A full moon illuminates a crystalline panorama enveloped in shimmering snow as dawn approaches. The frosty, quiet air adds to the ethereal environment that seems motionless in time, as visitors step from their hotels into Iceland’s astonishing beauty.
Reykjavik, Iceland, in winter is indeed a splendor to behold. The appealing city is home to roughly 60 percent of Iceland’s population of 300,000 that live along the country’s southwestern coast. The mid-sized city is a combination of Nordic architecture dating back to the late 1700s, to very modern, clean-line edifices. The various architectures meld together quite well and during the winter holiday season, are adorned with colorful lights and displays that light up the entire town.
Old town (downtown), located next to the harbor, is traversable by foot and is where the Iceland Parliament House, city hall and Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurđardóttir’s office reside. The downtown area is lovely with picturesque restaurants, a small park and shops of Icelandic design that emote a fresh, progressive and youthful flair.
Many visitors and Icelanders like to stroll along Laugavegur or Main Street (one of the oldest in Reykjavik) to shop for fashions, books and Icelandic outdoor wear (66 North), or to relax in a quaint café or delicious Nordic bakery. Try the famous Sandholt Bakery for superb pastries and chocolates and the Te & Kaffi café for delicious coffee and tea. Wherever you wander through Old Town, you will find a variety of things to do and sites to see year-round.
If you have time and want explore Icelandic culture, visit the National Cultural House, Reykjavik Art Museum and the National Museum of Iceland. For outstanding photographs of the city and surrounding mountains, visit the Pearl (Perlan). This architecturally interesting geothermal-domed water tank station with a Viking museum and a revolving restaurant on top is a famous Reykjavik landmark.
For Icelandic cuisine, numerous restaurants feature fresh costal seafood and succulent Iceland lamb. Due to Iceland’s pristine environment, lack of pollution and livestock practices, the country’s lamb is among the best in the world. Two fabulous restaurants in Old Town are Laekjarbrekka and Restaurant Reykjavik.
Laekjarbrekka resides in a 1800s house with gorgeous period décor; the menu that offers an assortment of seafood, veggies and Lamb that is superb and a gourmand’s dream. The cuisine is beautifully presented and the atmosphere is comfortable, not pretentious. T his restaurant is a must-visit.
Restaurant Reykjavik features a large and tasty buffet at 6 pm every evening with loads of fresh fish and opulent desserts. The restaurant also houses the city’s hip Ice Bar where guests and locals don a warm, quilted poncho and sip various spirits including the country’s traditional Schnapps, Brennivin. This is a fun place to meet people and partake of the city’s exuberant nightlife. There is even a theatre located in the restaurant’s downstairs for local plays based on Icelandic history and traditions. For additional information, visit www.laekjarbrekka.is, www.restaurantreykjavik.is.
In Iceland, legends and myths abound, such as the Hidden People (fascinating elf-like people), trolls and the 13 Yule Lads. These sprightly, white-bearded men bring children, who have been good all-year, lots of treats during the Christmas season and leave them in a shoe placed carefully on a window ledge.
Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Travel Writers Alliance (ITWA) and the Recording Academy. Her photographs and articles have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger, Seattle Weekly and the Oregonian. As a freelance photojournalist, she has also worked with acclaimed musical entertainers, such as Santana, Billy Joel and Steven Tyler. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.
All photos by Patrice Raplee