We finally made it to the most northern capital city we are ever likely to visit, the capital city of the magical island of Iceland. Reykjavik is the biggest city on the island and home to about a third of the whole country’s population, but it can still be seen in only a couple of days, which is exactly what we did. So what would a trip to this fascinating city hold in store? Here is our short but sweet trip to Reykjavik Iceland.
Reykjavik Iceland Feeling On Top Of The World
Usually when you fly into a country you enter via the nation’s capital city whether it be by sea or air. Most international flights into Iceland enter via Keflavik, which is 50 kms from Reykjavik, so our first glimpse of the city would need to wait a few hours while we explored the Golden Circle which you can read more about here Three Days in Iceland. We drove into Reykjavik on a bright spring day and enjoyed the late evening sunshine and smooth highway into town. Narrow streets and pay parking reminded us that we were in a capital city as we wearily searched for accommodation.
Our first impression of the city was good but it wasn’t going to be budget friendly stay! We had heard and read stories about the high prices for everything in the country so when a soup was advertised for 18 euros we knew we were in for a wallet busting couple of days!
Searching for accommodation wasn’t easy too with many basic hotels starting from 100 euros per night! Fortunately we found one a close distance from the main attractions for 75 euros per night and with free street parking. We checked in and immediately set out for food at a reasonable price. Many people picture Iceland to be a cold and bleak land but this is far from the truth. The air was chilly but no colder than many spring evenings back in Dublin. The streets were eerily quiet but we put that down to being a Sunday evening. First impressions were good, cute little wooden buildings making you feel like you could be in North America or even Tokyo Japan! Reykjavik seems to be a growing city with a pre-dominately young population.
Trendy coffee shops, bars and restaurants adorning most corners. After much searching we settled on a place to eat, ashamedly Dominos Pizza! We can hear all you seasoned travellers shouting at the screen throwing your eyes into the sky thinking “typical tourists”, but when a main course in most restaurants is 40 euros per person we’ll seek out the budget option elsewhere. Even if the food was cooked by Michelin starred chefs served up on a bed of gold with an orchestra to accompany it to your table, we still cannot justify these prices. Back home in Spain a party of four can eat well for this price so you can forgive our frugality!
What can you say about Dominos’ Pizza, they are the same all around the globe but this particular one was unusual. Music blared in the background, young men chatted as they prepared the food in the kitchen and delivery drivers came and went. Nothing unusual there in a pizza restaurant. The strange thing was the music lyrics were not in Icelandic or even english, the staff spoke english but also another language, again not Icelandic. So where were these strange aliens from?….. Poland! It certainly made Paula feel at home but it only highlighted the large population of polish who have made Iceland their home in recent years. In fact on that first night it was difficult to know where on earth we were with Polish staff and customers from Canada, the USA and even Wales! Where were all the Icelandic people? we thought!
Reykjavik may not possess major iconic tourist attractions like you may see in London, New York or Sydney but that doesn’t mean it is not an interesting place. One major landmark we wished to see was Hallgrímskirkja parish church. We cannot say we are the most religious of people but it is one of the city’s best-known landmarks and is visible throughout most of the city.
It took 41 years to build the church: construction started in 1945 and ended in 1986, with the landmark tower being completed long before the whole church was completed. The crypt beneath the choir was consecrated in 1948, the steeple and wings were completed in 1974, and the nave was consecrated in 1986. The church was originally intended to be less tall, but the leaders of the Church of Iceland wanted a large spire so as to outshine Landakotskirkja (Landakot’s Church), which was the cathedral of the Catholic Church in Iceland.
The upshot of this design means you can get a wonderful view over the city at a cost of about 8 euros per ticket. The elevator takes you up eight floors where you can enjoy views from north, south, east and west around the city, well I did anyway, due to a strange dream Paula had about the church she opted not to visit the top but as you can see I lived to tell the tale! The statue of explorer Leif Erikson (c.970 – c.1020) by Alexander Stirling Calder in front of the church predates its construction and makes for an iconic image also when on terra firma.
Reykjavik Iceland Take Me To Church
From Hallgrímskirkja church we walked around the nearby streets of Reykjavík’s city centre. Passing through the main shopping streets; Laugavegur, Bankastræti, Austurstræti, Lækjargata, Skólavörðustígur – all easily accessible in the central area of Reykjavík. For those of you who don’t like crowds this place is heaven and a perfect place to slowly amble about, but do expect the four seasons in one day as we experienced! The biting wind forced our hand so we decided to do our exploring via car. Quite easy in this city as traffic is free-flowing compared to many other european capital cities, despite a large car presence in the country.
Being a massive football fan it would be rude not to drop by the Icelandic national football stadium situated in Laugardalsvöllur. The stadium is compact with a capacity of around 15,000 but when you think what the football team has achieved here in recent years it is an inspirational place to be. The smallest nation EVER to qualify for a World Cup and who could forget Euro 2016 and the famous Viking Clap. As a football fan it was a pleasure to get so close to the stadium and take in a view of the pitch and surrounds all without paying!
After a few pictures around the stadium it was another loop of the city to our next stop the Höfði House, built in 1909, and considered to be one of the most beautiful and historically significant buildings in the Reykjavík area. It’s best known as the location for the 1986 summit meeting of presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbatsjov, a historical event that effectively marked the end of the Cold War. During this meeting images of the house were broadcast all over the world. A Japanese millionaire even had an exact replica of the house built in his country. The sculpture in front of the house depicts pillars from the chieftain’s seat of the first Norwegian settler in Reykjavík.
From this historical house we drove around the port area of the city and over to Reykjavik domestic airport just in time to witness a plane take off with the city as a scenic backdrop. A short drive away is the The Perlan Museum which features the Glaciers and Ice Cave exhibition. Featuring a man made Ice cave 100 meters long and made out of 350 tonnes of Ice and snow. On the second floor is an interactive show on glaciers in Iceland. The observation deck is now a part of the museum with information about the sights seen from the platform, the geological wonders and examples of the rocks found at the sights. It is the best viewing point over Reykjavík and its surroundings. One can see mountains, volcanoes, geothermal areas, the ocean and a glacier. It contains panoramic telescopes at all six corners of the deck and 16 information signs.
After all this sightseeing it was time for some food and drinks but with prices some of the highest we have ever faced anywhere on the planet what did we do? You guessed it good old reliable Dominos’s Pizza! It seemed like the secret was out however as the whole population of Reykjavik appeared to be ordering pizza on a Tuesday evening. A twenty minute wait for our pizza and car after car arriving to pick up their dinner! I guess we weren’t the only ones struggling with Icelandic food prices!
If pizza isn’t your thing then Bonus supermarket is another viable option. Quite similar to Lidl or Aldi in other European cities Bonus is a low cost supermarket which came to our rescue most lunchtimes during our stay! A few bread rolls, salami or chicken and drink for 10 euros kept us going for most of the day. For those of you who like to enjoy a beer or wine be prepared for little change out of 20 euros. Apparently the nightlife in Reykjavik is fantastic but again we could not be prepared to part with 10 euros for a bottle of beer. Alcohol only being permitted in 1989 being an unusual fact of the nation’s history!
Reykjavik Iceland Summed Up
So how do you sum up Reykjavik? It certainly isn’t a budget friendly getaway for many Europeans but it can be done, unless you don’t like pizza or hotdogs! A quaint, modern, forward thinking city where you can be in Japan one minute and Canada the next. Walking in Reykjavík is quite simple, as many attractions are within walking distance from the hotel area. The city is very beautiful, and the sidewalk and pathway system is first-rate. We certainly found Reykjavík drivers to be very friendly, and not once did we hear a car horn or witness aggressive driving, quite a rareity these days! Reykjavik is a lovely city to visit but it’s only the gateway to the nation of fire and ice. Stunning nature and tranquility are yours with only a short drive from the city. Reykjavik you certainly didn’t disappoint and maybe keep the prices high, it keeps the hoardes from spoiling this gem of the north.