Sunday, 1 January 2017

Reykjavik, Iceland: A City Guide

The last time I visited Iceland was eight years ago, to celebrate a friend's 25th birthday. It was such a unique and beautiful place I've been wanting to return ever since, and last month Tom and I finally had chance to explore the land of fire and ice.

Since visiting back in 2008, the number of tourists visiting Iceland has exploded. In 2008 visitor numbers to Iceland were around 500,000 and by last year numbers had risen to 1.3 million. The city itself did look busier than when I last visited (which may be in part due to the fact we visited around the time of the Iceland Airwaves festival) and a lot of new bars and takeaways have popped up (including a Dunkin' Donuts.. eh...). But this compact city has retained its charm, with cosy coffee shops and heaps of great restaurants to visit, as well as the stunning Harpa music hall which was built in 2011.

Here are some of my favourite places found in Iceland's capital. I'd love to go back and take a road trip around the island, off the beaten track. (Tip: if you would like to hire a car in Iceland to explore the island you'll need a credit card, something we sadly didn't have!) If you're visiting, you can also check out my Google Map of Reykjavik here.

1. Café Babalú
Recommended by one of my friends, Babalu was just a couple of streets away from our Air BnB. It's full of various quirky objects and the food is super cheap compared to most Icelandic eateries. It's also great for veggies. We tried the toasted cheese, and the veggie chilli which was very hearty! Make sure you check out the downstairs loo - it's unlike any other!

I also must give a shout out to another great veggie-friendly restaurant called Gló (also recommended by Janet) which is a health food restaurant that offers 4 different dishes each day using tasty organic ingredients. Yum.

2. Hallgrímskirkja
For some reason on my first visit I neglected to visit this beautiful church, situated on the top of a hill overlooking the city. Tom and I were lucky enough to walk in on a choir rehearsal which was really magical. If you climb to the top you get a great view of Reykjavik's pretty coloured houses looking out to sea.

3. Record Shops
Reykjavik is a very musical city, and if crate digging is your thing, then don't miss a trip to one of its record shops. 12 Tónar is a bit of an institution in the city that stocks many Icelandic artists and often hosts instore performances during Iceland Airwaves festival.

4. The Laundromat Cafe
This popular cafe was always busy, and a little pricey but still worth a visit for their toasted sandwiches and tasty fries. And downstairs is the actual laundromat, if you fancy washing some clothes while you sip your coffee...

5. Harpa
Make sure to talk a walk around this amazing building, which hosts concerts (Bjork was playing there when we visited, but of course it was mega expensive boohoo!)

6. The Phallological Museum
We'd heard talk of a penis museum and couldn't resist a trip there to see what it was all about! The museum started when an Icelandic man started collecting whale penises, his collection then grew (ahem) when other people started sending him other unusual animal penises. There is also a human one in there, which... let's just say it rather put me off my dinner.

7. Freddi Arcade
If you're a fan of retro videogames you may want to take a trip to Freddi. Full of old arcade games with rooms upstairs for gamers to settle down - and the owner also has a very cute dog!

8. The Handknitting Association of Iceland
If you're in search of the perfect chunky jumper (or 'lopapeysa') then head to this shop for an authentic Nordic knitwear and unspun yarn from Icelandic sheep. If you can't quite afford to buy one from there (they cost upwards of £100..) then you could try the Kolaportid flea market (pictured above) near the harbour.

9. Great Coffee Shops
There is an abundance of cosy coffee cafes in Iceland, including the renowned Reykjavik Roasters, and Mokka Kaffi, the interior of which is unchanged since serving Iceland's first espresso in the 1950s. We also loved visiting Brauð & Co bakery where people queue for freshly made bread and pastries (pictured at the top).

If you're a fan of the Coen brothers comedy, don't miss a trip to this Lebowski-themed bar on the main street. Get there during happy hour for cheap beer/wine, and of course it would be rude not to sample a White Russian while you are there.


1 comment

  1. It looks like you had a fab time! Reykjavik has so many lovely little corners. We didn't properly look around Harpa when we visited, which I regret.


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