Long before I visited Reykjavik I was so intrigued about what this tiny island capital would have in store. It didn’t fail to disappoint my high expectation. The city looks like a small village but has a big city attitude with modern dining, an awesome bar scene and more art and culture than you can poke a herring at. Here is my guide of what to do to do and where to do.
What to do:
- Swim: Icelanders take their swimming VERY seriously, so a pool visit is a must. The Grafarvogslaug pool has 5 pools ranging in temperatures and a steam bath. So head there, de-robe and get wet.
- Explore: The city is small but it is full of surprises. Take some time to wind in and out of the streets to admire the colourful buildings, street art and great shopping on Laugavegur, the old fishing wharfs down by the bay and the pond next to city hall.
- Listen to music: Icelanders are avid artists and everyone is a slashie. Teacher/snow plougher/drummer or Model/Chef/Singer, and as a result, the music is mind blowing. I was lucky enough to visit while Iceland Airwaves was on which is the best way to enjoy up and coming artists performing in random locations across the city including book shops, art galleries, the blue lagoon sidewalks and Harpa, the stunning concert hall by the harbour.
- People watch: Iceland boasts some of the most beautiful people in the world – the girls look like super models and the men looks like hipster lumberjacks. They all have an incredible sense of individual style, making it ideal to sit, stare and marvel at their coolness.
- Enjoy the view: Hallgrímskirkja church is the main landmark in the city and can be seen in almost anywhere in the city. Climb to the top and enjoy sweeping views across the city, harbour and across the mountains.
Where to eat:
- Kex Hostel: is home to some of the best food in town and it won’t break the bank. You can enjoy beautiful Icelandic seafood, burgers and bar snacks like the braised reindeer shank in crispy batter with herb cream.
- Grillið: is located on the top floor of the Radisson hotel overlooking the whole city of Reykjavik. So while you’re enjoying the stunning views you and feast on some of the best fine Icelandic dining in the city.
- The Laundromat Café: is super cute, super cosy and super central. It has big beautiful windows perfect for people watching. and is a great option any time of day, from breakfast through to dinner.
- Stofan Café: Icelanders are obsessed with coffee and have some of the highest consumption in the world. Café Stofan is an ideal place to get a strong coffee and get comfortable on some of the many vintage couches if the weather is woolly outside.
- Hamborgarabullan: This is Iceland’s answer to a good old fashion diner with crisp fries, juicy burgers and heart stopping shakes on the menu. There harbour side restaurant is a must visit at night, as it is a tiny little building lit up by hundreds of fairy lights.
- K-bar: perhaps my favourite place in the city, maybe because I dined next to BJORK! What a way to top off the ultimate Icelandic experience. K-pop serves up Korean fusion treats including fried chicken, Korean seafood Bouillabaisse and kimchi sliders.
Where to drink
- Slippbarinn: the bar is located right on the harbour so you can enjoy beautiful views sometimes even of the northern lights if you’re lucky. The bar is one the newest in town and they serve spectacular cocktails.
- Snaps: the walls are plastered with newsletter and plenty of hanging pot plates throughout giving this funky bar a homely atmosphere. This lovely little low key bistro is the perfect place to start the night by enjoying some local beers like Borg and some killer cocktails like the Snaps Margarita.
- Kaffibarinn: you will often see a line to get in here as crowds flock here to enjoy the live music and thumping dance floor. Icelanders LOVE to drink and party, and there is no better place to live like a local than here.
- Prikid: This place is home to one of the best coffees in Iceland, but by nice the caffeine is replaced by booze and the tables are pushed to the side to create room for all the thirsty locals and tourists.
The benefit of Reykjavik being so small is that getting out and in is a breeze. If you’re not planning on traveling around the country I definitely recommend a few day trips to see some of the incredible landscape.
- Snorkelling or Scuba Dive: Yep, you read that right, snorkelling. Take a deep dive in a dry suit between the two tectonic plates of America and Europe and admire the endless depths of incredibly fresh (and freezing) water. Scuba Iceland are the best company to do this through, and try and see if you can go with Nina or Wouter as your guides, they were incredibly friendly and fun.
- Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon: Hire a car, grab a GPS and drive towards Iceland’s largest glacier lagoon. On the drive you will pass snow-capped mountains, beautiful little towns, incredible waterfalls and endless lava fields.
- The golden triangle: This is a well-travelled trifecta of sights to be been that requires some more driving. If you follow the trail you will visit Geysir where hot spring water shoots 25m into the air, the mighty Gullfoss waterfall and the Þingvellir national park where the tectonic plates are slowly being pulled apart right in front of your eyes.
- The Blue Lagoon: Mineral-rich hot water from far beneath the earth forms this spectacular, super warm lagoon. You can float all day while soaking up the view of the rugged lava landscape.
Where to stay:
- Hotel Borg: A beautifully restored historical building in the centre of town. The rooms are sophisticated, the beds are comfortable and the location couldn’t be better.
- Kex Hostel: Don’t let the title fool you, Kex is just as good as many of the hotels I have stayed in if not better. Home to live music, a great bar and restaurant and some of the coolest, quirkiest interiors I have ever seen. You can get private or dorm rooms, all at a ridiculously cheap price (for Iceland) and all with amazing views across the water to snow-capped mountains.
- Grapevine Reykjavik is an awesome online and print magazine that is a wealth of knowledge of the latest updates on new restaurants, gigs and galleries.
- I Heart Reykjavik is another great source of info, you gotta love a blogger!
- Iceland is expensive, buy booze duty free on our way in
- The name ICE-land says is all – pack warm clothes that can handle some rain and snow and some good walking shoes
- Read Burial Rites by Hannah and Tales of Iceland by Stephan Markley before you go as well as my interesting facts about Iceland post.
- Travel during the Northern lights seasons between October and March, they are truly amazing.
How to get there:
Iceland Air has many direct flights from capital cities across Northern America and Europe.