Reykjavik – the World’s Northernmost Capital City
20 April, 2015
Nearly two thirds of Iceland’s inhabitants live in the capital, Reykjavik, regarded as one of the greenest, cleanest and safest cities on the planet. In winter, there are hardly 4 hours of sunlight a day. On the contrary, if you happen to visit it around the summer solstice, you will find yourself in a city where the sun never completely sets at all. This enables tourists to make the most of their time in Iceland’s capital city, before embarking on the customary trip around the Icelandic Ring Road which skirts the whole island.
The major sightseeing area in Reykjavik is the western district of Miðborg, the city’s historical centre. Hljómskálagarður park, with its Tjörnin lake, is a good starting point, as you can sit on a bench and get your bearings on a map before venturing out on a walking route which will take you to the most interesting places in the city. At one end of the lake stands Iceland University (Háskóli Íslands) while, if you cross the bridge over it, you come to the National Gallery of Iceland, housing exhibits by the country’s most famous artists and a performance centre for traditional Icelandic culture. Standing next to it is the Reykjavik Free Church, founded in 1899, an alternative to the National Lutheran Church.
Iceland’s Parliament, known as the Alþingi, is located just a few blocks away. Built of dressed stone, it dates from 1881, although the institution itself goes back to the year 930 and is one of the oldest elected assemblies in the world.
Time for a Snack
Whether in summer or winter, one’s notion of time is somewhat warped in Iceland, on account of the marked changes in daylight hours. If there is one thing sacred in life it is snacking and Reykjavik is no exception. Heading along Lækjargata street, you come across the striking Harpa concert and conference hall, but press on towards the city’s harbour. Shortly before arriving, you pass by one of the must-see sights of the city, a hotdog stand known as Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Alright – we know it’s just a boiled sausage served in a typical bun smothered in various sauces, and it’s eaten outdoors, but at number 1 Tryggvagata street hundreds of sausages are served every day and long queues build up at the hotdog stand. This is undoubtedly one of the most popular gastronomic customs in Reykjavik and the most famous sausage in Iceland.
After building up your strength, it is time to continue exploring the city. The harbour is divided between the districts of Miðborg and Vesturbær. The latter is home to the Vikin Maritime Museum in which cod fishing is accorded special importance. You can taste Icelandic codfish in one of the restaurants in the harbour area, as well as other typical dishes such as lobster soup, salmon and lamb. To round off the experience, you can hire a fishing rod and while away the afternoon, or set sail on a whale-sighting excursion in Faxaflói bay.
The main area with bars is Austurstræti street and environs, while the shopping area is scattered along Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur street. Prominent among the stores selling garments, design and food is the Álafoss wool store, the best known and traditional Icelandic wool brand. Here you can also purchase a typical Icelandic jersey, known as a Lopapeysa.
Before nightfall, you should wrap up your visit by taking in the best views of the city, which are afforded by the vantage point that is Hallgrímskirkja Church. Access to the belfry costs ISK 600 (about €4), but it is well worth the price. You could end off the day in an inviting pop-up restaurant where you can taste a peculiar fusion between Basque and Icelandic cuisine. Sumendi, as it is called, organises several dinners during the year.
If you make the journey in summer, the sun will be a constant throughout your stay, so you’d best wind up the day at the famous sculpture known as Sólfar (The Sun Voyager), evocative of places to be discovered and countries to be seen, like those Vueling brings you close to through its air routes.
Haritz Rodriguez is a travel journalist and blogger with over 17 years’ experience in radio, television, press and internet. He is an editor of Tokitan.tv and director of the Barking Blogs communication studio.
20 April, 2015