Everything about Iceland’s capital city just feels like the perfect tourist destination.
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.
The BSÍ Bus Terminal is located at the very southern tip of the city center. Tourist information centers, shops, restaurants, and bars can be found on Laugavegur, which turns into Bankastræti and then Austurstræti as it stretches west. These streets are generally touristy during the day and are crowded late at night, especially on weekends. They also house the city’s post office and many ATMs. Head uphill from Laugavegur to reach Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík’s iconic church, and the statue of Leif Erikson which looks out over the city. North is the ocean, along which a paved walking and biking path runs west, past the statue Sólfar, Harpa, and the harbor at the northwestern end of the city.
Iceland is, well, an island, meaning that air travel is inevitable. Most international journeys go through Keflavík International Airport (KEF). Your best bet is Icelandair, though WOW Air is always an option, provided you don’t mind paying for a carry-on and a reserved seat in addition to your ticket. Keflavík is about 30 miles southwest of Reykjavík, so take a bus (“transfer,” as it’s called) to the main city. The Flybus will take you to Reykjavík’s BSÍ Bus Terminal, about a 45-minute trip, for 2500 kr, and has free Wi-Fi. Note: most flights from America are red-eyes, but the airport is open and busy even in the mornings.
Reykjavík is an easily walkable city; it’s less than a half hour walk across at its widest point. There is a city bus service, Strætó, but note that you must buy a ticket in advance (sold at a number of shops) or pay with exact change on the bus, in cash! If you plan to use the bus a lot, the 1-day (1560 kr) and 3-day passes (3650 kr) are a better value. Taxis are also available, and rates are standard. Try Hreyfill (588 5522) or BSR (561 0000). In such an expensive country, though, walking is a great way to save some money.
Tourist Offices: Reykjavík’s official information center is located in City Hall (Tjarnargata 11, 101 Reykjavík; 411 6040; open daily 8am-8pm).
Banks/ATMs/Currency Exchange: Banks are mostly closed on weekends, but ATMs are common on main streets. You can exchange currency upon arrival at the airport or in any bank, but cards are accepted almost everywhere (Landsbankinn: Austurstræti 12, 101 Reykjavík; 410 4000; M-F open 9am-4pm).
Post Offices: Pósthússtræti 5, 101 Reykjavík; 580 1000; open M-F 9am-9pm. Internet: Free Wi-Fi is available at most cafés and public spaces, as well as at City Hall.
BGLTQ+ Resources: Iceland is one of the most progressive countries in the world with regard to BGLTQ+ rights and was the first country to openly elect a gay head of state. Reykjavík, like the rest of the country, is so well integrated that specific BGLTQ+ spaces are hardly necessary, though a few exist (Samtökin ’78 is the National Queer Organization at Suðurgata 3, 101 Reykjavík; 552 7878; www.samtokin78.is; open M-F 1-4pm, open house 8-11pm).
Emergency Number: 112
Police: Icelandic police are known for being friendly and fun-loving. Check out their Instagram (@logreglan) to see how they’ve been cracking down on crime among the snowman population (113-115 Hverfisgata, 105 Reykjavík; 444 1000).
US Embassy: Laufásvegur 21, 101 Reykjavík; 595 2200 (595 2248 after hours and weekends); M-F 8am-5pm. Rape Crisis Center: A special emergency unit is located in the Emergency Department at Landspítali University Hospital, Fossvogur (108 Reykjavík; 543 2085; open daily 24hr).
Hospitals: The main hospital is located outside the city center. If urgent care is required, call 112 for an ambulance (Landspítali University Hospital, Fossvogur: Bráðamóttaka, Fossvogi; 543 2000; open daily 24hr).
- Lyfja (Laugavegur 16; 552 4045; M-F 9am-6pm, Sa 11am-5pm).
- Lyfja (Lágmúla 5; 533 2300; daily 8am-midnight).