Reykjavik is such an enchanting city in Iceland, and if you are traveling here for the first time, I highly recommend staying in this capital city. This place is known for its multitude of activities such as hiking in the city, going on a Northern Lights tour, horse riding, ocean tours, culture walks, historical museums, and their amazing downtown restaurants and nightlife. This beautiful place also has many festivals throughout the year that you will want to check out.
When we went, we did stay in Reykjavik, and it was a great base for tours that we went on as well. It is a wonderful spot to start exploring because you are in the city, but close to so many interesting landmarks. On our particular stay, we really liked Gray Line Tours, (which I will link at the bottom of this post) and walked or used public transportation. Out of a week, we used a rental car just one of the days. I do feel that most things in the city are walkable if you are staying in Reykjavik. I would highly recommend staying at least a week on your trip to Iceland to truly immerse yourself and discover the amazing culture, history, and truly magnificent nature areas there.
On our particular visit, we traveled in August which was nice because we did experience the midnight sun and long warm days. As a side note, if you want to see the Northern Lights, your best time of seeing them will be in the winter months, so that is something you will want to take note of before you book your trip.
I also have to mention that even if you travel in summer, I highly recommend bringing warm clothes with you. On one of our tours, we went to Jökulsárlón, which is a glacier lagoon. This was definitely a lot colder then the area in Reykjavik, so depending on where you are touring you will want to have different clothes on hand with you just in case.
Another question that I get asked a lot is if English is spoken in Iceland, and many of the people there speak it quite fluently. It is taught as a second language in school there, in addition to many other languages which is very impressive!
Once we were settled in Reykjavik, the first thing that we wanted to do was explore the city itself. We figured since we had not traveled to the area before, it would be good to stay in a region that we could go to a store if we needed to fairly quickly. We also liked that we could walk to everything easily, and we could really get a good sense of the city by immersing ourselves in it this way.
Our first day there, we put on our walking shoes, and went right to the downtown area. The first thing that really caught my eye were these gigantic boats right on the waterfront. I have seen boats before, but some of the Icelandic boats were on a totally different scale. There was quite a variety too, from fishing boats, commercial boats, sailing boats, recreational boats, and tourism boats as well. They looked very sturdy, strong, and able to sail the Northern Atlantic Ocean with ease. Culturally, this area historically has also relied a lot on boating and fishing as a source of food, and has had an economic impact as well.
When you walk around Reykjavik, there are a lot of restaurants to choose from. I can honestly say that no matter where we stopped, we did not have a bad experience at any of them, but I do have a favorite that I would recommend personally. Located right by the ocean, there is a restaurant called Barion Bryggjan Brugghus that is really really good! They have typical bar food items, seafood, and Icelandic Scandinavian faire. When we went, my husband ordered a sampling of traditional foods with beers from their Bryggjan Brewery which is the first independent microbrewery in Iceland. It looked really neat as well with decor really paying tribute to the historic fisherman culture of the area.
Wherever you go, some traditional Icelandic foods are cod, lamb, fermented shark, rye bread, puffin, and horse. We were somewhat adventurous and tried all of the above except the fermented shark and horse. We did however see others order the shark, and it has a very strong pungent smell to it. When it is fresh, the meat does have a high content of urea in it, but the fermentation process allows it to be consumed safely. It is a national dish in Iceland, and is often part of Icelandic festivals. Another very famous product from Iceland that we had for breakfast everyday while there is “Skyr.” It is a cultured dairy product that has the consistency of yogurt, but with a milder cheese type flavor. It is very high in protein, and it gave us a lot of energy to explore Iceland every day! It has been a part of the Icelandic diet since the Viking age, and it even mentioned in medieval Icelandic sources which include “Egil’s saga and Grettis saga.”
Reykjavik has many little shops in its downtown as well, and a big item that you will see a lot are woolen clothes, which makes sense with the very large sheep population. They also have a variety of coffee, food, snack, art, and trinket spots as well. It is a very lively type city, and they even have a flea market “Kolaportio” which typically takes place on the weekends down by the harbor throughout the year.
You will want to walk around the neighborhoods of Reykjavik as well. The houses are gorgeous, and structurally different from a lot of the other areas in the world. Since the area is highly prone to earthquakes (they can get hundreds to thousands per week) the majority of homes and buildings are made from concrete, sheet metal, and stone to withstand the constant movement and seismic activity. There are often active volcanoes as well, and Iceland itself was created from the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates slowly drifting apart.
One of the sweetest parts of exploring Reykjavik, and even Iceland in general was the prevalence of fairy houses! You can see these adorable stone homes everywhere you look, and huldufolk (hidden people) are a very large part of the Icelandic culture. There have even stopped construction in areas that are believed to be homes of elves, as to not disrupt them. Historically, elves and hidden folk were associated with wealth and prosperity of the Norse and Irish settlers who originally settled in Iceland.
Reykjavik is such a beautiful, magical, and bustling city in Iceland. I definitely recommend this as a great place to travel to in Europe, and it is one of the most unique places on our planet. Let me know in the comments if you have also traveled to this area, and what your experiences were like there as well! Remember to click that subscribe button, and have a wonderful day!
My absolute favorite book that I have found about Iceland is appropriately also called “Iceland” and is written by Jenna Gottlieb. This book is so detailed with the landmarks in Iceland, and is such a great guide if you are looking to explore this magnificent country. It also reviews when the best times are to see the Northern Lights, the best wild-life watching spots, the best day hikes, and various weekend getaway spots, so make sure that you check it out!
For more information regarding this book, just click on the Amazon Affiliate link below!
Additional Iceland Resources/Articles-
A Journey To Reykjavik Iceland
The Spectacular Landmarks Of Reykjavik
The Magnificent Landscapes Of Iceland