Home to a population of just 120,000 ensconced comfortably within its compact city limits, Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost national capital. These days more affordable than many nearby Scandinavian capitals, Reykjavik offers visitors just as many spoils. The bustling port, buzzing nightlife and geothermal baths are some of the main attractions, but art and culture are also rich in Reykjavik and the city offers many quality museums and galleries. The best and busiest time to visit is in summer when the nights are long and the pubs almost never close. Winter though isn’t a time when Reykjavik comes to a stop and whenever you decide to visit make sure to save enough time to explore the many attractions that lie within a short drive of the city centre.
Perhaps Iceland’s most iconic image is that of steam rising from the blackened lava coated Blue Lagoon. The warm waters at this geothermal spa are rich in minerals including silica and sulphur and a swim is reason enough for many people to visit Reykjavik. Dominating the city’s skyline, you won’t miss Hallgrímskirkja, a striking 74.5 metre high church with architecture inspired by the country’s basalt lava flows. Those wishing to learn more about Iceland’s proud cultural heritage should make The National Museum of Iceland your first port of call, closely followed by Reykjavik Art Museum, Culture House and the Maritime Museum. Those with time to spare should also venture to the breathtaking Gullfoss waterfalls, a picturesque ninety-minute drive from the city centre.
Around Laugavegur and Austurvollur Square is where you’ll find many of Reykjavik’s most popular places to eat and drink. Fish Market and Grilled Market are two notable restaurants to visit and both offer some of the finest contemporary Icelandic cuisine. Icelandic cuisine? Yes indeed! That means smoked puffin, grilled whale meat and dried reindeer are all on the menu. If they’re not for you, try Icelandic Fish and Chips, a lower-key place that offers a delicious version of another one of the country’s classic dishes. Further down the price scale you’ll find humble hot dog stand Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Operating since 1939, many visiting luminaries, including Bill Clinton and are on this ever-popular food stand’s long customer list.
Where to stay
Summer’s long nights mean peak season in Reykjavik and July through August are the only times when you really need to be savvy to find a good hotel deal. At other times of the year you really can’t go wrong and sometimes even budget rooms will feel designer in Reykjavik. Hotel Borg still leads the way in the city’s luxury market. Having been built in 1930 this Art Deco hotel is centrally located on the city’s prettiest square. Centrehotel Thingholt offers more modern rooms and an even more contemporary bar (check out the wall made from salmon scales). Centre Hotel Arnarhvoll and the additionally affordable Hotel Cabin offer fewer frills but just as clean and spacious rooms.
Laugavegur is Reyjkavik’s historical shopping strip and there along with Skólavörðustígur is still where you’ll find some of the city’s best shopping. Those yearning for more international brands should head to the Kringlan Mall, but keep in mind that import and sales taxes can make big brand shopping expensive in Reykjavik. Sheep-skin slippers and fish-skin bags are two things that are definitely best bought in Reyjkavik and Icelandic Design Centre and Nostrum are two of the leading places to find home-grown designers. Kolaportio Flea Market is another great place to shop for something unique and sells many Icelandic specialties along with the usual flea market items including clothes, records and books.
Reykjavik like a Local
Though Blue Lagoon may be the mother of all baths, Reykjavik’s city pools make for a much more local swimming experience. There are countless to choose from and most have something special to offer. Laugardalslaug is the city’s largest pool and features a waterslide and outdoor children’s pool, while Ásvallalaug is one of its newest pools and an almost entirely indoor complex. Located close to the city centre, Vesturbæjarlaug is the best pool for people watching and is rumoured to be Bjork’s favourite pool. Nauthólsvík on the other hand is a geothermal beach where the cold sea and hot geothermal water fuse together. There the daring can jump the man-made sea walls to experience the great pleasure (or is it pain?) of cold-water swimming.