"Reykjavik's Peculiar Charm" Top 5 Page for this destination Reykjavík by acemj

Reykjavík Travel Guide: 931 reviews and 3,108 photos

Nearly every visitor to Iceland will spend some time in its capital Reykjavik. After all, of the almost 300,000 people who live in Iceland, close to 200,000 live here. The second largest city has only 16,000 people, so if you're looking for civilization on this vast wilderness of an island, this is it. Or is it?

Reykjavik's brand of civilized is certainly unique. Locals are quietly independent, smart and innovative. The fact that Icelanders enjoy the second highest per capita income in the world behind the Norwegians is wildly impressive when you are standing at the top of the church tower of Hallgrimskirkja surveying the small city below and looking out at the barrenness that surrounds it. Other than fish and an abundance of geothermal energy that the people have ingeniously harnessed, what other resources do they have? You hardly see a tree anywhere and the rocky, volcanic landscape that surrounds Reykjavik is truly other-worldly and reminds the visitor of anything but civilization.

The air is fresh although perhaps not as cold as you might have expected when booking your ticket to a country called "Iceland". In fact, the temperatures are relatively mild due to the moderating effects of Reykjavik's coastal location. If you come here in winter, expect cold, but not freezing and very little light other than a possible sighting of the Northern Lights, which I missed out on by just a week or so. In summer, make sure your hotel has good blinds if you're looking to get some sleep in 24 hours of daylight.

I had four full days in Reykjavik, which is more than enough time to get to know the town and to see the majority of its main sights. You don't come here for its museums and galleries, although some of them are quite good. There was a time when no one came here at all, but with a wave of better restaurants, good hotels and a thriving tourism industry, Reykjavik has become a popular destination for travelers looking for something different. For me coming just up to the edge of civilization was a great appeal and being in Reykjavik really made me feel that I was on the edge of things. This town is on the edge of being what I'd consider a true city. Its food is almost great and its notorious nightlife almost lives up to the hype, but everything kind of lingers on the edge. Most of the locals that I met had the typical Scandinavian tendency of being polite, but not overly friendly. They'll speak with you, but keep you on the edges of a true friendship, holding on to their independence as if too much of you might spoil their Icelandic spirit (which might, in fact, be true).

When you come to a town expecting peculiar, peculiar is probably what you'll get. I guess looking at locals and expecting something slightly off, can be sensed by those locals and then, really, who is the one who is slightly off? In a way, the quiet and reserved veneer of the people seems to me to be hiding a much more exciting, volatile spirit waiting to erupt like much of the land itself. Part of the fun of being in Reykjavik is seeking out those moments when the people release, let down their guards and start showing you who they really are. I found that staying out late and adding a dash of alcohol is the easiest way to bring out the Icelandic spirit, but maybe it's okay that I never really got beyond the edges.

  • Last visit to Reykjavík: Apr 2007
  • Intro Updated May 6, 2007
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Reviews (50)

Comments (12)

  • Pomocub's Profile Photo
    Nov 23, 2013 at 5:21 AM

    Reykjavik looks like a beautiful city. My list of places to travel to just keeps getting longer and longer.

  • Arkeolog's Profile Photo
    Feb 19, 2009 at 2:48 AM

    just beautiful. I liked ur Reykjavik page. best wishes from Istanbul.Bora

  • Aug 18, 2008 at 5:27 AM

    As a paddy on tour i think it's my duty to check out at least one Irish bar no matter where i go. I thought the Dubliner was a grand spot and the staff were v-nice once they got to know us..

  • frecklesoup's Profile Photo
    Mar 15, 2008 at 8:49 AM

    Excellent tips.. And your writing is terrific. Thanks!

  • JohnniOmani's Profile Photo
    Feb 16, 2008 at 2:39 PM

    again, another great page . . cant wait to visit this summer :)

  • agapotravel's Profile Photo
    May 23, 2007 at 10:11 AM

    Wow!! I loved reading your tips and seeing your postcard worthy pictures. We are going in July, and I will definitely refer back to your pages to help me plan. :-)

  • globetrott's Profile Photo
    May 12, 2007 at 9:43 PM

    an interesting page and great pics, Mark ! Reykjavik has changed a lot since I had been there last time.

  • ATXtraveler's Profile Photo
    May 11, 2007 at 6:24 AM

    Do you find it ironic that Iceland is Green, and Greenland is Icy?

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    May 10, 2007 at 10:34 AM

    Mark, excellent tips and photos of your visit to Reykjavik! Very helpful tips here to help a poor traveller keep costs under 'some' control! Hotel Fron looks like a good deal and I had to laugh at your Hot Dog tip. This is a place I'd love to visit too!

  • b1bob's Profile Photo
    May 7, 2007 at 10:07 PM

    Definitely too rich for my blood. I think I'll pass this one by until I hit the lottery.

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