The capital city Reykjavik, of this mystical island nation floating in the Atlantic is one of my favourite cities in the world. Cute shoe-box like houses, windy alleys, its boutique cafes and nooks, and its harbour-side walks make it hard for me not to plan a hasty return. While you walk around the sloping streets you will be surprised by little graffiti’s that will pop up around you, the tiny local boutique retailing the cutest set of gloves, a bookstore that helps you soak into the country’s fairy tale-inspired culture – it is a delight in every way. And there are plenty of things to do here too, so don’t forget to give this city a few days in its own right. You will love it and come back with so many stories like I did. Here is Moonlitekingdom’s Reykjavik Travel guide.
Top things to do in Reykjavik:
Views from Hallgrimskirke:
Hallgrimskirke is one of the most striking sights in the city. Built by the famous architect Guðjón Samúelsson, it is inspired by basalt columns seen around Iceland, most noticeably at the volcanic beach of Reynisfjara, Vik. The spire of the church can be seen from almost every corner of the city , as if casting a protective vie. The inside of the Church is stoic, simple and very basic in its décor, very typically Icelandic. But the best views are seen from the top of the church, of the city Reykjavik. You can take an elevator up and post climbing the last 30 steps icy cold winds will try their best to keep you away from the windows that offer the view. Braving the cold will be well worth your while when you see the pretty colourful houses that sprawl out in front of you. Most aerial shot of Reykjavik is taken from here and the sight is breath-taking!
Another spot for beautiful aerial views of the city is the Perlan, located on the Öskjuhlíð hill. It offers a revolving restaurant and a museum and it has open terraces from where one can view Reykjavik city, against the back drop of mountains.
The locals like their time in the pools, it’s a great time to catch up to gossip or exchange important news or discuss the weather. The Blue Lagoon which is located at a 45-minute drive from the city is a scrubbed-up more tourist-friendly version of the local swimming pools in the city. If you want to skip the crowds and save yourself some bucks, head to the local pools to get a slice of life, and dip in the thermal pools like the Icelandic do. The pools generally have lap pools at 28 degrees centigrade and thermal pools which are calibrated 35 degrees-45 degrees centigrade. Most of the pools have a steam room and a dry Sauna too. Are you sold already, then get your swimwear and try Laugardalslaug located close to the city centre, which has the vibe of a large amusement park. Vesturbaejarlaug located closest to the university is a favourite with locals and international students alike. You also have the Sundholl Reykjavikur and Arbaejarlaug to name a few more, each which its own essence and nuances. So pack that swimsuit and prepare to relax in the warm waters and partake in an important ritual of everyday life.
The music scene in Reykjavik is legendary. Iceland is home to artists like Bjork, Sigur Ros, Of Monsters and men, the city’s bustling live music scene has given birth to such stellar musicians. I remember sitting in my tiny elfin apartment in Reykjavik and going through Reykjavik Grapevine and came across their recommended playlist of local bands. I remember spending the rest of the afternoon just soaking in it, giving up the precious daylight hours, to sit in my room and discover new music.
A better way to check out the latest sensations is to hit the bars in the city and catch the live gigs. Café Rosenburg, Hurra, Hostels of Kex and Loft, Gaukurrin, MENGI, and Lucky Records for some nostalgic trip with an incredible Vinyl collection. No talk of concerts in Reykjavik is complete without a shout out to Harpa, the unmissable concert hall on the harbour with a facade of a honeycomb. Visit the Kaldalón hall for intimate gigs, the Eldborg hall for a more elaborate setup. Harpa hosts the big ticket shows of the city such as Icelandic Airwaves, Dark Music Days and Midsummer Music and also offers plays, recitals and classical concerts.
Imagine Peace Tower:
While on the lookout for the Northern lights, you may mistake the light beams emitted from the Tower of peace for the Borealis. A series of light beams that are emitted from the Tower of Peace light up the night sky and beam straight out into the sky. Created by Yoko Ono to commemorate what would have been John Lennon’s 67th birth Anniversary in 2007 in the Vi∂ey Island in Reykjavik, it is a series of individual lights that come together to form the beam. Since then, it is lit in the evenings from 9th October to 8th December, on New Year’s Eve and for a week of the Spring Solstice and Winter Equinox. Iceland is voted the most peaceful country for 7 years in a row and this is a befitting tribute to the nation.
Reykjavik is a great base for exploring the country if you are here for 4-6 days or lesser. You can take day trips from the city to go to all the famous excursions such as the Golden Circle, the Vatnajokull, Blue lagoon and the Reykjanes peninsula, Snaefellsness peninsula which is home to towns of Borjanes and Stykishhulmur. There are many beautiful hikes, volcano explorations, geothermal pools, all of which can be explored in a day’s outing from Reykjavik each. So brace up to making good choices, if you are in the country for a short span.
Harbourside DIY walking tour:
If you are looking to explore the city on foot and are willing to brave the cold winds that grace the harbour shoreline, irrespective of the season, then let’s set out to do a DIY walking tour. We can start from the iconic structure of the Sun Voyager created by Jón Gunnar Árnason in 1990 shaped like a Viking ship. It denoted hope, a sense of adventure and is a beautiful sight facing the sea with Mount Esja as a backdrop.
Move on to Harpa, the concert hall of the city , host of its major concerts and music shows. Its exterior is designed like a honeycomb and makes the building quite a delight to watch. Just beyond the Harpa you will find the Flea Market which offers great buys on weekends. A good place to pick up souvenirs and supplies, even fresh fruits and veggies at great rates. Move on to the old harbour for some beautiful seaside vibes with boats parked in the shallow end. Many restaurants have come up here serving excellent seafood. The atmosphere is quite electric and it is exciting just to be a part of it. If you walk on further you will head to “Grandi” which is the “up and coming” area of the city with cafes, restaurants, boutique coffee joints and venues for the many cultural experiments. If you want to get to the pulse of the upcoming art and culture scene of the city, this would be a great place to begin. No matter where you go along the harbour , you will never be too far from the city centre, so make a short walk back your lane if the winds get gusty, home will never be too far away.
Picnic by Lake:
The Tjórniin Pond located in the heart of the city is a great stroll for a lazy afternoon. You can make yourself a picnic and park yourself nearby, in the company of swans of ducks. Don’t forget to feed them and these guys expect a snack in exchange for leaving you in peace. Get a book, relax on the many benches or marvel at the view on the other side of the lake. You can also take a walking tour covering the Free church of Reykjavik, City Hall, National Gallery of Iceland, Reykjavík Art Museum, Supreme Court of Iceland, Living Art Museum, Parliament Building, Independent Theatre Tjarnarbíó. Phew, that’s a whole day packed in right there! But don’t forget to take it easy and hang out with the locals who come there, whether summer or winter. In winter, the pond freezes over and it is used as an Ice skating ring.
Its no big secret that I love Street art and Reykjavik takes it to another level. While you walk around the city, losing yourself in the many alleyways, graffitis will peep out from the unlikeliest of corners, like love letters left behind by a lover, waiting to be discovered. While turning into a dead-end I discovered this spectacular piece , so close to the harbor. Some of them are simple and some are done up beautifully. It adds too much character to the city and it sends you off on a treasure hunt of sorts.
Museum of Punk:
Located not too far from the harbour, the Icelandic Museum of Punk is dedicated to the nation’s rock and roll history from the 70’s to the early 90’s. The Museum is suitably located in what was once an underground public rest room and since been converted to an ode to rock and roll, as recently as November 2016. The souvenirs and memorabilia are set up amidst wash basins and toilets. You will find it brimming with collections of photos, posters, hand-bills, instruments, stage equipment with live music shows being streamed. You will pass by it during your walks in Bankastræti and Punk rock music blaring from this underground museum will lead you there.
Since Icelandic cuisine mostly consists of anything that moves, it becomes quite a concern for vegetarians travelling to the nation. But you need not worry as Reykjavik has an abundant offering of vegetarian eateries all around town. Try Gló which is dubbed as the best vegetarian restaurant in town. Unassuming in décor, it makes up with its delicious food. A tiny vegetarian Garòurinn (translated to Garden) is a cosy space which serves just a soup and main for the day and is supremely popular with the crowd. Head to Kaffi Vinyl for the true blue hipster vibe. Beautiful décor, open spaces and great food await you here. Krúska located near the Laugardais well known for its spread of fresh salads and is easy on the pocket too. Café Babalu is also great: a cup of coffee and eats on the side, and if you are into crepes, this is THE place to be. Other names include Núðluskálin, C is for Cookie, the latter of which is not exclusively vegetarian but is an excellent café with a mostly vegetarian menu.
That’s ten things to do during your time in Reykjavik. While covering the Ring Road , around the country , or going deeper into Snaefellsness or even the Westfjord, when you return to the city, don’t forget to keep a few days solely to enjoy this beautiful city, at your own pace. You won’t regret it, promise!