They say that New York City is the city that never sleeps, but you know what? I think that Reykjavik could easily steal that title. With the midnight sun during the summer there’s no reason for city dwellers to stick to the standard night time routine of heading to bed after the sun has gone down and the restaurants and bars close. In fact, the bars stay open until 6 AM in this quaint little city so it truly is the “city that never sleeps.”
Before my trip when I was asked what part of Iceland I was most looking forward to I replied with “Reykjavik.” Not the waterfalls, not the Blue Lagoon- “Reykjavik.” There was a beauty to the city that enticed me and I was so looking forward to experiencing it for myself.
I booked the hotel closest to Hallgrimskirkja knowing that this would be the area of the city that I wanted to spend the most time in. We stayed at Hotel Leifur Eriksson which had the BEST location in all of Reykjavik and also came with a complementary Icelandic breakfast buffet each morning. Our hotel had an unobstructed view of the church and was only a 30-second walk to the Hallgrimskirkja bus stop (bus stop #8) which is where we were picked up for each of our tours. The check in and breakfast areas of the hotel were beautiful and the breakfast buffet was an added bonus that we didn’t think we would have during our trip. We ended up staying in a room in the back of the hotel, without a view of the church, with two twin beds. The room was fine for someone who was looking to only spend time there to sleep, which was our plan anyways. The bathroom was small and HEADS UP: the shower smells like sulfur because water is heated by geothermal energy in the country. One great thing about the room was that there is a black-out shade that blocks out most of the sunlight.
Overall I would say to absolutely book this hotel if you’re looking to stay in the best location with access to bus tours. If you want a luxury suite to relax in for hours you should probably find another hotel. If (or should I say when…) I go back to Iceland I would book this place again without hesitation.
After checking into our hotel, the rain that had greeted us upon our arrival to Iceland had finally gone away and, luckily, did not come back until after our departure from the country three days later. With the sun shining, we decided to venture out into the city and experience as much as we could in the short amount of time that we had.
The first place I wanted to see was the Sun Voyager. The viking-like ship statue easily blended in with the natural landscape of the Reykjavik harbor so it was easy to miss when you were just scanning the waterfront from a few blocks away. After following the small crowd of tourists, we stumbled upon the statue. It was incredible how the city just ended at the harbor and on the other side were mountains. The water front actually reminded me of Halifax but the view of the other side almost didn’t seem real because of how natural and untouched it was. I hope it always stays that way. Let the city look out onto it’s neighboring mountains.
The next stop on our walking tour was Harpa Concert Hall. To be honest, I am not much into art, music, and theater when I’m traveling so while the architecture of this hall was beautiful I’m sure other tourists appreciated it much more than I did. Nonetheless we went into the concert hall, which is open to the public, and had a look around. The colorful glass is visible from any location within the hall and on the back wall you are able to look out over the harbor and to the mountains on the other side of the water.
The city itself was quaint and very walkable. The buildings were colorful with a nordic feel and there wasn’t much traffic to compete with, even on the busiest streets. We enjoyed walking up and down the streets, going into shops, and trying different foods. There is plenty of parking along the main stretches and Reykjavik does have a transit system that can take you to most parts of the city. The best part about the city? Hallgrimskirkja is always visible. It dominates the skyline of Reykjavik and makes finding your way very easy because it acts as a reference point. We never once felt unsafe in the city. Even late at “night” we were able to go off on our own and walk to the grocery store a short distance from our hotel and felt comfortable doing so.
Since we allocated some time in the city we were able to walk around and explore instead of just seeing the “must do’s” and moving on. Our adventure around the city paid off! There are so many unique aspects to Reykjavik.
My favorite spot in the city was Hallgrimskirkja, the church that towers above Reykjavik. For $9 you are able to take the elevator to the top of the church and look out over the city on all sides. At this point in our day the sun had come out and the rain had moved on. This made for some picture perfect opportunities that I am so glad I did not miss out on. There are two levels of the church that looks out over Reykjavik: the first one being where the clock is located and the second being in the arch windows above the clock. The view of the city from above is breathtaking. The rooftops are all different colors and certainly pop when the sun is out.
If you don’t have time to venture to the top of Hallgrimskirkja at least make time to visit this area of the city and take some photos with Leif Erikkson who looks out over the city. I was pleasantly surprised to find out the the statue of Leif Erikkson was a gift from the United States to Iceland on the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s first parliament which took place in 930 at Thingvellier National Park (which we were able to visit on our Golden Circle tour!)
It was so nice walking out from our hotel each morning and having Mr. Leif Erikkson greet us. I took about 300 photos of him and the church, and for good reason- it was beautiful.
Our first day in Iceland ended with fish & chips from Reykjavik Fish which we had both said were the best fish & chips we’ve ever had. While we were warned that food prices in Iceland could be a little steep, I didn’t find any of my meal prices to be outrageous. This meal cost me about $11 for 3 large pieces of fish and fries.
For the remaining two days of our trip we had a Golden Circle tour and South Coast tour planned, both departing from Reykjavik. The city of Reykjavik makes for a great base to head out for day tours. Even though our excursions took us to volcanos, glaciers, and waterfalls, we were never more than a two and a half hour drive from Reykjavik. There was plenty more to see and do in the country but I think our three day excursion made for a good starting point. The fact that I missed some “must see” spots just means I have to plan a return trip to Iceland, right?
Up next: Our Golden Circle tour.