Can we talk about Iceland for a minute?
My obsession with all things Icelandic is no secret, and over the course of a three trips to the country I have developed a few intense loyalties. The KEX Hostel feels like home and I must soak at Laugardalslaug at least once each trip, even though I can’t really swim.
And I heart the I Heart Reykjavik blog. There are several Reykjavík-based tourism websites, and they all have their strengths. I’ve met the people behind a couple of them, and they are great people. But I Heart Reykjavík is special. It is the passion project of one local woman, Auður, whose professional background is in tourism. When you google practical questions about traveling in Iceland and the results are limited you can count on Auður to have the answers.
Last year, Auður launched a business giving personal walking tours of downtown Reykjavík.
Now, I’m not a fan of the package vacation because I hate being herded about with a group of tourists instead of meeting locals. But most of my trips involve some sort of day tour because
- Figuring out how to get there is part of the adventure, but it takes longer. Sometimes you can just fit more in if someone else is in charge of logistics.
- No matter how much research you do ahead of time, a tour guide will know more about your destination than you do.
I had already been to Reykjavík a couple of times and felt like I knew the 101 pretty well, but I wanted to take Auður’s tour when I visited last summer. Unfortunately, my flight was delayed and I arrived just as the tour was ending. That was my only day in Reykjavík so I couldn’t reschedule. Auður kindly joined me for lunch instead. We talked about writing and photography and other blogger stuff, and in the process I learned quite a bit.
Walking tours have exploded in Reykjavík since my first visit in 2012. Last year I took a literary walking tour as part of the Iceland Writers Retreat. Now it seems there are many such themed walks (this one may or may not be the one I attended). There are self-guided walks. There are pay-what-you-will walks. They all have advantages, and I can imagine taking more than one.
The I Heart Reykjavík tour is among the most expensive. It is Auður’s full-time job with all the appropriate licensing, etc. But unless you’re a Seattle-type hippie who cares strongly about both rule-following and supporting small local businesses, you probably don’t care.
Something that might affect your decision is the fact that Auður customizes every tour. She detours to wool shops for guests who forgot their mittens. When the weather is awful she adds coffee stops. When the guests are young she points out the best bars. When the guests are passionate about art – well, you get the picture. The result is that instead of feeling like part of a tourist herd, people feel like they are being shown around a friend’s neighborhood.
Of course, it’s still not for everyone, and that’s fine. But you should definitely check out the blog. It’s free and it’s helpful and Auður was working her butt off on the blog for years before she started thinking about offering tours. Her posts often relate her own adventures, where she explores her own home ground as a tourist would.
In fact, the I Heart Reykjavík blog inspired me to add travel posts about the Pacific Northwest to this blog. I’m not a travel professional like Auður, but her enthusiastic descriptions of her home town reminded me that people travel across the world to see my home town, too. I’ve lived in Seattle for more than 20 years, so it’s easy to forget how unique it is. It’s also easy to forget that the city is not static, and I don’t know it as well as I think I do.
Last weekend I was reminded of my conversation with Auður when I spent some time hanging out in the Madrona neighborhood. I took the kids to the tiny little branch library there, we walked along 34th Ave and got cupcakes, and played at the playground nearby. I hadn’t spent any time in Madrona since – no, actually, I had never done anything in Madrona before. This place was as completely new to me as if I had turned a strange corner in Reykjavík.
Auður didn’t get to show me Reykjavík last summer, but she has helped me to see Seattle.