Summer is on – again, which means the streets of Reykjavík are crowded with tourists – again. Like an invading army, they more or less take over the city, making it difficult for us ordinary folks to find a seat at a restaurant. Not that I am complaining, my livelihood more or less depends on you nice folks from… well, wherever you may come from.
Nonetheless, I want to offer you tourists a rare glimpse at the real Reykjavík. Tourist guide books will only get you so far, and most will only direct you to the most popular tourist attractions. We locals tend to stay away from those places. Here’s what we do instead, that is, when we are not working or doing mundane stuff, like the dishes and the laundry. Basically then, this is how we burn the weekend. Try out our insider tips. Any combination of these is acceptable. This is your opportunity to experience the city like us. Not like them.
- Wear normal clothes
This is the most important step you can take to gain access to the real Reykjavík experience. 99% of the time it is possible to spot tourists in Reykjavík from miles away. I even play a game with my friends where we guess people’s nationality based on their attire. Americans are usually easiest to spot. Followed by Germans and the French. Here is a little hint: you don’t need a bright orange parka or hiking boots to traverse Reykjavík. Dress like a tourist and you are automatically excluded. Just dress like normal folks.
- Visit the flea market
- The best flea market in Reykjavík is Kolaportið by the Reykjavík harbour. We tend to go there on weekends to stock up on second hand books, wholesale candy, dried fish and used DVDs. There is a lot of crap available there, but the food corner is excellent. Many small producers, both fish, meat and pastry, sell their products in Kolaportið, and there is no better place for a taste of traditional local cuisine. If you find yourself craving bovine colustrum, this is absolutely the place to go.
- Go for a swim
We consider swimming pools to be a birthright. Vesturbæjarlaug swimming pool is an ideal destination for a sunny afternoon. It is the second oldest swimming pool in Reykjavík, and the oldest one outdoors. There are two very good reasons to visit. The sauna, and the hot tub conversation, where the locals discuss current affairs and exchange gossip. If you have any questions, and I mean any questions, the know-it-alls in the hot tub have the answer. They might not agree on one specific answer, but you’ll get answers nonetheless.
- Hang out at a café all-day
One of our favourite pastimes is all-day café hang-out. Saturdays are really the best days for this activity. Here’s what you do. Start with a brunch around 11, drink some coffee, read some magazines and newspapers. Early afternoon, start out with beers, but move slowly. If you are lucky there might be a match on TV. Steadily increase the level of alcohol consumption as the day goes on. Dance on the tables around midnight. Failsafe fun.
- Enjoy the sun in Austurvöllur
If the sun is out, which admittedly does not happen all that often ‘round these parts, we head for Austurvöllur, a small patch of grass outside of the Parliamentary building. On a nice day you won’t be able to see the grass, just people enjoying the sun. It is customary bring a six-pack, and conveniently the alcohol store is right next to Austurvöllur. Not a bad way to spend the day in the company of friends.
- Bars after midnight
In most of the civilized world, bar patrons start to plan their departure around midnight. We choose to do it differently. Around midnight, we start to plan our departure – from home and to the bar. Many visitors make the mistake of going out for a nice dinner, hitting a few bars and returning home around or after midnight, just when things are starting to heat up. Here’s a better idea, go out for a nice dinner, go back for a nap, go out around midnight and stay as long as it takes. You cannot say you have truly experienced Iceland until you have seen us stumbling out of a bar at 7 a.m., stark raving mad, looking for an after-party.
- Spend an evening at the park
The park known as Miklatún just off Reykjavík centre is where we go for some light exercise in the evening. Usually you’ll be able to crash a football game (always pick the losing side, that way you can’t be blamed for anything), get in on the volley ball action or lace up the hightops for some streetball action. If you prefer a less active mode of exercise, try your hand with the old-timers who practice their skills with the fly-rods fishing poles, or try the frisbee-golf.
- See a concert
Although the literature might suggest otherwise, there is more to Icelandic music than Björk and Sigur Rós. Some of it is even pretty good. Scour the Grapevine music listings and check out the usual suspects when it comes to live music, Organ, Nasa or Café Amsterdam to name a few. Catch one of the local acts, who knows, you just might be listening to the next big thing.
- Gallery openings
We love to attend gallery and exhibition openings. Mostly because there is usually free white wine involved. Just find one and step right in, no one ever bothers with the invite. Make sure you audibly make a few vague comments about the artist or his work, but don’t buy the artwork. As a rule, we never buy the artwork.
- Catch a game
It is quite possible that you have seen better football played in your home country, or at least on TV. But you have never witnessed 22 men who so heroically battle the forces of nature on a football pitch. Icelandic football is very often a game where the team that attacks with the wind to its back for a longer period comes out on top. Every player knows how to bend it like Beckham. Aim 45°off-target and let the wind take care of the rest.