Reykjavik Guide, Iceland

Reykjavik panorama, Iceland

Much of Reykjavik and its port, Iceland’s capital city.

Visiting Reykjavik

Reykjavik is the most northerly capital city in the world in one of Europe’s geologically weirdest countries and the city is encircled by bald mountains, gushing waters and bleak lava plains, but they know how to party when the sun sets, and even better when it doesn’t. Pollution, crime, traffic congestion and crowds are near zero, the sculptures are bizarre, summers days are endless and the thermal pools are divinely curative.

Reykjavik street scene, Iceland

Quite a lot of dull buildings out there but they’re certainly making an effort with the street art and graffiti!

Reykjavik architecture

• The Harbour is a particularly popular area, especially with the recent addition of the outstanding new Harpa Conference and Concert Centre.

• Hallgrimur’s Church (Hallgrimskirkja) is the rocket job that dominates the skyline in its own unique about-to-take-off way. Take the lift up the basalt tower for panoramic views but the interior is sadly dull, apart from the font that looks like a lump of ice.

• Then there’s the Domkirkja Lutheran Cathedral, built originally in 1796 by Danish craftsmen who were too hammered for the job as it later had to be rebuilt several times.

• As for more diminuitive structures Reykjavik is also home to Hofdi House, a pretty, creamy wooden house that played host to Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. Other guests include Queen Elizabeth of Britain, Winston Churchill, Marlene Dietrich and a ghost known as ‘The White Lady’. Hofdi House is not open to the public as it’s for official use only.

Reykjavik life

Reykjavik street bar, Iceland

One of several street-life bars in the city.

• Laugardalslaug water park is a kind of cross between a swimming pool and The Blue Lagoon, that’s to say it’s a large, traditional, water-themed park of ultra-clean pools, slides and jacuzzis, with the big difference that the water is naturally hot, hot hot! Not as scenically stunning as The Blue Lagoon but it’s one tenth of the cost, has a chatty, friendly local feel, everyone gets naked – naturally – and it’s in Reykjavik.

Reykjavik Culture

Harpa Concert Hall interior, Reykjavik, Iceland

The magnificent new Harpa Concert Hall on the waterfront is a lively, cheerful space.

• The Harpa Concert Hall is home to Icelandic Opera among other collectives and a must-experiment for photographers as the coloured glass creates all sorts of dramatic images.

• The National Museum of Icelandis a fine repository of Icelandic myths, truths, history and important artefacts and uses multimedia displays to get the information comfortably across to visitors in easily digestible chunks, making a great start to a full exploration of the country.

• Reykjavik City Museumis smaller than the National but still worthwhile as an overview of Iceland life. The viking section is especially popular.

• The Open-Air Folk Museum in Arbaejarsafn. Most of the buildings have been relocated from central Reykjavik. The Museum tries to give a sense of sod-house architecture and lifestyles of ancient Iceland, including exhibitions and events such as craft days, vintage car displays, Christmas exhibitions and much more.

Graffiti houses in Reykjavik, Iceland

There’s no shortage of graffiti around parts of Reykjavik, perhaps not discouraged by the authorities to give some zip to the city’s dull residential quarters on dark winter nights?

Vikings

Reykjavik's Viking Village, Iceland

The new Viking Village in Njarovik, Reykjanesbær, next to the new Viking World Museum and just a short drive south of Reykjavik.

Reykjavik's Viking Village restaurant bar, Iceland

The Viking Village restaurant. Pillage is for afters.

Reykjavik's Viking Museum boat, Iceland

A replica viking ship in the Viking World Museum lies grounded side-by-side with interesting details and explanation of viking life, mainly focusing on the fact that vikings were basically farmers who went looking for a few goodies when their crops didn’t require attention and boredom became an issue.
Apparently vikings might have accidentally killed a few folk on the way who objected to being robbed.

Short Trips out of town

Blue lagoon hotel view, Iceland

The Blue Lagoon seen from the hotel restaurant.

Blue Lagoon ‘Blaa Lonid’ – journey two hours to bath beside a power plant? This would normally seem like insanity, but not in Iceland. These pools are curative and a social event for most Icelanders. Different pools have different curative powers – including arthritis, asthma and eczema. 

The outdoor Blue Lagoon is the most famous in Iceland and rich in skin-healing properties such as salts, algae and silica. And the power plant is geothermal, not nuclear!

Reykjanesfolkvangur – a few miles south of the city is a natural reserve protecting the most interesting laval formations of the Reykjanes peninsula.

There are lots of walking trails, a large blue lake at Kleifarvtin, and steaming holes at Austurenjiar.

Videy Island – a small island, but with some important historic features.

The oldest building in Iceland is there, built in 1755, along with a memorial, a cave, sea birds nesting and interesting coastline with basalt columns.

Reykjavik weather

Best: May-August for least rain, most sun, warmth and long daylight hours. Midsummer average highs reach around 13C (55F) and lows of 8C (46F) with an all-time maximum of 26C (79F).
Avoid: December – March when temperatures average -3C (27F) to 3C (37F) but can drop to – 15C (5F). Then there are gale force winds, high precipitation (much of it snow of course) and short daylight hours.

All Photos by Jim Stevenson