Despite the long winters, the Icelandic capital is definitely a current European hotspot, renowned for its lively club and pub scene, a relaxed pace of life and its world-famous geothermal pools.
In the 1990s, Blur frontman Damon Albarn declared the city as the capital of cool and if you’re prepared for the sky-high prices (a pint of beer costs over £5), you’ll find Reykjavik a fantastic city break destination, with stylish hotels, world-class cuisine and warm and friendly people.
Getting there, getting around Reykjavik
International flights arrive at Keflavik airport and from there it’s about a 10 minute drive into Reykjavik. You can either rent a car or hop on the flybus.
Once you’re in the city centre, it’s small enough to easily explore on foot.
Sightseeing in Reykjavik
In order to get your bearings, you should first visit Hallgrimskirkja, or Hallgrims church, which can be seen from pretty much everywhere in the city. Take in the panoramic views and have yourself snapped next to the vast statue of Iceland’s founder, Leifur Eiriksson.
Hofdi House is worth a visit for those with an interest in the Cold War. It’s a fairly plain-looking wooden riverside villa built in the early 20th-century, but it was used for the nuclear summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, as Reykjavik was considered the symbolic midpoint between Washington DC and Moscow. The city has a lot of museums too including the National Museum, Arni Magnusson Institute and the Culture House, all of which have an array of exhibitions and displays focussing on Icelandic and Norse culture.
Family activities in Reykjavik
Join other Reykjavik families and feed the ducks at Tjornin Lake, or if you want to see more animals, head off to the Reykjavik Zoo and Family Park in Laugardalur Valley where there are about 150 animals and a farmyard. Kids should love watching the seals being fed.
Otherwise, they’ll definitely enjoy the amazing landscapes around the city where they can spy bubbling hot springs, gleaming glaciers and thunderous waterfalls. There’s also the opportunity to go whale-watching.
Day trips in Reykjavik
No trip to Iceland is complete without a visit to the world-famous Blue Lagoon. It’s about 45 minutes outside the city and is easily the country’s most popular attraction. Bathing and relaxing in the steaming geothermal seawater is fantastic for the skin and you can even purchase some of the range of Blue Lagoon skin care products in the onsite shop afterwards.
As well as the lagoon, there’s a sauna with views of the whole complex, and a steam room and steam bath carved into a lava cave. It’s easy to spend a few hours unwinding in the soothing waters – just don’t fall asleep!
Eating out in Reykjavik
There’s nothing particularly dazzling about traditional Icelandic food, but if you’re feeling particularly brave, try the Viking speciality of putrefied shark and wash it down with Brennivin, a throat-burning moonshine – you’ll need it after the shark! There are however a number of stylish restaurants specialising in modern European cuisine, such as Vox at the Nordica Hotel. You’ll also find the usual US fast food outlets as well as Indian and Chinese food.
The Icelandic people are proud of their harnessing of geothermal power and testament to this is the Perlan, a 10-storey domed structure with water tanks for a base. There’s a restaurant on the top, so you can dine in the knowledge that you’re sitting in the building which provides water storage and power for the entire Reykjavik region.
Nightlife in Reykjavik
Alcohol prohibition in Iceland only ended in 1989, but now thousands flock to the city every year to check out the great bars and clubs. Pravda is an upmarket nightclub with a VIP section, cover charge and dress code. Stick to water here if you want to avoid an outrageous bill. Many of the locals like to go to Nelly’s Cafe, a medium-sized bar with good DJs.
Gaukur a Stong is a popular bar with live rock music and if you want to hang out with any celebs who might be taking a break in the city, head to Kaffibarinn. Damon Albarn owns shares in the place don’t you know.
Shopping in Reykjavik
The high standard of living in Iceland means that the people of Reykjavik like to shop for high quality goods and designer labels. Surprisingly, the clothes aren’t that expensive (around the same as New York), especially when you take into account the fact that, as a tourist, you can claim a tax refund on your purchases at the airport when you leave – just make sure you get hold of an Iceland Refund Cheque and that each of your items cost at least 4000 krona.
The smaller boutiques are found in the city centre, but you’ll need to head slightly out of town for the huge malls.