Winter is coming! Okay, well not really, but since we’re craving snow, we figured we’d write about our favorite European winter capital; Reykjavík. We took our first trip together to Iceland, and immediately fell in love. It really is a winter wonderland, and Reykjavík is not only the base from which to do the Golden Circle, it more than deserves your time to get a handle on Icelandic culture.
A Reykjavík stopover on your way to or from the US has been pretty aggressively marketed by a number of airlines the past year, making it super easy to cut out a day or 3 on your trip. Cheap is another story, but we’re sure you know! And eventually, winter will come, so here’s a Reykjavík city guide to help you plan a perfect trip!
Things to do
There’s not much beating around the bush on this one! Visible from almost anywhere in town, it really is a landmark, or architectural highlight, depending on how you look at it. The church was designed to resemble Iceland’s mountains and glaciers and was finished in 1986. It’s still in service! When we visited, we were lucky and the organist was practicing. The inside of the ship is not super interesting, but the acoustics are excellent.
The main draw will be the observation deck, to which you can take an elevator for about $9. The 360 vies are stunning! Buy your tickets in the little shop just behind the elevator.
Icelandic Phallological Museum
Why not visit a museum about penises? Actually, this museum holds over 300 penises from all kinds of mammals and is the largest of its kind in the world. Fun fact that I only read after we had been here: they only obtained their first human penis in 2011, but the ‘detachment’ from the body didn’t go as planned and ended up being a shrivelled greyish mass that they put in a jar. They’re still looking for a better suited (literally) candidate!
We actually stumbled upon the Sun Voyager by accident. It’s located on Sæbraut, a few steps outside of the city’s center. The stainless steel sculpture is meant to be an ode to the sun, and a symbol of light and hope. It’s especially nice to photograph during sunset.
At about 9 in the morning, still dark outside, we set foot to the harbour, because we had read about a breakfast place that we wanted to try. It was a quiet walk through the snow and by the time we reached the harbour, the sun was starting to rise. It wasn’t very busy, fewer tours and boats leave in winter, but we enjoyed looking at the docked sailing boats in the old harbour. This area also boasts a lot of arts and crafts shops, a few museums (the Maritime and Whales of Iceland) and cafes. We loved our stroll around the harbour, and one could even say it’s a tiny bit romantic!
There’s no way you would miss Reykjavík’s (or Iceland’s!) biggest shopping street. Laugavegur stretches from Hallgrímskirkja to the harbour and breathes a historic vibe. Make no mistake though, there’s some pretty expensive stores on this street! Still, it’s nice to have a stroll and who know, you might be able to find a good deal on a typical icelandic sweater!
Looking for a break outside of the city, but don’t have time for the Golden Circle? Reykjanesbær, the area past the Blue Lagoon and the airport will surprise you. Many people will skip this or don’t even know it’s there, but it is an area with rock formations, geothermal areas, and stunning cliffs. The views are breathtaking, and this drive in the wilderness just takes you an afternoon.
Even more surprisingly, there is a Rock ‘n Roll museum, a Viking museum, and a lighthouse. We particularly loved the cliffs at Hafnarberg and the rocky beach by Reykjanesviti.
Northern Lights Spotting
Is it possible to see the Northern Lights from Reykjavík? Yes! Reykjavík is actually not very polluted. You will need a dark spot and a cloudless sky. There are several apps that help you predict the possibility of seeing them, but we didn’t find them helpful or correct. Keep your eyes on the skies and when you think you see a funny cloud, keep looking. For us, it started with grey cloud-like streaks across the sky. We saw them from the Blue Lagoon on our first night in Iceland (I’d like to think this was karma) and everyone that’s raving about it is right, it is magical.
Where to eat
- Kaffivagninn, Iceland’s oldest restaurant. Great breakfast or lunch with harbour views
- Grillmarkadurinn, (Grill Market) Best meats and fish
- Icelandic StreetFood, for lamb soup that comes in bowls made of bread
- Bravo Bar on Laugavegur, a small, cozy bar with deals on beers and board games
- Kaffibrennslan, a cute place for simple lunch and coffee
- Kol Restaurant, for a splurge. Excellent restaurant with good cocktails. We loved their Smokey Earl. Expensive.
- Supermarkets! If you have an AirBnB with kitchen, cooking your own meals is definitely best for your budget.
Where to stay
We stayed at Baldur Apartments, in the midst of the center. We had a super clean apartment with a separate bedroom and a kitchen for about $85 per night.
Good to know
- Everything you’ve heard is true, Iceland is expensive. Rent your car ahead, shop in supermarkets and bring your own duty-free alcohol, and read this guide on free and cheap things to do in Reykjavik!
- Winter gets COLD. Bring thermal underwear and for road trips; always bring water and a flashlight
- Your best chances at spotting the Northern lights are from December to early April. Check out this post on chasing the auroras!
Hopefully this Reykjavík city guide has helped you find your way to falling in love with Iceland. We sure did and can’t wait to go back!
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