After an incredible week of glaciers, snowstorms and icebergs (plus a surprise proposal!), our time in Iceland ended with a couple of days in Reykjavik. I’ve already talked about where we stayed; now it’s the turn of the city itself.
The world’s most northerly capital is an intriguing little place. It’s tiny – around half the size of Bristol – and feels a little like a frontier town thanks to its corrugated cottages and biting winds. But it has a strong cosmopolitan soul: the streets buzz with bars and restaurants, the nightlife is famous, and you get the sense that almost everyone is involved in some kind of creative venture. I loved it from the moment we arrived.
We started our explorations just up the road from our apartment, at Hallgrímskirkja. The spire of this immense concrete cathedral gave us a bird’s eye view across the city’s red-roofed buildings (which looked a little bit like Lego houses from above) to the snow-covered mountains beyond – a great way to get our bearings before hitting the streets. And the church’s interior was just as stunning: striking in its simplicity, with no embellishments to detract from the soaring ceiling and elegant arches. It’s one of the most beautiful buildings we’ve ever visited and, even though we’re not religious, we spent a while sitting in a pew soaking up the serenity.
Afterwards, we wandered across the Tjörnin lake (literally wandered across – it was frozen solid) for lunch at the Nordic House. Designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, it’s a temple of mid-century minimalism and hosts all sorts of exhibitions and cultural events. It’s also home to the AALTO Bistro, run by Icelandic TV chef Sveinn Kjartansson, where we lingered over smörrebröd while watching geese splashing about the wetlands outside.
Another must-see was the Harpa concert hall, which sits on the harbour. The creation of Danish architects Henning Larsen, Icelandic firm Batteríið and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, it looks like a giant honeycomb made of glass and steel, with multiple levels and sloping walkways criss-crossing the interior. We spent a good couple of hours wandering around inside, marvelling at the ever-changing light and the colourful reflections it cast, before heading along the quayside to Jón Gunnar’s hauntingly beautiful ‘Sun Voyager’ sculpture, said to represent freedom and exploration.
The rest of our time was taken up with coffee stops (Reykjavik Roasters is a lovely, laid-back spot) and boutique-browsing. We also happened to stumble across happy hour at 101 Hotel’s stylish bar, where we warmed our hands by the fire and our insides with a few concoctions from the cocktail menu.
Our stay in Reykjavik made a wonderful end to our trip, and our only regret was that we hadn’t booked longer in the city. Despite its diminutive size, there’s a lot to see and do, and two days just wasn’t enough. On well, we’ll just have to plan a return visit…
Photography by Abi Dare