In Travel

A Guide To Reykjavik: What To See And Do In Iceland’s Capital City

The first thing most travellers do when they land in Reykjavik is leave it. They head straight to the famed Golden Circle, as well as the rugged coastlines, waterfalls, geysers and glaciers beyond.

But there’s a charm to Iceland’s capital and largest city that makes it well worth sticking around.

From a museum housed in an old public toilet (bear with us) to Michelin-starred dining, here’s how to best experience Reykjavik’s charm:

See the best view in town from Hallgrímskirkja

Reykjavik, Iceland

Hallgrímskirkja is a church known for its 73m tower. Image: Visit Reykjavik

It’s hard to miss Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik’s low-rise cityscape.

This church, designed by the late Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937, is iconic for its 73-metre-high tower. It was designed to reflect the way cooling lava sets over basalt rock.

The tower’s observation deck has unbeatable – and unobstructed – 360-degree views over colourful Reykjavik and onto the wild landscape beyond.

Be sure to spend some time checking out the inside of the church too. A 15-metre pipe organ comprises more than 5,000 pipes, making full use of the tower’s great acoustics.

Feast on Michelin-starred Nordic fare at The Dill

When seating at a restaurant is limited to 30 and the head chef is an ex of Noma and The Paul in Copenhagen, you know you’re in for a dining experience to remember.

The Dill is Iceland’s only Michelin-starred restaurant and, like any restaurant with a coveted star attached, you’ll need to book at least a month in advance.

Head chef Ragnar Eiríksso’s set menu is a celebration of new Nordic cuisine with dishes such as cod with sea truffles; Arctic char with cucumber and black garlic; and deliciously different sorbet made from bilberry and dulse (a type of seaweed).

Of course, Iceland’s famous dried fish makes an appearance, though thankfully in a much more palatable form on bread and paired with green apples marinated in herb oil.

Experience a simulated Aurora at Harpa concert hall

Reykjavik, Iceland

If you miss the Auror, head to Harpa concert hall to experience a simulated version. Image: Andrew Klotz

One of the biggest dilemmas about travelling to Iceland is choosing when to go. Should you cop freezing temperatures for a chance to see the Northern Lights? Or skip out on nature’s most famous lights show to enjoy balmier weather (10 degrees Celsius, by the way)?

If you visit during summer and therefore miss the Aurora, a visit to Harpa concert hall might be the next best thing.

This striking landmark opened in 2011. Its glass exterior reflects the adjacent harbour by day and provides a backdrop for nightly light displays designed to mimic the aurora borealis.

Of course, Harpa is far more than a giant projector – the venue boasts a pretty robust calendar of cultural events, including music festivals, opera, design talks and symphony recitals.

Have a cocktail at Loftið

Reykjavik, Iceland

Loftið has a strict dress code and an extensive cocktail list. Image: Loftið / Facebook

There are few, if any, rules when it comes to Reykjavik’s bar scene, but Loftið is an exception.

There’s a strict dress code to pass through the doors of this bar, which takes well-dressed patrons through an extensive cocktail list in vintage-style environs that just cry out for a jazz band to set the mood (sometimes, that happens).

Like anywhere in the city, Loftid’s energy picks up after 9pm when the crowds arrive. If you do get there early, there’s a long cocktail list to work your way through – or let the staff really showcase their talents to create off-piste concoctions.

Learn about music at Icelandic Punk Museum

Reykjavik, Iceland

Icelandic Punk Museum is below an underground public toilet. Image: Icelandic Punk Museum / Facebook

Some landmarks are designed for the sheer novelty of it, and the Icelandic Punk Museum is no exception.

A set of underground stairs on Bankastræti adorned in Sex Pistols logos and anarchy symbols marks the spot, where down below an underground public toilet has been converted into a shrine to the punk movement. This space is hallowed ground, formally opened by Johnny Rotten in 2016 and curated by local punk, Svarti Álfur Mánason.

The museum is small, but comprises a decent collection of photos, audio installations, instruments, clothes and other memorabilia that celebrates the birth and spread of punk subculture in Iceland.

Stay in design hotel 101 Hotel

Across the road from Dill is 101 Hotel, a member of Design Hotels. The rooms and suites ooze Nordic cool in their simple, monochromatic palettes – a stark contrast to the hotel’s public spaces, which service as temporary exhibition spaces for works of local artists.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Nordic hotel without a spa – and 101’s offering features a steam bath, plunge pool and whirlpool to unwind in after a day’s sightseeing.

(Lead image: Hallgrímskirkja / Visit Reykjavik)

Published 08 April, 2019