It was your typical kind of early spring day in Iceland. The sky was grey, and the windscreen wipers were doing double time as we drove through the snowy, rainy Icelandic countryside. It was shaping up to be a miserable day on the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Our destination was the small town of Grindavík, which, according to a recent Gallup poll run by the Directorate of Health, is home to the happiest people in Iceland, which itself is the fourth happiest country in the world. But there was no way that people would be happy in weather like this, right?
That’s when it happened. Just as we passed the Blue Lagoon and headed into town, we seemed to cross an invisible line, and the clouds parted to reveal a dazzling blue sky. The rumours must be true. Move over Disneyland—there’s a new “Happiest Place on Earth.”
Under the cover
Upon arrival, you would be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing particularly special about Grindavík. The buildings are plain, there are no large shops and the streets are quiet. As we stepped out of the car, I wondered what could be so special about the place. The air had a salty aroma, likely coming from the harbour—but it was no fresher than other seaside towns. There were, of course, picturesque mountains dominating the horizon—but then, Iceland is a mountainous country.
It quickly became apparent that Grindavík marches to the beat of its own drum. The days unfold at their own pace. People are never late; nor are they early. They arrive precisely when they intend to. However, if you dare to flip past the cover of this book, you’ll find more on offer than first impressions suggest.
Be our guest
The first surprise was Hjá Höllu (“Chez Halla,” roughly translated). This charming little restaurant is owned and run by Halla María Svansdóttir, and serves food that’s both incredibly healthy and incredibly delicious.
We asked Halla for her menu recommendations and her eyes lit up as she explained the various options. Before we knew it, our plans for a simple breakfast had turned into an attractive tasting menu with an open-faced beef sandwich, a homemade burger (my personal favourite), and not one but two varieties of freshly caught oven-baked fish.
This set the tone for the day. Grindavík is the town that welcomes you with open arms, and puts a smile on your face. The meal finished perfectly when a member of staff rushed out after us as we left, brandishing a brown bag full of packed lunch items for the day— a little parting gift from Halla.
Love thy neighbour
With a full stomach, and the snowy drive now a distant memory, we set out to explore the town and try to learn more about what makes it so special. We spoke to some locals and quickly discovered a common theme in the answers that we received—“community.”
For most people, what seemed to make living in Grindavík so special was their fellow residents. It’s the kind of place where all the residents know each other and genuinely care about each other’s wellbeing.
Another running theme was nature, and rightfully so. No matter which way you look you in Grindavík, there’s a stunning view of the nearby mountains, the seemingly endless mossy fields or the raw power of the sea. Grindavík is the perfect place to get lost in Icelandic nature.
A parting gift
It could have been a placebo effect, or the amazing food, or the welcoming people, but the time we spent in Grindavík had a noticeably positive effect on our mood. We left with quite heavy hearts. However, the town had one more parting gift in store.
As we made one final stop on the way out of town, we were greeted with a quite peculiar sight—a large hole in the ground, with a set of stairs leading down into the darkness. It turned out that we’d stumbled across a lava cave called Dollan—a spacious cavern with walls covered in moss and giant icicles.
It was a perfect way to end the day and a perfect analogy for Grindavík in general. Some places may not seem inspiring at first, but if you take the time to look below the surface, then you might just find something to smile about.
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