Icelandic Horsies

Not Just Northern Lights

Words and photos by Christopher Balogh

Reykjavik, Iceland throws its weight in the ring of desired destinations.

It has a small-town charm mixed with the endless wilderness. Some of it seems alien. Lava fields covered in green moss and sprinkled by the sharp ends of black lava rocks. And, of course, the Northern Lights—a staple for this country’s sightseeing visitors. They come to stare up at electrically charged particles from the sun that spread across the sky. And sometimes, they come for that only. It’s a mind-opener of a sight. But Reykjavik and its surrounding areas offer much more. So, instead of looking up, look ahead for these less-travelled spots.

What Lies Beneath the Grocery Store – In the basement below the local grocer (Bonus Supermarket), sits a gentlemen’s store like you’ve never seen before. Kormákur & Skjöldur has a full-lineup of designers: Barbour, Herr Von Eden, Ben Sherman, Stetson, Farmers Market, and others; and n 2010, the store opened its line, Kormákur & Shield. On top of dressing dapper like a Boardwalk Empire boss (even their staff dresses like they’re in the Prohibition era), they have an in-house barber. He’s booked months in advance, although walk-ins are welcome. Location: Laugavegur 59, 101 Reykjavík.

Laundromat Café – The name says it all. It may seem like no big deal, but this seems to be the only place in town to do your laundry on an extended stay. In the basement, throw your króna into the washing/drying machines and have a taste of Icelandic cuisine. Tables are also available on the bottom level where the machines are, as well as a kids’ area. On the street level entry, try the tomato fish soup with salmon and shellfish, or the smoked trout with egg salad. They also have the most colour-coordinated bookshelves on the entire island. Location: Austurstræti 9, Austurstræti, 101 Reykjavík.

Rent a Bike, See the City – The inner area of the capital can be seen best while on a bicycle. It’s cheap, easy and gives you a different perspective than your car rental or guided bus. It gives you a sense of what it might be like living like a local. Take a ride around Reykjavik Harbor. See the ships and seaplanes come in. Ride through the neighbourhoods to see graffiti on alleyways and homes. There are multiple places to rent bicycles by the hour, all for a couple of krónur. Location: Baldursgata 19, 101 Reykjavík.

Comfort in a Cafe – If you’re looking for a place to sit back and grab a quick bite (with free wi-fi), Café Babalú will make any restless newcomer to Reykjavik feel at home. Their vegan chilli will warm you up, especially if you pair it with one of their coffees (served in their collection of mugs). Opened from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., the evening is covered with local musicians performing open-mic sets. Location: Skólavörðustígur 22, 101 Reykjavík.

Pulp Americana – The Dude abides Reykjavik and vice-a-versa. A shrine of a restaurant-bar, dedicated to the film Big Lebowski, and aptly named Lebowski Bar. Inside you’ll find walls covered in callouts to famous scenes, from the rug that tied the room together to a projection of Sadaam Hussein handing out bowling shoes. White Russians are always on the menu, along with character-named burgers. Try the Bunny Lebowski—no big toes included. Even though it feels like it’s a touristy restaurant—because it is—it’s meant for Americans, but it’s not like anything in America. Location: Laugavegur 2a, 101 Reykjavík.

A minute-walk away, you’ll find another American treasure in the guise of a restaurant— Chuck Norris Grill. There are Chuck Norris-isms written on the walls throughout the restaurant (Chuck Norris took a lie detector test. The machine confessed everything) and it’s open till 1 AM on the weekend, making it one of the only late-night eats in Reykjavik. Location: Laugavegur 30, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland

Golden Circle Tour – Yes, this is a tourist attraction. Full-on advertised and written about in many travel guides. However, if you want to knock out some of Iceland’s famous sights in a day, book a tour along the Golden Circle. This 180-plus-mile bus tour brings you into the thick of South Iceland’s beauties, such as the hot springs (Geysir & Strokkur), Gulfoss waterfall, and the oldest functioning parliament in the world, Thingvellir. Even though it’s a full-day excursion, there’s no need to bring lunch. At the stop of Gulfoss, enjoy traditional dishes in their cafe (try the meat soup, free refills). One thing that other travel guides don’t mention is egging on your guide to tell the stories of trolls. They speak of them as myth, rather than fiction. The guides will point out certain areas where they have been seen. Circle hay bales that lay throughout the landscape are used as troll toilet paper. Electrical lines also double as barriers to keep the trolls out of the populated areas. Or so the myth goes.

Macho Pony Rides – When you think pony ride, you may think kids at the fair going in a circle, but not here. No matter what age or experience, this ponyback tour through the green, rocky hills shouldn’t be missed. The Laxnes Horse Farm will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel or place of stay within the capital. Take a look at their wall of photos inside the farmhouse and you’ll find that this place was good enough for John C. Reilly and Ben Stiller. Become a Nordic cowboy in no time. Location: Mosfellsbær, 271 Mosfellsbær.

After all that, go outside, stand in place with no light pollution, and look up.

Words and photos by this bloke: @chrisbaloghfoto

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