Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland and with an urban area population of around 200,000, it is the home to two-thirds of Iceland's population. It is the centre of culture and life of the Icelandic people as well as being one of the focal points of tourism in Iceland. The city itself is spread out, with sprawling suburbs. The city centre, however, is a very small area characterised by eclectic and colourful houses, with good shopping, dining and drinking.
When it started to develop as a town in the 18th century, Reykjavík had already been inhabited for almost a thousand years. Legend has it that the first permanent settler in Iceland was a Norwegian named Ingólfur Arnarson. He is said to have thrown his seat pillars into the sea en route to Iceland, and decided to settle wherever the pillars were found. The pillars washed up in Reykjavík, and so that was where he set up his farm.
Although the story of Ingólfur Arnarson is not widely believed to be true by modern historians, it's clear that Reykjavík was one of the very first settlements in Iceland. Archaeological remains confirm that people were living there around the year 871, and for the first few centuries of Icelandic settlement Reykjavík was a large manor farm. Its fortunes steadily waned as other centres of power increased in importance. By the 18th century, the farm of Reykjavík was owned by the king of Denmark (under whose domain Iceland fell at the time). In 1752, the estate was donated to a firm, Innréttingarnar, led by Icelandic politician Skúli Magnússon. Innréttingarnar were meant to become an important industrial exporter and a source of development in Iceland, and their main base was in what is now the heart of Reykjavík. Although the company didn't achieve all its high ideals, it did lay the foundations of Reykjavík as it is today. In 1786, Reykjavík got a trading charter and it soon started to grow in importance.
The year 1801 is when Reykjavík went from being the largest town in the country, to its capital. That year a new supreme court, Landsyfirréttur, was set up in the city after the abolition of Alþingi (which no longer had any legislative functions). The same year the office of the Bishop of Iceland was founded in Reykjavík, merging the bishoprics of Hólar and Skálholt. In 1845, Alþingi was re-founded as an advisory council to the king on the affairs of Iceland, located in Reykjavík and in 1874 it regained legislative powers. As the sovereignty of the country grew, so too did Reykjavík, which by the beginning of the 20th century had been transformed from a small trading and fishing village to a fully fledged capital.
The Second World War was a boom era in Reykjavík. The city wasn't directly affected by the many horrors of the war, but the occupation of Iceland by first the UK and later the US provided increased employment opportunities and inflows of cash that enabled the rapid expansion and modernisation of the Icelandic fishing fleet. Reykjavík was a leader in this development and it grew very rapidly in the years following the war. New suburbs were built and the city started to reach across municipal limits, subsuming various surrounding communities. The city continued expanding until the financial collapse of 2008.
Due to its young age, and in particular its rapid expansion in the late 20th century, Reykjavík is very different from the other Nordic capitals. It lacks their grand buildings and the picturesque old quarters. Instead it has come to resemble American cities with their sprawling suburbs and big motorways, as was recommended by the urban planners of the post-World War 2 era. Nevertheless Reykjavík has a charm of its own, quite unique, shaped by the dualistic nature of this place which still doesn't seem to have made up its mind on whether it's a small town or a big city.
|Daily highs (°C)||1.9||2.8||3.2||5.7||9.4||11.7||13.3||13.0||10.1||6.8||3.4||2.2|
|Nightly lows (°C)||-3.0||-2.1||-2.0||0.4||3.6||6.7||8.3||7.9||5.0||2.2||-1.3||-2.8|
Averages 1961-1990, data from the World Meteorological Organisation.
Up to date weather information from the Icelandic Meteorological Office .
The weather in Reykjavík is notoriously unpredictable. One minute the sun may be shining on a nice summers day, the next it may change into a windy, rainy autumn. Temperatures in Reykjavík are quite bland: They don't go very high in the summer, nor do they go much below zero during winter. It follows that the differences between seasons are relatively small compared to what people experience on either side of the Atlantic.
January is the coldest month and usually has some snow, while there is frequently no snow on the ground during Christmas in December. Summer is without a doubt the favorite season of most Reykjavík inhabitants. Many of them seem to imagine their city is slightly warmer than it really is and it takes little to get them to start wearing shorts and t-shirts, or to go sunbathing in parks. Don't think too much about how silly it may seem, just join them in enjoying the season!
Wind is the main problem with the Reykjavík weather. The city is quite open to the seas, and the winds can be strong and chilling to the bone. Windy spots generally feel significantly colder than those with more shelter.
- The Fish Can Sing (Halldór Laxness, 1957). A story of a young boy growing up on a farm on the outskirts of Reykjavík in the early 20th century, during a period of rapid change in Iceland. Like many of the stories by Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness, The Fish Can Sing (Brekkukotsannáll, "The Annal of Brekkukot", in Icelandic) is partly based on real people and places, although names have been changed.
- 101 Reykjavik (Hallgrímur Helgason, 1996). The quintessential book about downtown Reykjavík, capturing its spirit in a way no other book has. The main character never leaves postcode 101 if he doesn't need to, and spends his time either in bars and clubs or at home doing nothing. He has since become seen by many (who don't live in central Reykjavík themselves) as the model for the "101-type".
- Jar City (Arnaldur Indriðason, 2000). A crime novel about the detective Erlendur, with the Reykjavík criminal police department. Portrays the grittier sides of the city, although perhaps slightly exaggerated for the sake of writing a good story. The book has also been translated as Tainted Blood, but the original Icelandic title (Mýrin, "the swamp") refers to the Norðurmýri neighbourhood, by the city centre. Arnaldur has written 10 further books about the detective, most of them happening in or around Reykjavík.
- Visit Reykjavik, Aðalstræti 2 (by Ingólfstorg), ☎ , fax: +354 590 1501. 8:30AM-7PM daily 1 June-15 Sept; 9AM-6PM M-F, 9AM-4PM Sa, 9AM-2PM Su 16 Sept-31 May.
Two airports serve the Reykjavík area, one for international flights and another for domestic flights. They are 50km away from each other.
- Keflavík International Airport (Icelandic: Keflavíkurflugvöllur, IATA: KEF), ☎ , fax: +354 425 0610. Keflavík International Airport is Iceland's main international airport, and is located 50km southwest of Reykjavík, in the town of Keflavík. Some of the international airlines flying to Keflavík include:
- Icelandair - offers non-stop flights to/from New York City, Boston, Halifax, Toronto, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Orlando (Sanford), Seattle, Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Helsinki, London, Oslo, Madrid, Manchester, Milan, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Bergen, and Gothenburg. Please note that some destinations are seasonal. Icelandair offers free layovers for up to seven nights if flying between Europe and North America with Icelandair. Icelandair does not offer complimentary meals, even on long international flights, and on-board options to purchase are limited to expensive snacks, so you would be well advised to bring something to eat.
To travel between the airport and Reykjavik city centre:
- Flybus offers regular service to either the BSI bus terminal, just south of the city centre (45 minutes, ISK1,950 one-way or ISK3,500 round trip) or directly to Reykjavik hotels with advance notice to the driver (ISK2,500 one-way or ISK4,500 round-trip). Buses leave the airport as early as 03:30. Tickets can be bought either at the airport or online.
- Gray Line Airport Express offers regular service (45 minutes, ISK2,090 one-way or ISK3,800 round trip) directly to Reykjavik hotels with advance notice to the driver. Tickets can be bought either at the airport or online.
- Taxis cost ISK14,000 for 1-4 passengers and ISK19,000 for 5-8 passengers.
- Reykjavík Airport (Icelandic: Reykjavíkurflugvöllur, IATA: RKV). Located just next to the city centre, mainly used for domestic air traffic and flights to Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. Two airlines have scheduled flights to and from Reykjavík airport:
Sterna and Reykjavík Excursions operate regular bus service from West Iceland, South Iceland and Akureyri. If you find yourself in other parts of the country, it will be difficult to find a direct bus route to Reykjavík. The best option, if relying on buses, is to first get into the aforementioned regions and catch a bus to Reykjavík from there. This will probably require an overnight stay.
Three main roads serve as entry points into Reykjavík:
- Reykjanesbraut (Road 40), enters the city from the west linking it to Southwest Iceland and Keflavík International Airport;
- The Ring Road (Road 1), enters the city from both east and north.
If you're driving into town from South Iceland or West Iceland, beware of some quite heavy traffic jams on Sundays when people are going back home after a weekend away. This mainly applies during the summer, and becomes even worse on Mondays after three-day weekends, not to mention if the weather has been good.
Renting A Car
There are rental car services all over Iceland, and many in Reykjavík. The cheapest car at the cheapest dealer you may find would average out to about ISK5500 each day. If you intend to just stay in Reykjavík, renting a car is not necessary as the bus system is great and it is easy to walk around. If you plan to leave Reykjavík and go to the countryside, then renting a car is the best way to experience Iceland.
Several cruise liners stop in Reykjavík each summer, mostly arriving in Sundahöfn, which is 3km east from the city centre. Cruise Iceland is a website run by several companies that service cruise liners in the country and has a list of companies that sail to Iceland.
Reykjavík itself is not served by any ferries, but if you have an abundance of time it is possible to take the Smyril Line (a cruise company based out of the Faroe Islands) from Hanstholm or Esbjerg to Seyðisfjörður (a small town on the east of Iceland), via Tórshavn. This service is on the expensive side, and puts you on the other side of the country. However, it offers the possibility of bringing a car, which can be one of the best ways to travel around Iceland. If you take the ferry and drive from Seyðisfjörður to Reykjavík, you should plan to spend the night somewhere along the way.
Of course, if you have a boat capable of crossing the Atlantic it is possible to sail to Reykjavík. Check with the port authority, the United Ports of Faxaflói, to find out about harbour options.
Walking in Reykjavík is highly recommended, the downtown is very compact and many attractions are within walking distance from most hotels. The city is very beautiful, and the sidewalk and pathway system is first-rate. Reykjavík drivers are in general very friendly, and will sometimes stop for you even when there is no crossing facility.
Unknown to many tourists a very long and scenic pathway for walking and cycling circles almost the whole city. A good starting point is anywhere where the city touches the sea. The path leads by an outdoor swimming pool, a sandy beach, a golf course, and a salmon river.
Reykjavík has a public bus system that is clean and reliable, called Strætó. Single rides cost ISK350. For some very odd reason, the driver cannot give any change. If you need to switch buses to get to your final destination, ask the driver for an exchange ticket (skiptimiði), which is valid for the next 75 minutes on any bus.
If you're staying outside the city centre it may be best best to get a Reykjavík City Card, which allows unlimited access to the buses, along with free museums and free internet at the hostel. The tourist cards are available at the Tourist Information Centre by Ingólfstorg, and also at some hotels and convenience stores. A 24h card costs ISK2,900, a 48h card ISK3,900 and a 72h card ISK4,900, as of August 2014. Other possibilities include buying nine tickets for ISK3,000. If you're staying for longer you can buy a long-term pass: A green pass lasts a month and costs ISK9,300, a red pass is for three months and costs ISK21,000 and a blue pass lasts nine months and costs ISK49,900.
Hlemmur and Lækjartorg are the main bus interchanges in central Reykjavík, with busses that can take you to any part of the city. The Strætó system has busses going all the way east to Selfoss and north to Akranes, the former leaving from Mjódd and the latter from Háholt. Both of these stations can be reached from Hlemmur.
Note that while most areas of Reykjavík and the neighboring towns are accessible by bus, the last busses leave around 11PM and the city has no night busses. Also, on Sundays there are no bus services before noon.
Driving in Reykjavík is the preferred method for most residents there. As a tourist though, you should be able to manage without a car if you're only staying in the city. Driving is recommended though for travel outside of Reykjavík and its suburbs. Note that many streets in central Reykjavík are one-way only and some of them are closed to cars in good weather.
Compared to most other modern European cities, Reykjavík actually manages to have a reasonable number of parking spaces, especially for a city that boasts the most cars per capita in the world. If you're in the centre and can't find a place to park, there are big parking lots by the harbour and in front of Kolaportið (the flea market). Parking spaces in the city centre generally have parking meters charging between 80 and 150 kr. per hour. The city recently introduced a new type of meters and you can now pay by card if you don't have coins on you. The fine for not paying is 2,400 kr.
The main taxi companies in Reykjavík are Hreyfill-Bæjarleiðir (+354 588 5522), BSR (+354 561 0000) and Borgarleiðir (+354 422 2222). All taxis are metered and most are very clean and comfortable, but be warned that travelling by taxi is one of the most expensive ways of getting around Reykjavík. There is a start fee of 600-700 kr. and a fee of 200-400 kr. per kilometer. Taking a taxi is, however, the best way to get home after a night on the town. Paying by card is not a problem, nor is splitting the bill. You can either order a taxi by phone or find one at a taxi rank, of which there are several in the city. In central Reykjavík there is one rank by Lækjargata and another by Hallgrímskirkja.
It is easy to get around Reykjavík by bicycle, if you can deal with sometimes strong headwinds and a few hills. There are not many dedicated bicycle paths and so most cycling is done on the street or on the sidewalk (both are legal). When cycling on the street you must obey the same traffic rules as cars. When cycling on the sidewalk it's important to be considerate of people who are walking there, they have the right of way.
Where there are specially marked paths for cyclists these are frequently shared with pedestrians, with a painted white line indicating the division between the two forms of transport. In these cases the narrower section is the bicycle path. Dedicated bicycle paths are a new phenomenon in Reykjavík but their number is increasing every year. These mostly link the city centre with the suburbs.
Bicycles can be rented at the following locations:
- Bikecompany (Hjólafélagið), Bankastræti 2 (downtown), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Bikecompany offers guided bike tours around Reykjavik in varied degree of difficulty.They also operate one of the largest bike rentals in Reykjavik at various locations. Flexible opening hours and they even have tandem bikes for rentals.
- Borgarhjól, Hverfisgata 50 (the same street as the national theater and other important buildings), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Weekdays: 8AM - 6PM, Saturday: 10AM - 2PM. Half a day: 3600 ISK, 24 hours: 4200 ISK, Week or longer: 3600 ISK pr. day.
- Puffin Scooters, Ægisgarður by the Reykjavik harbor (Bus 14), ☎ . May: open every day from 12 - 16 except Mondays, June 1st - 5th of September: open every day from 11:00 - 19:00. Scooters allow you to explore Reykjavik on your own terms or just roll around downtown. Puffin Scooters is a friendly scooter, electric bike, rollerblade and fishing rod rental.
- Reykjavik Bike Tours (Hjólreiðaferðir um Reykjavík), Ægisgarður 7 (next to the Life of Whales Whale Watching ticket booth at Reykjavik's Old Harbor), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open every day, flexible opening hours by appointment. Bicycle rental - city and mountain bikes, children's bikes, scheduled guided city tours by bicycle and day tours by bicycle. Private tours available. Bicycle delivery to hotels and guesthouses available.
- SeasonTours (Árstíðaferðir), Ægisgarður 7a by the Old Harbor. Electric bicycle (El-Bike) rental all year round and Guided Electric Bike tours around the must see places in Reykjavik City. (Bus 14), ☎ , e-mail: , email@example.com. 9:00 and 16:15 all year round..
Reykjavík's old town is small and easy to walk around. The houses have some very distinct features, most notably their brightly colored corrugated metal siding. Plan to spend at least a couple hours just wandering around, taking in the city. And for further feasts of the eyes, there are several museums and art galleries in the city, most of them within easy reach of the downtown area.
Parks and open areas
- Tjörnin (The Pond). A small lake in the centre of the city where young and old often gather to feed the ducks. The Icelandic name, Tjörnin, literally means "The Pond". Tjörnin is mostly surrounded by a park called Hljómskálagarðurinn (Music Pavilion Park) which gets very popular in good weather. The southern end of Tjörnin links it to the Vatnsmýri swamp, a small bird reserve with paths open to the public except during egg hatching season. Built into Tjörnin on the northern side is Reykjavík City Hall.
- Austurvöllur. A small park (or square, depending on definitions) in the heart of Reykjavík. It's many locals' favorite place to spend sunny days, either at one of the cafés lining the north of the square or simply having a picnic on the grass. The parliament and the national cathedral both stand by Austurvöllur.
- Klambratún. Klambratún is a park just east of the city centre on an area which remained farmland while the city was built up around it. The area was later converted into one of the largest public parks in the city and often hosts various events. One of the houses of the Reykjavík Art Museum, Kjarvalsstaðir, is inside the park.
- Reykjavík Botanical Gardens (Grasagarður Reykavíkur), In Laugardalur. The Reykjavík Botanical Gardens are not large, but they're nice for a short stroll and a good place to see some of the plants that grow in Iceland. Free.
- Viðey. Viðey is a large island in Kollafjörður, the fjord to the north of Reykjavík. It used to be inhabited, and in the early 20th century it had a small fishing village. Nobody lives there anymore apart from the birds, but it's a popular way to get away from the city without actually leaving it. During the summer, a café is operated in one of the houses on the island. The building was built for Skúli Magnússon, an 18th century politician often called "the founder of Reykjavík" and designed by the same man as the royal palace in Copenhagen - although it is not quite of the same scale. Among its more modern architecture, Viðey is home to the Imagine Peace Tower by Yoko Ono (see below). To get to Viðey you must take a ferry from Sundahöfn, some distance from central Reykjavík (on bus route 5). The schedule and prices can be found here .
- Grótta. At the far western end of the peninsula on which Reykjavík sits there is a small island. This island, called Grótta, is connected to the mainland on low tides and open to the public most of the year (closed May 1 thru July 15). Just make sure you don't get stuck on the island when the tide comes in!
Reykjavík has a very eclectic building style, which is mainly the result of bad (or no) planning. Many of the oldest houses still standing are wooden buildings covered in brightly coloured corrugated iron. Don't be surprised to see that the next buildings down the street are an ultra-modernistic functionalist cube followed by early 20th century neoclassical concrete. Some of the most interesting buildings you'll see in Reykjavík are those you find wandering about. Some deserve a special mention, however.
- Alþingi, Kirkjustræti (by Austurvöllur). On the southern edge of Austurvöllur is a small building of hewn stone, but don't let its size fool you. This is the building of the Icelandic parliament, known as Alþingi. The institution has in fact long since outgrown the building which was built in 1881 for a nation of a little over 60,000. Today the upper floors of most houses on the north and west sides of the park also house parliamentary offices. The Alþingi building today houses only the debating chamber of the unicameral institution and the party meeting rooms. When Alþingi is in session it is possible to go up to the viewing platforms and follow the debates, otherwise it is necessary to be part of a group to see the building from the inside.
- Reykjavík Cathedral (Dómkirkjan í Reykjavík) (by Austurvöllur). The church beside the parliament is Reykjavík cathedral, the head Lutheran church of the country. Similarly deceptive in size, it has been beautifully renovated both inside and out to reflect its original 18th century architecture.
- City Hall (Ráðhúsið), Tjarnargata 11 (on the northern edge of Tjörnin). One of the best examples of late 20th century architecture in Iceland, built into Tjörnin (The Pond). On the ground floor, which is open to the public, there is a large relief map of the whole country as well as a café and an exhibition hall.
- Hallgrímskirkja, Skólavörðuholti, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mass: Sunday 11AM; Church tower open daily 9AM - 8PM. This can't miss attraction towers over the city on top of a hill. In front is a statue of Leif Ericsson (Leifur Eiríksson in Icelandic), the Norse explorer who sailed to North America in the 10th century. The United States gave this statue to Iceland in 1930, in honor of the 1,000th anniversary of the Althingi, the Iceland parliament. Admission to the tower: 600 kr., children (6 - 12) 100 kr..
- Harpa, Austurbakki 2, ☎ . Open daily 10AM-12AM. Harpa is a new concert hall and conference centre at the heart of Reykjavík.It is the new home of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and regularly host to other acts as well.
- Perlan (The Pearl) (on the top of Öskjuhlíð). 10AM - 9PM. An iconic building on top of a wooded hill called Öskjuhlíð, to the southeast of the city centre. Perlan is built on top of five hot water storage tanks and offers fantastic views of the entire city both from a viewing platform open to the public and a rotating restaurant at the top. If the restaurant is too expensive for you (it is for most), there is also a small cafeteria on the same floor as the viewing platform.
- Imagine Peace Tower, Viðey Island. Yoko Ono's memorial to John Lennon, projecting a "tower of light" into the air that can be seen from around Reykjavík. The tower is turned on October 9-December 8, December 21–28, December 31 and March 21–28.
There are several museums of art and of history found around the city.
- National Gallery of Iceland (Listasafn Íslands), Fríkirkjuvegi 7 (by the eastern bank of Tjörnin), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 11AM-5PM daily, closed Mondays. The national art gallery with a large collection of contemporary artworks by Icelandic 19th and 20th century artists, both paintings and sculptures. 800 kr., free for children under 18.
- Reykjavík Art Museum - Hafnarhús, Tryggvagata 17, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 10AM-8PM Thursdays, 10AM-5PM all other days. By the old harbour in Reykjavík, Hafnarhúsið hosts a rotating exhibitions of the work of Icelandic artist Erró and temporary exhibitions often showcase other local artists. Adults: 1000 kr., students under 25: 500 kr., children under 18: free.
- Reykjavík Art Museum - Kjarvalsstaðir, Flókagata (in Klambratún park), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. It is safe to say that Jóhannes Kjarval (1885-1972) is the single biggest name in Icelandic painting. Kjarvalsstaðir hosts a collection of his work, as well as hosting other temporary exhibitions. Adults: 1000 kr., students under 25: 500 kr., children under 18: free.
- Reykjavik Museum of Photography (Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur), Grófarhús, Tyggvagata 15, 6th floor. 10-16 (Mo-Fr) and 13-17 (weekends). A very small museum with a nice library and reading room where you can find some older (but good) books about photography and current and past issues of photography magazines. It also has a huge collection of Icelandic photographs.
- National Museum of Iceland (Þjóðminjasafnið), Suðurgata 41 (Bus no. 1,3,4,5,6,12 and 14 stop in front of or near the museum), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This museum, located right by the University of Iceland campus, takes the visitor through the history of a nation from settlement to today. Includes a café and a museum shop. General admission: 1000 kr., senior citizens and students: 500 kr., children under 18: free. Wednesdays - free all day.
- Reykjavík City Museum (Árbæjarsafn), Kistuhyl (Bus nr. 19 from Hlemmur), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 10AM-5PM daily between 1 June and 31 August. During winter there are guided tours at 1PM Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In the suburb of Árbær, and frequently called Árbæjarsafn (Árbær museum), this open air museum contains both the old farm of Árbær and many buildings from central Reykjavík that were moved there to make way for construction. The result is a village of old buildings where the staff take you through the story of a city. The staff are dressed in old Icelandic clothing styles and trained in various traditional techniques, for example in making dairy products or preparing wool. 1000 kr., free for children under 18.
- 871±2 (The Settlement Exhibition), Corner of Aðalstræti and Suðurgata, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 10AM-5PM daily. Run by the Reykjavík City Museum, this exhibition in central Reykjavík was built around the oldest archaeological ruins in Iceland. As the name indicates, these ruins date to around the year 870. This interactive exhibitions brings you the early history of the area that today forms central Reykjavík. 1000 kr., free for children under 18.
- The Culture House (Þjóðmenningarhúsið), Hverfisgata 15, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 11AM-5PM daily. This grand building, previously housing the national library, is today home two world class exhibitions. On the ground floor is one of the most important collections of medieval manuscripts in the world, including many of the oldest copies of the Icelandic Sagas. The top floor has an impressive exhibition on the Volcanic island of Surtsey, backing the Iceland's campaign to get it recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is fully interactive and a great introduction to the geological hot spot that is Iceland. Adults: 700 kr.; senior citizens, disabled and handicapped: 350 kr.; school-age children accompanied by adults: free. Free on Wednesdays except for groups..
- The Icelandic Phallological Museum (Hið Íslenzka Reðasafn), Laugavegur 116 Reykjavik, ☎ 868 7966, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 11AM-6PM daily. A museum dedicated to Phallology, the study of penises. This museum features phalluses of numerous animals from various whales to a human specimen. 1000 IKr.
There is a lot to do in Reykjavík, despite being a small city. There is a vibrant music scene with concerts most evenings in the centre of the city. For theatre enthusiasts the city boasts two main theatres staging around 10 plays a year each, both domestic and foreign, as well as a number of smaller theatre groups specialising in different kinds of modern theatre.
There are a number of opportunities to experience at least a bit of Icelandic nature without leaving the city itself, and outdoors activities in the immediate vicinity of the city are easy to find. And no visit to Reykjavík would be complete without going to at least one of the geothermal pools.
For more information about tours and attractions, it may be a good idea to pay a visit to the Tourist Information Centre located in a beautifully renovated old building by Ingólfstorg.
Music and theatre
Reykjavík has a remarkably active cultural scene for a city of its size. There are a number of art galleries, theaters and concert venues. Some of these are listed below, but many of the places mentioned in the “drink” section below also frequently host concerts. There are no dedicated literary locations listed here, but for book readings it may be best to visit book stores and libraries and ask the staff what's coming up.
- Nordic House (Norræna húsið), Sturlugata 5 (in Vatnsmýri, south of Tjörnin), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. exhibition space open Tue-Sun 12-17, irregular opening hours for other events but the building is generally open during office hours. A cultural centre located in Vatnsmýri, just south of the city centre. Art exhibitions, concerts, poetry readings and other cultural events frequently take place here.
- Harpa, Austurbakki 2 (just east of the old harbour), ☎ +354 528 5050 for tickets. The new home of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and regularly host to other acts as well. Delayed by the economic collapse, this building was under construction for several years before finally opening in May 2011. This marked the end of a long wait for the symphony orchestra, who had been using a cinema as their main venue the last 50 years. Today the symphony plays a concert every Thursday evening from September through June (although often at other times as well), but the building is rarely empty at other times with Iceland's lively music scene having embraced this new location.
- National Theatre of Iceland (Þjóðleikhúsið), Hverfisgata 19, ☎ +354 551 1200 for tickets. A theatre in the centre of Reykjavík, in many ways the focal point of Icelandic theatre. The repertoire is a mix of Icelandic and international plays, both new and old.
- Reykjavík City Theatre (Borgarleikhúsið), Listabraut 3 (adjecent to Kringlan shopping mall), ☎ +354 568 8000 for tickets. Like the national theatre, the city theatre puts on a mix of new Icelandic plays and highlights of international theatre.
- Vesturport, Tjarnarbíó, Tjarnargata 12 (on the west bank of Tjörnin), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This experimental theatre group has toured the world and won many prizes for its daring productions which include Romeo and Juliet, Woyczek and others. They have also made films including the acclaimed Children and Parents, in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
At least three times a year, Reykjavík comes out to celebrate.
- Culture Night (Menningarnótt). Third Saturday of August. This is the biggest date in the cultural calendar of Reykjavík. What started out in 1996 as only an evening celebration today starts already in the morning with the Reykjavík Marathon. The day progresses with ever more cultural activities, most of them free, in central Reykjavík and culminates in several huge concerts and a fireworks show by the harbour. Attendance is usually around 100,000 or half of the population of the city.
- Gay Pride (Hinsegin dagar). Early August. Icelanders are proud of their LGBT community, and every August they show it with one of the biggest annual festivals in Reykjavík. Typically a parade will wind its way through the city with floats of varying degrees of outrageousness. It then ends at Arnarhóll with a large outdoors concert. Gay bars and bars that normally don't self-identify as gay alike tend to be very full this evening. In the preceding days there are various events celebrating LGBT culture.
- National Day (17. júní). It may come as a surprise, but the National Day celebrations on June 17th every year are probably the smallest of the three festivals mentioned here. Nonetheless, it is a public holiday day of festivities in the city where people (especially families with children) celebrate the date Iceland was declared a republic in 1944. The date itself was selected because it is the birthday of the Icelandic independence hero Jón Sigurðsson.
The city also annually hosts a music festival and an international film festival, both take place over several days in the city centre.
- Iceland Airwaves. Second weekend in October. A music festival held in pubs, bars and clubs in downtown Reykjavík. It literally takes over the city for a few days in October. Airwaves prides itself of frequently having artists on the line-up that are just about to make it and become world famous, before you've ever heard of them. They usually have a wide selection of both Icelandic and international acts, but keep the "big names" to a minimum. Book early, in 2011 the tickets sold up 5 weeks in advance.
- Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF). Late September. Several days of excellent cinema. Screenings of most Icelandic productions of the last year, short and feature length as well as documentaries, and the best of what's happening around the world. The main prize, the Golden Puffin, is awarded in a category called "New Visions" which is limited to directors' first or second films.
Get in touch with nature
If you want to experience some of Iceland's nature but don't have time to leave the capital for too long, don't worry, you have several options to get a good feel for nature and the countryside without actually leaving the city.
- Whale watching (most ships sail from Ægisgarður in the old harbour). With the exception of Húsavík in the north, Reykjavík is actually one of the very best places to go whale watching in Iceland. Whales frequently come into Faxaflói, the large bay which Reykjavík sits by and on a typical trip of around 3 hours you can almost be guaranteed to see at least some minke whales and possibly even a humpback. The companies offering whale watching mostly occupy a small area in the old harbour called Ægisgarður, close to the whaling ships. All sail out to the same bay but since conditions there change make sure you are on a good ship. Around 7000-8000 kr., often half price for children.
- Puffin Safaris. The same companies that offer whale watching, also offer puffin safaris, about one to one and a half hours in length. A little boat takes you next to islands some 15 minutes out where puffins nest, swim around and catch fish. They have binoculars onboard to borrow so you can get a good look of the birds. about ISK 5000.
- Hiking. The immediate vicinity of Reykjavík offers some good hiking opportunities. By far the most popular among these is Esjan, the mountain that dominates the view to the north from much of the capital and is easily accessible by bus nr. 57. It's a relatively easy hike although there is a steep patch early on and at the tops there are some cliffs to climb. You can estimate 4-5 hours to get to the top and back again, although experienced walkers will be quicker. Another popular place to experience nature is Heiðmörk, a green belt to the southeast of the capital. Heiðmörk mostly flat and there are many paths criss-crossing the area, but getting there may be difficult without a car.
- Reykjavík Domestic Animal Zoo (Fjölskyldu- og húsdýragarðurinn), Hafrafell v/ Engjaveg (in Laugardalur), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. This small zoo, in the middle of Reykjavík, is a place where city children can come and get in touch with some of the farming heritage of the country, with most species of domestic animals found in Iceland represented. They also have some non-domestic animals including reindeer and seals. Admission: Adults (12 years +): 450 ISK, Children (Under 4 years): Free, Children (4 - 12): 350 ISK.
- Aurora Borealis (Northern lights) watching. Iceland is very favorably located within the aurora belt and chances of observing the beautiful atmospheric phenomenon are rather high between September and March even in the vicinity of the capital; in summer months lack of darkness is the limiting factor. To boost your viewing chances commons sense suggests escaping from the city lights. Due to the tree-free character of the Icelandic countryside only clouds can obstruct your view then. A valuable tool for getting prepared for your observation is the local meteorological office's Aurora site, forecasting both auroral activity and cloudiness. If you don't have a car available, there are plenty of agencies organizing short trips who pick you up at your hotel.
One of the most popular tourist activities in Iceland due to the special nature of the Icelandic Horse. Although by definition more of a rural activity, there are several companies offering riding tours on the outskirts of Reykjavík, this can be a good option for those not planning on travelling far from the city.
- Islenski Hesturinn, ☎ (+354) 434 7979. Operated by a small group of friends and family, Islenski Hesturinn offers excellent service and tours with hotel pickup. Riders of all skills are welcome and matched to horses of their ability and personality, and various tours are available through Icelandic lava fields.
Geothermal Swimming Pools
Outdoor geothermal swimming pools are an important part of Icelandic culture and a visit to them is a great way to relax with Icelanders. In fact it is not stretching the truth too far to suggest that because drinking is so expensive the hot-pots at these pools serve the same role that pubs and bars do in the rest of Europe.
- Laugardalslaug, Sundlaugarveg (In the same complex as the National Stadium. Near campsite and youth hostel), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Weekdays: 6:30AM - 10:30PM, Weekends: 8AM - 10PM. The city's largest pool with extensive facilities, situated in Laugardalur Valley east of the city centre. It has two large pools for swimming, several hot-pots, a seawater bath, a steam bath, and water slide. It is a well-used large complex that is starting to show its age a little but it is still the best option in the city. Currently undergoing quite a lot of renovation work, but the pool remains open. 500 ISK.
- Árbæjarlaug, Fylkisvegur, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Weekdays: 6:30AM - 10:30PM, Weekends summer: 8AM - 10PM, winter: 8AM - 8:30PM. A brand new complex on the outskirts of the city, it has nice views over the city centre and is a nice place to watch the sunset. There is an indoor and outdoor pool, a waterslide, several hot-pots and a steam bath. This is a favourite with families and is perhaps the nicest of the city's pools. Buses run here from central Reykjavik. 350 ISK.
- Sundhöllin, Baronsstígur, 101 Reykjavik (Located a few minutes from Hallgrimskirkja), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Weekdays: 6:30AM - 9PM, Weekends: 8AM - 7PM. The city's oldest and only indoor pool (with outdoor hot-pots), located in the city centre. Has a more municipal feel than the other pools, but has a very central location.
- Vesturbæjarlaug, Hofsvallagata, 107 Reykjavik (Located a few minutes from Hotel Saga and the University of Iceland), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. M-F 06:30-22:00, Sa-Su 08:00-20:00. The city's oldest outdoor pool. Located in a residential area but within a walking distance of the city centre.
- Nautholsvík Thermal Beach (To the south of the domestic airport), ☎ . 15May-15 Sep 10:00-20:00. Here you can swim in the Atlantic, because they pipe hot water into the ocean. A beach of golden sand has been created and a “pool” has been enclosed nearby, where the water temperature is about 20°C. There are several hot-pots. Refreshments and various services are available at the beach.
It is possible to hire swimsuits and towels at all the pools. As Icelandic pools have very minimal amounts of chemicals in them it is very important to shower thoroughly naked beforehand, and pay attention to the notices and posters that highlight hygiene issues.
Being the main population centre of the country, Reykjavík is also the location of most of Iceland's education institutions. Close to the city centre is the University of Iceland, which offers courses in Icelandic as a second language. Most degree programmes are in Icelandic, but there are some specialised postgraduate degrees available relating to sustainable development and to medieval manuscripts taught in English.
Reykjavík University, originally founded as a business school under the auspices of the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce, has evolved into an institution offering a wide range of degrees in the fields of business, law, computer science and engineering, with a higher number of English-language programmes than the University of Iceland.
At pre-higher education levels, Menntaskólinn við Hamrahlíð (Hamrahlíð College) offers an IB programme in English. Several smaller schools offer Icelandic language courses for foreigners, including Mímir and IceSchool.
There's not much in way of employment opportunities in Reykjavík at the moment. Since the economic collapse of 2008, unemployment has risen to around 8% and unless you have special skills you're likely to be at a disadvantage as a foreigner in a job hunt. Additionally, it's extremely difficult for non-EEA citizens to get a visa unless they already have a job. If you are an EEA citizen, however, you can head over to Eures, a database of jobs advertised in the entire EEA. In Iceland it's run by the Directorate of Labour (Vinnumálastofnun) who may also be able to offer you further advice. If you're from one of the other Nordic countries and are aged between 18 and 28, you may be able to take use of the Nordjobb summer job program, funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
Laugavegur is the main shopping street of Reykjavík and has many funky boutiques, with both Icelandic and international designs. Skólavörðustígur, running from Laugavegur up to Hallgrimskirkja, has a range of souvenir and craft shops where you can find a perfect gift for the family. Record shops and bookstores are also located on these streets, where you can find Icelandic music and literature as well as a wide range of foreign music and books in English. European plug adapters are available at the Eymundsson bookstore on Laugavegur.
Reykjavík has one flea market, Kolaportið, located in a warehouse by the harbour and open 11AM-5PM Saturdays and Sundays. In addition to stalls selling clothes, antique furniture, old books, and other typical fleamarket wares, there is a food section where you can buy many Icelandic specialities as well as cheap and fresh fish and potatoes.
If you yearn for international chains such as Zara and Debenhams, then head to one of 2 malls in the capital area; Kringlan in Reykjavík and the newer Smáralind in neighboring Kópavogur. But keep in mind that everything in Iceland probably costs more than it does back home. Items can be as much as 3-4 times the price in neighboring countries, mainly because of taxes (24.5% sales tax on products, 7% on books), import duties and so on, though there are exceptions to this rule.
Sales tax is always included in the sticker price. All foreign visitors are entitled to claim back the tax if they spend 4,000 krona or more in one shop in one day. Iceland is not a member of the European Union, so visitors from all European countries are entitled to sales tax refunding. Icelanders living abroad are also entitled to sales tax refunding.
ATMs are found throughout the city, and they should accept any foreign cards. Currency exchange is mainly done at banks, there are very few special currency exchange shops. Icelanders themselves make very little use of cash, paying for even the smallest of things with their cards. Foreign cards will generally be accepted in stores and restaurants, although there may be problems with American Express in some places. A chip-and-PIN system is being introduced, so make sure you remember your PIN number. Minimal Icelandic cash is needed for a visit to Reykjavik.
Be aware that Iceland is one of only a few countries to actively participate in whaling and hunting of various marine mammals. Many shops have souvenirs made from seal pelts and sometimes even whale or dolphin bones. These are illegal to import or possess in most countries due to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (aka CITES) and attempting to bring back such goods might result in a hefty fine.
Please note that tipping isn't done in Iceland, not under any circumstances; not for any service, not for restaurants or for hotels, or any other place
|This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
|Budget||ISK2000 or less|
|Splurge||ISK5000 or more|
Food in Iceland can be expensive. In order not to break the bank, you'll need to be smart when eating. On the budget side, you're mostly looking at international-type fast food options common to what you'd find in Europe and America. Alcohol in particular is expensive in restaurants: A pint of beer is typically ISK1000-1300. Beer can be purchased for under ISK300 in most convenience/grocery stores, but wine and liquor are available only in the few government-controlled liquor stores.
10-11 is a chain of convenience stores (open 24/7) with plenty of ready-to-eat items such as sandwiches, wraps, and surprisingly enough, tacos. 10-11 is always open but also more expensive than supermarkets, that's why you see most Icelanders shop for food at Bónus (open 10-18), a low-cost supermarket chain. Even better, you can find a fish shop which will sell you some ridiculously fresh and absolutely delicious fish, at a very reasonable price, and cook it yourself with some potatoes and vegetables. It'll be really nice. The fish shop could be in Kolaportið, a downtown market which only opens on weekends, or alternatively you could look up one of the many fish shops (fiskbúð) all around town.
Try one of the hot dog places that are found everywhere. This German import has become thoroughly Iceland-ized. A dog should set you back 250-300 kr. Ask for "Eina með öllu", a hot dog with everything on it. Delicious.
Fast food – Apart from the usual suspects such as KFC and Subway (McDonald's was recently re-branded Metró by the local franchise holder, but the menu remains the same) and the hot dog stands mentioned above, Reykjavík has a number of home grown fast food restaurants. In the city centre many are open 24/7 in weekends, serving the partying crowd. Names include Nonnabiti and Hlöllabátar (subs and sandwiches), Kebabhúsið and Ali Baba (kebabs), Serrano (burritos) and Pizza Pronto (you can guess what they sell). You should be able to fill your stomach at each of these for ISK1000 or less.
The most local street food you can find is kjötsúpa, Icelandic meat soup. It is a spicy vegetable soup with lamb meat. They have a vegetarian version of it too, that's just the same soup minus the meat. You can find vans selling it next to the Hallagrimskirkja and at the northeastern corner of Tjörnin. A small bowl costs about ISK700 and a large one ISK1100 as of August 2014.
Thai restaurants – Thais form, along with Poles, the largest immigrant community in Reykjavík and as a result there are a lot of good and cheap Thai restaurants around the capital, often run by Thai families. You will usually get large portions without paying much more than ISK1000-1500. Options in central Reykjavík include Krua Thai (Tryggvagata 14) and Núðluhúsið (Laugavegur 59, 2nd floor).
There are tons of cafes everywhere in the city that are relatively inexpensive and a great place to sit, relax, and warm up. You can also check your e-mails if you bring your computer, as there is free Wi-Fi in most of them. Kaffitar and Te & Kaffi are comparatively large chains and serve great barrista style coffee, that might however be on the expensive side.
- Bæjarins beztu pylsur, Hafnarstræti 17 (by the harbor). 24/7. The name of this popular hot dog stand literally means "Town's Best Hotdogs" and, based on the queues, it seems to deserve the name. Hot dog ISK380, soda ISK200.
- Fljott og Gott (BSI Bus Depot), Vatnsmýravegi 10. Large restaurant in the bus depot near the downtown airport. Large selection of prepared foods to grab for your bus ride and a large menu of hot food selections to eat in the restaurant. Reasonable prices and a fun place to hang out with working class Icelanders for those wanting a non-tourist experience. For the more daring, Svið is on the menu daily.
- Hamborgarabúllan, Geirsgata 1 (by the harbour), ☎ . Small hamburger cafe next to the old harbour designed in the traditional American diner style. Very popular with locals and a reliable alternative to the absent international burger chains.
- Múlakaffi, Hallarmúli 8. A bit away from the city centre, this place is very like an office cafeteria. It prides itself on selling authentic Icelandic home cooking. The sparse menu varies between days. Due to its location surrounded by offices, it caters more to a lunch than dinner and closes at 8PM weekdays, 2PM Saturdays and is not open Sundays. It also seems to stop serving main meals some hours before closing.
- Perlan. In addition to its famous restaurant, Perlan also has a café offering food. You can eat with (almost) the same view and a much cheaper price.
- Sægreifinn (Seabaron), Verbúð 6 (At the harbour, near the whale watching kiosk). Winter: 11:30-22:00, Summer: 11:30-23:00. An extremely authentic seafood place, serves a wonderful lobster soup and offers grilled cod, whale, shrimps, salmon, etc. 800 - 2500 kr.
- Tian, Grensásvegur 12, ☎ 568-1919. to 22:00. This little Chinese restaurant near Laugardalslaug parc and the Arctic Comfort Hotel is a sweet quiet little spot with great food and friendly service. The prices are quite low so it fits in well with your budget needs.
- Café Haiti, Geirsgata 7b (At the port near the whale watching kiosks). A cafe serving coffee and light food. Note that this is not their original location, although you can see their sign still painted on the side of nearby building where they began. They roast their own coffee.
- Kaffismiðja Íslands, Kárastígur 1 (Down Frakkastigur, to the left when you are on the road and facing Hallgrímskirkja. Will be on your left), ☎ . M-F 08:30-17:00; Sa 10:00-17:00. This cafe supposedly employs some of Iceland's best baristas, and does indeed serve great coffee. Also offers a selection of French and Icelandic pastries. On the small side with just a few tables, but big windows let in lots of light. Friendly staff and student clientèle.
There are many fantastic fish restaurants in Reykjavik. The more expensive ones are down by the harbour or in the centre, if you're not so rich try heading towards the old town. Though generally not listed here, most bars serve some food, often better than what you would expect from the look of the place but generally with relatively uninspired menus: Expect to see a few burgers, a pasta dish or two, some salads and maybe a burrito.
Plan on at least ISK2,000 for any meal not in a budget/fast-food restaurant. Seriously.
- Austur-Indíafjelagið (East India Company), Hverfisgata 56, ☎ . One of few Indian restaurants in Reykjavik. It serves very good food though and can be compared to the top tier Indian restaurants in London. 4,000-5,000 kr.
- Caruso, Þingholtsstræti 1 (corner of Laugavegur and Þingholtsstræti), ☎ . M-Th 11:30-22:00, F-Sa 11:30-23:30, Su 17:30-22:00. A cozy Italian restaurant with good food. They sometimes have live guitar music, which together with the dimmed lighting makes for a very romantic setting. ISK3,000-5,000.
- The Icelandic Bar (by Austurvöllur), ☎ . Serves delicious traditional Icelandic food at a very reasonable price, the lamb shank in particular is a must try as is the simple but extremely tasty skyr dessert. Set menus are available from around 4000kr. for a 3 course meal and the restaurant itself is lovely with outside tables available overlooking the small park across the road and catching the afternoon sun. ISK2,000-4,000.
- Icelandic Fish & Chips, Tryggvagata 8 (down by the harbour). An organic bistro with a friendly atmosphere that makes a slightly healthier version of this famous fast food, so don´t expect to find any mayonnaise or coca cola there. Their dishes are all home made from the freshest ingredients, by some said to be the best fish and chips in the world. The restaurant is semi self-service and child friendly, but can become very busy during summer. ISK2,000.
- Restaurant Reykjavik, Vesturgata 2, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A good central restaurant, aimed a little more toward the tourist crowd it does however deliver decent food. The lamb is good. Also contains an ice bar. ISK3,000-5,000.
- Shalimar, Austurstræti. A small family-owned Pakistani restaurant packed into a tiny building in the oldest part of town. Delicious food, and a very friendly wait staff. ISK3,000-4,000.
- Vegamót, Vegamótastíg 4, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A decent fast food restaurant during the day and a happening nightclub after hours. The age limit of 22 on Friday and Saturday nights is somewhat of a buzzkill even for those of legal drinking age here. The Lobster pasta is the restaurant's signature dish and well worth tasting.
- Þrír frakkar hjá Úlfari (3 Frenchmen (or overcoats) at Úlfar's), Baldursgata 14. A nice seafood restaurant. Serves big meals for a moderate price. Their lunch plokkfiskur special is legendary. They serve whalemeat, both raw (as sashimi) and cooked, to those willing to try. This is a convenient price; whale is less expensive in other port towns. They serve a strange (and delicious) traditional cake, skyrterta, made from the Icelandic skyr, this cake alone is worth the visit. Rumour has it that this restaurant has seal steaks available as well, but they are not on the menu and must be requested a day ahead of time. ISK3,000-5,000.
- Fjalakötturinn, Aðalstræti 16. This restaurant mostly focuses on fish and seafood, though there are a couple of meat alternatives to choose from. There are also different three and four course menus to choose from and the wine list is more extensive than you would expect on Iceland. The service can be slow, but the food is tasteful and the servings are beautiful - in other words, if you want a large serving of fast and cheap grub you'd better go elsewhere. ISK4000-6000.
If you're willing to spend the money, you'll have no problem finding world class dining in Reykjavík. In addition to some great fish restaurants, most of the world's popular cuisine is represented in Reykjavík's up-scale dining in one form or another.
- Argentína Steakhouse, Barónsstígur 11, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. It's not exactly an Icelandic tradition, but Argentína is a great place to go for quality beef steaks. ISK6,000-8,000.
- Dill, Nordic house, Sturlugata 5, ☎ . Part of a growing trend called “new Nordic food” (most famously promoted by Noma restaurant in Copenhagen), this small restaurant prides itself in using local ingredients, many of them sourced from a vegetable garden next to the building.
- Fish Company (Fiskifélagið), Vesturgata 2a (across the street from the tourist information centre), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. One of the most recent additions to the flora of fish restaurants, in the basement of a recently renovated old timber house literally standing in the original harbour of Reykjavík. ISK5,000-6,000.
- Grillið, Hagatorg (in Radison Blu Saga Hotel), ☎ . A classic French restaurant that has been open for service for over forty years.
- Hotel Holt, Bergstaðastræti 37, ☎ . A staple of the city's up-scale dining landscape. Thick carpets, art over dark wood panels, French cuisine, an extensive wine cellar, the country's most expansive collection of single malts. ISK5,000-6,000.
- Humarhúsið, Amtmannsstíg 1, ☎ . Specialising in lobster (the name means Lobster House) and on the expensive end, but has exquisite food that the prices reflect. 5,000-6,000 kr..
- Perlan, Öskjuhlíð, ☎ . On the top of Öskjuhlíð, overlooking the city, sits Perlan with its rotating restaurant. It's an expensive place to dine but of course it's pretty unique and gives you a second-to-none view over Reykjavik so it's understandable how they can push the prices up. If you dine at the Perlan be sure to have the lamb, absolutely fantastic.
Reykjavík is considered to have some of the best nightlife in all of Europe and it can be almost guaranteed that you haven't really "partied" until you've done it here. This fact is proven by the number of celebrities who come specifically for it.
Drinking is expensive - expect to pay between 600 and 900 ISK for a draft pint at a bar. Bottled beers and mixed drinks are more expensive, sometimes outlandishly so. Despite the cost, going out in Reykjavik is a fun experience. Since alcohol is expensive at Reykjavík bars and clubs, Icelanders usually buy their alcohol at the government owned liquor stores (Vínbúðin, called Ríkið by locals) and stay at home drinking until about midnight (or later), then they will wander to the bars. Do not expect bars and clubs to become crowded during weekends until about 1AM (at least). Cover charges are very rare in Reykjavík, unless there is live music or some other sort of event going on. Note that although the legal age for entering clubs is 18, the legal drinking age is 20 and many places set higher entry age limits themselves.
Bars are open to 1AM on weeknights, but most will stay open until 6 or 7AM on Friday and Saturday. The clubs and bars themselves are mostly found in a very small area of the city centre, it's easy to just walk around and follow the crowds. You're sure to find somewhere to go, but if you're not sure, groups of drunken Icelanders will usually be eager to help a tourist out! During weekends, live music is easy to find in some of Reykjavík's bars. During the day, be sure to pick up the free English-language magazine The Reykjavík Grapevine for information on live music events for that evening. It is easy to find in shops, restaurants and bars around the city.
There is an ice bar in Restaurant Reykjavík where all the furniture and the bar are made from glacial ice. This seems like an interesting place to go, however, as a warning, you will be charged 1300ISK for entry which includes a single vodka-based cocktail in what is effectively an atmosphere and music-free deep freezer. You cannot bring in or buy more drinks, if you are keen for novelty it is good, otherwise perhaps not worth the money.
The distinction between bars and clubs is not very clear in Iceland, with most clubs being more like bars until a little before midnight. However, the following venues can be said to be purely bars - places to go and drink with your friends, rather than to dance or listen to music.
- Bjarni Fel, Austurstræti 20. A sports bar, named for a famous Icelandic footballer and later sports commentator.
- The Celtic Cross, Hverfisgata 26, ☎ . An Irish pub, with several dark ales and booths where groups can sit and talk in relative privacy.
- Den Danske Kro (Danska kráin, the Danish Pub), Ingólfsstræti 3. This place tries to imitate a Danish bodega, although it really feels much more Icelandic than Danish.
- The English Pub, Austurstræti 12, ☎ . Very popular English-style pub in the heart of the city, with a wide range of beers and a wheel of fortune. Beware troubadours in the weekends, though (they're very bad)!
- Næsti bar, Ingolfsstræti. It may not look like much, on the outside or the inside. In fact, you may not even spot it unless there are people standing outside smoking. But it's spacious, and the staff are usually very friendly. The fact that it doesn't play loud music makes Næsti bar especially nice when you just want to go out for a drink and a chat.
- Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar (Ölstofan), Vegamótastígur 4, ☎ . A small, cozy and extremely popular bar. The decorations seem to be taken from the living rooms of Icelandic grandmothers and include a number of cross stitched pictures. Uniquely for Reykjavík bars they have their own beer called Bríó, brewed for them by a microbrewery within the larger Egils brewery.
- Tíu Dropar, Laugavegur 27. Tucked away in a basement and boasting lace tablecloths, by night they have an excellent selection of local bottled beer. Easy to miss. Look for the stairs beneath a huge painting of a teapot. Wheelchair friendly--let them know and they'll let you in through the back.
Reykjavík has a large number of clubs and when one closes, another is usually very quick to take its place. There would be no point in trying to list them all, the following are only a small taste. Most of them are quite small - don't expect the big dance halls of many European capitals - but that's part of the fun, the intimate spirit of the Reykjavík nightlife.
- Bar 11, Hverfisgata 18, ☎ . A rock bar, often featuring live music during weekdays, and good DJs in the weekends.
- Barbara, Laugavegur 22, ☎ . A friendly gay bar/club on the second and third stories of an old wooden house.
- b5, Bankastræti 5, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Caters mainly to a slightly up-market crowd.
- Dillon Rock Bar, Laugavegur 30, ☎ . 16pm-1AM M-Th, 14pm-3AM F-Sa. Dillon has become quite the attraction for the Icelandic music industry, rockers, students, family folk and famed Hollywood actors over the past decade. During the summertime you can enjoy a cold one in the sun in Dillon´s Beergarden and catch outdoor festivals over the summer. Catch a live band, have a chat with the friendly staff or join the mixed up group on Saturday nights when the 60 year old DJ Andrea rocks the joint and join the family of friends at this century old house of fun.
- Dolly, Hafnarstræti 4, ☎ .
- Faktorý, Smiðjustígur 6, ☎ . A bar downstairs, and a dance venue upstairs with a soundproof door between the two.
- Harlem, Tryggvagata 22. This small watering hole pumps up the volume during the weekends and turns into a very nice (if slightly shabby-looking) place to drink and dance.
- Hressingarskálinn, Austurstræti 20, ☎ .
- Kaffibarinn, Bergstaðarstaeti 1, ☎ . An old favorite, this club in a red two-story timber house has been around since the 1980s and remains hip as ever. It was for a period owned partly by Damon Albarn of Blur. Heavy drinking and heavy dancing.
- Kofi Tómasar frænda, Laugavegi 2, ☎ . In a basement on Laugavegur. DJs here play the most popular pop of all eras from the 1960s onwards, songs people can sing along with while they dance.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
|Budget||Under 15,000 kr.|
|Splurge||Over 30,000 kr.|
Be warned that there is very little in the way of affordable lodging in Iceland, particularly if you are traveling with a family. The cheapest option in Reykjavík, by far, is to stay at the city's only campsite. If that's not for you, there are several hostels with affordable dorms located in and around the city centre. Fortunately for the traveller on a budget, this seems to be the fastest growing type of accommodation in Reykjavík. Most of these hostels also offer single or double bedrooms, and a few small guesthouses have rooms at similar prices.
- Gistiheimili Hjálpræðishersins (Salvation Army Guesthouse), Kirkjustræti 2, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Literally in the heart of Reykjavík, a few meters from Austurvöllur and the parliament building. Dorm: 2,200 kr. winter, 11,500 kr. summer; double room: 7,500 kr. winter, 11,500 kr. summer.
- Guesthouse Aurora, Freyjugata 24, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A friendly little guesthouse in a residential part of the city centre. 15,000 kr.
- Guesthouse Sunna, Þórsgata, ☎ . Great guesthouse located in one of the most iconic places in Reykjavik, right across the square from Hallgrimskirkja. Very clean, very comfortable, with friendly service, and internet. They also include breakfast in the morning, with fresh bread baked on the premises. A little on the expensive side—11600 kr for a single room. Another great feature is their airport/tour bus service. Summer: 15,600 kr. double room; winter: 8,900 kr. double room.
- KEX Hostel, Skúlagata 28, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. A hostel that was recently opened in a former biscuit factory down by the sea. Very cozy and looks distinctly unlike a hostel, which is not surprising given that a set designer created the appearance. Has a bar and restaurant which serve non-residents as well. Staff are very helpful. Dorm: 3,000 kr. winter, 5,100 kr. summer; double room: 8,000 kr. winter, 14,400 kr. summer.
- Laugardalur Campsite, Sundlaugavegur 34, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open 15 May - 15 September. The cheapest place to stay in Reykjavík, and an approximately 30 min walk from the city centre, or a short bus journey. The campsite is big and offers decent washing and cooking facilities and people often leave their leftover camping stove fuel for others after leaving Iceland. (Fuel is really expensive in Iceland!) On cold and rainy days, Iceland's biggest pool is situated right next door. Clothes can also be washed at the neighbouring youth hostel. 1,100 per person, per night.
- Reykjavík Backpackers, Laugavegur 28, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A new hostel right on the main shopping street, run by travelers and adventurers. Dorm: 3,000 kr. winter, 4,000 kr summer; double room: 8,000 kr. winter, 12,000 kr. summer.
- Reykjavík Downtown Hostel, Vesturgata 17, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A hostel in an old apartment building right next to the city centre, by the harbour. 3,500 kr. dorm.
- Víkingur Guesthouse, Þverholt, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Just outside the city centre. In addition to accommodations, they also offer car rental services. 13,990 kr. double room.
- Fosshotel Lind, Raudarastígur 18, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Located one minute walk of the city centre close to the main shopping street Laugavegur. Rooms on the upper floors have great view of the Hallgrimskirkja. There is a restaurant at the hotel called Confusion. It offers aperitivos for reasonable price. Tours are bookable at the reception. 10,000-30,000 kr.
- Best Western Hotel Reykjavík, Rauðarárstígur 37, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Just outside the city centre, 10–15 minutes walking, but well located with regards to the bus system. 17,000-30,000 kr..
- Fosshotel Baron, Barónsstígur 2-4, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Located on the eastern edge of the city centre close to the main shopping street Laugavegur. Rooms on the upper floors on the northern side have great views across the sea. There is a 24/7 supermarket right behind the hotel. There is a restaurant, bar and tour desk. There are many types of rooms and price ranges. 10,000-30,000 kr.
- Hótel Björk, Brautarholt 22-24. A 15 minute walk away from the city centre in an office neighbourhood. 15,000-30,000 kr.
- Hótel Frón, Laugavegur 22a, ☎ , fax: +354 511 4665, e-mail: email@example.com. By Laugavegur, the main shopping street. 20,000 kr..
- Hotel Klöpp, Klapparstígur 26, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. In a side street close to Laugavegur. Very close to a number of bars and clubs, but surprisingly quiet apart from one bar across the street which often has live jazz or folk music on weekends. Part of the CenterHotels chain like Hotel Plaza below.
- Hótel Leifur Eiríksson, Skólavörðustígur 45 (facing Hallgrímskirkja), ☎ , fax: +354 562 0804, e-mail: email@example.com. A rather basic hotel, but at a good price given its location just across the street from Hallgrímskirkja. Rooms have satellite TV which includes one English-language channel. The hotel also has a bike rental. 21,000 kr.
- Hotel Óðinsvé, Þórsgata 1 (by Óðinstorg), ☎ , fax: +354 511 6201, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. In a side street a few meters off Skólavörðustígur. Comfortable rooms which include free wi-fi and satellite TV, but breakfast is not included in the price. 17,000-27,000 kr.
- Hotel Plaza, Aðalstræti 4 (By Ingólfstorg square in the city centre.), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Literally in the centre of Reykjavík, by the oldest street in the city (Aðalstræti) and the Ingólfstorg square. Close to the heart of the nightlife, and so noise is to be expected (at least in rooms facing the square). Free wi-fi. Part of the CenterHotels chain like Hotel Klöpp above. 15,000-25,000 kr.
Just as there are surprisingly few cheap accommodation options in Reykjavík, there are surprisingly many expensive ones.
- Grand Hotel (Grand Hotel Reykjavik), Sigtún 38, ☎ , fax: +354 514 8030. The largest, certainly the tallest hotel in Iceland. A variety of rooms are offered, from a "budget" room to a presidential suite. Essentially better the room quality, the higher up it is in the hotel, giving you an outstanding view of Reykjavik. Some of the higher quality hotel rooms have free Wi-Fi, the username and password being your room number. The internet speed is good, it may stop working during long stays, however a quick call to the reception will reconnect you. Rooms are furnished in traditional Scandinavian fashion. The hotel staff speak good English (yet again, who doesn't in Iceland?) and are very polite. Free parking is available, over and underground, often very unoccupied. Excellent food is served during breakfast. A Spa is available at an additional fee, and a gym is also available. It is close to the center of Reykjavik, it stands by the Hilton Hotel and towers above it.
- 101 Hotel, Hverfisgata 10, ☎ , fax: +354 580 0100, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Named after the postcode for central Reykjavík. 40,000 kr. and upwards.
- Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel, Pósthússtræti 2, ☎ . New hotel in an old iconic building built in 1919 which previously housed the head offices of the shipping company, Eimskip. Eimskip's pre-World War 2 logo was a blue swastika, and this used to adorn the front of the building. When it was converted into a hotel a sign was put over the swastika, but as it's a listed building the swastika could not be removed and is still there, behind the sign.
- Hótel Borg, Pósthússtræti 11 (by Austurvöllur square), ☎ , fax: +354 551 1420, e-mail: email@example.com. By the same square as the parliament and the cathedral. Built in the 1930s but newly renovated, Hótel Borg is a Reykjavík landmark in its own right famed among other things for its World War II history. 40,000 kr. and upwards.
- Hótel Holt, Bergstaðastræti 37, ☎ , fax: +354 562 3025, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. By a quiet street in the centre of town. When it opened in 1965 the hotel restaurant was one of the first fine dining locations in Reykjavík. 30,000 kr. and upwards.
- Hilton Nordica, Suðurlandsbraut 2, ☎ , fax: +354 444 5001, e-mail: Res.ReykjavikNordica@hilton.com. Premises include a spa (NordicaSpa) and a restaurant called VOX. The hotel is located outside the city centre, but the area is well served by busses. 30,000 kr. and upwards.
- Radisson Blu Saga Hotel (Hótel Saga), by Hagatorg, ☎ , fax: +354 525 9909. A large hotel just outside the old town (a 10 minute walk from the city hall), by the University of Iceland campus. The building (rather than the hotel occupying most of it) is called the "Farmer's Palace" (Bændahöllin), referring to the fact that it was originally erected by the powerful farmer's association and still houses their offices.
Reykjavík has good mobile phone coverage (including 3G) and various providers, the largest being Síminn and Vodafone. Most foreign SIM cards should work without problems, but it may be best to check with your mobile phone provider at home before leaving. Payphones are almost nonexistent in Reykjavík.
Wi-fi is free at most cafés in Reykjavík and even at many bars. If there's a password required just ask the staff. Partly because of this, internet cafés have almost ceased to exist, but one such still in operation is GroundZero, Frakkastígur 8. Be aware that the clientel is mostly gamers. 1 hour costs 600 kr.
Though Icelandic is the official language, English is spoken quite fluently by almost everyone you will meet and you should have no problems when it comes to communication. Many people also speak a Scandinavian language.
Iceland is considered one of the safest countries in the world. Just be sure to avoid the fights that break out among the most intoxicated partiers in bars and most often on the street on weekends. However most people are incredibly friendly and police are also friendly and very helpful.
Recently, however, petty thefts in Reykjavík have occasionally occurred. In addition, the female traveler would do well to exercise good judgment when walking alone at night. Rape is rare, but occurs twice as often as in other Nordic countries, Still, even with these issues, Reykjavík is much safer than most other western cities, and certainly safer than the larger capitals of other countries.
Homeless people generally hang in the area around the Hlemmur bus station or on Austurvöllur park. They usually don't bother people, not even to ask for spare change even though they might seem to act strangely.
Even though Reykjavík doesn´t have a large population, traffic during rush hour (roughly 7:45-9:00 and 16:30-18:30) can be heavy in certain parts of town. Expect jams and delays in narrow downtown streets and along the main Miklabraut artery.
Keep in mind that during the summer, the sun does not fully set, resulting in "dusk" between the hours of roughly Midnight and 3AM. While a novelty at first, the lack of night can quickly disrupt your sleeping habits and result in general fatigue. If visiting in the summer, be sure to bring a sleeping mask, even if the window shades largely keep the light out.
Toilets can be a little bit hard to find. Stores and restaurants tend to be rather small and almost never have them. There are a handful of public toilets downtown, to use them you will need to have some coins at hand.
If you can bear to be asked by almost every Icelander you meet "How do you like Iceland?" you're all set for the trip.
Reykjavík has one English language magazine, The Reykjavík Grapevine, published bi-weekly in the summer and monthly in the winter. Although it started out as a publication mainly aimed at tourists (with events listings etc.) it has become respected in Iceland for at times very good research journalism and coverage of current events. Available for free at various locations around the city.
Some foreign newspapers are available at newsagents, but for same-day papers you can go to the Eymundsson bookstore at Austurstræti 18 and have them printed.
Lutheran churches are easily found throughout Reykjavík and most of them hold mass at 11AM every Sunday. There is a Catholic cathedral in central Reykjavík by Túngata, usually called Landakot church but formally known as the Cathedral of Christ the King. A Catholic mass is held there every day in Icelandic, as well as a mass in English 6PM on Sundays and in Polish 1:15PM the second and fourth Sunday of each month. The Russian Orthodox congregation has a house at Sólvallagata 10, holding mass 6PM on Saturdays and 10:30AM Sundays. There is no mosque in Reykjavík, but the Association of Muslims in Iceland holds Friday prayers at Ármúli 3, 3rd floor.
- Canada, Túngata 14, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Mon-Fri 9-12 and by appointment.
- China, Bríetartúni 1, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Denmark, Hverfisgata 29, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Mon-Fri 9AM - 3PM.
- Finland, Túngata 30, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 9-12.
- France, Túngata 22, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com.
- Germany, Laufásvegi 31, ☎ , fax: +354 530 1101, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- India, Skúlagata 17, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com.
- Japan, Laugavegur 122, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mon-Fri 9AM - 12:30, 1:30PM - 4PM.
- Norway, Fjólugata 17, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 9AM - 2:30PM, consular section.
- Russia, Garðarstræti 33, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sweden, Lágmúla 7, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Mon-Fri 9-12.
- United Kingdom, Laufásvegur 31, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mon-Thu 8:30AM - 4PM, Fri 8:30AM - 3:30PM.
- United States, Laufásvegur 21, ☎ . Mon-Fri 8AM - 5PM.
- Greece, Bæjarlind 6, 201 Kópavogur, ☎ , fax: +354 551 0754, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Poland, Skúlatún 2, 105 Reykjavik, ☎ , fax: +354 511 1120, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Þingvellir National Park is located about an hour and a quarter's drive to the east of Reykjavík, here you can see the canyon caused by the Eurasian and North American plates moving apart. It is also home to the original Alþingi (Parliament) and several other cultural treasures. These factors have seen it added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- Gullfoss A spectacular waterfall (which translates as Golden Falls) and one of the nearest big waterfalls to Reykjavík
- Geysir Geothermal hot spot
The first three are normally all included on the Golden Circle tour, a one-day circuit which can be done by coach trip or hire car.
- Hafnarfjörður is a town just outside Reykjavík
- Blue Lagoon (Bláa Lónið in Icelandic language) is a famous and amazing geothermal spa with the water temperature around 40 °C all year round, even in freezing conditions, located south-west of Reykjavík, not far from the main airport at Keflavík.
By booking a trans-Atlantic ticket on Icelandair with a free "stop-over" of up to a week in Reykjavík, you can follow a visit to Iceland with a visit to London, Paris, Glasgow, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, or another city in Europe, or to Washington, D.C., Boston, Orlando, New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, or another U.S. city.
|Routes through Reykjavík|
|Akureyri ← Borgarnes ←||N S||→ Hveragerði → Egilsstaðir|