Iceland was at the top of my bucket list for ages and as a result of visiting Stockholm and Malmö, I got more into nature and started to develop a deeper appreciation for landscapes. Consequently, I bought a ticket to Iceland – very impulsively I might add – and started with a citytrip in the capital city, Reykjavik. Following my stay in Reykjavik, I discovered a large area of the island by car.
Stay tuned for more tips, but let’s kick it off with Reykjavik!
First of all, let me start by saying that the capital city is very much worth the visit. Many people can’t wait to get out there and start discovering the beautiful landscapes, unique beaches, impressive cliffs and majestic waterfalls. With good reason of course but likewise, the Icelandic capital city has got a lot to offer! The inhabitants are incredibly friendly, the city is fairly compact so it can be discovered by foot, it has an interesting history and lots of rich folk stories. If you have the time, let Reykjavik sweep you off your feet!
Get breakfast at Reykjavik Roasters
I love to try out the best breakfast and coffee spots in new cities. On the first morning, I got lucky at Reykjavik Roasters. Situated at a small square, Reykjavik Roasters offers a cozy interior, quality coffee and delicious breakfast. Seeing that yoghurt – especially Skyr – is so popular here in Iceland, I ordered my regular latte with a bowl of yoghurt, musli & honey. De-li-cious! My road trip in Iceland was filled to the brim with sunshine, so it was lovely to sit on the square and soak up some vitamine D.
Try the freshly baked cinnamon buns at Braud & Co
Up for some artisanal delicacies? Braud & Co bakery has got you covered! The owner of this bakery got all of his knowledge from working at the best bakeries in Copenhagen. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?
In order to treat the Icelandic people to the same baked goodies, he opened up Braud & Co. One of the multiple establishments can be found on the same street as Reykjavik Roasters. You can’t miss it, it is by far the most colourful building around. Go inside, take in the alluring smell of freshly baked goods and watch them prepare the delicious cinnamon buns right in front of you. While you are here, don’t forget to take a cinnamon bun with you!
Admire the view from the top of Hallgrimskirkja
Both spots mentioned above are located only a couple of metres away from the biggest highlight of Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja. This magnificent Lutheran church finds itself among the tallest buildings in Iceland & is named after the famous Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson. The architect was inspired for this design by the trap rocks and the majestic mountains that are part of the rugged landscape. Hallgrimskirkja is unparalleled from the outside, same goes for the views it offers from above.
Buy a ticket and take the elevator all the way up to the observation deck. This will cost you 1000 ISK. For this price, you get to stay as long as you want & you can observe the magnificent mountains in the distance, the multiple colourful houses and the cold artic water from the bay wherein Reykjavik is located. Not to be missed!
Marvel at the architectural beauty of Harpa
Besides Hallgrimskirkja, the Harpa concert hall is a well-known monument in the Icelandic capital city as well. When you walk past the old harbour, along the water in the direction of the Sun Voyager monument, you will immediately see what the fuzz is all about. This building is nothing short of spectacular and one of a kind. Brainchild of the talented architect Henning Larsen, Harpa really catches your attention. The beautiful backdrop consisting of snow-covered mountain tops, only emphasises the greatness of the monument.
The combination of asymmetry, the changing colours of the glass windows and the shapes is what makes is as unique. The striking structures that can be found in the basalt landscape, served yet again as the main source of inspiration. The concert hall even won the Mies van der Rohe award for contemporary architecture, the best indication that it must not be skipped. You have the possibility to take a paid guided tour inside, but taking a quick peek is completely free. The interior is in no way inferior to the exterior!
Have lunch or dinner at the food court Hlemmur Mathöll
When architecture, history and hotspots with delicious food come together, you can bet your money on it that it is on my list to vist :). I was so happy to come across this culinary gem, Hlemmur Mathöll. Inside the building, you can gawk at the industrial interior, get your daily dose of caffeine brewed by Te & Kaffi or put your teeth in a freshly baked cinnamon bun from Bread & co. Looking for lunch instead? Go for the fresh Vietnamese spring rolls made by Bánh Mí or enjoy some taco’s, eat a healthy salad, enjoy a vegan option and so much more.
On that note: I want to give a little extra credit to Icelandic hotels and restaurants in general. At every spot you can get a vegetarian or vegan option, which made picking out restaurants along the way a lot easier for me :).
See the sunset close to midnight at the Sun Voyager monument
Witnessing the sunset in Reykjavik was one of thé most memorable moments during my stay here. The sunset was estimated to set at 23h30 on that specific day. It was quite surreal to me that when I would step out of my hotel room, first of all it would still be light outside and second, that I would be witnessing the sunset this late. But sure enough, when I walked along the water through the harbour to the Sun Voyager monument, I got to behold one of the most magical sunsets ever. Why magical ? I guess because of the unique timing, the fact that the sky was bright pink & intermixed with more colours than I’ve ever seen before and the magnificent setting contributed equally. Plus, I am a big sucker for sunsets, which might have clouded my judgement as well :).
That night, the sun set right behind the mountains, across Faxaflói bay, while the natural phenomenon was lighting up the Sun Voyager. This beautiful sculpture, by the hands of Jón Gunnar Árnason, represents the longing for freedom, a true dream of hope and the very promise of undiscovered territory. By the way, the monument is as impressive when lit up during golden hour as it is during all other hours of the day.
Spot the beautiful street art around town
Next to hotspots, good food and beautiful architecture, another one of my weak spots when discovering an uncharted city is hunting for street art. Reykjavik just threw these raw pieces of art at my face one corner after the other. I was alway pleasantly surprised when I just stumbled upon them by coincidence whilst walking through the city. Want to get more specific directions on where to find all of these masterpieces? Stay tuned for a detailed post about it!
Go on a free walking tour
In my opinion, going on a ‘free’ walking tour is by far thé best way to get in touch with a city on a different level. You hear folk stories, unique anecdotes from an insider and you get a taste of the city as seen by the locals. I enjoyed going on the free walking tour with CityWalk.is. Our guide was really funny and open to conversation. She shared her love for her hometown and it made me like Reykjavik and Iceland even more.
The tour can easily be booked online, it lasts for about 2 hours and is very much worth it. At the end of the tour you pay the guide what you think the tour was worth. Do remember that they are an independent organisation, so their livelihood is based on what people pay them. Plus, you quickly notice they can answer almost every question, so they put a lot of effort and time into research. I Googled the average price since I did not want to offend them by giving too little. I learned that paying around 20 euros is a decent amount to give, more is always appreciated obviously!
Go for a big walk on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula
Another great spot from where you can enjoy the sunset is the lighthouse at the edge of the Seltjarnarnes peninsula. Next to this, it is also the perfect place to breathe in some fresh air, enjoy the beautiful views on Esja Mountain and walk along the rocky shores. The shores are home to various bird species so take your camera and/or binoculars with you! If you are lucky, the Grótta area provides you with the ideal circumstances during winter to catch the northern lights. Since I was here in June, I was not so lucky but this means I will have to return quickly :).
From May on, you cannot get too close to the lighthouse since it is a protected breeding spot. This is another reason why I love Iceland as much, the land does not adapt itself to the tourists, instead they have to respect the land. The deep love from the nordic inhabits for their beloved land and the animals is obvious anywhere you go!
Discover Reykjavik old harbour
Whenever I am in a new city, the local harbour always draws me in. I truly enjoy watching the boats, the fishermen going on about their daily routine, catching some fresh air and experiencing the lively atmosphere. Of course Reykjavik has a harbour too, which is nothing short of charming thanks to the colourful houses, the lovely pier and the many small boats. This is thé place to book your puffin or whale watching tour. I did not have enough time, but regret it immensely, so book a tour before you do anything else upon arrival! The old harbour is also home to some great hotspots and some hidden street art.
Naturally there are a lot more wonderful things to do in this great city. The list above contains some of my favourite things that I would like to recommend. What are some of your favourite highlights in Reykjavik?