48 Hours In Reykjavik

8 November 2015
Read Time: 2.9 mins

This is the winter to go north. The Icelandic capital is blossoming, with the new Culture House reflecting the nation's art and literature, Iceland's biggest and tallest hotel recently opened, and a host of fresh places to eat and drink. And just as the Northern Lights season begins, two new flights are starting to the Icelandic capital.

Reykjavik is draped across a peninsula shaped like a dragon's head, tucked into a sheltered bay in south-west Iceland, with dramatic views of the mountains across the water to the north.

 Winter is coming ... but Reykjavik's warmth survives

The historic core of the capital (known as 101, after the local postcode) lies between the harbour and an inland lake, Tjornin. The city's helpful tourist office is at Adalstraeti 2. It opens at 9am daily; to 6pm Monday to Friday, to 4pm Saturdays and 2pm on Sundays.

A Reykjavik City Card offers unlimited public transport, entry to most museums and thermal baths, and a range of other discounts for ISK4,400 for 48 hours.

Day One

Soak up the view

The harbourside has been transformed by Harpa, a vast concert hall conceived during Iceland's boom years. When it opened in 2011, the country was already plumbing economic depths. On any day from 8am to midnight you can see the way the grid of 1,000 blocks of glass teases the light.

 The Harpa Concert Hall teases the light

Stretch your legs

Follow the waterside west; the earthworks on your left are the original harbour walls. Tourism is gradually displacing industry, as the converted Marina Hotel shows. Where the harbour wall turns north, the Maritime Museum tells the story of life on Europe's raw edge.

Beyond it at Fiskisloo 23, Whales of Iceland contains life-size replicas in steel and foam of 23 cetaceans found around Iceland's coast. Head up to the roundabout to find the Saga Museum; there are impressive murals on nearby buildings. Walk between the colourful corrugated-iron dwellings on Vesturgata, and emerge beside the tourist office.

Lunch on the run

Here you'll find Pylsuhusid, a kiosk serving hot dogs (Iceland's favourite fast food). Or, on a bright day, the adjoining terrace at Uno is a lunchtime suntrap, for enjoying a salmon bruschetta.

Cultural afternoon

Despite being capital of a country of only 300,000 people, Reykjavik has a remarkable breadth and depth of culture. In the heart of the city, the Hafnarhus is a converted warehouse at Tryggvagata 17 that houses the Reykjavik Art Museum. It houses a diverse and startling range of modern works and an explanation of how American artist Richard Serra created his Standing Stones exhibit on Videy Island.

 The parliament house reflects over the ever present harbour

The handsome 1909 National Library and National Archives of Iceland is now at the Culture House where it traces the island's soul through poignant words and images. The National Museum at Suourgata 41, covers the people's story since humans first came to Iceland.

An aperitif

The handsome, theatrical Beer Garden at the Fosshotel has two dozen beers in strengths ranging from 4.5 to 10 per cent. As winter deepens, you may be relieved to learn it is an indoor garden.

Dine with the locals

On a cold northern evening, Babalu at Skolavordustigur is a cosy cafe for wolfing down traditional lamb soup and cheesecake. For a hint of Latin American sunshine, there's Tacobarinn at Hverfisgata 20, where dishes such as salmon ceviche bridge the gap between north Europe and South America.

Uncover the mysteries by bitumen. Road Tripping In Iceland

The capital's quirks can be inspiring. The Brilliant Quirks Of Reykjavik

Day Two

Time for church

A spaceship built from concrete organ pipes sums up the commanding Hallgrímskirkja church. Taking the lift heavenwards to the top of the 73m bell tower costs ISK900 (A$10).

 Take a trip to the bell tower

Window shopping

Laugavegur is the nation's main shopping street. For vintage fashion, track down Nostalgia at No 32 or, opposite at No 28B, Spúútnik. Vinyl music shops are also in vogue, with Bad Taste Records at No 35 featuring a museum dedicated to local band The Sugarcubes. For substantial purchases you can reclaim the VAT.

Out to brunch

The Laundromat Cafe at Austurstraeti 9 allows you to do your washing as you feast on grilled rye bread with avocado and two fried eggs for ISK1,890 (A$20.50).

A dip in the park

Iceland has harnessed geothermal energy to provide its citizens with limitless hot water. This geological bounty is best enjoyed at Laugardalslaug, the complex of pools on the edge of Laugardalur Park.

 Icelanders make the most of the geological bounty

Take a ride

The ferry to Videy Island takes five minutes from the pier at Skarfabakki at 1.15pm and 2.15pm, taking you to a windswept isle that's also an outdoor art gallery. At the western end is the Peace Tower – a white cylinder – created by Yoko Ono. It carries the message “Imagine Peace” in 24 languages.

Icing on the cake

On your way back to Keflavik airport, divert by way of the Blue Lagoon, where the run-off from a thermal power station has become Iceland's biggest tourist attraction.

Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Reykjavik.

This article was written by Simon Calder from The Independent and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

The Independent

The Independent is a British national morning newspaper published in London by Independent Print Limited, owned by Alexander Lebedev since 2010. Nicknamed the Indy, it was launched in 1986 and is one of the youngest UK national daily newspapers.