Thinking of a city break, but bored of the usual European tourist traps? Fear not, there is a place out there, quite unlike anywhere you’ve been before! Reykjavik, Iceland’s beautiful capital, is waiting for you to explore. With a backdrop of snow-topped mountains, beautiful blue ocean and incredible volcanoes, you’ll soon agree that Reykjavik is one of the best cities in the world.
Reykjavik has a sense of space and calm, quite unexpected for a capital city, and although it is tiny in comparison to cities such as Paris and London, there is still much to see and do. Of course, it is simply impossible to ignore the natural beauty that surrounds this enchanting city.
And now that more airlines are flying to Iceland, there really is no excuse for us not to be escaping the hustle and bustle of major European cities for the beautiful Icelandic landscape. An attraction for some is the incredibly vibrant nightlife that Reykjavik has to offer with Icelanders abandoning work on a Friday for a fun-filled pub crawl which lasts throughout the weekend. And unlike some British towns on a Friday night, the atmosphere is fantastically good natured and it is a great way to meet the locals and get to know the city.
Split roughly between two halves by the Tjörnin lake, the small city centre is more a place to amble around than to hurtle through between attractions. Although the city is easily explored by foot, for those who wish there is a 48 hour Reykjavik Welcome Card, which for only £17 will buy you unlimited public transport as well as entry to nearly all the museums.
One of the first places to visit would be the Hallgrímskirja, a white concrete church, whose space-shuttle-like form dominates the Reykjavik’s skyline. The unusual design certainly divides opinion and it is fair to say that many of the locals have grown to accept it rather than love it! Whether you love or hate the design, the stunning panoramic views that the tower platform offers over Reykjavik will melt even the iciest of hearts. It is best if you don’t expect the clock at the top of the tower to tell the correct time, as the wind up there is so strong, that it often blows the clock hands off course!
If like me, you arrive in Reykjavik with little knowledge of Iceland and its history, then it is definitely worthwhile having a browse around the National Museum. The museum offers a comprehensive historical overview of the country’s past, from the days of the Settlement, right up to the birth of the Republic in 1944 and beyond. The museum is split into two floors with the first floor dedicated to the period from 800 to 1600 and the second floor from 1600 to the present day.
If you fancy exploring the beautiful scenery then take a visit to Mount Esja which soon becomes a familiar sight to anyone who’s spent only a few hours in the capital. There are several hiking trails for the more adventurous types, if that doesn’t appeal to you then simply taking in the beauty of the mountain with its change of colours from purple to deep blue, from light grey to golden (depending on the weather) will suffice.
It wouldn’t be possible for me to write this article without mentioning the amazing outdoor pools, known as ‘hot pots,’ that are scattered around Iceland and its capital. The swimming pool is to Icelanders what the pub is to the British or the coffee shop to Americans. They are regarded as places to meet people, catch up on the week’s events and ultimately to relax after a long, hard day in the office. Also, there is no need to fear of dipping your toes into freezing cold pools – the water is always comfortably warm at 29°C.
One of the best places to stay in the capital is the Grand Hotel Reykjavik, located in a quiet area close to the city centre. Throughout the hotel, you’ll find design details from Norse mythology, a true testament to the country’s rich history and the spacious rooms feature the finest first-class amenities. Whilst staying here, you can enjoy the spa, fitness rooms, massage and beauty parlour and the thrilling sea-water tub as well as some fresh Icelandic seafood specialties served in the Brasserie Grand. Bicycles are also available to rent from the hotel, enabling you to explore the city and the surrounding countryside. There are plenty of bicycle paths in and around Reykjavik’s coastline and valleys which are all safe to use, and where possible avoid automobile traffic.
I hope this article has been a little taster into what awaits you in Reykjavik. It really has so much to offer, and compared to so much of Europe is almost untouched by tourism. Reykjavik is a city that treasures its Viking past but is embracing the future. You will leave ready to visit again and again.