Icelanders often describe their country as the land of fire and ice. The diverse landscape is defined by volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers and geysers. But the capital city of Reykjavik has much to offer too.
Reykjavik is home to two-thirds of Iceland’s population. But housing two-thirds of a small country (Iceland’s entire population is a little over 300,000) doesn’t make for a large city. Reykjavik is small, spacious and welcoming. Colourful houses add to the quaintness, and pretty much everything worth seeing is within walking distance.
It’s not just quaint colourful houses though (but you so wish you lived in a quaint colourful house right now, don’t you??). The architecture of parts of the outskirts of the city seems quite Eastern European (Belgrade, I’m looking at you). And by Faxa Bay on the coast of Reykjavik, modern apartment buildings at least give the impression that the city has something of a skyline.
The tallest building in Reykjavik though is Hallgrimskirkja, that cool church you’ve probably seen on Instagram. The church is free to enter – which is something of a novelty in Iceland – but it costs a few hundred krona to take the lift to the bell tower which has panoramic views of the city. Don’t go just before the hour though or you’ll be deaf from the bells for the rest of the day.
Inside the church, minimalistic design that is so synonymous with Iceland reigns. Unlike churches and cathedrals that I’ve seen in Italy, the interiors here are plain and barren, except for a 5,000 pipe organ.
Now, let’s talk street art. Reykjavik has a colossal amount of street art – yes, art not graffiti, which makes the city feel immensely cool (the weather helps too). Sometimes the art consumes entire buildings and is as much worth stopping to admire as a glacier in Southern Iceland. Plus admiring street art is free. This is always good in Iceland.
Reykjavik has so many (expensive) museums. Ones especially worth mentioning are the Art Museum, the Settlers Exhibition, the Phallological Museum and Perlan.
Perlan is a bit of a trek away from the rest of Reykjavik’s main attractions at about a 30-minute walk from Hallgrimskirkju, but it’s definitely worth it. The museum is basically a manufactured ice cave within an observation tower. Definitely wrap up warm when going in, but make sure your bobble hat doesn’t scrape the ceiling of the cave so much that icy water pours down your neck. Cos that’d be embarrassing.
The Phallological Museum is also a must. How can you go to a city that has a penis museum and not go to the penis museum?! There’s even a troll penis on display, though apparently recent theories suggest that it may just have belonged to a quite hairy man. Whatever though, because now I know that an elephants erection makes an S shape.
You should also walk the streets of Reykjavik after dark. Reykjavik is one of the safest cities in the world, so don’t worry about that. Plus when it’s dark, colourful lights draped across the street and fairy lights tangled in trees make you think that you’ve stumbled upon Stars Hollow. Or that could just be the Gilmore Girls megafan in me.
There’s no doubt though that Reykjavik is a charming city in a charming country. Whilst you should try and see as much of what Iceland has to offer elsewhere, don’t forget it has much more to offer than just the natural world.
Also, have I mentioned that Reykjavik is expensive?