With a population of roughly 200,000 the Icelandic capital may be small by world city standards, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in personality. Whether venturing inwards to the vibrant, arty city centre, outwards to the majestic countryside, or sinking down into the soothing geothermal waters of its many pools and spas, a visit to Reykjavik, to use a phrase coined by famous Reykjavikian Bjork, promises to leave visitors “violently happy”.
With more than a quarter of the city made up of dedicated open spaces, there are lots of outdoor activities to choose from, such as horse-riding, whale watching and golfing. And thanks to the remarkable topography, you are guaranteed an amazing natural backdrop whatever you do.
If you visit during summer, prepare to be dazzled by the setting of the midnight sun: the skies turn on some incredible colours as the sun sets, followed by an otherworldy illumination that lasts until dawn the next day.
Reykjavik is a culturally rich destination, with lots of museums, art galleries, cafes and bars. Wandering around the city is a visual feast, with brightly coloured houses, pretty parks, the towering hilltop Hallgrimskirkja church, and magnificent scenery of mountains and the sea. Take in a breathtaking view of the entire city from the Perlan platform, high on a hill south-east of the city centre.
No visit to Reykjavik is complete without a soak in one of the outdoor geothermal pools – filled with naturally steaming hot water. At the city’s largest pool, Laugardalslaug, there is even a giant water slide. Be sure to visit the shimmering concert hall Harpa, whether to see a show or just to admire the architecture. The world-famous nightlife beckons too.
Eat and Drink
Eating out in Reykjavik is not cheap. There are lots of budget restaurants, but these are mostly fast food chain outlets. Mid-range dining is considerably more expensive. Looking around at the geography, it’s not difficult to work out why fish is a good bet in this town.
For top-of-the-range (and price) seafood, there are a lot of choices down by the harbour and in the city centre. In the old town, seafood is a bit more affordable.
When it comes to partying, Reykjavik has a reputation as the place to go. However, alcoholic drinks are almost prohibitively expensive here, so you might try following the locals’ lead: start the party at home, and head out later.
Where to stay
While there is a lot of choice when it comes to top-of-the-range hotel accommodation, there are scant offerings at the other end of the price range. If you’re here for a bit longer, a short-term rental could be worth looking into. Be sure to book well in advance if you are visiting in June, July or August, with lots of tourists heading here for days of almost 24-hour daylight.
The Kolaportid Fleamarket takes place in an old industrial building by the harbour every weekend. There’s a huge selection of pre-loved clothing and toys, as well as Icelandic gastronomic specialties such as geothermally baked bread and fermented shark. Who needs fish and chips?
For some unique, hand-crafted goods and designer pieces, try Kraum, held in the oldest house in Reykjavik. Big-name designer fashion is available at KronKron. For one-of-a-kind quirky mementoes, check out the Women’s Art and Design Collective at Vesturgata 4, where you might pick up a shiny fish-skin handbag.
Reykjavik Like a Local
If a swim in the sea is your thing, don’t worry about the Arctic water temperature. No matter what time of year you visit, the water at Nautholsvik is warmer than anywhere else on the coast. The sandy beach, which attracts more than 500,000 visitors a year, was created in 2001. By utilising large sea walls, a man-made lagoon cleverly allows icy seawater to mix with geothermal spring water, resulting in water a few degrees warmer than the sea.