Capital of Iceland
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland. Many tourists flock here every year for the wild nightlife. Before I moved to Reykjavik, my introduction to the city was a song by the Icelandic band Spilverk Þjóðanna. They asked Reykjavik “Hvað atla þu að verða, þegar þu ert orðin stór?” (What do you want to be when you grow up?).
This comical om-pah song from the seventies was quite prophetic, as the Banks hit the dirty headlines in 2008, politicians were disgraced in 2016, and Reykjavik bulged under the weight of a tourism explosion..
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Reykjavik is home to the vast majority of Icelanders and is not the best example of Icelandic culture or hospitality (unless you are paying for it). There is a snobby class that chases around golf courses like spoiled middle-aged children. It’s important for them to have both a Mercedes-Benz and a golf cart on their semi-detached driveway. Not all Icelandic golfers are like this, of course, but the activity seems to attract the socially needy.
To illustrate my point here, in 2016, a team of regular, working-class Icelandic men beat England in the UEFA European Cup. The team consisted of a couple of professionals as well as plumbers, fishermen, etc. This small group of Icelanders brought great pride to their nation. At the same time, a small team of Icelandic elites brought shame on their country after revelations of the Panama Papers, showing them to be a bunch of greedy tax dodgers.
The more friendly Reykjavik residents are far from rich and have a proper soul. Proper Icelandic culture and hospitality remain out in the countryside. People are so well connected to nature that all egos are left at the door, along with your shoes.
Sólfar – The Sun Voyager
Sólfar is a metal sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, who designed it in his hospital bed. He never saw the finished version. It is on the North Shoreline, close to the city centre, and there is a nice scenic walk along the coastal pathway. The promenade has great views across to Mount Esja (Reykjavik Mountain).
There are other sculptures, and the shoreline is punctuated by the Harpa Concert Hall. About half way along the promenade in the tall glass building of Reykjavik’s financial district, there is an old white house. This is the building where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev held the Reykjavik summit in 1986 to end the Cold War (the old Cold War).
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Laugavegur is the main shopping street in the city and is often busy with tourists and city folk going about their business. There are many cafes and bookshops, and I think that it is mostly cafes and bookshops. There are high-end designer clothing shops and art shops where you can buy photos of Iceland. Laugavegur is a good place for candid street photography.
These hotels and apartments are a short walk from downtown Reykjavik. My strong recommendation is Reykjavik Marina for high-end accommodation close to the city centre.
Reykjavik’s largest church has a capacity of 1200 people and is named after Poet Hallgrimur Petursson (1614-1674).
The tower is built to resemble the hexagonal rock formations when volcanic lava hits the sea. The inside is nice, and it has a great pipe organ—the largest of its kind in Iceland. From the top of the tower, there are great views over central Reykjavik.
Viðey is a small island off the north shore of the city. It is home to one of the oldest Reykjavik buildings, the Videyjarstofa House (1755. There is a ferry to the island, where there are hiking trails and bike tours. There are many birds inhabiting the island, and it is home to Yoko Ono’s famous Peace Tower, which lights the skies in the winter.
Tours and activities in the city
What can you do with a Reykjavik City Card?
- Use the local bus service to explore
- Free entry to Museums, galleries, zoos and Thermal Pools
- Queue hopping
Cancellation: The city card cannot be refunded or changed for any reason.
Perlan Museum and Restaurant
Perlan or the Pearl is a large dome shaped structure on top of 4 water tanks, on top of a hill near Reykjavik domestic airport. There is a posh restaurant at the top and a Saga museum at the bottom. It is possible to get onto the roof for some great views of the surrounding area – for a fee. There is a mock geyser inside the Perlan and also in the grounds nearby but don’t miss the real thing. The Ice Cave museum is also highly recommended, but don’t miss the real thing.
Fun Fact: two of the water tanks were re-purposed to house the Saga & Ice Cave museums. This led to a water shortage for Reykjavik in the winter of 2023.
These indoor activities let you enjoy Iceland as its best when the weather is at its worst.
The “Tjörnin” is the artificial lake in Central Reykjavik. It is home to many Eider Ducks and Hooper Swans. One corner of the lake is heated so that it never freezes. The rest of the pond can freeze solidly to allow for ice-skating and Icelandic Horse shows. The Icelandic horse is the only horse in the world that can run on ice. One exhibition of this on the frozen pond nearly ended in disaster a few years ago. This disturbing event is documented in the following video.
The area around the Tjörnin is probably the most attractive in the whole of Reykjavik. This Webcam shows the heated corner of Reykjavikurtjörn.
The statue of Leifur Eiríksson stands out the front of the Halgrimskirkja. Leifur Eiríksson was a viking explorer who lived in Iceland. He is famous for travelling to America 500 years before Columbus. He lived in Greenland for a while raising a family. The statue was donated to Iceland as a gift from the U.S.A.