationers, they did not hesitate to say yes. “Do it!” Catherine proclaims, with a smile.
For Zeb, who grew up on a Christmas tree farm, and Catherine, who cites giving baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. a hug as one of her life’s most interesting moments, Iceland has become a beloved location that stands out amongst their expansive world travels: “We’ve been to a lot of places and this is definitely one of our favorite vacation destinations.”