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A city guide to Reykjavik - innovative architecture, jaw-dropping natural splendor and unstoppable energy

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The vitality that pulsates through Reykjavik’s every street comes as a result of the city’s truly paradoxical essence; one Viking-boot clad foot firmly rooted in its rich heritage, and one pounding the streets of contemporary restaurants and chic bars. Visually, Reykjavik is an explosion of rustic-style color and life, but it is the endless zeal and cultural pride of its residents continually driving this spectacular city forward.  

Sigurthor Marteinn

My Destination local expert on

Reykjavik

History, culture and 24-hour fun

 

Whether a first-time visitor or a Reykjavik addict, the unique atmosphere of this city is sure to cast a spell over all who travel here. Both Iceland’s largest and capital city, Reykjavik is truly the beating heart of all that the country encompasses: emphasis on national heritage, contemporary edge and a refreshing sense of humor.

 

Locals and tourists alike flock to Reykjavik’s incredible collection of world-class museums and galleries, soak up the majesty of its many beautiful churches, most notably the enchanting Hallgrímskirkja, and explore the hidden wonders of Laugardalur Park.

 

Downtown and Hlíðar

 

Commonly referred to by locals as simply ‘101’, Downtown is the buzzing nerve-center of all Reykjavik has to offer. Overflowing with stylish restaurants and contemporary bars, many of the main tourist attractions can be found in this district of the city. Downtown is also a particularly good place to explore Reykjavik’s shopping scene, notably the renowned Laugarvegur Street, offering everything from exclusive stores to intriguing boutiques.

 

Hlíðar is a quieter, more residential district, near to Downtown. As well as a variety of excellent hotels and hostels, Hlíðar is also noteworthy for its incredible museum attraction, The Pearl. This history museum is perhaps most noteworthy however, not for its relics but for its architecture and construction on top of water containers that trap geothermal water to supply the city with hot water. It also has an impressive rotating restaurant and chic, cocktail bar.

 

Vestubæjarlaug

 

Situated on the western point of the city, Vestubæjarlaug benefits from truly breathtaking, natural scenery. Although mainly residential, this district is worth a visit for the Vestubæjarlaug geothermal pool alone. Gently steaming against a backdrop of snowy fjords, sinking into this collection of pools, champagne in hand, is the stuff Iceland holiday brochures are made of. Vestubæjarlaug also benefits from the energy of its student population, as it is home to the University of Iceland, which fuels and enlivens its vibrant bars and clubs night after night.

 

Laugardalur

 

The Laugardalur Valley is one of Reykjavik, and indeed Iceland’s greatest boasts. Otherwise referred to as the ‘hot spring valley’, this stunning expanse hosts most of Reykjavik’s outdoor-pursuits options. From swimming to mountain biking, hiking to camping, it all takes place amidst the jaw-dropping scenery of Laugardalur’s various nature parks and landscaped gardens. This beautiful, natural retreat is also perfect for families, boasting a small zoo, family park and spectacular ice rink.

 

Árbær and Grafarvogur

 

If ancient culture and historical significance is what you’re looking for in Reykjavik, the small district of Árbær holds the key to the capital’s past, brimming over with historic landmarks. Grafarvogur is also home to the buildings of Korpúlfsstaðir farm, which, when it was built in 1929, was the most technologically advanced of any Nordic farm. This region is also home to the only building in the city protected by the National Architectural Heritage Board, originally constructed in 1964 as a pathology library. Árbær is the setting of the city’s only open-air museum, comprising of over 20 buildings, which form a small village that provides a sense of the small community lifestyles of the past.

 

Seltjarnarnes

 

Located close to downtown Reykjavik, the town of Seltjarnarnes boasts stunning coast and a tranquil atmosphere that feels a million miles from the bustle of central Reykjavik. With haunting lighthouses, windswept beaches and salty sea-air, this is Iceland at its most relaxed. Seltjarnarnes is a haven for hikers, joggers, cyclists and birdwatchers, playing host to all manner of rare species and rustic, well-worn coastal tracks.