Perhaps the most popular destination, because of its contemporary cuisine, lively nightlife and music festivals, is the capital: Reykjavík. From there, you can access an array of destinations and visit the main tourist attractions Iceland has to offer.
If you are considering a trip to Reykjavík this year, we’ve put together this comprehensive travel guide to help you make the most of your stay in the most northern capital on the planet.
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Places to StayWhen booking accommodation in Reykjavík, the options vary from swish, luxury hotels, to more modest hostels. You can also find plenty of options on Airbnb.
For those on a shoestring, the 101 Hostel Reykjavík, superbly located on the city’s main shopping street, is a great option. The hostel provides light, simple dorm rooms with access to a shared kitchen.
Dorms are available from £60 a night.
A great mid-range option is the 101 Reykjavík Apartments. These beautiful apartments are conveniently located not too far from the city centre. They are also well-connected to the main BSI bus terminal and within walking distance of the domestic airport.
Apartments start at £115 a night.
Up a notch on the extravagance scale are The Swan House Reykjavík Apartments: a gorgeous selection of apartments which have been recently refurbished to a modern standard. Located in the old historical Swan building, just metres away from Laugavegur and the main shopping streets, these apartments are excellently situated.
A standard studio can be rented for £300 per night.
For something even more luxurious, the 101 Hotel Reykjavík, located a stone’s throw from the stunning Harpa concert hall, is a sleek and modern place to stay. It’s pricey, but the money is well spent.
Standard rooms are available from £550 a night.
CurrencyThe Icelandic currency is the Icelandic Króna (ISK). 1 British pound is worth roughly 137 ISK.
The best way to access ISK is to take a credit card with you and use one of the many ATMs across the city. It is easy to convert English pounds once you get there, too. The airport will offer you a good exchange rate with no extra fee, so there is no need to bring ISK with you. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in the city. But watch out for potential extra charges from your bank back home.
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Getting AroundIf you are planning on staying mainly within the city, you don’t need to organise transport. The entire city is incredibly walkable, and almost everything can be accessed on foot.
However, if you want to spend lots of time out of the city, adventuring to far-flung locations, it may be a good idea to rent a car. Just ensure you get insurance!
You can also sign up for day excursions and coach tours. This can prove to be a cost-effective way to escape the urban setting of Reykjavík.
Seasons and WeatherThere are few places on earth with seasons or climate conditions as extreme as Iceland. If you travel to Reykjavík in the height of the Icelandic summer, you’ll experience endless days with the sun never ceasing to shine. Go in mid-winter, however, and you’ll experience nights so long the sun barely rises at all.
So, ensure you plan your trip accordingly.
If icy cold weather is an abomination to you, go during the milder period between June and August. But, if you’re chasing a coveted glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, the colder months are your only choice.
There’s an old cliche in Iceland, ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes’, and it is invariably true. When visiting Reykjavík, the season you choose makes a huge difference, with vast variations in light and climate conditions from winter to summer. Therefore, it’s important to understand exactly what you want to do during your stay and what you want to get out of your trip.
If you opt to go in the months with longer days and milder weather, (between June and August) expect the main attractions to be much busier. In terms of popularity, July and August are busiest, with many people preferring to avoid eternal nights and freezing conditions. If large crowds put you off, avoid these busy months.
However, if you—like countless others—are hoping to see the Northern Lights, the best time to travel to Reykjavík is between September and early April. Seeing the Aurora Borealis should always be considered a bonus because it is a typically elusive phenomenon. To increase your chances, the optimum months to witness this celestial wonder are February, March, September and October.
Iceland’s coldest months—from November through to February—see the entire country covered in a blanket of snow. If you are looking to enjoy the snow and the activities it offers, visit Reykjavík during these months. However, be wary that at this time of year some roads may be impassable, cutting off routes to various attractions.
Festivals and EventsThe Icelandic people have a rich cultural heritage, with plenty of fascinating customs and traditions. When visiting Reykjavík, there’s the opportunity to attend some amazing festivals and events which showcase the nation’s abundance of culture and tradition.
There is no better time to witness Reykvíkingurs at their creative best than Culture Night. Held on the 19th August this year, this local celebration takes place over 15 hours on a Saturday. The event is created and enjoyed by the city residents and takes place all over the city. The festivities spill out into the streets and squares, museums, businesses and public parks.
The event’s slogan ‘come on in!’ is a testament to the age-old Icelandic value of hospitality. Culture Night marks the start of the cultural year in Reykjavík, when museums, galleries and concert halls launch their programmes for the coming year.
A fantastic opportunity to get a true feel for the Nordic spirit, sample some wonderful food at open house events where residents serve you waffles and whipped cream (an Icelandic favourite). From belly dancing to musical renditions, historic walking tours to orienteering games, the list of activities is endless.
We implore you to attend this year!
Reykjavík International Games
Held from 25th January - 4th February 2018, the Reykjavík International Games celebrates its 10th anniversary next year. Taking place in the Laugardalur district of the city, the Games comprise 22 individual sports events from weightlifting to artistic gymnastics, table tennis to fencing.
According to the Games’ website, around five hundred foreign visitors are expected to participate in 2018, alongside roughly 2000 Icelandic athletes. The events are held in world-class facilities, with the alpine skiing events taking place just 40 minutes away from the capital.
Tickets cost 5000 ISK (around £35).
Secret Solstice Festival
A multi-genre event, Secret Solstice Festival is held in Reykjavík during the month of June, when the sun hardly ceases to shine. Known as Iceland’s midnight sun festival, the next instalment takes place from 21st - 24th June 2018.
The festival lineup includes established artists as well as exciting, burgeoning talents, welcoming a wide-ranging selection of acts to the imposing Icelandic landscape. Only in its fourth year, the festival has already enjoyed critical acclaim and makes full use of the alluring Nordic mythology surrounding the summer solstice.
Even as a newbie on the European festival circuit, it has quickly cemented its place on every festival lover’s bucket list. Summer Solstice Festival’s rising popularity has been fueled by the appearance of high-profile acts such as Radiohead, The Prodigy and Foo Fighters. Highlights include glacier raves, midnight sun boat parties and secret lagoon blowouts.
You can register for Pre-Sale tickets now.
Dark Music Days
Taking place during the darkest months of the Icelandic winter, Dark Music Days is an annual festival of contemporary music held at the Harpa concert hall in downtown Reykjavík. The festival was founded in 1980 as a way for Icelandic composers to exhibit their work. Today, the festival’s aim is to provide a platform for new music with an emphasis on up and coming Icelandic talent, as well as budding international stars.
Dark Music Days 2017 will showcase a cross-section of trailblazing contemporary music from both sides of the Atlantic. The focus lies on varied techniques where musical boundaries are pushed. The venue for the festival, the Harpa Concert Hall, is an impressive steel structure featuring a striking coloured glass facade, inspired by Iceland's volcanic landscape.
You can buy tickets from the Harpa Concert Hall website.
Source: David Pha
The Blue LagoonWhen it comes to things to do in Iceland, people tend to think of the famous Blue Lagoon Spa: the largest geothermal spa in the world.
Entrance fees range from ISK 5400 to ISK 26500 (£41.05 to £201.45) per person, depending on the package. The most basic package includes entry and a silica mud mask.
Read more about The Blue Lagoon Spa here.
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FoodOne of the most ridiculous stereotypes about the Icelandic people is that they still eat like vikings—feasting on pickled ram's testicles and boiled sheep’s head. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, it’s possible to find these oddities of gastronomy. But Reykjavík’s cuisine has substantially modernised in recent years with gourmet restaurants popping up all over the city. Reykjavík’s refined culinary scene includes award-winning chefs who preside over acclaimed eateries with an emphasis on locally-sourced, organic Scandinavian and Icelandic ingredients.
If you are looking for something healthy, head to the Laundromat Café: an all-in-one venue that comprises a café, bar, playroom and, of course, a laundromat. This eclectic establishment offers a great brunch selection with the option of a ‘Clean Breakfast’ (muesli, fruit, eggs and Greek yoghurt). You can even go for the low-fat option—polished off with a mango smoothie, spiked with elderflower and ginger for a zesty start to the day.
Go for lunch at Gló Laugavegi. Founded by Sólveig Eiríksdóttir, this restaurant and coffee shop is all about providing ‘new, exciting meals that enrich the mind, body and spirit.’ There are four Gló restaurants in the city. Each venue’s philosophy centres around wholesome ingredients and healthy meals. You can create your own food bowl at the street food counter or opt for a healthy burger. All Gló establishments have veggie, vegan and RAW options, as well as meat.
It has to be: Dill Restaurant. As the name suggests, this restaurant focuses on fresh herbs, most of which are grown on site. The head chef, Gunnar Karl Gislason, has a passion for Nordic cuisine. He is one of the pioneers of the New Nordic Kitchen: a culinary movement with its own manifesto. The New Nordic Kitchen’s core values are purity, season, ethics, health, sustainability and quality.
At Dill, the offerings are well-crafted and aesthetically pleasing to even the most seasoned foodie or critic. Sample the multi-course tasting menu for a real culinary journey into the hearty soul of Nordic food. On their website, they explain how ‘we allow our ingredients to shine in their own simplicity without all accessories but most importantly we try to have fun while we are at it.’
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NightlifeDespite Reykjavík’s small size, it attracts visitors from far and wide. Many of them come for the city’s carefree attitude, lack of VIP booths, and great tunes. An abundance of bars lines the main street, Laugavegur, so it is easy to bar-hop all night. You can also join the Rúntur: the name given to Reykjavík’s weekend bar crawl. Here, you’ll meet locals as well as tourists partying until sunrise. But, if you are looking for a more low-key vibe, Kex hostel, with its craft beer bar, is a great place to spark up a conversation with a local or a fellow tourist, due to the friendly, backpacker atmosphere.
In Reykjavík, the locals don’t tend to drink during the week. So Friday night is the night to party. You must be at least twenty years old to buy alcohol in Iceland, and, amazingly, beer was banned in the country until just over twenty years ago. Don’t go out before midnight as the streets will be quite dead. After midnight, daytime cafés become night time drinking holes, frequented by the hip and trendy inhabitants of the city.
When you’re out on the town, be sure to sample the local tipple: Brennivin. Sometimes called ‘Black Death’, this fiery Icelandic schnapps is not for the faint-hearted. At 37% volume, Iceland’s signature distilled beverage packs a punch!
Source: Eric de Redelijkheid
The BeachYes, you read that right! Most people don’t think of Reykjavík as a beach destination. What they don’t know is that there’s a sandy stretch at a place called Nautholsvik.
As a geothermal beach, the water is naturally heated, making for a pleasantly warm dip. Plus, you’ll get a real insight into local life. All manner of people head to Nautholsvik, from parents with toddlers, to elderly folk.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Flea MarketOn Saturday mornings at the harbour, just minutes from the city centre, you will find a bric-a-brac flea market with a food court brimming with Icelandic specialities. At this indoor market, expect to see Icelandic delicacies such as dried haddock, fermented shark meat and the best liquorice you have ever tasted.
Also on sale are used DVDs, books, knick knacks and antiques, as well artisanal Icelandic arts and crafts, woollen goods and toys. The flea market is the ideal place to see authentic Icelanders going about their daily business.
Most vendors only accept cash, there is an ATM handily located nearby, but the queue can be quite long, so it is better to get cash out beforehand.
Whilst you’re at the harbour, take a stroll along the coastline to visit Sólfarið, or The Sun Voyager. This iconic statue, designed by artist Jón Gunnar, was unveiled to celebrate Reykjavík’s 200th birthday. Built of stainless steel, the statue is the artist’s interpretation of a dreamboat and ode to the sun. It is intended to instil dreams and imagination in the minds of Reykjavík’s citizens.
Source: Randy Lemoine
So, there you have it: BIOEFFECT’s Ultimate Reykjavík Travel Guide. We hope it has been useful and that it helps you plan your next trip to Iceland!
Góða ferð! (Bon voyage!)