The First Lady of Iceland Has the Best Insider Tips for Making the Most of Your Trip
Over the last 20 years, Eliza Reid's fairy tale has been slowly unfolding. She met her Icelandic husband, Gudni Johannesson, in graduate school at Oxford University after winning a date when he drew her name out of a cup. The couple moved from the United Kingdom to Iceland in 2003, where they were married a year later. In 2016, Johannesson was elected the Prime Minister of Iceland, making this Canadian woman the new First Lady.
Q: What do you love the most about living in Iceland?
What I really like about living in Iceland is that it is a very open, small, and liberal society that is similar to the other Nordic countries. It is also very family friendly (we have four small children) with heavily subsidized childcare that allows us both to be working full-time and is safe enough that the children can walk to school by themselves.
Q: Before becoming the First Lady, what kind of work were you doing in Iceland?
For the last few years, I had my own company that focused on marketing, editing, and writing. I was also the editor of Icelandair's in-flight magazine and worked for a few other publications before that. In 2014, I helped to start the Iceland Writers Retreat, which is why I am here at Taste of Iceland to speak about Icelandic literature. Every year we bring over writers to do writing workshops and introduce them to Iceland's literary heritage. There is a large number of writers per capita in Iceland, and a huge diversity of work. Crime fiction is probably the genre that has been translated the most into English.
Q: What has been the most exciting for you in planning the Taste of Iceland?
I love being part of the festival. I say because I am Icelandic by choice and moved there as an adult and chose to get citizenship, I feel like that entitles me to brag about the country. I really enjoy being able to show off my new home.
Q: During the festival, Viktor Örn Andrésson, one of Iceland's premier chefs, collaborated with local chefs to create a menu filled with Icelandic delicacies. Do you have a favorite dish on his touring menu?
The dishes are classics and are prepared in different ways in each city. The lamb is amazing. Andrésson serves a free-range lamb that roamed the highlands in Iceland all summer. My parents have sheep in Canada and they say the lamb in Iceland is better. So I think that is a good seal of approval.
Q: As our readers are avid travelers, is there somewhere you like to go in Iceland for a quiet weekend?
The nice thing about Iceland is that it is possible to relax almost everywhere, even in the capital. The population density of Iceland is similar to Canada, so it is really not a crowded place. But I always suggest that people go out and try the geothermal swimming pools around the country. They are located outdoors in every small community and there are around 10 in Reykjavik that are all open year round. It is an “authentic” Icelandic experience.
Q: Is there anywhere you love to go to explore Iceland's natural beauty?
Everywhere. There are beautiful landscapes everywhere you may go. The interior of the country is uninhabitable and can only be accessed in 4-wheel drive vehicles for six to eight weeks in the summertime. So it is really around the coastlines that people often explore. Your travel will also depend a lot on weather as some parts of the country are much harder to reach in the winter. But there are wonderful places all over the country to go for nature.
Q: How would you describe your perfect day in Reykjavik?
There are so many things to do in Reykjavik. I love starting the day at one of the wonderful cafes. There is a new area by the harbor called Grandi that is building up with artisanal shops, breweries, and chocolate and cheese makers. In the afternoon or evening, it is always nice to check out a concert or the theater. There is an iconic concert and conference center called Harpa in the downtown where you can see a show or get a tour of the building. It is home to the symphony, opera, and a number of other productions.
Q: Do you have any tips for visitors traveling through Iceland?
When you arrive, check the weather forecast every day and be flexible. There are so many beautiful parts of the country and you don't want to underestimate how long it might take you to see something. In three days, it is impossible to see the whole country. Focus instead on one area and try to see it well. Like in most places, learn how to say hello (halló [ha-low]) or thank you (Þakka þér fyrir [thah-ka thyer fi-rir]) in the local language. Be sensitive to the natural surroundings as well. Off-road driving is illegal, and try to not trample on moss. Pay attention to the signs. There are a lot of hot springs and hot areas that they might be warning you about or other natural wonders that are safer to be seen from afar.
Q: Can you describe Iceland in one sentence?
Unique nature and inspiring culture within easy reach.