Travel tales

One day in Reykjavik

Sun Voyager statue in Reykjavik, Iceland

In the 10 years since I first visited Iceland the country’s popularity has exploded – it’s gone from hidden gem to hotspot, and a lot of that is thanks to the airlines. With a convenient position between Europe and North America and cheap flight deals, Reykjavik has become stopover central. You can already do a free stopover on Icelandair flights to the US, and next year Icelandic budget airline WOW are starting flights from my local airport in Bristol to Canada and the USA. So it looks like I might be back in Reykjavik again soon. Not that I need much of an excuse to spend more time in this cool Nordic capital. It has a great mix of small-town friendliness with quirky design, Viking history with contemporary architecture. Its small size means you can pack a lot into a day too – here’s how I spent my latest flying visit to Reykjavik.

Hallgrímskirkja views

Reykjavik’s not a high-rise city, but there’s one building towers that over the rest – the Hallgrímskirkja church. It’s 244 feet tall and built from white concrete. The unusual design was created by Icelandic state architect Guðjón Samúelsson in the 1940s. It was inspired by Iceland’s geology, with columns on each side based on the rock formations you get when volcanic lava cools. The design was controversial at the time and it took 38 years to complete, so Samúelsson never got to see it finished. The church is pretty minimalist on the inside, but you can climb up to the top of the tower for a great view out over the city’s colourful rooftops (the slightly claustrophobic lift up to the observation platform costs 800 ISK – approx £4).

Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavik

Outside and inside the Hallgrímskirkja

Harpa Concert Hall

There’s more geological inspiration on show at Reykjavik’s new Harpa Concert Hall. Opened in 2011, it’s a dramatic new addition to the city’s waterfront since my previous visit. The building is made up of three-dimensional windows using the same hexagonal shape as Iceland’s basalt rocks. It sparkles with light reflected from the sea and sky by day and is lit up with colourful lights by night. The concert hall is home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra but even if you can’t get to a performance then there’s a bar, restaurant and gift shop you can visit, as well as a terrace with views out across the harbour and mountains.

Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik

The dramatic Harpa Concert Hall

Laundromat Café lunch

I think I would practically move into the Laundromat Café if I had one near me. It’s part of a small chain that started out in Copenhagen before opening a branch in Reykjavik in 2011. It mixes up slightly kitsch American diner-style decor with a few Nordic touches. There are maps covering the walls and the bar is lined with shelves of colour-coded books – what’s not to love? The food’s good too, with big brunches, local specialities like Skyr cake and Icelandic salmon, and homemade cakes. It’s a really cosy place where you can hide out on a wintery day and read the papers, buy a book or borrow a board game. There are prints of vintage launderettes on the walls and you can actually do your laundry downstairs too.

Laundromat Café, Reykjavik

Inside the Laundromat Café

Street art and shopping

Icelanders are creative people and Reykjavik has a big focus on design. Most buildings are made of concrete so have become a blank canvas for street art. You’ll find it all around the city – from tiny hidden sketches to colourful murals covering the whole side of a building. The artists are usually commissioned or get permission from the property owner so it’s more art than graffiti. Reykjavik is a great place for shopping too, with not many chains and lots of unique boutiques selling local products. Some of the top gifts to take home are lopapeysa (cozy Icelandic woolen jumpers), lava rock jewellery and the amazing mustard you get on Icelandic hotdogs. Or check out Kraum and Kisan for cool clothing and homewares.

Street art in Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik street art

Sun Voyager sunset

Just along the waterfront from Harpa is the Sun Voyager – or Sólfar in Icelandic – statue. It was designed by sculptor Jón Gunnar Árnason as a dream boat, an ode to sun and light (though there’s a certain resemblance to a Viking longboat too). It’s made of stainless steel on a base of polished granite, and on a clear day you get a backdrop of Mount Esja across the bay. If you get there just before sunset then it makes a great silhouette against the changing colours of the sky – the perfect end to a day in Reykjavik.

Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik

The Sun Voyager or Sólfar sculpture

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One day in Reykjavik: A stopover guide – On the Luce travel blog

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    Actually Mummy
    November 26, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    I have always wanted to visit Reykjavik and everwhere I look at the moment there are reminders that I should. I think it’s a message 🙂 Best prioritise!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 26, 2015 at 5:07 pm

      Definitely the universe trying to tell you something! There are some really good flight deals now and it’s got a lot cheaper than when I first visited too.

  • Reply
    Vlad
    November 26, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    I’m hoping 2016 will be the year when I finally visit Iceland, I’ve been dying to visit since forever (I could say I wanted to go “before it was cool” 😛 ). I ate at the Laundromat Cafe in Copenhagen, by accident though, the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed for the month and as it started to rain, we went into the only place that was open and had tables, haha. But the food and the atmosphere were great 😀

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 26, 2015 at 5:09 pm

      How funny, I missed the Copenhagen version of the Laundromat Café but really like the Reykjavik one. It’s a great city – and so much to see around the rest of the country too.

  • Reply
    Pandaonavespa
    November 26, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    It´s true that Iceland is more and more attractive to travelers: a lot of friends of mine have been there during the last two years, and they all came back saying wonderful things about it.

    I am planning a trip there as well (if a place is stunning, why shouldn´t we visit??), and I found your guide very interesting and, hopefully, useful very soon!!!

    https://pandaonavespa.wordpress.com/

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 26, 2015 at 5:14 pm

      It does seem to have got more and more popular in recent years – and I can definitely see why, as well as the city the landscapes out there are just amazing. Hope you get to visit soon!

  • Reply
    Joanna
    November 26, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Iceland’s been long on my bucket list but I’m still not sure when I’ll visit this amazing to country. I guess it’s a bit too expensive at the moment but I know one day I’ll see the geysers, hike the mountains and have a bath in hot Icelandic thermal pool! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 26, 2015 at 5:41 pm

      Hope you get out there before too long. It’s not as expensive as a lot of the other Nordic destinations but still not exactly a budget destination unfortunately!

  • Reply
    wannderful
    November 26, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Wow! Fantastic!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 26, 2015 at 5:39 pm

      Thanks, it’s a beautiful place!

  • Reply
    Natasha
    November 26, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    I only managed to do this when I visited in November – we had terrible weather which was a pity. I love how your photos have come out.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 26, 2015 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks, my first visit it was really foggy and grey, and I only had a rubbish old camera so I was really glad to get some good shots his time!

  • Reply
    abitofculture
    November 26, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    It’s got a place in my top 5 cities in the world. Quirky with great food and loads to see on excursions, and great hot chocolate at the Laundromat!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 26, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      It’s a great place – I already have my eye on another stopover next year and getting out and seeing a bit more of the island.

  • Reply
    shazza
    November 26, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    I went twelve months ago and did everything you mentioned, event went to Laundromat for hot chocolate and cake.x

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 26, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      We obviously have the same great taste! (though I missed the hot chocolate, I will have to try that next time).

  • Reply
    Suzanne
    November 27, 2015 at 7:09 am

    Reykjavik is definitely Iceland’s capital of cool! We packed a lot into one day didn’t we! Fabulous photos Lucy 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 27, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      We certainly did! So pleased to have such a lovely day for it too.

  • Reply
    the-worldwide
    November 27, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Nice to see that you had spend a great day.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 27, 2015 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks, yes it was a really nice place to spend some time!

  • Reply
    lexklein
    November 27, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    I’m dying to go back. We spent nine days in Reykjavik and driving around the country, and it was amazing. Reykjavik was my favorite part of the trip and I adored the Laundromat Cafe!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 27, 2015 at 4:24 pm

      This was a really flying visit and last time I only had three days so I am hoping to get back and drive around the country next time, the landscapes out there look stunning.

  • Reply
    ladies what travel
    November 27, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Oh I love the look of the Laundromat cafe, that’s my kinda hangout! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 27, 2015 at 4:25 pm

      It was lovely, the sort of place I could definitely park myself with my laptop for the day!

  • Reply
    Melissa
    November 27, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    A friend and I are heading to Reykjavik in a couple of weeks, so this post was super timely. Forwarded on to see if my friend is interested in any of your suggestions!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 30, 2015 at 10:10 am

      Hope you have a great trip!

      • Reply
        Melissa
        December 3, 2015 at 1:30 pm

        Update: We have added all your suggestions to our list!

      • Reply
        Lucy
        December 4, 2015 at 1:52 pm

        Fantastic – hope you enjoy it!

  • Reply
    Bianca Malata (@ItsAllBee)
    November 28, 2015 at 12:15 am

    This is getting me exciting and rather impatient for my trip to Iceland in July.

    http://www..itsallbee.com

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 30, 2015 at 10:11 am

      July should be lovely out there too with the long light days!

  • Reply
    Marni
    November 29, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    Iceland is pretty high up on my travel bucket list, so I really enjoyed this post!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 30, 2015 at 10:06 am

      Thanks Marni, great to hear you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    atravelingb
    December 7, 2015 at 3:13 am

    Lovely highlights of the Icelandic capital. We enjoyed our time in Reykjavik, but agree you can pack the sights into a day. We gave ourselves a little too much time there with 3 days and there is so much more of the country to be explored!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 7, 2015 at 11:11 am

      It’s fairly small and easy to get around so it’s not too hard to pack a lot in. So much to see in Iceland though yes it’s tough to choose where to spend your time!

  • Reply
    postcardsfromamy
    April 26, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Just got back from a few days in Reykjavik and absolutely loved it – agree with all your suggestions – we also went to the Laundromat Cafe!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 29, 2016 at 10:03 pm

      It’s a fantastic city – so much to do for its size!

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