Everything about Iceland’s capital city just feels expensive and purposely built for tourists. Information and booking centers line the main streets, menus in restaurant windows showcase some eye-opening cuisine (and even more eye-opening prices), and even the street art is in a league of its own. What’s more, despite being Iceland’s largest city by a big margin, Reykjavík doesn’t even feel like the island’s main attraction. Talk to fellow travelers and their primary question will not be “Have you tried fermented shark yet?,” but rather “What tours of the island have you done so far?” as if the only thing to do once you get to Reykjavík is leave it.
Was Reykjavík the artistic and cultural hub of Renaissance Europe? No (it wasn’t even a city back in the days of Michelangelo). Did it command a vast global empire and help lead Europe into the modern era? Not really (it wasn’t even fully independent until 1944). Does it have an entire museum about penises with almost 300 biological specimens? Absolutely (oh, so now you’re intrigued?). Reykjavík is a different breed of city—one that is modern and completely unapologetic about its many oddities. It’s the kind of city that you actually want to visit. The museums are unpretentious and genuinely interesting (sometimes shockingly so), the nightlife is thriving and without the usual pressures of dress codes and exorbitant cover charges, and, in the summer at least, daylight never fades.
Do take tours to see the astounding natural beauty of Iceland, and do plan for only a few days in the city itself, but don’t overlook Reykjavík as nothing more than a gateway to the island. There is more here for you than meets the eye.