Tucked into a protected bay in south-west Iceland, picture-perfect Reykjavík ranks as the world’s most northerly capital and one of Europe’s smallest, with a population of just 120,000 people. But don’t be fooled by its minuscule size. The city, set against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains and the vast blue sea, offers all the perks of a much larger place, while still exuding an inimitable small-town charm. Wherever you turn, urban living meets pristine nature, and a rich Nordic heritage blends with modern vibes. Go for a stroll among traditional buildings painted in bright colours or head for the seafront and admire contemporary architecture in all its glory. Learn about Viking history and medieval sagas, try the city’s many culinary delights and soak up its creative energy.
In Reykjavík, nature is never far away. Start your exploration at the capital’s waterfront: mosey around the Old Harbour, embraced by first-class galleries, museums and culinary hotspots, then continue your walk towards the much-photographed shiplike sculpture known as the Sun Voyager, set against snow-clad mountains across the bay. Stop by Harpa Concert Hall, built from glistening glass tiles of all shapes and sizes – make sure to step inside to fully appreciate its magnificent architecture and breathtaking surroundings. For sweeping views, head to the Lutheran church of Hallgrímskirkja, the Icelandic capital’s trademark edifice, and take the lift to the top of its soaring white bell tower. Don’t miss picturesque Tjörnin lake that cuts the city centre into two, loud with the sound of birds, including swans, Arctic terns and greylag geese.
Being the capital of the country that gave us Björk and legendary suffragette Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir, Reykjavík has no shortage of options for culture buffs. Explore more than 2,000 artefacts in the National Museum and learn about Iceland’s fascinating past from the first Viking settlements through medieval times to recent history. Want to discover emerging local artists before everyone else does? Make your way to The Living Art Museum, or Nýló, one of Europe’s oldest artist-run organisation, offering a wealth of exciting experimental contemporary art.
Iceland is widely known for its unconventional snacks, particularly hákarl, or fermented shark, cured, buried and then hung for several months before hitting your table. It’s not a dish for the faint-hearted: expect a strong, fishy taste and an even stronger smell. Do as the locals do, and wash it down with brennivín, the potent local schnapps made from potatoes and spiced with cumin and caraway seeds. But there’s much more to Icelandic cuisine than that. Think fresh-from-the-farm local produce, magnificent seafood and the country’s oh-so-delicious (and healthy!) yoghurt-like cheese, skýr, made from skimmed milk. The fat-free, protein-filled delicacy can be found in any supermarket and comes in various flavours, from blueberry through vanilla to mango.
Reykjavík is a great base and the gateway to the natural treasures offered by the vast volcanic island that is Iceland. Even if you’re short on time, make sure to visit the wonders of the nearby Golden Circle: go for a walk among the magnificent geological formations of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge Canyon in Þingvellir National Park, see water-spitting geysers at Geysir and admire the fast-flowing, 32-metre Gullfoss waterfall. Looking for some top R&R? Take a trip to the milky-blue waters of the Blue Lagoon and soak your tired limbs in its mineral-rich pools, while treating your skin to a silica mud mask. Or take a dip in one of the city's amazing pools, complete with saunas, steam rooms and steaming hot tubs. Crazy about wildlife? Head out to sea on a whale-watching tour and spot different species of the mighty mammal, including minke and humpback whales.
Keflavík International Airport, aka Reykjavík–Keflavík Airport, is Iceland’s main aviation hub, 50 kilometres southwest of the Icelandic capital. Access to the city is easy by express coach (45 minutes) or public bus (a bit slower), rental car or taxi. The one-terminal airport boasts a clean, modern design and is being further expanded to meet the demands of Iceland’s booming tourism industry. In addition to duty-free shops, there are Icelandic design, handicrafts and clothing shops, souvenirs, electronics, an Icelandic deli and even an optician’s. Dining options include restaurants, bars and coffee shops if you’re feeling peckish.
As the world’s most northerly capital, Reykjavík has a subpolar oceanic climate, with bitter winters and cool summers. Weather here is notoriously changeable so pack accordingly. Summer brings temperatures between 10 and 15°C and the famous white nights (it doesn’t get completely dark even at midnight!). Winter months are snowy and chilly, with temperatures hovering on either side of freezing point but rarely dropping below -15°C . Most people choose to visit Iceland from late May to early September, when daylight is aplenty and travelling around the island is easy by bus or rental car. If you’re chasing the Northern Lights, time your visit between September and mid-April.
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