Iceland is a small country, but it is jam packed with amazing scenery, friendly locals and, most of all, delicious local beer.
Arriving in the world’s most northern capital, Reykjavik, is a surreal experience. Standing on the quiet shoreline while gazing at the mountains, you feel isolated from the rest of the world. Just over 330,000 citizens inhabit the island that is about one and a half times bigger than Ireland, which boasts a population of 5,000,000! Needless to say you’ll have plenty of space to roam around during your stay there. However, Iceland tourism has been growing in popularity, with the number of people visiting the country growing exponentially since 2010.
I always seem to arrive in my destination super early in the morning. I don’t plan for this pattern but I have grown to love it. I get to see the cities wake up; people open up their business, pop open their patio umbrellas and seemingly invite me in. Iceland was different only in the visual aspect; in June, close to the summer solstice, there is nearly 24 hours of sunlight, so morning really felt like midday. I stayed in an Airbnb my first night in Reykjavik, and definitely took the black-out blinds for granted! The midnight sun made it hard to sleep while on the road sleeping in a tent or in the car (a sleep mask of some kind is a necessity). In spite of this, nothing can beat watching a vividly colourful sunset at 2:00am only to watch it rise again moments later.
Reykjavik is a fantastic city. Many of the buildings are made of brightly painted metal, due to the lack of brick making resources in Iceland, which only adds to the maritime vibe. For such a small city, only about 110,000 people, you can find almost anything you want. This includes great seafood, quirky bars and cafes (some featuring board games!), and more art than you know what to do with. Before I get into the beer available in Iceland I’ll give you some background in Icelandic beer history.
Prohibition in Iceland began in 1915 and since then it has been lifted in stages, beginning in 1921 when Spanish wines were legalized. This was actually due to political pressure from Spain when they declared that they would no longer purchase Icelandic fish if their prohibition continued. During the early years of prohibition there was rampant smuggling and home-brew alcohol that was available around the country. Even painters stated that they needed alcohol to clean brushes, even though they had never used alcohol for that job before. Finally in 1989 beer was legalized and the country rejoiced.
All alcohol is now legal across the country, but while I was there bars would often close down as early as 9:00pm (especially those outside Reykjavik), and when the sun is out for almost 24 hours a day, this can feel extremely early.
This was a shame only in that these bars were great! Bravo, located at Laugavegur 22, Reykjavik is a great bar full of local artwork. The Scottish bartender was an especially great storyteller and there were a variety of Icelandic beers available. Happy hour lasts from around noon to 8pm which, given the cost of a pint in Iceland, was gratefully appreciated. If you’re looking for even cheaper beer, arguably the cheapest pint on the island, Bar 7 offers Tuborg on tap and is FULL of tattoo flash art.
The craft beer revolution I discussed in my previous post,The Popularization of Craft Beer in Ontario, is also occurring in Iceland and craft breweries are popping up around the country. While even the largest “commercial” breweries in Iceland would be considered craft brewers in the United States, beer lovers still long for the adventurous tastes only true craft brewers seem willing to provide.
In a country where new natural wonders are waiting around every fjord, it is overwhelming to take it all in. Volcanoes dot the landscape, as do the byproducts of that volcanic activity. Iceland takes full advantage of this awesome power, using it to power their homes and even heat the multitude of outdoor pools. Did I mention that Iceland boasts the highest swimming pool to citizen ratio in the world? They aren’t your normal recreation centre pools either. After some driving and hiking, with some directions scribbled on a scrap of paper, I found myself at Iceland’s oldest public pool.
Nestled just south of Eyjafjallajökull, a small glacier on the island, it is a heated oasis. (insert Picture) Natural hot springs are also prevalent around Iceland and I would encourage you to stop and take full advantage whenever you discover one (I definitely did!).
Other natural sights to look out for include black sand beaches created by volcanic activity, as well as some very special waterfalls. While the black sand beaches are mainly in the southern regions, waterfalls can be found literally everywhere along roads and hiking trails. The lack of trees means you can see every detail in the landscape, as well as allowing you to see sometimes hundreds of individual waterfalls at once.
Marketing in Iceland is different than in other countries by nature of their infrastructure. One example of this would be their internet connectivity, almost every establishment in even the smallest villages have wifi. This means that the Internet is especially important when trying to reach the entire population.
Iceland itself is so popular now due to some recent events and opportunistic marketing plans. Iceland made headlines during the 2008 financial crisis, and two years later in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull erupted, shutting down air traffic across the Northern Atlantic for weeks. The country had a poor image as a travel destination and yet visitors were highly satisfied with their trips. Iceland capitalized on this satisfaction by creating a program to encourage those who visited to share their best Iceland stories.
Even while I write this blog I am contributing to the mass of content created about Iceland and with each significant event that occurs, Iceland becomes a more popular topic of discussion.