I can’t believe it’s 5-months since the husband and I took a very special 10 year wedding anniversary trip to Iceland (without the kids!!!! thank you Grandparents!) and I STILL haven’t got around to writing about it! You could say that the end of last year was a bit of a blur of busy. But, I’m back in 2018 with renewed enthusiasm for writing/blogging and sharing lots of things on here, so I thought I would get this travel post about the amazing city of Reykjavik written up to capture and share some of the great things we discovered in our 24-hours there. We actually spent a week in Iceland, doing a bit of a tour/road trip – it was pretty incredible. I’ll be certain to write about the whole trip another time, but for now I thought it worth focusing on the capital city, so here goes!
We flew direct from London Gatwick to Reykjavik Keflavik International airport with EasyJet (and then on the way back with WOW Air) – but there are lots of flights daily from a variety of different airports, I think we ended up going via Gatwick instead of Heathrow (which is closer to us) because the flights worked out cheaper, so do check your best options. Flight time from London is just over 3 hours. On arrival in Reykjavik, because we were booked via a travel company (Best Served Scandinavia) who’d planned all elements of our trip for us we had a coach waiting for us to take us to our hotel. Otherwise, your options are the shuttle bus (the Airport Express, run by Gray Line Iceland) – which runs from the airport into the town centre, it takes about 45 minutes or so – or a private hire taxi.
Where to stay:
We stayed in a Deluxe Room at the Alda Hotel on Reykjavik’s main shopping street, Laugavegur. Stylish and contemporary in look and feel, it was still cosy and welcoming. Lots of lovely Scandi-design features to lust over, simplicity and style done effortlessly of course. The hotel is within very easy walking distance of restaurants, cafés, shops and all the main sights, so it’s a good base from which to explore. It’s quite far away from the main nightlife area, which for us wasn’t a problem, but if you’re looking for somewhere a bit more party central there are probably closer alternatives. Oh and did I mention, they do a great breakfast! And there’s a record-player and vinyl in the breakfast room for you to put a record on while you’re sipping your cod-liver oil shot of a morning! (no joke, that stuff is EVERYWHERE in Icelandic hotels!).
What to do:
We were only in Reykjavik for 24-hours as we were doing a tour around Iceland, so we decided we didn’t want to get stuck into museums and the like (but if learning a lot about Vikings floats your boat then there are lots of options!), favouring instead to wander and explore.
Walk, walk, walk: it’s an easy city (and not a very big one!) to wander about in, so bundle yourself up in warm layers – we were there in August and it was still a chilly 9 degrees, so don’t underestimate just how cold it is and pack appropriately! – and hit the streets. You’ll stumble across lots of cool street-art, cosy looking cafés that seduce you with the promise of warming hot chocolate, and it’s just nice to look at the Scandi architecture and buildings that you come across as you explore and wander.
Harpa Concert Hall: head down to the (new) harbour and marvel at the sight of the stunning glass behemoth that is the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall. If you’re a fan of modern architecture then this will blow your socks off, it is really beautiful and definitely worth a visit. You can also go inside and wander a bit, which is worth doing, as there are some lovely views of the harbour from different floors of the building. There’s also a gift shop with some lovely things, but it is VERY expensive (welcome to Iceland!!) so you might be best to browse but not buy!See a show: if you have the chance to, then you absolutely MUST go see the one-man show – which is in English – “How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes”. It is simply brilliant, absolutely hilarious, and a great crash course in understanding the psyche and personality of the average Icelander: sweeping generalisations notwithstanding! The show has been running for 6-years now and honestly, I can’t recommend it highly enough – buy tickets here.Hallgrimskirkja Church: Reykjavik’s main landmark, this immense white-concert Lutheran church dominates the city’s skyline and is visible from up to 20km away. Definitely worth a visit, it’s pretty awe-inspiring and I’d recommend the elevator trip up the 74.5m-high tower for the fantastic views of Reykjavik that you can get from up on the top.The Golden Circle Tour – many of the unmissable sights are actually in the surrounding ‘circle’ around Reykjavik itself, but if you’re there for a weekend you can definitely fit them all in as they’re conveniently located near to each other. We had hired a car so went under our own steam to visit (and actually did these sights at the end of our overall Iceland road-trip, but most people – who are just visiting the capital for a long weekend for example – will do these sights over a day/few days and catch a bus tour, of which there seem to be many). So, definitely check out:Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the world’s first parliament – stunning scenery and amazing views;
Geysir, the original geyser, after which all other geysers in the world were named, is found in this area of Iceland;Gullfoss (Golden Falls), Iceland’s most famous waterfall; and of course, the renowned Blue Lagoon – a surreal and incredible place, like nowhere I’ve ever been before!
Where to eat:
Kopar – where we ate dinner on our one night in the capital (after first catching the show about becoming Icelandic at Harpa!). The food was AMAZING! Highly recommend and the restaurant itself, situated by the old harbour, is also cosy and has a great ambiance – definitely one to visit if you’re looking for a meal that is a contemporary take on traditional Icelandic cuisine and flavours, totally gorgeous menu. It is a bit ‘spend-y’ so if you’re looking for cheap and cheerful then look away!
The Laundromat Cafe – a great little cafe/restaurant/bar, which also has an actual Laundromat downstairs! A fun and cool place to swing by for a hot chocolate or pre dinner drink, we didn’t eat there but enjoyed a hot drink before heading back out into the cold!
Kaffibrennslan – a little gem located on Reykjavik’s busiest shopping street and just down the road from our hotel, this was the first place we went to for a hot chocolate on arrival in the capital (we drank a lot of hot chocolate that weekend!) and it’s a cosy little coffee shop that is clearly a favourite with locals and visitors alike.
Bæjarins beztu pylsur – popular hot dog stand in central Reykjavik, made famous after former president Bill Clinton once ate there! Hot dogs are often considered a national food of Iceland, believe it or not, so it stands to reason that a quick bite to eat at what looks like an unremarkable hot dog stand is one of THE things to do on a visit to the city! We swung by and sampled a hot dog each – a thumbs up from us and a fun little place to visit in downtown Reykjavik (near the harbour) and a cheap place to grab some lunch or an afternoon snack!
What to pack:
A quick note on what to pack… obviously this depends on when you go, but I wanted to mention – we visited in mid August and I was expecting it to be chilly, BUT, honestly it was very very very cold and I wasn’t entirely prepared! The temperature was usually around 8 degrees, I think when we went to the Blue Lagoon it was a balmy 14 degrees but for the most part across the week it was around 8-11 degrees. So, essentials to pack (pretty much regardless of the time of year I think):
- a wooly hat (I didn’t bring one and I seriously regretted it!)
- warm gloves and scarf
- a warm coat/jacket (think portable duvet!) BUT one that is also waterproof as you’ll experience a fair amount of drizzle/rain/sleet/snow most likely!
- jumpers, jumpers, jumpers!
- boots – that are warm, waterproof/weatherproof, easy to walk in (non slip!)
- thermal socks, thermal leggings, thermal base layers… thermal everything! You get the picture… it’s COLD!
We absolutely LOVED our visit to Reykjavik and our tour of Iceland, which I will write up in more detail in a separate post – so if you’re thinking about going, all I would say is DO IT!