Iceland’s biggest city and the world’s most northern capital is pretty darn small. It feels like an overgrown village, which is actually kind of sprawling. It doesn’t quite stretch out to the airport though: Keflavik airport is located about 50km from Reykjavik. We arrived at 1am and caught a 1 hour bus into town… the half hour walk we then took to our hotel meant that the sun was literally already up by the time we fell into bed!
The next morning we were both super excited to catch up with Pete and Janet (Andy’s parents) whom we had not seen since we left New Zealand. They were doing a quick trip through Scandinavia also, so it was interesting hearing what they’d been up to. Unfortunately Pete’s bag had been mislaid at Oslo airport – thankfully he got it back the next day!
Even in July, temperatures were crisp but we were still able to walk around and appreciate all the sights. We stayed in two different hotels whilst in Reykjavik (one at the start and one at the end) which was ideal for better exploring each end of town. Here are some of my favourite activities:
1. Hallgrimskirkja. This is such a simple, yet impressive church. The city is flat, so the fact that the church sits on even the smallest of hills means it can be seen from up to 20km away. The design is unique – it is supposed to mimic some of nature’s gifts around Iceland. We went up the tower: it is a short lift and not much at the top, although the panoramic views are pretty darn impressive!
2. Laugavegur aka the shopping street, and the street from which all tourism stems. There are lots of shops, coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Our first visit here was early on a Sunday morning and we were taken aback by how quiet it was. Needless to say, it picks up a lot as the day goes on.
3. Tjornin and the Old Town. A basic lagoon which makes for a picturesque walk near to the older part of the city. When we were there it had ducks and swans swimming lazily about – I can only imagine that in winter it would be a completely different story. Nearby is the Settlement Exhibition which was an interesting way to gain some background knowledge about Iceland itself. Also walking distance from here is the city hall and parliament, both pretty buildings.
4. Harpa Opera House. A glamorously glassy building, Harpa is nothing short of eye-catching. We went for a brief visit basically to admire the incredible architecture, but it would have been neat to catch a performance of some kind. It’s also only a short walk from the Sun Voyager, a statue on the waterfront that is constantly crowded with tourists taking photos – despite its simplicity.
5. The Volcano Show. We went here after we tried to go to Red Rock Cinema, a one-man operation show-casing his family’s original footage of numerous Icelandic eruptions. For some reason, the cinema was closed on the day we were there so we went to the Volcano Show instead. Trading in the authentic operation for a more commercial one ending up being an okay decision; the hour long documentary was fascinating and I learnt a lot. I said afterwards that I’d wished we had done it at the start of our trip as I think it would have heightened my appreciation for the Icelandic landscape we drove through even more!
6. Food. We ate out 4 times in Reykjavik and each was as delicious as the next. Our first meal in Iceland was at Reykjavik Kitchen, which we knew was going to be good when we saw the line out the door. We also had a meal at Forettabarinn, which is an Icelandic tapas style bar. Again, the estimated wait time of 40 minutes was an indicator of its popularity! We enjoyed a delicious brunch at the very cool CooCoo’s Nest, down on the waterfront, tucked away in one of many boat sheds. Also on the waterfront, we indulged in some flights, burgers and fish and chips at Bryggjan Brugghus – a local microbrewery.
We had 9 days in Iceland and two of those days were spent fully in Reykjavik. Any longer and I would recommend at least a day trip. Lots of three days itineraries include a trip through the Golden Circle and/or whale watching: we did both and I’ve detailed them more in other posts.