After a sleepless night at Manchester airport we arrived in Reykjavik early enough to take a nap in our comfortable Airbnb mini-flat and still have 24 hours in the world northernmost capital before the arrival of Jimny, our 4WD.
We set up for a walk with no idea of what to see or what to do, which is probably one of the best ways to approach such a small city, where everything is at walking distance.
Strange church and statues
One thing that should not be missed is a visit to the top of Hallgrímskirkja, the most visible church and main landmark. The ascent to the 7th floor only costs 700ISK and if the little shop is closed you can pay dropping the coins in the box next to the lift. Yes this is how much Icelanders trust our honesty… should we try this in London as well?
While you’re there you should take a minute to admire the impressive pipe organ which is 15 meters tall.
Steps away from the church we came across a weird park, the Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden. Bronze modern looking statues provide a eerie atmosphere, maybe because we were the only visitors, or maybe because some of those statues are creepy as hell. It’s free!
Design and Café
From here we descended along Skólavörðustígur, which feels like Reykjavik main boulevard: connecting the big famous church to the busy city centre. Along the way we found some interesting design shops displaying and selling works of many local artists, and a nice photography shop; it’s quite small and full of delightful details made with pieces of old cameras and, of course, photos. There’s a vast choice from big prints to small and cheap polaroid portraying Icelandic subjects, a good souvenir which is also easy to carry. Next to it there is a café called Babalù, brightly coloured and cosy, which looked popular and full of people enjoying a cheesecake that we unfortunately didn’t have time to try. We went instead to another place, the Reykjavik Roaster, which looks like a Berlin café with a Nordic vibe, and serves a sublime coffee and a tasty hot chocolate.
Harpa: the Concert Hall
As noted from the top of the church tower, all those places that looked so far away on the map are actually quite easy to reach. It doesn’t take long to reach the coast and the weird, futuristic building that is Harpa. The city concert hall is apparently quite controversial because of its aspect but we found it way better looking than the concrete church. Even if there were no events we can go inside, not in the proper hall but we climbed up the three floors behind that spectacular glass beehive that encloses the whole building.
Drink and Food
Our 24 hours in Reykjavik were actually split in two. The second part of it happened at the end of our trip, enjoying an evening of indulgence in the capital.
We had our dinner in exactly the kind of place you would expect to find: Sægreifinn, the Sea Baron. This restaurant is far from being a hidden gem but its simple seafood shack aspect and straightforward tasty food make it a great choice for dinner. Don’t miss its famous lobster soup, and finish the meal off selecting some fish skewers displayed in their fridge.
Address: Tryggvagata, 101 Reykjavík / website: saegreifinn.is
The “101” area is your best bet for bars and restaurants in Reykjavik. After dinner we stumbled upon a place that looks very Icelandic: Forréttabarinn.
They say it’s one of the best fish and seafood restaurants in town, we only stayed at the bar and loved it. They also serve a good range of local beers, ask at the bar for suggestions.
Address: Nýlendugötu 14 (Mýrargata), 101 Reykjavik / website: forrettabarinn.is
Useful travel tip
From Keflavik is a scenic 50Km ride to the Reykjavik BSI bus station. The shuttle bus takes little less than 1 hour and it’s cheaper if booked online.