Iceland Awaits: Velkomið að Reykjavík!

This week for Travel Tuesday we are going north. So far north, in fact, that we are visiting the northernmost capital city of a sovereign state. We are, of course, heading to Reykjavik in Iceland.

With only around 120,000 people living in the capital Iceland's cultural, economic and governmental activity will be easy for you to see without having to fight through the crowds to get there.

Let’s take a look.

Velkomið að Reykjavík…

… a city shaped by volcanoes and earthquakes leaving it with a coastline characterized by peninsulas, coves, straits, and islands that will make every nature lover weak at the knees (both by the effort and the views).

Photo via Wikipedia

Reykjavik is a spread-out city with most of it located on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, and suburbs reaching out far to the south and east. The Elliðaá River runs through the city and is non-navigable, but is one of the best for salmon fishing in the country. Reykjavik's highest mountain is barely a molehill in comparison to some, standing at 914 m (2,999 ft).

If you are looking for a holiday that will make you sweat without any physical exertion whatsoever, perhaps Reykjavik is not the best place for you. Reykjavik has a subpolar oceanic climate and the word polar should give you a clue that it is not warm. Average summer temperatures can get up to around 13℃ although on especially warm days it can be as much as 25℃.

When the lights go out…

Okay, yes, given the location of Reykjavik geographically you would rightly expect daylight hours to be a little extreme in nature. In the summer that is a great thing, with up to twenty hours of glorious sunshine that, given the temperature, is less likely to give you sunburn than some other locations (so long as you take care of yourselves and liberally apply sunscreen!) But in the winter, and it really is the bleak midwinter, daylight can be a mere four hours long. You can however take comfort in knowing the cold in Iceland does not actually mean arctic; think about London or France for comparative winter temperatures.

Now, before we turn you away in fear at the lack of hours to catch rays (what are you doing considering sunbathing in the winter anyway, huh?), we would like to introduce you to Oskaar. Oskaar has a lot of things to tell you about lacking sunlight; we for one would love to seek him out and buy him a pint. In fact, we vote for Oskaar to be Reykjavik’s tourism ambassador!

Over to the (other) fun stuff…

Photo via Wikimedia

So now we’ve got you thinking about Reykjavik, what is there to do?

We have already hinted at the glorious landscapes for you to consider, and within that naturally there are volcano tours, lagoon cruises, whale watching, ice climbing, and night outings to see the aurora borealis. You can even take a tour of locations where scenes from Game Of Thrones have been filmed; the sites are UNESCO protected so there is no fear that these areas have been in any way cheapened by tourism in the name of television.

If you are after a little culture, may we recommend that you start with the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre. This centre is one of five in a project sponsored by the EU to produce unforgettable concert halls in five cities across the continent, that weave modern design with local cultural history.

Hallgrimskirkja is a Lutheran church that is a breathtaking piece of architecture standing at some 73 metres tall.

There are a number of museums to visit, including the National Museum of Iceland and the Arbaer Open Air Museum, as well as the Reykjavik 871 +/- 2 The Settlement Exhibition, the remnants of early Viking settlements.

Finally, if you require a little retail therapy then head down to Laugavegur in the commercial centre of Reykjavik. Here you will find old shopping streets stuffed with just about every kind of shop you can imagine. A day here might be the day to leave the credit cards behind, unless you’re out to do some serious damage to your bank balance.

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Food and drink

If you are hungry from all that walking around exploring, then let’s take a look at some of the best places to eat and drink in Reykjavik.

Ostabúðin is a small restaurant that never seems to fail to attract the best reviews. Ostensibly it is a cheese bar, but with pastas, salami and desserts beautiful enough to make your mouth water and your stomach rumble, this place is absolutely worth a visit.

Matur og Drykkur is another popular location, giving a taste of local, traditional Icelandic dishes in a welcoming location served by friendly staff.

Our final restaurant recommendation is Fiskmarkaðurinn, possibly the most beautiful seafood restaurant you can imagine.

We will throw Svarta Kaffid into the mix as an added final thought, if you are wanting something cheap, cheerful, and comforting; the soup in a bowl here is enough to soothe any ills!

The Sun Voyager via Flickr

Into the evening…

After a good meal and a day of sightseeing, you are probably going to be spoilt for choice for nightlife in Reykjavik.

Slippbarinn is the city’s first real cocktail bar, with a master mixologist that will create you just about anything you ask for.

A hostel might not be your first thought for an evening out, but KEX Hostel in the heart of Reykjavik is both accommodation and one of the city’s top bars.

For something a little more sophisticated why not try Jacobsen Loftið, a bar that has a strict dress code and quality cocktails.

Finally, may we suggest Kaffibarinn; coffee bar by day, regular bar at night, this venue has long been a favourite for locals and tourists alike. It is also pretty easy to find: look for the London Underground logo over the front entrance.

As always, we have but scratched the surface of things on offer for you to see and do in Reykjavik, but we are sure you will agree that this fascinating location that is becoming a must on the places-to-visit list of many a traveller is worth a little of your time.

Skál!