So how’s Reykjavik in winter? Magical. Snowy. Soothing. Fascinating. Here are memories of 24 wonderful hours around the city. Smiling non-stop.
The plane lands at Keflavik International – a family friendly place with free wifi. To go to the town center, you can either take a taxi or jump on the Flybus Shuttle which will take you to the main bus station there. You can book online in advance and pay a little extra for them to take you straight to your hotel – in which case you will probably be asked to change to a smaller coach at the bus station. Much easier to go around the narrow streets!
In summer, the sun shines high, almost all day. In December though, it’s only up around 11am and disappears around 3pm. Make the most of the daylight photo-wise! You would think it’s quite depressing but you slowly get used to an amazing palette of dark blue, grey and whites constantly evolving. Arriving early in Reykjavik? Quite a few cafés open from 7 am (Bergsson Mathús is one). I decided to go down to the marina have a look at the boats and Mount Esja in the distance. And maybe write a few postcards, sip on a liquorice hot chocolate in the cosy lounges of the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina… Nearby are the Northern Lights Center, the Saga Museum (if you fancy learning more about the Vikings who came to live on the island) and the Maritime Museum (fishing has always been vital to Iceland). This is also where the whale watching boat tours start from.
Walking back towards the town centre, I could not help but marvel at the cultural centre’s architecture – Harpa – inspired by nature, volcanoes, Northern Lights. Iceberg? Fish scales? Futuristic spaceship? Each detail plays with mirrors and geometry – it’s quite hypnotising. This is the best place to see exhibitions, conferences, concerts and screenings. They do backstage tours too, should you want to know more.
If you continue walking by the seaside, a little further than Harpa, you will find Sólfar – a contemporary Viking boat created by Jón Gunnar Árnason to commemorate Reykjavik’s 200th anniversary. The artist sees it as a Sun Voyager, an ode to the sun.
There are lots of little shops in the center – design, art, souvenirs, cafés. The main streets are Laugavegur and Skólavördustigur. The latter goes up the hill and brings you to Hallgrimskirkja – a brutalist church which reminds me of volcanic eruptions, giant waves crashing against the Icelandic cliffs or even the basalt columns in Vik. It’s worth coming for a concert here – the organ’s music is quite theatrical. For a small fee, you can get on the lift and get to the top of the tower. You’ll have a brilliant view on the city from there!
Cross the street – Einar Jónsson Museum’s sculpture garden is free…
From there, why not take a stroll in the residential area? The local houses use corrugated iron to make sure the snow slides better but are quite daring when it comes to colour. Nothing’s off limits! You’re sure to find some street art along the way too.
As I was looking for the city’s lake, Reykjavíkurtjörn, Google Maps showed me I was right by it. It had frozen and disappeared under the snow. Swans and ducks wait patiently for passers-by to throw a few treats. It seems the local bakeries (the best one is Sandholt by the way!) bring them their extras, which apparently includes the famous snúður (spiral buns with icing on top). I leave you to imagine the concert when they see you approaching with food!
What about the evenings? If it’s Northern Lights season, there are special boat tours taking you away from the city lights. Most will allow you to come back for free until you are lucky enough to see them. A delicious address nearby is Koplar, a restaurant with a modern take on local ingredients. Don’t hesitate, go for their tasting menus! Alternatively, relax at one of the swimming pools in town. They are open till 9 or 10pm and have geothermal hot tubs.
If you have an extra day… there are plenty of tours to go and see the sights of the Golden Circle or even visit one of the glaciers. Unforgettable memories. You will find fab hotel deals this way.
This post is in collaboration with Expedia