Dip into the land of volcanoes, thermal pools and hardcore bar-hopping in’s newly affordable capital.
REYKJAVIK SIGHTS AND ATTRACTIONS
The 75m tall Hallgrimskirkja on Skolavorduholti (510 1000) is immediately distinctive. This giant concrete church has dramatic graph-like columns crescendoing to a central tower and looks like you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with it. The enormous organ inside resembles an evil Transformers robot. The giant hilltop Perlan looks like a novelty bra from a distance, but the Saga Museum inside (511 1517) it’s the place to get your Viking fix. The lifesize models are suitably axe-wielding and gory to either scare or delight the kids. And you can’t come to Iceland without bathing in a geothermal pool – Laugardalslaurg (Sundlaugarveg, 411 5100) is the best spot for some natural hot tub action.
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Cultural attractions in Reykjavik
Villi Knudsen Volcano Show (6a Hellusund, 845 9548) is very odd – it’s a part talk, part cinema experience. It’s hardly the world’s greatest achievement in film scripting or direction, but the footage from 60-odd years of Icelandic eruptions is staggering. The Culture House (15 Hverfisgata , 545 1400) is worth a visit for anyone wanting to understand the way ancient Norse sagas have influenced both today’s Icelandic society and writers such as JRR Tolkien. For galleries, the three spread-out homes of the Reykjavik Art Museum are individually middling, but make a decent collection as a whole if you take on the trio.
The offshore island of Videy is criss-crossed with walking trails, most of which provide ample opportunities to spy on the burgeoning birdlife. Ferries to Videy are pretty frequent throughout the day. For those who are hardy enough to take on the probable continual battering from the wind, Reykjavik also has a network of coastal walking paths that can be combined for a scenic stroll. In summer, it’s worth taking advantage of the long daylight hours with GoEcco Outdoor Adventures. Their ‘white night hiking’ tour (533 3007, 22,500 krona) takes in lava fields, waterfalls, fairytale scenery and the chance to bathe in hot streams.
A Golden Circle day tour, taking in Gullfoss waterfall, geysers and the Thingvellir National Park is popular for an extremely good reason. Reykjavik Excursions (580 5400) will take you out for 9800 krona. Wildlife lovers should look to the sea rather than the land. Whales are very common in Icelandic waters and Special Tours (892 0099) offers two-and-a-half hour cruises from the old harbour for anyone wanting to go spot them for EUR45. 20EUR, hour-long puffin-spotting cruises are also available. To get active, Reykjavik Bike Tours (694 8956, 4000 krona) offers a fabulous 18km cycling jaunt around the Icelandic capital’s coastal paths at night.
Find the best deals on Reykjavik hotels using the search box on the right, but the accommodation options below have been inspected and come recommended.
Budget accommodation in Reykjavik
Guesthouses and apartments are generally the best budget bet in Iceland – www.travellerspoint.com has a good list. Of the latter, the Bolholt Apartments (6 Bolholt, 517 4050) are spacious if cheaply furnished, with bargain off-season rates starting at 8,500 krona. For hotels, the Metropolitan (4a Ranargotu, 511 1155, from 7500 krona) is a little worn around the edges and Spartan, but it’s close to the action. The Arctic Comfort (19 Sidumuli, 588 5588, from 8,000 krona) is inconveniently located 3km out of the centre, but the light wood furnishings and flat screen TVs are of better quality than in most budget options.
Mid-range accommodation in Reykjavik
The CenterHotel Thingholt (3 Thingholtsstraeti, 595 8530, from EUR75.20) is a stylish surprise, with volcanic stone walls, a striking black and white colourscheme and a sense of place lacking in other hotels. Another pleasant surprise is the Hotel Reykjavik (37 Raudararstigur, 514 7000, from EUR82), which looks bland and businessy from the outside, but has perky rooms – many of which have balconies. You’ll also get lots of odd bird pictures and genuinely friendly staff. The Leifur Eriksson (45 Skolavordustigur, 562 0800, from 13,400 krona) is a decent alternative – the rooms have colour and life to them, although they’re straddling that dangerous border between cosy and pokey.
Luxury hotels in Reykjavik
The Hilton Nordica (2 Sudurlandsbraut, 444 5000) has a sense of modernistic swagger about it, and is the most likeable of the city’s business-oriented hotels. Doubles usually start at the EUR100 mark, but off-season bargains for under EUR60 can sometimes be found. The quietly likeable Odinsve (1 Thorsgata, 511 6200, from 17,200 krona) has a traditional Scandinavian look – bright with wooden floors – but adds enough flourishes such as leather chairs to stop things becoming boring. The Holt (37 Bergstadastraeti , 552 5700, from EUR143) is the one with a sumptuous elegance to it, however. Rooms aren’t huge, but personal service and an air of refinement compensate.
Top end accommodation in Reykjavik
101 Hotel (10 Hverfisgata, 5800 101, from EUR234) and Hotel Borg (11 Posthusstraeti, 551 1440, from EUR216) are the best in town. 101 is the hip, design option with plenty of gadgetry, roll top baths, a startling black and white colour scheme and downstairs spa. Ask for one of the art deco rooms at the Borg – they’re beautifully done and you keep spotting the clever detailing at every turn. Most rooms have spa jet baths too. The Grand (38 Sigtún, 514 8000, from EUR196) is Iceland’s biggest hotel, but it’s aimed at conferences, and the light wood overdose in the rooms renders them yawnsomely bland.
Cafés in Reykjavik
Despite being pitched as family-friendly, The Laundromat Café (9 Austurstraeti, 587 7555) is hipster central. You’ll find the walls covered in maps, bright young things slouching on the red leather booths and verbal foreplay going on between the occupants of the barside swivel stools. The big windows and outdoor seating at Café Paris (14 Austurstraeti, 551 1020) make it the prime people-watching spot, but Café Babalu (22a Skolavordustig, 552 2278) is the most endearing joint for a coffee and a sandwich. The colourful rooftop terrace is a delight, while the postcards, posters and plants décor is absurdly cluttered in the best possible way.
Snacks in Reykjavik
It’s essentially a hot dog stand in a metal box in a Tryggvagata car park, but don’t let anyone in Reykjavik hear you say a bad word about Baejarins Beztu. Bill Clinton has eaten here, and the queues are pretty much permanent. For sandwiches and cakes, Kornid (4 Laekjargata, 552 18098) does a cracking job and you can see from the racks of bread lined up behind the counter that everything’s fresh. Speaking of fresh, that’s what Sushi Smidjan (3 Geirsgotu, 517 3366) does best. This harbourside restaurant has a take-out room at the back, selling boxed up sushi to those in a hurry.
Best restaurants in Reykjavik
Vox at the Hilton is generally recognised as the top dining experience in town – it’s a modern-looking joint with wallet-busting modern Nordic cuisine. The seasonal menu with wine matching will set you back 18,400 krona but it’s where everyone wants to be taken to eat. Fishing is the backbone of Iceland’s economy, so you can get good seafood all over town. Fiskmarkadurinn (12 Adalstraeti, 578 8877) does it better than most, however, and the Asian influences add an exciting twist for foodies. Laekjarbrekka (2 Bankastraeti, 551 4430) has a take grandma-for-a-birthday-treat primness about it, but the wooden building is ultra-cute, and the Icelandic classics (including puffin) are done beautifully.
REYKJAVIK ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE
Bars in Reykjavik
Drinking is an expensive business in Reykjavik, and smart cookies will approach the city happy hour by happy hour. The free Reykjavik Grapevine newspaper provides a handy list of them. The long party strip – Austurstraeti, Bankastraeti and Laugavegur – is where most of the bar hopping happens. Mainstream Icelandic lager tastes like spittoon backwash, but Islenki Barinn (9 Posthusstraeti, 578 2020) sells just about every beer made in the country – and some of the smaller names are far more drinkable. Kaffibarinn (1 Bergstadarstraeti, 551 1588) is a top place to hang out and chat with arty types, while the absurdly eclectic décor at Boston (28b Laugavegur, 517 7816) somehow leads to a cool, loungey atmosphere.
Live music in Reykjavik
It sometimes seems as though everyone in Reykjavik is in a band or electronic duo, and this means that many bars have live music at least once a week. Sodoma (22 Tryggvagata, 821 6921) will tend to host a few of the bands that have passed the test elsewhere. Faktory (6 Smidjustigur, 865 2360) is a two floor venue that exercises prodigious genre-hopping on its gig calendar, while Dillon (30 Laugavegur, 578 2424), is more predictable. This upstairs joint doesn’t have bands every night, but when it does, they’re loud and wielding guitars of the rrrrrock variety.
Nightclubs in Reykjavik
Friday and Saturday nights get raucous in Reykjavik, as seemingly the entire city bar and club-hops in an alcohol-induced frenzy. The ‘runtur’, as it’s known, doesn’t really start until after midnight and dress codes are fairly strict for getting in to most places. Like many places in Reykjavik, B5 (5 Bankstraeti, 552 9600) is a bar/ bistro that morphs into a club later on. The vibe is sleek, the DJs hip and you’re more likely to see mojitos being tackled than pints of lager. NASA (4 Thorvaldsensstraeti, 511 1313) is the big boy, though – it’s where you go to shake it and get sweaty with the masses.
Markets in Reykjavik
For some reason, the good burghers of Reykjavik don’t find the idea of standing outside all day trying to entice people to buy things from their stalls particularly appealing. Therefore the only market worth having a nosy around is the Kolaportid Flea Market (Tryggvagötu 19) which runs indoors every weekend by the harbour. It’s where you’ll find those ‘special’ cured and putrified meats that are supposedly local specialities, but really only serve to make Icelanders snigger when they see tourists buying them. You’ll also find vintage clothes, toys, woolly hats and antiques.
Shops in Reykjavik
Kirsuberjatred (4 Vesturgata, 562 8990) is run by 11 female artists, and sells “Icelandic conversation pieces for your home.” The fishskin bags, coloured bowls, glasswork and music boxes are particularly gorgeous. If your wallet is feeling too heavy, take a look around the distinctive designer jewellery on display in Aurum (4 Bankastraeti, 551 2770). If it’s too pricey, take a step down and the shop morphs into a cutesy gift and homewares store. But for a proper Icelandic shopping experience, mooch around the thick woolly jumpers, hats and gloves at the Handknitting Association of Iceland’s store (19 Skolavordustigor, 552 1890) – it’s half kitsch and half deadly serious.
REYKJAVIK TRAVEL INFORMATION
Reykjavik travel tip
If you’re travelling to Iceland, make sure you pack plenty of layers. Due to the maritime location and the Gulf Stream, winters are a lot milder than you’d perhaps expect but even on summer days the thermometer can struggle to crack the ten degrees Celsius mark. The country’s position just under the Arctic Circle makes winters very dark and summers very light. And when you’re experiencing near 24 hour daylight in the height of summer, you’ll appreciate black out curtains. Alas, most hotels don’t have them – so bring an eye mask if you want a good night’s sleep.
The official Icelandic currency is the krona, although since Iceland’s superlative efforts in sending the entire global economy into crisis, it has been unstable. Some businesses will quote prices in euro instead.
Iceland is too small to have city codes, so to call any of the numbers listed from abroad you just add the country code, which is +354.