So the sun is out, the sky is blue, and Reykjavík is your oyster. And while the downtown area is more than compact enough for you to wander the side streets, discover favourite spots, and wend your leisurely way across the city centre, we thought those on a weekend break might like a shortcut to some of our favourite stuff to do.
So here’s the first guide in our day-trip series. Enjoy! And if you take the advice – tell us what you thought in the comments, and hey, hashtag your Instagrams with #gvpics for a chance to win a Grapevine t-shirt.
1. A hearty brunch at Prikið (Bankastræti 12)
After meandering around the downtown shops of Laugavegur, there are few spots better for people-watching in Reykjavík than Prikið, the oldest café in the city. If you’re lucky enough to get a downstairs window booth, you’ll see half the city wandering by at one time or another, but upstairs, the windows look down onto Laugavegur, and right down across the bay to Mount Esja. Their breakfasts are massive, from pancakes or french toast sandwiches to a bacon & egg truck, or the epic “breakfast of champions”, any of which will set you up nicely for the day ahead.
2. Hire bikes and go to Perlan and Nauthólsvík
Time to blow off the cobwebs. You can hire bikes at the Borgarhjól on Hverfisgata (4.200 ISK for the day or 2.600 ISK for 4 hours), and soon be rocketing along the road next to Tjörnin, the town pond. A 3.5km ride away is Perlan, a hilltop visitor centre that offers amazing views over the city and the surrounding area. After checking out the viewing platform, trundle down through the woods (yes, contrary to rumour, Iceland has trees) and you’ll find an old rabbit-infested graveyard. A little further lies Nauthólsvík, a geothermal beach area where you can jump in a hotpot, swim in a heated section of the sea, or just hang out and get an ice cream. (n.b. If you feel like making a day of the bike ride, there’s a great path that leads right around the tip of the peninsula, including the Grotta lighthouse – just stick to the sea road and see where it takes you.)
3. Bask in the hotpots at Vesturbæjarlaug (Hofsvallagata)
If you didn’t fancy a swim at the beach, we thoroughly recommend a trip to Vesturbæjarlaug, which is slightly out of the centre, but quickly accessible seeing as you’re on a bike. This recently refurbished pool is one of the nicest in Reykjavík. If you’re not much of a swimmer, bear in mind that Iceland’s geothermal pools are a whole different experience to anywhere else in Europe. The water is naturally hot, and often rich in minerals, and because of the constant hot water supply, minimal chlorine is used. Locals of all ages go for a soak in the hotpots on a daily basis, chatting about politics, life, and the price of fish (quite literally, sometimes). But, you will have to wash naked in the communal showers. No biggie, right?
4. Lunch at Cafe Vesturbær, or a picnic from Melabuðin (Hofsvallagata)
After basking in the spacious steam room of Vesturbæjarlaug, you might be hungry. There are three good options nearby. You could have a pylsur (i.e. an Icelandic-style hot dog with raw onions, cronions and three types of sauces) at the kiosk outside. If you feel like a more substantial lunch, you could pop into Cafe Vesturbær (pictured), just across the street. And if the weather is really nice, you could pick up something at the Melabuðin deli & grocery store and go for a picnic by Tjörnin on your way back to town. You can return the bikes now or hang on to them for some more zipping around town. It’s a pretty bike-friendly town.
5. Contemporary art at i8 (Tryggvagata 16)
If you want to fit in some culture, two of the best galleries in Iceland are located pretty much next to each other. The modestly-sized, free-entry i8 is Iceland’s best-known commercial art gallery, offering a monthly programme from a stable of top contemporary Icelandic and overseas artists (read our feature about i8 here). If you’ve the time and inclination then Hafnarhusið, just across the street, is a large-scale art museum that boasts a large collection of Icelandic art, and hosts regular contemporary art exhibitions by international guests.
6. Gourmet afternoon coffee at Reykjavík Roasters (Kárastígur 1)
This tucked-away café has stormed the coffee house category in our Best of Reykjavík awards every year since its inception, and with good reason. As well as a nice downtown location, a mellow atmosphere, a sweet vinyl collection, and nice views through the big windows, they also roast the coffee beans right there in front of you. If you go mid-afternoon, you’ll have probably missed the lunchtime rush, and you can get a seat and watch the world go by with a pastry and a delicious oat milk latté. And if the coffee blows your mind, you can also buy some beans to take home.
7. A walk around Harpa and a happy-hour cocktail (Austurbakki 2)
The Harpa concert hall is a hard-to-miss, glittering gem of contemporary architecture. Reykjavík doesn’t have a million spots to get a good cocktail, but the Kolabrautin restaurant on Harpa’s top floor has a cocktail happy hour, and a great view of the city. Getting our Appy Hour smartphone app (iPhone/Android) to check out the full list of happy hour deals, when you can get some evening drink discounts around town. And if you’re feeling flush, the restaurant at Kolabrautin is apparently pretty special! Or check out our Best of Reykjavík 2014 list: Kex and Snaps both come recommended.
8. Kaffibarinn / bar-hopping around downtown
Kaffibarinn is a classic hub of Reykjavík nightlife, with an ever-interesting crowd of Icelanders and incomers, a small-but-solid selection of local beers, and local DJs every night from 22:00. Icelanders go out late, so many places might be quiet before midnight, Kaffibarinn included – if you fancy checking out a few places, you can always hop around to Bravó, Kex, Kaldi and Húrra, or the more recently opened craft bars, Kaldi, Skúli and Mikkeler & Friends.
And finally, if you feel like seeing a live show, check out our Listings site or pick up a copy of the paper to see what’s going on.