We had a great few days in Iceland, staying in Reykjavik. We wanted a short break which combined a quirky city holiday with amazing natural sights, and hopefully catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. We chose to go in March as we thought there would be a good chance to see the lights without being freezing cold!
The coach journey from the airport to the city gave us our first glimpse of the seemingly barren, rocky terrain of the lava fields – it almost felt like being on another planet! Reykjavik is unlike any other city we’d visited before – the city centre was much smaller than I imagined, without realising that the whole population of Iceland is only 300,000 (Reykjavik is just over 200,000!). So it feels much more like a small town and all the main sights are within walking distance which was really convenient. Iceland has no trains, McDonalds or Starbucks, so it feels a lot less commercialised than anywhere else we’d visited in Europe (but there were plenty of Subways!)
Hotel: We stayed at the Grand Hotel Reykjavik which was a really nice modern hotel, about half an hour walk from the centre – and we got a free upgrade which was a bonus! All of the excursions also offer hotel pick up which is really convenient.
Restaurants: unfortunately eating out is expensive in the city but we found a few nice places. Our favourites were:
- Islenski Barinn – for a nice burger and beer in the centre of town
- The Laundromat Cafe – great for brunch
- Hamborgarafabrikan – opposite the hofoi house
10 reasons to book a city break to Reykjavik:
1. Take the scenic Sculpture and Shore Walk …
…from the outskirts into the city centre, ending at Harpa Concert Hall. It takes about half an hour, with amazing views of the sea, mountains and the quirky sculptures – the most famous being the Sun Voyager.
2. Book a Golden Circle tour with Reyjkavik Excursions …
… the all day trip includes Geysir hot springs, Gullfoss waterfall and Thingvellir National Park where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet – all of which were amazing natural sights. My favourite was Gullfoss – seeing the rainbow shining across the water was picture perfect!
3. Book a Northern Lights tour (in winter)…
we took the standard bus tour out with Reykjavik Excursions at 10pm. Wrapping up REALLY warm with lots of layers is essential – we waited out for a couple of hours in the freezing cold but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see anything! Normally the company let you rebook to go out again if you don’t see the lights but unfortunately the rest of the tours for the duration of our stay were cancelled due to the clouds, so needless to say we were a bit gutted. But it does give us a good excuse to visit again one day!
4. Go to Blue Lagoon Spa…
…a really unique once in a lifetime experience! Although it was expensive we went for the premium package and ate in the restaurant before our swim. The face masks are fun to apply and the in water bar is awesome; the strawberry wine and Skyr smoothies were our favourites. Although its very touristy it is worth doing, but there are cheaper alternatives if budget is an issue.
5. Go to the top of the Hallgrimskirkja Church …
….to admire the views of the city – all the coloured rooftops come to life and you realise how small it is!
6. Take a short bus trip out to Perlan (The Pearl) …
…go up to the circular viewing deck to enjoy fantastic 360 views over the city and the mountains.
7. Enjoy some Skyr yoghurts and smoothies …
…you can buy them everywhere and they are so tasty AND naturally fat free! I’m now obsessed with them!
8. Take a leisurely walk round the shopping streets ….
…Laugavegur is the main street with lots of great shops, restaurants, bars and quirky street art.
9. Go whale watching- or the cheaper alternative…
…If like us you can’t afford to pay £50 per person for a whale watching boat tour, we recommend visiting the Whales of Iceland museum as a fun and cheap alternative! We had a ‘whale’ of a time 🙂
10. Take a look around the unique Harpa Concert Hall building in the centre of town
The quirky architecture is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
And something that was probably missable…
We decided to take a walk to the nearby Reykjavik Park and Zoo – we had read online that it was quite small but it really is more like a farm than a zoo and only took us about half an hour to walk round and see everything – so it’s probably not worth a visit – unless you really really like cows, or seals!