Portrayals of this sort don’t do the island’s largest conurbation justice – the city itself has an otherworldly charm deserved of credit without reference to its surrounding attractions.
Visit Reykjavik and you’ll experience a unique, mesmerising atmosphere best defined by its striking visual qualities, superb cuisine and convivial residents.
Reykjavik doesn’t feel like a capital city. Its centre is more comparable to a village than it is to a city such as London or Paris. With streets lined with colourful low-rise cottage-like buildings, you feel at times as though you have stepped into a toy town.
Complementing this quaint appearance are the raw volcanic backdrop and views over the North Atlantic Ocean from the top of the city. These striking contrasts throughout the city are what make Reykjavik so visually appealing.
Hallgrímskirkja, a church that looms over the city, provides the most popular vista for soaking up this captivating scene. As the largest church in Iceland, its 70-metre tower can thankfully be ascended by elevator, leaving plenty of energy for exploring the rest of the city. At a lower altitude, the view from the Reykjavik Old Harbour provides another scenic viewpoint across the water to Mount Esja.
Whether you head for these hotspots, or simply meander through Reykjavik’s maze of narrow lanes, the city’s sights shouldn’t leave your eyes (or Instagram followers) disappointed.
The cuisine is varied and you’ll find a mixture of traditional Icelandic fare as well as some typically western options. There are a surprising number of Italian restaurants, for example. Ingredients tend to be locally sourced and given the harsh climate, this tends to mean plenty of meat and fish.
Go to Fiskmarkaourinn (Fish market), housed in one of Reykjavik’s oldest buildings, where you’ll experience traditional flavours with a modern twist. Or for something a little livelier, next to the harbour, you’ll find the quirky Slippbarinn. This so-called “bar for nerds” is the perfect place for a pre-dinner drink and equally boasts an excellent food menu of its own. The Gratinated Búri cheese with honey, pine nuts and bread are a delightful way to start and the numerous seafood options are a good way to follow on.
For a more casual fill, try out some Icelandic beer and a range of snacks (beware of the Viking-sized portions) at The Laundromat Café, another eclectic haunt named after the customer washing machines in its basement.
Despite a gastronomy that favours those with a more carnivorous culinary palette, there are a number of decent vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Reykjavik.
If you’re in need of a sweet treat, pick up a cinnamon swirl or a raisin bun from one of the city’s many excellent bakeries. My favourite is the charming Braud & Co, a small place offering a chance to observe the traditional baking process.
At the recent Euro 2016 football championships, the Iceland national football team stunned spectators with an unbeaten run taking them (against all odds) to the Quarter Finals.
The eccentricity of the players and supporters (as well as the elevated tones of this rather enthusiastic commentator) became famous across Europe, and is certainly mirrored in Reykjavik’s infectious sense of community, charisma and unconventionality.
Its creative and cultural output is something to behold – and the people of the city have generated a legacy of art, music and literature. Keep an eye out for the street art off Hverfisgata Street, try out one of the many live music venues or check out the National Theatre.
It can be a chilly place, however you’ll find that Reykjavik’s locals are some of the warmest people on the planet. Despite a surge in tourist numbers in recent years (the number of people traveling to Iceland has multiplied by three since 2010), the people are as hospitable as they come, and it’s hard to think of a capital, which can be aptly described as a neighbourhood like Reykjavik can.
An Enchanting Place
Whether or not you choose to indulge in its many enticing excursions, the city of Reykjavik itself provides more than enough as a destination. Its ambiance – highlighted through striking sights, warm people and gastronomic delights – is something you simply have to experience.
Know Before You Go
- An Icelandic hotdog is known as a Pylsa.
- For some of the best views, you should pay a visit to the Hallgrimskirkja. The cathedral is one of the tallest buildings in Iceland and can be seen from all around the city.
- The Golden Circle Tour is one of the most popular guides in Europe. It includes stops at the volcanic crater of Kerio, Geysir, Thingvellir, and the Gullfoss Waterfall.