Reykjavik, like Stockholm, is one of those unique capital cities that manages to showcase centuries of history while continually reinventing itself. When you’re not catching a concert at a waterfront venue, or brushing up on Viking history at a museum, you’ll likely be dining on fine seafood or sipping Icelandic beer at a Scandi bar!
When Norwegian Vikings fled from their king in the late 9th century, they stumbled upon a patch of land on Iceland’s south-west coast. A Viking known as Ingolfur Arnarson named the area after the steam that rose from the surrounding hot springs. Reykjavik translates to ‘Bay of Smokes’ in Icelandic.
You can Spring into action here anytime of the year!
Keflavik International Airport is the gateway to Iceland, and it sits 50km (30 miles) west of Reykjavik. There are multiple ways to travel to the capital from Keflavik Airport, including taxi, car hire, and bus transfer.
Most travellers opt for the Flybus, a reliable bus service that regularly runs between the airport and town. The buses depart 40-minutes after each flight lands and can be found waiting for you outside the terminal building. The journey, which takes roughly 45-minutes one way, can be pre-booked online or purchased on arrival. A one-way ticket from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik Bus Terminal costs around £20. Flybus also provides a convenient hotel drop off service. This may cost a couple of extra pounds, but I strongly recommend it (you don’t want to be dragging your luggage from the bus terminal through town!). Alternative bus companies include Airport Direct and Gray Line Airport Express.
The Harpa Concert Hall vibrates with beautiful sounds!
Here’s Another Pro Tip: The Blue Lagoon isn’t in central Reykjavik, it’s closer to Keflavik Airport. To save time and money (on multiple bus transfers), it’s worth scheduling a trip to the Blue Lagoon into your itinerary on your way to, or from, the airport. There’s plenty of luggage storage available.
Check out my favourite things to do in Reykjavik:
- Hallgrimskirkja – This modern cathedral can be spotted from almost any position in the city thanks to its impressive tower! Head to the viewing platform for 360-degree views over the city. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it.
- Harpa Concert Hall – Enjoy a taste of modern Reykjavik at this impressive waterfront concert hall. Designed by a Danish firm, the building is an architectural delight.
- Sun Voyager – This steel boat sculpture is a popular attraction, and you’ll find it close to the Harpa Concert Hall. From here, enjoy views over distant Mount Esjan.
Hallgrimskirkja? Can we just say ‘tall church’?
- Laugavegur – This bustling street is Reykjavik’s main shopping street and is lined with boutique stores, welcoming bars, and cosy cafes. It’s an excellent place to start your adventures.
- National Museum of Iceland – Brush up on 1,200 years of human history at this little museum! There are over 2,000 objects inside, one of which is a hand-carved door that dates back to the 13th-century.
- Tjornin – This small lake sits in the heart of Reykjavik and is an excellent place to stretch your legs amidst nature. If you’re here in winter, you’ll likely see locals skating on it!
Traditional Icelandic food (including some challenging flavours) is delightful, and there are plenty of remarkable restaurants in the capital, putting their spin on local cuisine. Here are my favourite places to eat in Reykjavik:
- Burro Restaurant – For a taste of Latin America, head to Burro and enjoy a colourful evening of tapas-sized plates and fusion food. Order the tasting menu to sample five of the best dishes, which could be anything from Monk Fish & Popcorn to Life Changing Cheese Sticks!
Icelandic lobsters are one shell of a creature!
- Dill Restaurant – With a Michelin star under its belt, Dill’s restaurant is one of the most exclusive eateries in town. Choose between a five and seven-course menu and prepare for a culinary journey to remember. I recommend booking a table a few weeks in advance!
- Fish Company Restaurant – This eclectic restaurant sits in downtown Reykjavik and offers a taste of the world. The five-course menu covers cuisine from Iceland, France, Ireland, Japan and more! Order the Grilled Catfish and King Prawns for a taste of Denmark.
Reykjavik is renowned for its nightlife, particularly its beer-drinking culture, so you won’t be short of things to do when darkness closes in! Here are my favourite bars in the city:
- Kex Hostel – Now you might not typically rush to a hostel for a high-end beverage, but Kex has a great selection of Icelandic beers on tap! The bar is pretty cool too as the decor is vintage and dark wooden tones blend with exposed brick.
- Skuli Craft Bar – This low lit bar is heaven if you’re a craft beer fan. There are over 14 craft beers on tap and around 130+ bottles behind the bar; you’ll be spoilt for choice!
- Slippbarinn – If you’re after a cocktail, head to one of the country’s first cocktail bars found in the Reykjavik Marina Hotel! If you’re there on a Wednesday evening, you can enjoy an innovative alcoholic concoction while enjoying live music.
Lounge lazily about Laugavegur Street!
Here’s a Final Pro-tip: You might be offered a drink called “Black Death”, a local liquor whose name and label was meant to discourage drinking. It’s had quite the opposite effect! Try it ‘carefully’ with a fermented shark delicacy called Hakari, if you dare!
Immerse yourself in Scandinavian decor at one of Reykjavik’s cosy hotels. Here are my three favourite places to stay when I’m in the city:
- Kvosin Downtown Hotel – Nestled in the heart of downtown, this townhouse hotel provides an affordable stay just steps from Reykjavik’s best bars and restaurants. The decor is contemporary with a touch of Scandi, and most rooms boast a lounge area and kitchenette.
- Hotel Borg – As the first luxury hotel in the country, Hotel Borg offers a reliable stay at an upscale retreat. The hotel overlooks Parliament Square and guests enjoy the use of the onsite basement spa and gym.
- Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel – This four-star boutique hotel boasts a lobby bar and restaurant, a wellness spa, and fitness centre! The Reykjavik Art Museum and other attractions are just a short walk away!
Reykjavik is a beautiful and unique city in one of the coolest (literally) countries. Enjoy its vibrant culture, wonderful hospitality and picturesque views!