Reykjavik is an interesting, quirky little place. On the one hand, it is purely international with a myriad languages spoken in the halls of the various multinational businesses that are dotted throughout the capital. And, famously, the city was ground zero for the most recent financial crisis to hit the major world markets.
While, on the other hand, it is a small town, completely content to be caught up in its vibrant colored houses, pedestrian only cobble streets, and relative slow pace of everyday life. Not to mention that it is tiny.
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the shadow of the major church in Reykjavik, Hallgrímskirkja. The great thing about staying so close to such a dominate landmark is that no matter where we were in the city, we only had to walk towards the towering white church and would eventually find ourselves home.
The great thing about Reykjavik being so small is that it is relatively easy to hit the hotspots and still have time to explore the lesser know parts of the city. So, for instance, certainly check out the church and the accompanying view from the top. It is a fantastic way to take in the contrast of the multi-colored houses with the blue-gray bay that surrounds the city. Go on a whale watching tour; the city is so darn clean that the boats won’t even go out of sight of land before you are spotting the backs of the majestic beasts. Certainly hit Laugavegur, the main street that runs from the harbor up a hill and includes local shops, restaurants, and more toy sheep and puffin than you can handle.
Once you’ve gotten those down, enjoy the slow pace and the way that the city revels itself to you as you walk. On your way to the harbor for your whale watching tour, wander over to Austurvöllur, a bustling park in the heart of downtown that is a quiet refuge in the morning and flooded with office workers seeking a little lunchtime sun. Once you’ve seen all the puffin and whale backs you and your camera can catch, definitely walk over to the Harpa, Reykjavik’s new concert hall. The angled and glassed building is an architectural delight. We happened upon it around 11pm as the sun was struggling to set in the summer of no night. The cleverly placed colored panes provide a beautiful view of the harbor and city.*
We also happened to find a tucked away skate park resplendent in colorful graffiti and full of a variety of Reykjavik’s youth. It was interesting to note that though the skate park had a DJ, access to at least two bars, and a crowd of around 30-40 people, there were only one or two actual skaters. I have a feeling it was more about the scene and being seen, than about any sort of practical notions of form and use.
My impression of Reykjavik is a sum of all these experiences: it is a city that yearns for an international reputation and yet remains largely unconcerned with how it’s viewed. It is accessible, surprisingly expansive, and utterly charming.
*An interesting side note about Harpa: when we were there the hall was hosting an event for speakers of Esperanto. There must have been at least 200-300 people, which leads me to assume that 150 of those people were lying about their ability to speak Esperanto. I am thrilled that no natural or man-made disaster struck whilst the event was ongoing least the world be robbed of such a valuable cultural commodity. Nah, I’m just kidding; Esperanto is stupid.