In case you missed my Insta spam, I pretty much spent last week in Iceland for a tech/academic conference where I had the time of my life. So because I have no chill, here’s my guide to Reykjavik and its surroundings, from bars to pole studios, from excursions to thermal baths.
*My flights and accommodation were sponsored by the conference because I ain’t got no money and Iceland is $$$*
View this post on Instagram
This week I am one of the few academics invited to speak and present my research at a tech-based conference. This is a huge honour, because to me, sometimes, #academia and #tech seem to live in their own little bubble, but society would really benefit from their cooperation. Yet, in both fields, I often feel like an outsider. 👩🏻🏫 My hobbies automatically make me an unlikely #academic to some (I personally think they make me a better academic but OK) and well… tech-wise, I’m female. The unwritten laws of academia and tech prevent women, young and #lgbt people from joining – and it’s always clear how much of an off an oddball I am when I walk into conference dressed in something that isn’t boring. 👩🏻🎤 When I walked in, day 1, with my @zara red suit this week, a group of men started giggling, telling each other: “Are we here for the same thing?” Maybe they meant it as a compliment, but to me it was one more example of how women are meant to tone themselves down in certain environments to be taken seriously. Well, I won’t do that. 💁🏻♀️ I’ve always enjoyed standing out. Your clothes are a big part of that first impression, and I like to play with that – especially since my age and gender always lead people to think I’m an intern or student instead of a speaker, published #author (in academia and fiction) and #researcher. I could present in a dinosaur onesie or in my fave performing thong, but I still have skills and insights in my field. And people will have to listen, because I am qualified. Luckily, events like this conference are hosting a growing number of women and the concern for inclusion is one of their top ones. The environment is friendly, and people are encouraging connections and even have a group looking after you if are affected by misconduct. All I hope is that the future for women in business/academia/tech allows for yes self-obliteration and more individuality 🤘🏻[Full disclosure: I did put a t-shirt and the rest of the suit on for the conference, although these pants look dope with my @intimissimiofficial bra 😛😛😛]
Getting to Reykjavik
While before my go-to airline would have been WOW! Air, after it failed a couple of months ago I had to go for EasyJet. Iceland Air and Wizz Air also fly to Reykjavik, but due to the excursions I’d booked for my first day I flew at 6:50 AM from London Luton. Yay.
Most international flights to Reykjavik will take you to Keflavik Airport, which is ideal both for connections and for local flights. It’s small, clean, well-connected to Reykjavik by a variety of buses, and it has a lot of nice duty free shops and restaurants.
I was told by conference organisers that taxis to Reykjavik out of Keflavik cost a fortune, so I used the company they’d partnered up with – Reykjavik Excursions – to book a return Flybus to and from the airport. Flybuses are great because they take you to the main hotels and main stops in town, so it’s not a commuting to station – then taking train – then hoping for the best London scenario. A return ticket cost me 6999 ISK (about £45) and I really recommend booking as soon as you know your arrival and departure times, as prices seem to rise closer to the date.
Staying in Reykjavik
Staying in Reykjavik can be quite expensive – hostels can cost you the equivalent of £60 a night and I paid £73 for a night in a cute but very small Airbnb at the end of my trip. So be prepared.
Throughout the conference, I stayed at Hotel Island, which was sponsored by the organisers. The hotel was about 20 minutes walk away from the main town centre, and also quite close to the Sculpture and Shore walk on the Harbour as well as other little sights I’ll talk about shortly. I had a very big room with a gorgeous view of the snowy mountains, so I can’t really complain.
Near Hotel Island are also a Hilton and a City Park Hotel, so the area seems to be great for business. However, if you’re looking to spend a bit less and to stay more central, I’d recommend Airbnb.
You can’t talk about Iceland without talking about…
There’s no denying that, if you come from Southern Europe especially, Reykjavik is going to be more expensive than what you’re used to. Like many Northern European countries, Iceland has a strong currency (the Icelandic Krona) that isn’t very kind to your wallet. So how did I go about budgeting when there?
Here’s another installment of my love affair with Monzo, who haven’t paid me for this but to be fair I love them so much I’d pay them to be my friends. I’ve been with online banking platform Monzo for about a year now, and I was all excited about going abroad with it again – if you use your Monzo Mastercard outside the UK, you don’t pay exchange rate fees and you can take out up to £200 a month without doing so. Plus, Monzo converts your purchases in real time so when you realise you’ve spent £15 on two beers you kinda go: “OK, let’s switch back to Diet Cokes”.
HOWEVER, an ATM near my house in Hackney had other plans, and it decided to eat my Monzo card right on the day I was supposed to leave for Iceland. The bank in question didn’t even try to help after I waited 25 minutes for them to pick up on their helpline number. Monzo however answered their online chat straight away and showed me how to freeze my card and defrost it when I needed to make purchases in Iceland – and they also went and MAILED a replacement card to my hotel. So I will forever love them for this, as I was able to just pay via Apple Pay by defrosting my card all the time.
Food and Drink
Disclaimer: I didn’t eat out too much in Reykjavik because 1) I’m poor 2) the conference fed us pretty well 3) I was in full-on competition mode so I couldn’t load up on goodies as much as I would have liked. But I did go for a few fun meals, so here they are.
Braud & Co.
If there is ONE THING you should eat in Reykjavik is Braud & Co.’s cinnamon buns. I have never had better cinnamon buns in my whole life. They are BIGGER THAN MY HAND. And they are soft, and warm, and heaven.
My friend Rosanne recommended this bakery to me and I now love her even more for that. Apparently, they are one of the city’s most successful start-ups and you can see why: aside from their yummy food, they are truly lovely. I was feeling quite ill and down on my last day in Reykjavik and got to Braud & Co. a few minutes after they closed. I asked them if I could at least take a bun away, but they actually gave me three buns they had left for free. I hope karma is on their side because this is literally all it takes to make me happy.
A bun and a coffee at Braud & Co. will set you back about £5 (not much different from a London breakfast). I recommend going to their 16 Frakkastígur branch – it has a really cute graffiti wall that is great for Insta and it’s a nice treat after the walk up to the Hallgrímskirkja, the church that is one of Reykjavik’s most famous landmarks.
I love a theme bar or restaurant and Reykjavik’s Lebowski Bar is both. Serving up some mean White Russians and burgers and fries worthy of a quality American diner, the Lebowski Bar has gone all out in replicating the vibe and scenery of the Coen brothers’ classic.
Plus, especially for Reykjavik standards, it’s actually not that expensive. I ordered a Lebowski Burger with fries and soda (a standard cheeseburger, as part of their meal deal) and paid 2500 ISK (about £16). Dinner in London often costs the same, so win win.
Kiki Queer Bar
I’ve had one of the best nights of the trip at Kiki Queer Bar. I went on a Wednesday, just before 10 PM, which is apparently when the drag show starts.
On that Wednesday night, an American drag queen called Faye Knùs (get it?) was hosting the show and she was fucking awesome. I’m hoping to see her on Drag Race some time soon cause she is the T.
Faye’s dark humour, lipsync talent and dance skills carried us through the night… and then she asked the audience to lipsync. Which I did, obviously. Swipe through the Insta post below to watch.
View this post on Instagram
You asked for it, and now it’s time to deliver the video of my lipsync lol. Here is one of the most memorable nights out I’ve had in #reykjavik feat. @lebowskibar and the fantastic @kikiqueerbar, where I lipsynced for my life and earned my #chantayyoustay thanks to the amazing @fayeknus 😍 a dream come true 😂😂😂 swipe right to watch the end of my lipsync to #7rings by Ariana Grande as well as Faye doing her thing – and some pretty Reykjavik sights too! 🇮🇸🇮🇸🇮🇸
Kiki is a proper riot. It’s a safe space for the queer community, doesn’t bother about gender and it still looks like a typical Icelandic dive, with great queer flamingo murals on the wall. If there’s a bar you need to go to in town, this is it.
My conference was at the Hilton and I got to dine at the Michelin starred Vox Club quite a bit through it. I became ridiculously addicted to their sushi – especially the one wrapped in fried seaweed. Definitely worth a stop if you’ve got the budget!
View this post on Instagram
Just spoke here in #Reykjavík, where I’m being hosted by the lovely conference team, bringing you bad teacher realness with these fantastic pants @julietherrera_ made for me & #gifted me. It’s quite ironic to find myself here, talking about #socialmedia regulation for Twitter abuse, when I – like many #poledancers, sex positive advocates or sex workers – am often being shadowbanned by Instagram. 🍑 I find myself at the intersection of #creativewriting, #academia, #blogging & #dancing, and I feel like this gives me a unique insight on the issue of Internet censorship. In the past 2 years of my #criminology #PhD on cyber-hate speech on high profile criminal cases, I have witnessed & read some awful things online. So let me draw a parallel between things that happen online & that aren’t being dealt with, and with the censorship we face. 🤬 Online hate speech harms its targets; public debate in general, because if you think you can SAY anything about anyone, the steps to thinking you can DO anything to them aren’t that many (as seen by extremist violence fueled by some online content); the right to a fair trial, because chances are that jury members that see negative posts about people will make their mind up against them in court.✖️✖️✖️Yet, sex workers advertising themselves via Instagram, pole dancers posting a new trick or choreography, lingerie models showing some skin etc are way less dangerous than hate. As @exotic.cancer brilliantly argued during my interview with her, why not add NSFW filters to Insta so that people can still use it for the discovery-based social network it used to be? One has to wonder why, in 2019, we are still uncomfortable with our bodies and with sex. Why would we rather our kids didn’t know about them at all rather than talk about them? 👯♀️ My skin isn’t inappropriate. My pole moves are hard work. My writing needs more readers if I’m ever gonna start properly making money with it. So what’s more inappropriate, people going online with the intention to hurt others, or some pole dancer shaking her ass? I’ll leave you to decide. If you liked this post pls help me break the shadowban, share, tag & like. #notinappropriate
The Punk Museum
Opened by Johnny Rotten in 2016, The Punk Museum has on display photos, sounds, posters, instruments, clothes and other memorabilia from the 80-90s Icelandic punk scene. The museum’s host, Álfur, is an original punk and the curator, Dr. Gunni, is a veteran of rock and a historian of the Icelandic music scene.
So in case you missed it, I’m bi and more physically attracted to women, although I often end up with men. My relationship with penises requires quite a lot of psychological preparation, but since I like getting out of my comfort zone, I dragged myself to the Phallological Museum of Reykjavik.
The foundations of the museum were laid in 1974, when the founder received his first bull penis to collect. The website description reads:
“The Icelandic Phallological Museum contains a collection of more than two hundred penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland. Visitors to the museum will encounter fifty-five specimens belonging to sixteen different kinds of whale, one specimen taken from a rogue polar bear, thirty-six specimens belonging to seven different kinds of seal and walrus, and more than one hundred fifteen specimens originating from twenty different kinds of land mammal: all in all, a total of more than two hundred specimens belonging to forty-six different kinds of mammal, including that of Homo sapiens.”
Tickets cost about £10, and I promise you, “Dick in a Box” will play in your head quite a bit in this quirk fest of a museum. Imagine giant whale penises in formaldehyde (taller than me) or elephant penises… yeah. You get it.
So why should you visit the penis museum? Well, why the fuck not? I like quirky things, and this definitely didn’t disappoint. I got an audioguide, but ended up just walking around my own way because I’m a rebel like that. The choice is yours.
The Culture House hosts a bunch of different exhibitions – art, history, books etc. – about historical Icelandic culture, old and new. Aside from that, it’s a fantastic building that will give you interiors envy. Worth a stop even just for that.
The Settlement Exhibition
If, like me, you’re a history geek, it’s worth visiting The Settlement Exhibition for reading about the origins of Iceland, how the first settlers from Norway lived in their time and to see some weapons and finds from their times.
Health and Fitness
A friend told me to write a blog post about how I find pole studios everywhere, and while today is not that day, I will tell you about the lovely Erial Pole.
Just off the main shopping street of Reykjavik, Erial Pole is a beautiful, bright studio offering pole, silks and hoop classes. The vibe is very friendly and welcoming even as an outsider. Just like pretty much everyone in Reykjavik, the staff speak English so you’ll be totally fine.
The pole videos I shot there probably have the best lighting a pole video has ever had for me – so if you’re feeling the pole withdrawals, this is where you should go!
Just like with everything else, expect to spend a bit more than you would for a UK pole class – I spent £18 for a pole hire – but also remember it will be worth it. I needed a dance so badly after my conference speech, it was great to spin at Erial Pole and run through my Exotic Generation routine for this week’s competition.
Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach
This is obviously depends on the weather, but I was lucky to find an amazing temperature and a whole week of sun when I was in Iceland, so I got to go to the Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach just off the domestic airport.
The beach was created in 2001, when a lagoon with large sea walls was built so that the cold sea and hot geothermal water could fuse together resulting in higher temperatures.
I mainly chilled in the hot bath in front of the beach, but did take a small dip in the Ocean. It was one of the best experiences during my trip, and it’s completely free – so don’t miss out if it’s sunny!
Mjolnir Fight Gym
If you’re not a pole dancer or if you’re a pole dancer who likes to fight, apparently Mjolnir Fight Gym is all the rage in town, with courses ranging from BJJ to MMA, from Grappling to free weights. The gym is open to both men and women and it even has a hair salon! I haven’t been, but heard great things from conference attendees.
Must-Do: Sights In and Outside Reykjavik
The most distinguishable landmark in Reykjavik, the Hallgrímskirkja is almost like a compass: it’s so tall that just by looking at it, you manage to understand in which direction you’re meant to walk towards. It’s almost visible from all over town!
Hallgrímskirkja is both a parish church and a national sanctuary. Its modernist concrete facade is inspired by the Icelandic landscape. The church is named after the 17th-century clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson, author of Hymns of the Passion. Admission to the church is free. Admission to the tower is ISK 1000 (about £7).
The Harpa Concert Hall
Harpa is a concert hall and conference centre and one of the most unique buildings in Reykjavik. It was the location for my conference’s closing dinner and to say that I was blown away by it would be a euphemism.
Imagine watching the sun set while you’re eating (quite late, for Reykjavik standards) from one of the mirror-like, geometric windows looking upon the city’s harbour.
Plus, the Harpa has hosted music festivals such as Iceland Airwaves, Reykjavik Midsummer Music, Dark Music Days, Reykjavik Arts Festival, Reykjavik Jazz Festival, Sónar Reykjavík and more. Harpa is also the home of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera and the Reykjavik Big Band,
One of the most instagrammed locations of the past few years, the Blue Lagoon is truly outstanding, breath-taking and unique.
Spas are generally pretty nice, but when they’re in a hot pool of light-blue silica water, surrounded by volcanic rocks and with a floating bar… well, I’d say that was my favourite spa ever.
The Blue Lagoon’s landscape is terribly ethereal, and it’s so big that you don’t have to worry about not having enough space in between groups of tourists. I went in at around 5 PM, which I was told is an ideal time because that’s when the Lagoon starts being less crowded. The sky was grey and the water’s colour was popping, and the whole experience was a blessing for my tense muscles.
I don’t know if it was the psychological release of almost being at the end of a heavy academic year, or the tenseness from a night flight, but when I walked into the Lagoon’s hot water all my worries lifted. My skin, too, received a boost: the silica mask they hand out in the mask bars immediately turned my stressy acne into smooth baby cheeks.
Now let’s talk money. If you’re hoping for the Lagoon to be cheap, that it ain’t. What you can do to make it cheaper however is to book as soon as you know when you’re going to Iceland. I booked my tickers about two months in advance, paying 12600 (£80) for the entry, bus transfers from the hotel to the Lagoon and back, a complimentary drink and a mask. This is included in the comfort ticket, which cost the equivalent of £130 for people who tried to buy just a week in advance.
I booked my tickets via Reykjavik Excursions, but you can buy them directly from the Blue Lagoon’s website or from other tour operators.
In terms of when to go, many people choose to visit the Lagoon either when they arrive or when they leave, since it’s quite close to the airport. That will save you a bus transfer, but I wanted to chill so I decided to go without luggage (although luggage lockers are provided).
Top tips when you’re there.
- Get a Skyr smoothie as opposed to alcohol from the bar. Skyr is a typical Icelandic yoghurt, low in fat and high in protein. It’s awesome, and it will make you feel waaaaay less lightheaded than booze in thermal water settings.
- Put a LOT of conditioner in your hair, and if you have long hair pull it all the way up. Silica dries your hair up quite a lot, and if the scarecrow look isn’t what you after try not to put your head underwater.
- Consider buying a protective waterproof case for your phone if you want to take pictures. I bought this one from Amazon for just £6.99, took loads of pics, then went and left my phone in the lockers to actually enjoy the experience off the Gram.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for pictures. There are lots of solo travellers there who will happily take them for you in exchange of a picture of them. Thanks to the Colombian girl who was pretty much my Insta girlfriend for the day! If you’re feeling shy about Instagramming without a partner/friend, read my guide to that here.
Another must-do excursion, the Golden Circle Direct tour I went on took me to national parks, geysers and waterfalls. Once again, I used Reykjavik Excursions to book my tour because they gave conference attendees discounted prices, and I paid 5759 ISK (£37) for a half day. However, many tour operators run the same tour.
The Gullfoss and Geysir bus tour takes you on a day trip to see the world-famous Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss, the queen of Icelandic waterfalls, as well as Thingvellir National Park.
The Geysir geothermal area boasts spouting springs, including Strokkur, the most active geyser in Iceland.
At Gullfoss you are given the opportunity to stand next to the amazing waterfall below, watching enormous quantities of water tumble violently into a deep, meandering gorge.
The volcanic landscape, the green hills and mountains and the waterfalls were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I’m not a huge fan of bus rides, but I hate driving when I’m not familiar with my surroundings, so the tour was ideal for me and I really recommend it!