A Brief Overview of Reykjavík
Reykjavík (pronounced RAY-kyuh-veek) is the capital, as well as the largest city of Iceland. Because the international airport is approximately 45 minutes south of the city, Reykjavík is often the starting and ending point for many visiting this beautiful country. With a bustling nightlife right in the city centre, music festivals and concerts at the Harpa concert hall, proximity to several of the country’s attractions, and plenty of museums, restaurants, hotels, and more, there’s always something for everyone to do in the capital area. The good news is you can easily make your way through Iceland without learning Icelandic because many people learn to speak English from a young age and do so fluently. However, learning a few basic words and phrases is always much appreciated.
How Expensive Is Reykjavík?
One of the first questions travelers often have is how expensive is a trip to Iceland. The answer to this question varies, depending on where you live. For instance, if you live in a larger city in the United States, prices can be relatively comparable, while those residing in smaller towns or the countryside may find costs higher. However, keep in mind there is no tipping culture in Iceland so there’s no need to pay extra unless you feel inclined to do so. Because the Icelandic Krona has been weak against the American dollar in the past couple of years, prices have fallen more in line with the rest of Europe.
The good news is there are ways to see Iceland on a smaller budget. There are many lodging options, including hotels and hostels in the city centre and camping. While restaurants may lean toward expensive, it’s easy to shop at local grocery stores and stock up for breakfast, lunch, snacks, or even simple dinners. Don’t miss out on trying an Icelandic hot dog, available from many vendors and in gas stations. Made with lamb, pork, and beef, they can’t be missed and are an excellent low-cost meal. Tours can be rather costly, but the capital area is easy to navigate for those who prefer to self-drive.
Things to Do in Reykjavík
If you choose central Reykjavík as your starting point or base for all or part of your adventure, there’s plenty to do in the city centre, the other parts of the city, and the surrounding area. If you’re interested in meeting Iceland’s people, bars and other local spots are the ideal choices. The Icelandic people are friendly and willing to strike up a conversation with just about anyone.
Museums and Architecture
Those interested in history, wildlife, and architecture will find various museums and sites worth a stop. When you’re approaching Reykjavík, two such sites stand out from the rest. Hallgrímskirkja is a large stone church designed to mimic the basalt columns for which Iceland is known. For less than $10, you can climb the tower for a bird’s eye view of the city. Also, close to central Reykjavík, you’ll see a round building standing atop a hill. This building is the Perlan, a unique museum filled with specimens from throughout the country, including an artificial ice cave, which is perfect if you won’t get the chance to visit one. This museum also features a planetarium with a Northern Lights presentation, a restaurant and coffee shop, and a 360-degree view of the city. You’ll also find the Saga Museum covering the rich Viking history of the country, Whales of Iceland, the National Museum of Iceland, Volcano House, the Punk Rock Museum, and the Settlement Exhibition, among others.
Swimming Pools and Hot Springs
The swimming pool culture is strong in Reykjavík and throughout the country. While you need to get out of the city to find the natural hot springs, including the Blue Lagoon, you won’t find any shortage of swimming pools throughout the city. Not only is it an excellent way to meet the locals, but it’s also the perfect place to relax after a long day of hiking. Pools are popular for all ages, even throughout the winter. There’s no experience like sitting in a hot tub with air temperatures below freezing. If you’re courageous and want to take a dip in the ocean, Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach offers safe swimming conditions and a hot tub to warm up after your dip.
If you don’t want to rent a car, which isn’t required if you plan to stay in central Reykjavík because the city is walkable with a reliable bus system, or prefer guided tours, the capital area is a primary starting point for many tours. If you’re visiting between September and April, Northern Lights tours are popular. Many tour companies offer a free second tour if they fail to locate the lights on the first night. Whale watching tours are a fun summer activity to see minke and humpback whales, dolphins, and porpoises. If you visit Reykjavík between mid-April and mid-August, take a ferry to Viðey Island, where the puffins spend their summers nesting. Golden Circle tours are also available starting in the city.
Who doesn’t like a memorable souvenir to take home to remind them of their trip to Iceland? Central Reykjavík contains many small shops that carry your typical souvenirs, but don’t limit yourself to these shops. Step into the Kolaportið flea market, where you’ll find various vendors selling something a little more unique and Icelandic, including stamps, old currency, antiques, and more. Even if you don’t buy anything, you’ll enjoy looking at the wares. Another must-stop is the Handknitting Association of Iceland to buy yourself a hand-knitted lopapeysa, a traditional Icelandic sweater made from sheep’s wool yarn. While these sweaters are an expensive souvenir, they’re made with love and care and nearly last a lifetime.
When to Visit Reykjavík
Deciding when to visit Reykjavík is all about what you want to see. If you prefer more pleasant weather for hiking, summer is a perfect time. With the midnight sun, you’ll have no lack of daylight to enjoy the outdoors. However, winter can be a magical time in the city. From late November through early January, you’ll find Christmas lights everywhere, along with special activities in the city centre like an outdoor ice skating rink. While snow can be abundant and keep you inside the city, you’ll have a chance to view the Northern Lights and still take a few tours when the weather cooperates. The key to traveling in Iceland, no matter the time of year, but particularly in winter, is flexibility.