A Tour of Reykjavik

Before we leave the magical island nation of Iceland, let’s take a tour around the charming city of Reykavik, home to 200,000 of the country’s population of 300,000.

Seen from the air, Reykjavik is a tightly clustered city. The recently built green dichroic glass-clad Harpa Concert Hall sits on the waterfront. At the center of the city is the massive Hallgrímskirkja church. On a hill behind the church sits the Pearl Restaurant which serves up 4-course 5-star meals and a view of the city below. We had planned to visit the Pearl, but we did not have time with all of our excursions. To the right is the regional (national) airport, Keflavik.

After visiting the Blue Lagoon the first day, we arrived into Reykjavik at 10:30PM, looking more like an afternoon than late evening. The sun was just dipping behind the buildings by 10:45PM (the last photo is the view from one of the apartments we rented), and it was well past 11PM before the last traces of sunlight left the top of the church:

This was in stark contrast to our 1999 New Year’s visit when the sun would rise at 10:30AM and set at 2:30PM. An early evening visit (6PM) looked more like this:

Harpa Concert Hall
The Harpa Concert Hall is a modern green glass clad building on the waterfront that opened in 2011. While we didn’t officially visit the Harpa Concert Hall, it was a departure point for our South Coast Tour, so we popped in for a few minutes to check out the colorful geometric architecture:

Probably the most recognizable building in Reykjavik is Hallgrímskirkja, the massive church that sits in the center of it. At over 200 feet tall, it towers above Reykjavik and is visible from all over town. It was designed to resemble the basalt columns, however, with a statue of explorer Leif Eriksson in front, some might think it looks a bit like a viking ship.

The church is tall and very long. Giant gothic arches stretch from one end to the other. At the back is a massive pipe organ. When we were there, the evening sunlight (8:30PM) stretched across the floor.

We opted to climb up to the top of the spire of the church where we got views from all points of the compass. Here is a shot looking down the front of the church (Note Harpa to the right), now closer to 9PM:

Looking up:

Here’s a 360 view from four sides of the top:

Downtown Reykjavik has adopted the Scandinavian tradition of pedestrian-only streets. They designate pedestrian streets with these colorful bicycle gates:

The girls enjoyed test riding them (note the church in the background up one of the streets):

Here is one more vantage point from the regional airport towards the church to show the compactness of the city:

The shopping in Reykjavik is decidedly Nordic. With polar bears, seals, reindeer, fur hats, and ruffled scarves, the shopping suggests that it gets cold here.

And what’s a little Nordic town without Trolls:

For food, there are lots of choices, from local cuisine to a fairly diverse international fare, but it is all expensive, even the cheap restaurants. We would have liked to have visited the Pearl, but just ran out of time. One of the best restaurants that we did go to was actually at the Blue Lagoon, called Lava, where we had amazing torched smoked salmon.

Reykjavik is a very friendly town and it’s easy to get around. All tour companies will pick up from hotels, apartments, or condos in or out of town. It was certainly easier to walk around town during the summer than when we visited in the winter!

Reykjavik was a great launching point for all tours, and I hope to visit it again along with more of Iceland (west, north, and central). Perhaps we’ll go back to see the Northern Lights or to see some amazing lava plumes, or both… Until then…

Happy RTW Travels!