Brimming with fashionista charm, Reykjavik is dotted with boutiques, cafés and colorful two-tone houses. In recent years, the capital city has emerged as a hip alternative to major European powerhouses, such as Paris and Rome. Its compact size makes it an ideal walking city and the perfect destination for a 48-hour getaway.
The First 24 Hours
Do: Free walk of Reykjavik Tour
The 90-minute guided tour through Reykjavik is a perfect introduction to the city. Great storytelling and an insider’s look into Reykjavik’s past, present and future are all hallmarks of the walking tour. The tour is free; however, the guides do work for tips—500 krona (less than $5) is a reasonable gratuity. Because the tour is sponsored by GoEcco, there’s some cross promotion for the company’s other city tours, but it is nothing that cheapens the experience. The Free Walk of Reykjavik Tour operates daily from May 1 to Sept. 15, rain or shine, with no minimum number of guests needed.
Eat:Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (translation: The best hot dogs in town)
Bill Clinton, James Hetfield of Metallica and Anthony Bourdain all love Iceland’s most famous wiener, and for good reason, it is delicious. But it’s just not foreign celebrities who love these hot dogs, locals are huge fans too, often referring to them as the Icelandic national food. The hot dog will set you back about $3 and it can be topped with ketchup, fried onion, sweet mustard, raw onion and/or remoulade, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish.
Visit: Nautholsvik Thermal Beach
Nauthólsvík Beach is no Waikiki, but it’s definitely fun for a quick dip or afternoon swim. Geothermal water is pumped into two hot pots (large Jacuzzis) and into the bay, which keeps the lagoon’s temperature around 68 degrees. A seawall surrounding the lagoon helps to keep the cold sea water out of the swimming area. The complex at Nautholsvik Beach has changing rooms as well as café for beverages and snacks. Admission to the beach and facilities is free; though, a small fee is charged for lockers. The beach is open from May 15 to Aug. 31.
Visit: Hallgrimskirja Church (Church of Hallgrimur)
For less than a pint of beer in a Reykjavik pub, you can experience the capital city’s version of New York’s Empire State Building. Rising 244 feet above Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja Church’s observation deck, has no competition. Views from the deck offer panoramas of the city, bay and distant mountains. The church, which boasts a minimalist concrete design with clean lines and a behemoth pipe organ, is free; however, the observation deck costs about $5 to visit.
Eat: 3 Frakkar
With its nice selection of seafood and sea birds, plus a sweet nautical decor, 3 Frakkar is the spot to come for authentic Icelandic cuisine. While its not the cheapest spot in Reykjavik–main courses average about $30–the portions are a good size and are usually complemented with vegetables, potatoes and rich sauces.
The Next 24 Hours:
Visit and Eat: The National Museum of Iceland
Free on Wednesdays, the National Museum contains everything that our school textbooks failed to mention about Iceland. The “Making of a Nation” is the permanent exhibition at the museum. It contains a mix of artifacts and photographs detailing Iceland’s cultural heritage. The exhibition can be completed in a few hours, but like any museum, the longer you stay the more you will take away. The museum also offers free WiFi and has a café for light meals and beverages.
Visit: Laugardaslaug Thermal Pools
Laugardalslaug is a great example of why swimming is a national sport in Iceland despite the country’s proximity to the Arctic Circle. Considered the city’s largest geothermal pool, the complex houses a 50-meter outdoor pool, two water slides, numerous “hot pots” (Jacuzzis), an outdoor children’s pool, a thermal steam bath, indoor gym and a mini-golf course (weather permitting). An all-day pass to Laugardalslaug costs approximately $2.50 (the locker rental is included in the price). And like the U.S. Postal Service, Laugardalslaug operates in all weather conditions.
Gló is one of Reykjavik’s best vegetarian restaurants. Because the restaurant uses only fresh ingredients, the menu is updated daily and features four dishes of the day: raw food, a meat or vegetarian dish and the soup of the day, along with tea, coffee and desserts.