Reykjavik may be the capital of Iceland but it feels more like a small town than a capital city.
Small and compact in size, it’s easy to explore on foot and see the sights in a day. But when it comes to nightlife, Reykjavik is bursting at the seams with bars and gourmet restaurants and I left the country knowing I would need to come back for a second visit just to dine at all the foodie spots.
I visited Reykjavik in winter time with my friend Anna, when the air was icy cold and the whole town looked like a magical winter wonderland. We were there midweek when all was quiet but on weekends we hear the nightlife is crazy wild, with clubs staying open till 5am. With colourful houses, graffiti-covered walls and quirky people, Reykjavik has a certain charm about it and I’d love to go back in summer when the city is blessed with 22 hours of daylight.
We stayed for a total of 4 nights, using the city as a base to explore the rest of Iceland on day tours with Reykjavik Excursions. If you have the time, definitely book a tour to see The Blue Lagoon and The Golden Circle for an introduction to this incredible country.
Here’s a video I shot that gives you a little tour of Reykjavik:
And if you didn’t catch the video- here’s a list of the top things to do in Reykjavik.
1. Take a photo of the famous church
The church with a name I can’t pronounce- Hallgrimskirkja- is a recognisable landmark of Reykjavik, designed to look like the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape. It took 38 years to build this Lutherian parish church, which is 73 metres high and can be seen throughout the city. It makes for great photographs in winter, especially when the sun sets behind it creating a pink and blue sky.
2. Visit the Penis Museum
A penis museum you say? Officially called the The Icelandic Phallological Museum, this building houses a collection of more than 280 real penile parts of all different kinds of animals found in iceland. We’re talking whales, polar bears, walruses…you can even gaze at the penis and scrotum of a 95 year old man, which is preserved in formaldehyde. It’s weird…really weird. I wouldn’t say it’s an enjoyable experience but it’s one you won’t forget in a hurry.
3. Try the world’s best hot dogs
I always thought hot dogs were best left to the Americans but it turns out Reykjavik has what many claim to be the world’s best hot dogs. A small red and white hot dog stand called Bæjarins beztu pylsur is the place to go for a snack in the city centre- even Bill Clinton has ordered a hot dog from here. I had one, then went back for another…and another. They are so moreish they should come with a warning. The bun is fluffy, the hot dog is meaty and the suspiciously coloured sauces are in fact incredibly tasty. Come night time on a weekend a seriously long queue starts to form as people pile out of the clubs and bars looking for a late night snack.
4. Dine at Apotek
I’m still dreaming of the meal I ate at Apotek restaurant, which is part of the Apotek Hotel. Artisan cocktails are served by a a mixologist wearing a lab coat, which makes him look more like a pharmacist than a bartender. Painkillers, placebos, stimulants, tranquilisers…they have a drink for every mood. The Dillagin was my personal favourite- a blend of Dill infused Beefeater 24, mango liqueur, lime, sugar syrup and aromatic bitters. Food is designed for sharing and the menu features a mix of Icelandic and European cuisine. Anna and I sampled the pan fried scallops with caramelized Jerusalem artichoke purée, white chocolate, bone marrow and apple; the grilled tuna with avocado purée, ginger, sesame seeds, pickled watermelon; and the beef tenderloin straight from the Argentinian grill.
5. Drink a White Russian at Lebowski Bar
Based on the cult movie ‘The Big Lebowski’, the Lebowski bar has an American diner theme, serving milkshakes, burgers and the classic ‘White Russian’- “the dude’s” signature drink. They actually have a whole menu dedicated to the white russian, with various twists on this classic cocktail. It’s a great place to meet with other travellers and swap tales of chasing the Northern Lights while the DJ spins some tunes.
6. Marvel at the Harpa Concert Hall
The Harpa concert hall is a striking building on the harbour- you can’t really miss it. Designed by Danish architect firm Henning Larsen architects, the concert venue has geometric shaped glass panels in various colours that reflect the sunlight, making it look a bit like the scales of a fish. You can stop for a coffee in their cafeteria, or attend one of the many concerts or music festivals that are held here.
7. Eat at Sjavargrillid
Sjavargrillid came very high on the list of top restaurants on TripAdvisor and was recommended by various friends of ours, so we just had to give it a whirl. I’m pleased to say the food and service was outstanding. I had the grilled & crispy langoustine with pan fried plaice, organic barley, golden beet, date, kale, followed by créme brûlée with strawberry, caramel, sorrel, cocoa nips. Eating out in Reykjavik is far from cheap, but this was one of the most memorable meals of my life. Incredibly well presented, rich in flavour, with unique combinations and textures.
8. Have a coffee in Laundromat Cafe
When looking for things to do in Reykjavik I turned to the people of Twitter, who recommended I visit the Laundromat Cafe, which turned out to be located a stone’s throw from our hotel. The concept is a laundromat combined with a restaurant/cafe, so you can do your laundry and have something to eat or drink while you wait. Genius. It has a homely atmosphere, with books, games and Free WiFi so you can come in here and check your Twitter, Facebook etc. If you can’t decide what to eat get the oven baked salmon with parsley lemon butter, root vegetables and sweet potatoes- you won’t regret it.
9. Shop till you drop
Reykjavik is packed with shops selling everything from vintage clothes and fur hats to high end pieces by up and coming designers. There are lots of unique brands and quirky boutiques here, so you’ll be sure to find something you can’t get anywhere else.
Do you have any must-dos for Reykjavik? Leave your comments below!
Getting to Iceland
WOW air currently flies 10 times per week from London Gatwick to Reykjavik with twice-daily departures on Monday, Thursday and Sunday.
WOW air’s direct route between London Gatwick and Reykjavik costs from just£49 one way, which includes taxes and hand luggage allowance (one bag measuring 56cm x 45cm x 25cm) plus handbag and duty-free shopping bag.