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Travel

Reykjavík – The City of Lights

Make the Icelandic capital your next city break

Reykjavík is a beautiful treasure cove. From the Harpa to the Solfar statue, its docks with its own chocolate factory to the Hallgrímskirkja church (try saying that while drunk), the city has some truly stunning places to see. Granted, if you wanted to be quick these can be seen in one day but what really keeps you there is the culture.

On the surface, the city of Reykjavík is quiet, reserved and peaceful and that’s part of the lifestyle, but they still know how to have fun. Find any pub or club and there is guaranteed to be live music playing, and I’m not talking your typical screechy karaoke rendition of Abba. It’s genuine, talented musicians playing golden music, and thankfully it has given light to bands such as Sigur Ros and Of Monsters and Men. While you’re at it, ask for the locally made lager, Gull (yes it is £10 a pint, who thinks the union is pricey now). Or if you’re lucky, catch some music or a performance in the outstanding concert hall, the Harpa. Notably becoming one of Reykjavík’s distinguished landmarks, it is an architect’s dream and a lot of tourism here stems from the building itself. 

“Walking through Iceland’s capital it’s clear to see how proud they are of their clean, geothermal energy. In the darkness, the city adorns itself.”

Iceland relies on locally sourcing their ingredients and they know how to use them well. Fine dining focuses on incredible meats, from fish, lamb, puffin, whale and reindeer To cheery cafes, they’re big on artsy coffee. One gem to share is Svarta Kaffid. Climb the steps and find a place that serves two soups: meat or veg, served in a bread bowl. The soup is liquid gold and when you’re finished you can literally eat the bowl!

City shopping is an abundant mix of tourist souvenirs and minimalist fashion shops. Don’t be fooled as an authentic wool jumper can set you back £260. But, when temperatures dip to -10 in the winter you need to keep warm. Jewellery shops also use local elements in their accessories making for brilliant gifts. Popular embellishments include lava stones and sulphur gems. I’d never seen anything like it. 

Be warned, the rate of Icelandic króna is 135 to 1 GBP (Jan 18). The bills did make me wince a little bit – I kept our bill from our last night as I think it’s the only time I will ever spend 14,569 (£108) on a meal for two. Despite this, if you keep your shopping receipts you can claim the tax back at the airport. Just remember, don’t try to bring any whale based products back with you as it’s highly illegal (just FYI). 

“Iceland is a fantastic spot to catch some spectacular views of the aurora borealis. Visible for eight months of the year, light ‘hunting’ is a particular skill only the locals can seemingly master.”

Walking through Iceland’s capital it’s clear to see how proud they are of their clean, geothermal energy. In the darkness, the city adorns itself. Every shop, home and street corner is bejewelled with light, and with only five hours sunlight a day in the winter it’s understandable. 

Other famous Icelandic lights to see are the Northern Lights. Iceland is a fantastic spot to catch some spectacular views of the aurora borealis. Visible for eight months of the year, light ‘hunting’ is a particular skill only the locals can seemingly master. But, find the right guide and you’re guaranteed to see some dancing bands in the sky. Be prepared for a late cold night, but dress up well and research ahead of your trip how to photograph the lights and you’ll thank me. It’s not glamorous but definitely one to tick off the bucket list. 

Trusting the right guide can take you on some fantastic journeys across the country. For example the Golden Circle tour, Þingvellir is a historic site and national park. What makes it unique is that the park sits in a rift caused by the separation of two tectonic plates. Driving between two continents, the park is classed as ‘no man’s land’. With stunning views, it makes a beautiful first stop to the tour. 

The next stop is arguably the most iconic site to Iceland, the Geysir (which literally translates to gusher, no joke look it up). Hot pools are generated by close proximity to magma. The most famous geyser is called Strokkur. Being the biggest, it erupts boiling water high into the air, sometimes reaching 40 meters, erupting every 6-10 minutes. Patience is needed for this breathtaking natural occurrence but it’s worth the wait.

Last stop, the Gullfoss ‘golden falls’ waterfall. Water runs down a three-step staircase creating this outstanding waterfall which seems to disappear steeply into the earth. This incredibly loud waterfall is breathtaking and if you’re lucky enough when the sun catches the falls a beautiful rainbow elegantly frames them. 

Finally, not forgetting, the Blue Lagoon. It’s become an absolute staple in a visit to Iceland. The natural, mineral-rich water is heated by geothermal energy reaching a toasty 37-39°C. The lagoon was larger than expected with lots of cosy corners to get that perfect Insta snap. You’re encouraged to cover yourself in the natural silica clay and visit the water bar. It was a luxurious and serene experience despite the crowds. Heads up, don’t get your hair in the water, the minerals cause your hair to dry out, so you’re encouraged to leave conditioner in while you swim. Keep hydrated as the hot water causes rapid dehydration and because of this, it’s actually hard to stay in the water for more than 2 hours. My best advice is to arrive after lunch and you will have the place to yourself with still lots of time to experience all the lagoon has to offer; even more ultimate bliss. 

By all means, Iceland is not a feet up and relax holiday. It has definitely left its print on me and with so much more to offer, I can’t wait to go again. I guarantee after exploring it yourself, you’ll discover how easy it is to fall in love with Iceland.

All images were taken by the article’s author, Sarah Hopkins.