My first big activity in Iceland was scuba diving in 32F water at Silfra in Thingvellir National Park.
I booked my dive through Reykjavik Excursions, one of the biggest tour companies in Iceland. It was slightly cheaper to book with them and in the end, it was Dive.is that provided the gear and guide. All I needed to stay warm under the dry suit were a couple of pairs of socks and thermal underwear.
New Year's in Reykjavik was incredible but too difficult to capture on video.
New Year's Eve provided me with a wonderful introduction to Icelandic cuisine and culture thanks to my friend Ingvar and his family having me over for dinner. I think the only traditional food I'd had at this point was skyr, made of cultured skim milk. Its taste is similar to yogurt but its creation is closer to cheese. I had it with the included breakfast at the guesthouse.
Dinner at Ingvar's started with salmon marinated in salt and dill (graflax) served with a creamy mustard sauce and toast. We followed up with a beautiful pork roast, caramelized potatoes (Brúnaðar kartöflur), pickled red cabbage (Rauðkál), and mixed salad. Regina fixed us pomegranate and champagne cocktails but I was curious about the Egils Malt Extrakt that Ingvar's brother was drinking. It looked like dark beer. He mixed it with orange soda (Egils Appelsín) to make jólaöl. It wasn't a combination that looked very quenching. Days later I finally picked up a bottle of both. I prefer them both on their own than mixed. The Malt Extrakt is a brown sugary, malty drink that wasn't as bad as I expected. It's said that it keeps the Icelanders beautiful. Next time I'm bringing home a case. For dessert we had milk ice with fresh berries and chocolate sauce. I was stuffed but had to have a bit. It's like an icier version of ice cream. After dinner we ventured out to the beach for an enormous bonfire. Locals and tourists gathered around, faces illuminated, bodies toasting. I got a kick out of Bjork's black house amongst the row of prime beachfront properties. After chatting with other revelers we headed back to the apartment to join the swarms of people lighting fireworks on what seemed like every street. Ingvar had bought a couple of crazy rockets and a massive fireworks "cake". I lifted my personal ban on lighting fireworks to launch a rocket into the sky and was awestruck as the cake exploded into a mini pyrotechnic show. The amazing thing was, similar shows were going on for hours on every other street. And it wasn't even midnight.
Back in the apartment we imbibed Reyka vodka with pomegranate juice and I sampled Brennivin, a liquor made of potatoes and caraway seed that's often referred to as "BLACK DEATH". Awesome. Regina and I made some New Year's calls while Ingvar tuned into Áramótaskaupið, a satirical year end tv show that most of the population watches before midnight. Afterwards, we rushed over to Ingvar's grandparents' apartment for a better view of the city of Reykjavik as it seemed to explode all around us. It was a sight that has to be seen in person. We danced like maniacs for hours at a couple of clubs on the main strip. I wandered back to my hotel around 6am or so. It was one of the better New Year's Eves I've had the good fortune to experience.
In town, I mostly wandered around and got lost which is always nice. I went to the National Museum (free on Wednesdays) and the weekend flea market (not much there). The restaurants were pretty empty because of the economic crisis. Most Icelanders cook and drink at home. On weekends at midnight, they hit the clubs. I danced like a maniac at Salon and Vegemot (really beautiful people there). Some bars and cafes I popped into were Cafe Paris (touristy), Hresso (live bands some nights), and Dillon (kind of a rock and roll joint). I was trying to save cash so I ate a lot of sandwiches from the 10-11 shops (all night convenient stores). I had a nice dinner at Cafe Reykjavik (seafood soup and grilled halibut are good). I tried a pricey but tasty bowl of soup at Sea Baron (The New York Times allegedly named it best Lobster Soup in the world, you can get whale kebabs there, too, I passed). I also tried hot dogs at various stands. Gotta get the crispy onions. I never tried the fermented shark but I had plenty of lamb.
The landscapes in Iceland are generally out of this world.
Thanks to Ingvar's dad, we had a car and were able to skip town for a night and explore some dark and lonely beaches and wander around one of the national parks. The rest of the time, I booked day tours. All of the following were worth checking out: Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss water falls, Mýrdalsjökull glacier, Vik and the cliffs at nearby Dyrholaey, caving, scuba diving, and just wandering around Þingvellir National Park. The Blue Lagoon.
If you can't afford a car rental, you're left with day tours. There are a few big companies like Reykjavik and Icelandic Excursions. The most popular tour is the Golden Circle which takes you to geysers, waterfalls, and parks. Anytime you get out of Reykjavik and start to make your way into the countryside, it's breathtaking. Really beautiful landscapes. The Southern tours take you to a glacier, more falls, and a national park. Since it was raining, I chose more active trips like caving in lava tubes, glacier walking, and the scuba diving. I enjoyed them all but they get pricey. It was about $80, $120, and $300, respectively. Prices vary with the crazy currency fluctuations.
Day tours are great. They pick up from just about every hotel/guesthouse. They pretty much provide you with transportation and don't lead you around like sheep. Once you get to a place, you're usually free to wander. If you stay at Baldursbra, the host can book your tours for better prices. You can save 10% on Reykjavik Excursions with a coupon in the Visitor Guide. The Reykjavik Welcome card is only worth the price if you're taking the bus around the city a lot. Otherwise, most art museums are free and the other museums have free days if you plan accordingly. The Tourist Center in the middle of town has brochures a plenty but don't count on them to book the best prices. You really have to compare and do some currency conversions.
My last stop was the Blue Lagoon. It's mentioned in every tourist piece about Iceland so I was skeptical of its appeal. But I was blown away. It really is pretty beautiful. I bought a package that dropped me off there for a few hours on the way to the airport. This was enough time to soak in the lagoon, sit in the steam room, and take a walk around their grounds, which are stunning.