Attractions in Reykjavík - a city of the Vikings
Founded around AD 870 by the Viking Ingólfur Arnarson, Reykjavík has long been a relatively insignificant place among many. Until the 18th century, Iceland's centres of power were in Skálholt and Þingvellir, that is, further east, inside the country. The name of the city translates as "Rauchbucht". Reykjavík is the northernmost capital of the world, and almost two-thirds of the Icelanders live in the expanded metropolitan area. Consequently, much of the nation's cultural life takes place here.
The city only gained importance at the end of the 18th century, as a simple trading town still under Danish rule. It wasn't until 1918 that Iceland became a kingdom and Reykjavík officially became the capital. The Icelanders then gained independence from Denmark on June 17th, 1944 - today is the national holiday of the republic (the monarchy was abolished immediately upon independence).
The attractions of Reykjavík
As by far the largest city in Iceland, the capital, Reykjavík, offers many at as expected. Even if there is an old town with a few 18th-century buildings that have survived to this day - most of it was built in the 20th century. Numerous impressive buildings among them are worth seeing, for example, government buildings, museums, churches, schools, theatres and private houses. They have been built in a wide variety of styles; from historicism to expressionism to modern buildings with large glass fronts.
Perlan - a warming monument
A massive glass dome towers over the capital of Iceland. What could it be? An exhibition hall? A swimming pool? A government building? None of this, it is, in fact, the capital's hot water tank. The central dome is surrounded by six gigantic water tanks, which together heat the buildings and streets of Reykjavík with up to 20 million litres of hot water. The water is taken directly from boreholes and is already heated to around 85 degrees Celsius by geothermal energy. In essence, an entire city can hardly be heated in a more environmentally friendly way.
Perlan (Icelandic for "the pearl") was built in 1991 on a hill on the edge of the city centre and is a sight that you should not miss when you are in Reykjavík: inside there is a museum of the natural wonders of Iceland with one artificial glacier and an artificial geyser. The restaurant on top of the building rotates so that you can enjoy an all-round view from every seat. And all around there is a viewing platform from which you can see the entire area outdoors.
Did you know that most of the photos of Iceland's city centre stem from the tower of the great Hallgrimskirkja? The reason is simple; the central church of Reykjavík with its tower of 74,5 meters is located on a small hill in the middle of the city and thus extends far above the town's roofs. Great photos of Reykjavík can, therefore, be taken from the observation deck at the top of the tower - there is a fascinating view in every season.
The viewing platform is located directly below the bell chair and can be climbed daily between 9 am and 5 pm for a fee of ISK 1,000.00 (€ 7.36). Children between 7 and 16 years pay a reduced price of ISK 100.00 (€ 0.74). The tower is open until 9 pm from May to September and is closed every Sunday between 10:30 am and 12:15 pm due to the mass.
The Hallgrimskirkja was built between 1945 and 1986 in expressionist style with donations and was named after the Icelandic hymn-writer Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–1674). The church's concrete pillars symbolize the common basalt columns in Iceland. The inside of the church has predominantly Gothic features, but large windows bring more light into the nave than in other church buildings. Hallgrimskirkja is the sixth most significant building in Iceland.
The Harpa concert hall
Harpa is an Icelandic woman's name and means "harp" - this name was chosen for the concert hall for the simple reason that it is easy to pronounce in most languages. The building opened in 2011 and is home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera. The sloping cuboids with their impressive glass facades have made the Harpa, which is located directly at the harbour, a new symbol of the city.
Tickets for events in the concert hall can be found on the English website: https://en.harpa.is/.
The National Museum of Iceland
Would you like to learn more about the history of Iceland? In the National Museum in the centre of the city, where the streets Hringbraut and Suðurgata intersect, you will find an extensive collection of Iceland's cultural history. The museum was founded in 1863, but the current building was only built in 1950. Let multimedia guide you through the most important historical evidence of Iceland and find out when Iceland was founded, how the first people lived here, and how the country has developed over the past centuries.
In the warm half of the year, the museum is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm, and is closed on Mondays between September 16th and April 30th. Admission is ISK 2,000.00 (€ 14.72) for adults, students and people over 67 come in for ISK 1,000.00 (€ 7.36), children under the age of 18 have free admission.
The Árbæjarsafn open-air museum
Do you not only want to learn more about history but also immerse yourself in the world of historical Iceland? Then the open-air museum in the east of the city is just right for you! Here you will find around 30 original historical buildings that were brought here from all parts of the country and rebuilt. A grass-covered church, old wooden houses and old machines like a printing press can be seen here. The two only steam locomotives that Iceland has ever had are also on display here.
In summer the museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, in winter this time is reduced to 1 pm to 5 pm Adults over 18 years of age pay admission of 1,740.00 ISK (12.60 €), younger people have free access, students have a reduced rate of 1,120 ISK (8.11 €). English-speaking tours take place between 1 pm and 2 pm. There is also a museum café.
Activities in Reykjavík
There are many business opportunities in and around the capital. Especially in summer, you have the free choice: you can go on a boat tour, go hiking, visit an outdoor pool or simply explore the city centre and discover quaint shops and excellent restaurants.
Shopping on the Laugavegur in the city centre Laugavegur (not to be confused with the trekking path of the same name in southern Iceland) is a shopping street that was defined as such by a city council decision in 1885. It was initially the route to the hot springs in Laugardalur, where the Rekjavíks once did their laundry. Hence the name: Laugavegur means "wash route". Nowadays you can find exclusive shops that sell Icelandic sweaters, souvenir shops and some bars and clubs.
The street also has a particular curiosity to offer: the Icelandic Phallus Museum, where over 280 specimens of phalli from different animal species are exhibited.
Visit the geothermal swimming pool Nauthólsvík
The Geothermalbad Nauthólsvík is located in a somewhat unusual location right next to the airport runway. The small outdoor pool in the form of a bay was opened in 2001 and filled with sand from Morocco. Due to geothermal energy, the water temperature is between 15 and 19 degrees Celsius all year round. There are also hot pots, a steam bath and changing rooms, and you can also buy snacks at a kiosk.
The opening times are Monday to Thursday 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, Saturday 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, the pool is closed on Friday and Sunday. A one-time entry costs 650 ISK (4.71 €), but there are also offers for multiple visitors.
Experience the delicacies of Reykjavík's restaurants
In the capital's numerous restaurants, you can explore the culinary specialities of Icelandic culture. There are various fish dishes and shellfish, including dried fish and the infamous fermented shark (which smells so strongly of ammonia that it is usually only consumed as a test of courage with hard alcohol). Above all, though, there is a wide variety of sheep and lamb dishes. For centuries, sheep have been the top farm animal in Iceland and the Icelanders almost entirely utilize the animal - in addition to the usual leg of lamb, sheep's heads and sheep's testicles also belong to the culinary specialities of Iceland.
But it doesn't always have to be something special: even simple dishes to ordinary street food such as French fries are easy to find in the city centre.
The prices range between 15 and 35 euros - depending on whether you visit simple restaurants or self-service restaurants or stop off in upscale establishments. Our saving tip: at lunchtime, the dishes are usually the cheapest.
Night clubs in the capital
Reykjavík has an astonishingly lively nightlife and just the right size that many local visitors to the bars and pubs know each other. But that does not mean that others are excluded; the Icelanders are friendly people and like to celebrate with you. Nevertheless, you should expect everything that a nightly party tour can bring, especially when alcohol is involved.
But you don't need to look for real "clubs": there are none. Instead, one or the other bar turns into a dance hall with exuberant party music in the late evening. You can find almost all restaurants on the Laugavegur or in the immediate vicinity - if you want to switch from one bar to the other, you never have to go far.
Get to know the traditions of the Icelanders
Icelanders still maintain customs and traditions that are very different from Europe. So the belief in elves and trolls is still alive, and there are protected places on the island that are considered home to these beings. Many rock and lava formations are considered petrified trolls, and legend has it that they created entire coastal areas. In the few places where small birch forests occur, elves, the caring, invisible tree spirits, are considered the cause of the silvery shine of the tree trunks.
In January, the traditional festival Þorrablót is celebrated, in which the Icelanders come together to eat, drink, sing songs and dance.
At Christmas time it becomes particularly peculiar. On the one hand, the Icelanders bake richly decorated Laufabrauð (English: "Leafbread" - a very thin, dry flatbread with artistic punching) - a Christmas tradition like the baking of vanilla biscuits or gingerbread with us. On the other hand, from December 13th, the so-called Jólasveinar, the "Christmas guys"; trolls from the mountains, which bring small gifts and naughty potatoes to well-behaved children. The Icelandic Advent calendar is also geared towards this.
A visit to Reykjavík on New Year's Eve is particularly recommended: at around 8:30 pm, New Year's fires are lit in all parts of the city, and the residents celebrate the end of the year with family and friends - crowned by a magnificent firework display at midnight.
Excursions: boat trips and hiking tours
In Reykjavík, various trips are offered by boat for whale watching or day tours by bus. Talk to us about it - we can surely arrange a few trips for you and give you a tip or two.
Getting around Reykjavík
Reykjavík is a car city. Nowhere else in the world is the ratio of cars to residents so high. There is less public transport for this, and above all, there are no trains, trams or subways in Iceland. Instead, rental cars, taxis and a well-developed bus system with a total of six bus stations remain for locomotion.
Fortunately, there is a lot to do on foot within the capital. However, to be able to see as much as possible, we advise you to organize a rental car.
Best time to go to Reykjavík
From June to September, the city has relatively warm temperatures between 10 and 13 degrees Celsius (during the day), and there is an average of up to six hours of sun per day - even if the sun only sets for about 3 hours in June because the sky is often high cloud covered. The weather in Iceland is very changeable. In the remaining months it is significantly colder, often accompanied by more precipitation: in winter you should expect snow cover. Therefore, the best time to travel to Reykjavík is summer, as this is the best way to enjoy the sights and surroundings of the city.