Scrolling through Facebook recently, I came across a link to a post titled Ten Best Cities in the World to Visit. Of course, I clicked to see what urban centers the author highlighted and how many I had hung out in.
Oh my, Reykjavik was right up there with Paris and San Francisco and other great urban destinations.
It is hard for me to put this cold emerging city on a par with Paris. I mean, really? But having been there recently I’ll share my experience and let you decide.
It’s a small city with a population of just over 200,000. To put in perspective, Iceland, long time isolated, only has a population of 320,000.
It’s not so isolated any more. More than a million tourists visited Iceland last year, a 20% increase over the previous year. Most of those folks spend their time in Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. Stay tuned for my Golden Circle experience in an upcoming blog.
Let’s be real. The city is small and frankly lacking in architectural charm, but it is a creative and lively place. Pub crawls and friendliness make up for the absence of old world enclaves like you see in Europe.
I enjoyed the shopping streets. No sign of Pottery Barn, Zara or Gap. I only saw locally owned shops with owners who aren’t afraid to express their individuality. I meandered a bit and had some lovely chats with shop keepers. I bought myself a lava rock necklace. The main souvenirs are lava rock or wonderful woolen sweaters, hats and mittens.
Knitting is a constant pastime for old and young alike. I’m exaggerating, but everywhere I looked I saw someone knitting. In shops. In restaurants. In Pubs. Everywhere. I was told they teach it in school. With the cold and wet weather the norm and a terrain perfect for raising sheep, it makes sense. And actually moving one’s fingers constantly might help to keep them warm.
It’s not surprising for a country that i s cold and dark for half of the year and wet and chilly the rest, that story telling is a big deal here. In fact, many Icelanders believe Elves live in the volcanic rocks that dominate Iceland’s landscape. They are also called Hidden People. Trolls too. Stories abound in fact, the Hidden People legends are taught in the schools.
I was skeptical but interested so I took a Hidden People tour with this lovely lady. She’s standing by a rock in Rykjavik said to be inhabited by an older gentleman elf. The next photo is in a park where many elves live. It is believed to be an elf church.
As we meandered around looking at rocks and talking about the creatures who lived in them in a pouring down rain, I wondered if I had lost my marbles. Why wasn’t I snug in some cafe with a good book and a cup of tea? This was nuts.
But I thrive on learning about local cultures and having memorable experiences. This certainly was one. Damp and soggy.
Whether you or I believe in Elves, the people of Iceland take their Elves seriously. There are elf experts and elf schools and recently the route of a major road was altered so as not to disturb a Hidden People Village.
I asked my guide on a Golden Circle tour if he believed in the Hidden People. The husky computer programer/part time glacier trip guide responded, “Well, I can’t say that I do, but I can’t say that I don’t.” Sums it up for ya.
There’s much more to say about Reykjavik and I’ll do that next week. So, come back to DesignDestinations.org for more about Iceland and its capital city.