If you have an interest in Viking culture and have the urge to see the Northern Lights, I’m positive that Reykjavik has made it onto your bucket list of destinations. With beautiful landscapes and the promise of so many incredible experiences, there’s a reason why Iceland saw over 2 million visitors in 2017. To put that into perspective, that’s six times the country’s total population. But I’m sure you don’t need any more convincing that this country is truly a traveller hotspot and the city of Reykjavik is well worth a visit. So instead, I’m bringing you my top tips for spending a few short days in the capital city, to help you enjoy your travel experience and see as much as you can during your time there.
Staying in the city…
A striking concrete church that climbs over 74 meters high into the city skyline, Hallgrímskirkja is visible for miles. It remains a relatively new addition to the city, having only been completed in 1986 but it has become a popular visitor hotspot as the church tower provides a truly spectacular panoramic view across the city. Entry to the church itself is free, but if you’re looking for those picturesque views, it’ll cost you 1000kr per adult or 100kr per child. But I can promise you, it’s worth it, even if you do feel as though you might blow away up there on a windy day.
The Sun Voyager
Described as a dreamboat or ‘an ode to the sun’, the Sun Voyager is a sculpture which was created by Jón Gunnar Árnason and unveiled on August 18 1990, the birthday of the city of Reykjavik. Initially entered as a concept into the competition for a new outdoor sculpture to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city of Reykjavík, Jón Gunnar Árnason and his aluminium Sun Voyager were crowned the winners, with the design presented to the city to be enlarged. It’s now a beautiful stainless steel creation, standing on a granite base on Sæbraut, the walking path along the city’s coastline.
Old ReykjavikBased in the heart of the capital, ‘Old Reykjavik’ is packed full of historic buildings and beautiful sites, one of which includes Tjornin Pond which freezes over in the Winter months, seeing locals take to their skates for nature’s finest ice rink creation. Here you can also find Raðhús, Reykjavik’s City Hall; Alþingi, Parliament; and Austurvöllur park. It’s a beautifully picturesque setting and you could comfortably spend a quiet hour exploring this area.
Located on Reykjavik’s waterfront is Höfði, better known as Hofdi House. Originally designed for the French Consulate having been finalised in 1909, this building marked its historic importance in 1986 when Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of Russia and Ronald Reagan, former President of the United States, met here in a bid to end the Cold War. Although no official resolution was made here during the visit, its significance hasn’t gone unnoticed. A piece of the Berlin Wall now resides in its grounds, gifted to the city to celebrate the 25th anniversary of German reunification. Although the house is owned by the city of Reykjavik and closed to visitors, you can still stroll around its grounds for a historical addition to your trip.
For a little day trip…
Would it really be a trip to Iceland without an excursion to hunt down the Northern Lights? Probably not. An Aurora Borealis sighting is a unique encounter and not something that all visitors are lucky enough to see. After all, its occurrence is highly weather-dependant. However, it’s a popular tourist experience, so tours operate daily, with tour providers such as Reykjavik Excursions promising to hunt for them in the spots where the lights are most likely to appear during your scheduled evening. Thankfully, our tour guides were brilliant and we were lucky enough to see the lights first-hand. But if you’re visiting in the middle of Winter, I’d recommend that you take a flask of hot coffee with you as it could be a long wait for nature’s greatest show. And don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a great picture, they’re quite difficult to capture (disclaimer, this picture isn’t mine, just FYI).
The Golden CircleAnother experience that I’d highly recommend for your trip to Iceland is the Golden Circle tour. During this time, you’ll get to see some of Iceland’s most beautiful natural wonders including Thingvellir National Park, the world-famous Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall which is fed by Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull. For me, this was unlike any other trip that I’ve undertaken during my European travels and the scenery was remarkable. So, if you’re looking to book ahead and save some cash, you can usually pay for this as part of a package with additional excursions, including a Northern Lights tour.
Keeping yourself fuelled…
If you’re looking for a street food dining experience during your time in the city, I can boldly say that you won’t find better than Fish&Co. As a food cart based opposite the Settlement Exhibition, it’s a very unassuming food stop but one you will not regret. Serving just one dish, fresh pan fried cod cooked with garlic, butter, spinach and cherry tomatoes, it offers simple dining. With quality ingredients and a very friendly owner, you should put this on your must-visit list.
Icelandic Street FoodAccording to its website, Icelandic Street Food is the first fast-food concept in Iceland to serve traditional Icelandic street food. It boasts stews served in Rye bread with the option of lamb or shellfish, and also homemade desserts like pancakes and ‘Happy Marriage’ cake. You can eat here without feeling like you’re blowing your budget and refills on your soups are free, all you have to do is ask. Plus, we were offered free cakes, which was a nice, appreciated touch. It’s a hearty, cosy environment and the perfect setting if you’re visiting Reykjavik during the harsh Winter months and are looking for a little shelter.
Cafe LokiSo, if you took my advice and visited Hallgrímskirkja, you may be looking for some warming fuel afterwards. Based just across the street is Cafe Loki, serving traditional Icelandic food. Here you can find warming soups, rye bread served with a selection of fish dishes, bagels and more. As a relatively budget-friendly stop, it has a wonderfully welcoming environment and great internet, which is particularly useful if you’re planning where to visit next (or just looking to upload your Instagram posts).
Te & Kaffi
If you’re like me can’t get through your day without a bit of caffeinated fuel, I’m sure you’ll be looking for a coffee stop and Te & Kaffi is a fantastic option. Serving mouthwatering cakes and the all-important dairy-free milk options with Icelandic speciality coffee, Te & Kaffi seems to be a favourite in Reykjavik. It has a number of locations across the city, meaning you’ll never be too far away from a fresh cup of the black stuff.
Reykjavik is a relatively small city so you can easily see a great deal of it during a short visit and still have the chance to take on an additional excursion, or two. Of course, there’s more to do than I’ve already mentioned, including the iconic Blue Lagoon, but as I’m all about the experience, I can only share my personal insight into the city. So if you’ve been lucky enough to visit and have any additional tips or comments, please feel free to share. Happy travelling.