Iceland is one heck of a destination. Fiery and explosive volcanoes, monstrous glaciers, crystal blue hot springs – it has it all. Its breathtaking and diverse landscapes are almost other-worldly, leaving each and every visitor stunned; and that’s before we even mention the Northern Lights.
If you’re heading to Iceland any time soon, or are planning to, you’ll almost certainly be staying in the capital city of Reykjavik. Aside from a scattering of towns and villages, the city is the only major settlement on the entire island, so it’s where everything urban happens. When you’re not climbing glaciers or hiking up volcanoes; what do the streets of this charming city have to offer?
Perhaps the city’s grandest example of contemporary architecture, Harpa is a concert hall and conference centre. Famous for its unique coloured glass façade, which was inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland, it’s an Instagrammer’s dream. More than simply nice to look at, it’s the residence of both the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera. Get organised and book some tickets in advance, so that you can experience all that Harpa has to offer.
Iceland’s other architectural icon is Hallgrimskirkja Church. A grand, modern chapel; its tower leans high above the entire city of Reykjavik in dramatic fashion. Yet again, it was Iceland’s natural landscape that inspired the design of this building, with architect Guðjón Samúelsson attempting to recreate the forms seen when lava cools into basalt rock. Among its most impressive features is a gargantuan pipe organ that weighs in at an incredible 25 tons. This really is a church the likes of which you’ve never seen before.
National Museum of Iceland
Both Iceland’s natural and human histories are absolutely fascinating, so it’s only fair you pay a trip to the National Museum of Iceland. Among the permanent exhibits is ‘Making a Nation’, a journey from first settlement right through to the present day – told by 2,000 artefacts and 1,000 photographs. Another highlight is ‘Points of View’, an adventure into the visual world of Iceland, laying bare this country’s eclectic modern culture. There’s always one or two temporary exhibitions on too, so check their calendar before you go.
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, drink, catch some entertainment and simply kick back while you’re in Reykjavik, look no further than Slippbarinn. Rub shoulders with locals as you enjoy a beer or two, and see if you can catch the live jazz or resident DJs. Pleasantly located in the old harbour, the trendy interior will make you feel right at home as you lay back and sip a cocktail. If you’re peckish, they’ll rustle up some zesty concoctions that are certain to make it onto your Instagram feed.
Icelanders are known to have a knack for design, and no better place can you see this than at Kraum. It’s the country’s first store dedicated entirely to Icelandic design, set at the heart of Reykjavik’s oldest house. The store features stalls and works from more than 70 designers, covering everything from textiles to jewellery and household items.
Icelandic Fish & Chips
If you’re feeling just about ready for some home comforts, go grab yourself some Icelandic Fish & Chips. Since 2006, the owners of this quirky little eatery have been serving up a Scandi twist on a British classic. Out is traditional batter of eggs and wheat, and in is organic spelt (along with a few secret ingredients). The chips aren’t fried like we’re used to, they’re oven roasted and tossed in parsley and local salt, while the sauces are made from the traditional Icelandic dairy product skyr. Give it a go and who knows, you might even prefer it!
There’s more to this city, and this spectacular country, than the Northern Lights. A trip to the Icelandic capital is a full-blown cultural experience; one you could have sooner than you think with flights to Reykjavik from Manchester Airport.