Move over, Manhattan. Take five, London. Apart from being a game winner in Scrabble and relatively easy to pronounce (by Icelandic standards at least), Reykjavik is one of the coolest cities going around.
It’s the world’s most northerly capital, but locals don’t let months of complete darkness stop them from having a good time. Funky bars, underground galleries, free-range lamb hotdogs with sweet pylsusinnep mustard and achingly cool Scandinavian design– this little cosmopolitan city has them all. And if the odd name is not reason enough to visit, allow me to lay down the reasons exactly why you need to book a flight to Iceland’s capital right now.
1. A church that resembles a spaceship
Despite being the first settlement in Iceland, there’s a lot about Reykjavik that’s all about the new. Tuck into an Icelandic donut (sort of a croissant, bread roll and a donut all in one) in a funky independent café on the main street Laugavegur, then go for a stroll past the looming modernist facade of Hallgrmskirkja, a 20th century church that took 38 years to build and looks as if it’s about to launch a mission to Mars.
2. The weird and the wonderful
What really makes a place come to life are those cultural quirks and Iceland certainly has its fair share. We’re talking elves (yes Icelanders, believe in elves), Bjork, and the fact that Iceland was used as the backdrop for the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. For a bite of the real Reykjavik, head to the harbour side hotdog stand of ‘Bæjarins beztu pylsur’ (literally ‘the best hotdogs in town’). It’s estimated that 70% of the population have eaten here, as well as Bill Clinton and Metallica. Icelandic hotdogs are lamb-based and topped with raw white onions, a sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep and remoulade. You’ll just have to trust us, they’re delicious.
3. Art and the architecture galore
Whether you’re a modernist or a purist at heart, you’ll find something to gawp at in Reykjavik. The uber cool futuristic Harpa building not only lends itself to the camera lens – the outside of the building resembles iridescent fish scales – but it also offers a shop brimming with the latest in Scandinavian design, from furry foot stools to innovative storage solutions. Or for something special, head to the Imagine Peace Tower at night. It’s a public installation conceived by Yoko Ono: a wishing well that shoots up a powerful beam of blue light into the night sky.
4. Literally a penis museum
That is not a typo. As well as being home to the viking inspired Settlement Expedition and the National Museum of Iceland, Reykjavik is home to the world’s only penis museum: the Iceland Phallological Museum. It has the honour of being the world’s largest display of penises. Not only does it have an impressive array of animal phalluses, it houses a few human specimens, including silver casts of the the 15 members of the Icelandic National Handball team – sculpted to commemorate their 2008 silver medal in the Beijing Olympic Games.
5. You can swim here
Icelanders use geothermal technology to power most of their cities, but more importantly they realised its massive potential for the bathing industry. Being almost within touching distance of the Arctic circle means daylight hours will be aplenty in the summer, or dwindling in the Winter, but thanks to thermal springs near Reykjavik there’s always the opportunity to escape the cold. Clamber into a thermal hot spring, rub some mineral-rich Icelandic mud on your face, and sit back with a fresh smoothie at the Blue Lagoon. It’s like a giant natural hot tub. What’s not to love about that? Top tip – condition your hair before entering to protect it from the sulphur.
6. The Laundromat. Enough said.
Okay, you want a hot tip? The spot where the cool Reykjavik kids hang out? Not problem. It’s called The Laundromat. No, it’s not an old laundrette where somehow the old washing machines have been turned into a bar (although that would be great idea – someone get working on that). This is a too-cool-for-school eatery, café and bar all rolled into one. The best bits? Free sweet thirst-quenching water filled with fresh raspberries and a bar made of bookshelves filled with paperbacks. Alone or with a bunch of mates, day or night, The Laundromat is full of good vibes.
7. Icy cool nightlife
Escape the evening chills and get cosy with a pint or whisky on ice in a local pub. Dillon and Dolly are two pub bars which are among the most buzzing when it comes to Reykjavik’s night life. You might find yourself drawn into conversation at the bar with an Icelandic fisherman (it happened to yours truly). Although Iceland won’t be rivalling Italy as a foodie destination anytime soon, things have improved a lot since the 1980s when beer was illegal and canned soup a nightly staple. Try and catch an impromptu gig at the Kex Hostel, a trendy bar and eatery built in an old biscuit factory (Kex is Icelandic for biscuit – good trivia, that).
Ready to explore Reykjavik in the flesh? You’ll need one of our Icelandic small group adventures. Don’t worry, they all make a stop in Iceland’s capital of cool.