At 64 degrees north, Reykjavik is the northernmost capital city on the planet – less than 300 kilometres below the Arctic Circle, and home to around two thirds of Iceland’s entire population (including the surrounding region). In the depths of winter, temperatures typically plummet below freezing, it’s dark for around 20 hours a day, and when the weather conditions are clear, the ethereal green glow of the northern lights regularly illuminates the sky. In the height of summer, meanwhile, the sun barely dips below the horizon as the city bathes in constant daylight.
The descent into Keflavik International Airport straight away gives you a snapshot of the Reykjanes Peninsula’s barren, rugged landscapes, dominated by vast, moss-carpeted lava fields, volcanoes and geothermal springs. While Reykjavik may feel more like a large town than a city by European standards, what it lacks in geographical size it more than makes up for in cultural attractions, architectural splendour and easy access to awe-inspiring nature. Given its remote geography, it’s a remarkably cosmopolitan place with a chilled-out vibe that lends itself to being enjoyed at a leisurely pace, either as a city break or as a jumping off point for a longer trip.
Reykjavik is a captivating destination for a long weekend, but it’s only by venturing beyond the city that you’ll be able to truly appreciate the awe-inspiring natural wonders that this part of Iceland has to offer. One of the top excursions is the Golden Circle, which links three spectacular landmarks – Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall and Thingvellir National Park – along a 300-kilometre route. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is another fantastic option a couple of hours north, while Skogafoss waterfall, Reynisfjara black sand beach and Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon are among the must-see highlights of Iceland’s southern coastline.
Whale watching is hugely popular, too, with regular tours departing from the Old Harbour all throughout the year. If you’re visiting between mid-September and mid-April, you may be fortunate enough to see the northern lights. Depending on the strength of the solar activity, it’s possible to see them in Reykjavik when the skies are clear, but in general, it’s better to head out of town away from light pollution for the best views.
While much of Iceland’s allure is bound up in its beguiling natural beauty, from glistening glaciers and majestic fjords to steaming hot springs and jet black beaches, one of the most enjoyable aspects of any trip to Reykjavik is delving into the thriving food and drink scene. As well as traditional delicacies such as hangikjöt (smoked lamb), plokkfiskur (fish and potato stew), humarsúpa (creamy langoustine soup), some of the best pylsur (hot dogs) in the world are served here.
Much like other Nordic countries, Iceland also has a real penchant for exceptionally delicious pastries and cakes, which you’ll find throughout Reykjavik’s many artisan bakeries. Alcohol prices might seem eye-watering at first, but there’s a superb craft beer scene to discover, and lots of bars offer happy hour discounts. For a full-spectrum culinary experience, take a trip to Hlemmur Mathöll – a trendy food hall in a renovated bus terminal, with stalls specialising in New Nordic cuisine, Neapolitan-style pizza, Vietnamese sandwiches, tacos and plenty more.
Need to know
* Average time from London Luton to Keflavik International