While mostly known for it’s breath-taking landscapes, geothermal pools, and numerous glaciers, Iceland also has a capital city that is worth spending some time in. Reykjavik, a surprisingly large and lively city located on the southwestern tip of the country, contains beautiful nordic architecture, delicious food, and an impressively vibrant nightlife for its location near the Arctic Circle. In addition, at least during the winter, I found Reykjavik to be much more affordable than its Scandinavian neighbors in Norway and Sweden, especially in terms of food and drink. I hope that after reading this post, you consider spending more time exploring Reykjavik, rather than using it only as a base to explore the other wonders of Iceland.
On my first day in Reykjavik, the wind was so strong that you could literally lean into it and be blown over if you didn’t brace yourself. A lady actually was blown over near the concert hall and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance for her head injuries. When the wind wasn’t wreaking havoc on pedestrian life in the city, it was creating beautiful cloud formations in the sky. I took this photo from the top of the main church in Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja. Also, you will see the colorful-roofed buildings that make the city architecture unique.
Just across the bay is Mount Esja, a popular climbing and hiking destination easily within reach from Reykjavik. I did not have the time to climb it, but it is certainly on the list if I were ever to return.
The Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral located in the center of the city is certainly a must visit, and make sure to go when it’s open so you can take an elevator to the top of the bell tower. The church was constructed to mimic a particular type of volcanic rock formation that can be found on the coastlines of Iceland.
Another shot of the colorful buildings of Reykjavik and the main street running directly down from the cathedral. Along the street one can find numerous cafes and shops selling Icelandic goods and crafts.
Another shot of the clouds, formed by the intense wind that was blowing the day I arrived.
Another mountain range off in the distance – Reykjavik seemed to be surrounded by only mountains and sea.
A pool outside of Reykjavik containing naturally hot water from Iceland’s geothermal springs. You can see the clouds again – keeping in mind that it was extremely cold and windy – this guy told us that his daily ritual, regardless of weather, was to swim in the ice-cold bay and then warm up in the hot springs, claiming, like many other Icelanders, that he felt rejuvenated after the experience. The Icelandic people seemed to have a strong respect for and relationship with the healing qualities of their natural hot springs, and incorporated bathing/swimming into their weekly, and sometimes daily, routines.
Inside the newly constructed Harpa (concert hall) in Reykjavik, a beautiful, impressive structure. While undergoing a lot of scrutiny because of its costs, especially during the financial crisis, the hope is that the structure will bring money to Iceland due to its ability to host large events and concerts.
A very open floor plan with unique, honeycombed window frames made the visit to the concert hall a memorable experience.
I like the minimal yet elegant design of the hall, as well as the view of the sea and mountains.
A beautiful sculpture outside of the center of Reykjavik paying tribute to the city’s viking founders. This is probably my favorite sculpture that I have seen during my travels.
Catching the sunset’s reflection on the Esjan mountain range outside of Reykjavik.
While in the city, I had the opportunity to eat whale not once, but twice, and I’d do it again if I could. Putting any hard feelings about hunting whales aside, it was absolutely delicious. I also had the salmon, and the grilled vegetable skewers were a perfect complement to the meal. With each meal being around 10 euro, it was definitely affordable, not to mention it was the best seafood and one of the best meals abroad I’d ever had. The small restaurant located near the harbor is called Saegreifinn (www.saegreifinn.is), and has a unqiue local feel to the place, as you seem to be eating inside a fish market.
My friends taking photos at The Pearl, a restaurant/museum combination located on the outskirts of the city.
One more shot of the city taken from The Pearl.
My recap of Reykjavik would not be complete without a shoutout to the group of people I met and stayed with through couchsurfing. Hugi, on the left, graciously hosted all 5 of us in his apartment for 5 days, and we all, being from different backgrounds and of different ages, bonded together to have an unforgettable experience in Iceland. During my traveling, I have learned that it is not the memories of the place, but actually the memories of the people you meet, that stick with you the longest.