The Beginners Guide to Reykjavik

I watched a film a few days before we arrived in Reykjavik this Summer, and that film was called ‘Bokeh.’ You might have heard of it. Although you probs haven’t. It’s rather a low budget kind of film, in which not a lot happens; a young American couple go on holiday to Iceland (staying in Reykjavik, to be precise), and a couple of days into their holiday they discover that everyone else in the entire world has vanished. And that is IT, no reason given for the mass disappearance and no other massive developments in the plot after this mysterious event. Just two younguns, adjusting to life alone in one of the most isolated but beautiful parts of the entire world. I recommend watching it just because it showcases so much of the weird and wonderful scenery this country has to offer, though be prepared that it’s not your normal end-of-the-world Sci-fi blockbuster. What is striking about it is that it really hammers home just how isolated the country is; although technically part of Europe, it’s location is rather a long way away from every single other European country, and Reykjavik itself is the Northenmost capital city in the entire world, situated not too far from the Arctic Circle and therefore even before the fictional disappearance of humanity one of the quietest capital cities you are ever likely to set foot in. In the height of winter, the sun is up for a mere four hours, and in Summer (around the time I was there), it’s only set between midnight and around 3am. It is freaky you guys. Freaky, but pretty full on awesome at the same time, so here are some of the awesome things you can see while taking a visit yourself.

Check out some street art

Considering that spending time in Reykjavik and Iceland as a whole has rather a hefty price tag, and also considering that I personally am not a millionaire, I’m generally a big fan of having a wander. But let me tell you this for free, it really pays off around these parts! There’s a sizeable amount of street art to be discovered lurking around street corners and looming resplendently on buildings above you, bringing some rather awesome splashes of colour to what could otherwise seem rather dull. Generally the architecture round these parts is all about practicality- think corrugated metal and no-frills bluntness, so these giant murals which have often been commissioned by the city itself make having a gander about this part of the world all the more interesting. Well done on your urban artwork, Reykjavik, well done indeed!

See Reykjavik from a different point of view (that is, from the tower of Hallgrímskirkja)

One thing which I do regret is that I never checked how you should actually pronounce the name of this landmark of Reykjavik. (In case you hadn’t already realised, Icelandic is quite a unique language full of all the unpronounceable words) Architecturally, Hallgrímskirkja is quite a marvellous and simultaneously minimalist looking structure, on a whole different wavelength to those ginormous gold covered cathedrals of other parts of Europe; also it’s named after an Icelandic poet and minister who died of leprosy, just FYI. The church itself is free to enter, though you have to pay to reach the top of the tower and see across the city, which is a tad out of order in my personal opinion. I bumped into a Ukrainian dancer pal at the top who exclaimed to me in a state of mild bewilderment, ‘I cannot believe I just paid 900 króna to look out of a window…’ He had a point.

Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik

Marvel at the Harpa Concert Hall

Home of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera, in a similar fashion to Hallgrímskirkja this is a pretty spectacularly-designed building, built to reflect the landscape of the country. Also it literally does reflect it, as the exterior is made from many many panes of multicoloured glass. So that’s a laugh. I didn’t manage to attend any concerts here, but I’m pretty sure I did wander into several restricted areas accidentally-on-purpose, because I can’t read Icelandic. Parts of the interior of the building reminded me of that picture by M.C. Escher where you’re never quite sure which way is up and which way is down and all the staircases are linked together. Know what I’m saying?

The Golden Circle

This is what the majority of visitors to Reykjavik actually come for: to visit the Golden Circle. This is basically a route (a circular route), filled with geysers, waterfalls and generally spectacular nature in abundance, and from this it’s easy to figure out why Iceland is also known as The Land of Ice and Fire. The route itself can be done in around four to five hours, although if you’re driving it yourself it’s obviously completely up to you how long you want to take and how many times you want to stop at certain points.

Don’t forget to bring your wallet (and make sure it contains some money)

On the design front the Icelanders are way ahead of the game, so even just for window shopping you can discover some real gems. But bear in mind, pals: it is full on EXPENSIVE. If you’re going to do any shopping in Reykjavik I strongly recommend sticking to the local, boutique shops which although pricey, will also contain things you cannot obtain ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD, and therefore are perhaps worth forking out for. If you just want to stock up on basics, I would say wait till you get home as it is frankly not worth the trouble.

Ps…my most favourite shop of all the shops was the one pictured below, which specialises in vintage cameras and has a sizeable collection of old Polaroid’s filling its windows and walls. It’s not too far from Hallgrímskirkja, so keep your eyes peeled for it pals. I’m a true fan.

LOGISTICAL STATISTICALS

  • I arrived into Reykjavik by ship, but the closest airport is around 40 minutes from the city.
  • There’s no real public transport network connecting cities and towns within Iceland, so if you want to explore further afield you’ll need either a hire car or to stick to tours.
  • I visited in Summer, however this basically means nothing in terms of what you can expect from the weather. One second it’s pouring with rain, the next it’s bright sunshine. The temperature in Summer also rarely gets above about 13C.
  • Reykjavik is tiny, so as long as you stay in the centre you’ll be next to everything you need to see.

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