Iceland  Close  Up 20

Why go?

More than one-third of Iceland’s 323,000-strong population reside in this small but very outward-looking capital. A cosmopolitan city born out of the 18th-century wool trade, it has a small-town feel and a thriving arts and music scene. It’s one of the world’s cleanest and safest cities – and one of the most innovative, too. Where else would the council think to turn off the street lights for a better view of the Northern Lights?

What to do

Navigating Reykjavík on foot is easy, thanks to its compact size. Start by taking the lift to the top of Hallgrímskirkja, a 73m-high white concrete church that looks like an inverted organ and affords sweeping views of rooftops, sea and mountains. There’s even a statue of Leif Eiríkson, the Viking credited with discovering North America. More famous Icelanders include musicians Björk and Sigur Rós, as well as Olafur Elíasson, an artist partly responsible for the honeycomb-like Harpa concert hall on the waterfront. Here you’ll find orchestral, jazz and folk music plus events such as Sónar, a cutting-edge electronic music festival (16-18 February). Just outside, stroll around the old harbour with its whale-watching and puffin colony boat tours, coffee shops and museums, then drop into the flea market where you can flick through the vintage comics, racks of retro clothing and vinyl, and keep an eye out for a classic lopapeysa (a very Icelandic-looking jumper, to you and me). The best ones go quickly, so also try Thorvaldsens Bazar (corner of Austurstræti and Veltusund) for your knitwear needs. Stroll down to the National Museum where you can learn about the wars of the chieftains, birth of the fishing industry and the spread of Christianity. Go via Tjörnin Pond, where the warm waters attract a variety of birdlife. Generations have enjoyed the geothermal pools around the island, and the most famous is Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport. It’s a ritual that is part of everyday life and there are a number of bathing options, including Nauthólsvík beach.

Where to stay

Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Marina 00 354 444 4000, is down by the old harbour. Rooms and suites are superbly eccentric with Seventies tilework, nautical wallpaper and tartan checks, and many offer views of the Atlantic Ocean and Mount Esja. More conventional but equally cosy is Hotel Reykjavík Centrum 00 354 514 6000, on one of the city’s oldest streets with its own museum which houses relics found during a renovation. Hótel Borg 00 354 551 1440, was founded in the 1930s by a circus strongman and overlooks Austurvöllur square beside Parliament House. Rooms are decorated with parquet flooring, monochrome furnishings and there’s a spa using Icelandic DrBragi products.

Where to eat and drink

Beer was illegal in Iceland from 1915 until 1989, which makes the rise of craft brewing here even more special. Skúli Craft Bar 00 354 519 6455, Aðalstræti 9 is where beer geeks go to chat about the notes of the latest guest draught. At Einar Ben 00 354 511 5090, Veltusund 1 you can tuck into French and British dishes with Icelandic twists. It’s all about precision at Dill 00 354 552 1522, where each deconstructed plate has been assembled using tweezers. The minimalism is underscored by the simplicity of flavours, with ingredients selected according to the season, including wild goose with berries, trout and cabbage, and blueberry pie. Or you could try Grillmarket 00 354 571 7777, for its use of smoke and coal to fire up the flavours of its creative meat and fish dishes. Go for pork ribs with homemade dressing and chilli rice cakes.

Time running out?

Join a Northern Lights tour with Reykjavík Excursions that takes you to optimum viewing spots just out of town. If you’re unlucky and can’t see any, rejoin a later tour for free.


Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the Icelandic krona. Time is the same as the UK during winter. Flight time is three hours from London. The cost to carbon-offset is £4.65. For more details visit

Getting There

WOW Air flies from Gatwick to Reykjavík daily.
EasyJet also has flights from London Gatwick to Reykjavík-Keflavík Airport seven days a week.


Visit Reykjavík is the official tourist board and is packed full of information to help you get around the city.

Average daily temperatures and rainfall

Min Temp-2-1-103687520-2
Max Temp122581112129632

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