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The capital of Iceland is not a destination for people who want to be well off. That is, in a nice warm sunny climate. For people who are figuratively well off, it is indeed a good destination, because life is not cheap here. But that doesn't stop people with a smaller budget from traveling to Reykjavik. This is because the northernmost capital in the world is unique: by its location between the ocean, the mountains and lava fields in a pristine and rugged landscape, the quirky population in whose veins Viking blood still flows, and the lively and exuberant nightlife.
Reykjavik means 'smoky bay'. When Viking Ingolfur Arnarson arrived at the volcanic island, he mistook the rising steam for smoke. Despite that 'smoke' he still decided to settle his camp there, the beginning of the subsequent capital. He almost couldn't have thought of a better place: on the northside the city is shielded from the cold Pole Wind by a 914 meter high mountain Esja and its location on the Faxaflóibay provides a moderating influence on the climate.
Most tourists are drawn to Iceland to see the rugged nature of the country. But there's plenty to do in the capital too. First there are the brightly colored houses. Take your time to walk around in Reykjavik, or go to the Hallgrímskirkja. From the tower of this church you will have a stunning view of the city. You can see the church from any point in the city, but if you want to know its exact location: at the end of the shopping street Skolavordustigur, where you will find small boutiques and souvenir shops.
The oldest shopping street of Reykjavik is Laugavegur. Here you can find shops of Icelandic designers, but also second hand clothes, and jewelry in the side streets. People who love active outdoor activities can buy sport and leisure clothing from the brands 66 North and Cintamani. Not cheap, but of the highest quality. Laugavegur now has stiff competition from the shopping mall Kringlan. Besides shops, it also has restaurants and bars, a theater and a cinema. There's a flea market Kolaportið in an old warehouse at the harbor every sunday. Here you can try the Icelandic specialities: hakarn. Icelanders love it. What it is? Fermented (a fancy word for rotten) shark meat! Not quite your taste? Fortunately, there's other excellent dishes you can eat in Iceland, including super fresh salmon and lobster.
How Iceland has developed since Viking times to the land it is today, is shown in the National Museum. The SagaMuseum also looks at the history of Iceland but mostly through ancient myths and legends. This museum has a special location: it is housed in one of the hot water tanks of the Perlan(Pearl). Situated in the dome of this complex on a hill is a revolving restaurant. You will have a lovely view of the Icelandic capital during your dinner.
We've already said it: Reykjavik is a quirky town, and has a quirky museum: the only phallus museum in the world. That's right: a museum dedicated to the penis. There are (parts of) penises on display from more than two hundred species, including whales, polar bears, seals and walruses. And yes, there are a examples from the Homo Sapiens too.
Nightlife in Reykjavik is exuberant. At least on the weekends, because during the week Icelanders work hard and go to bed early. But on Friday and Saturday evening they party hard. Did we say 'evening'? That should be 'night', because the atmosphere really kicks in after midnight. There's a huge number of pubs, bars, discos and nightclubs. The most popular ones are easy to spot: they are the places with the longest queues. Icelanders appreciate you make an effort when you're going out, in some clubs you won't be allowed inside wearing jeans.
The open air museum Arbaejarsafn is located on the east side of the city. Traditional houses, farms, churches and other buildings have been brought together here. It's not just a collection of buildings, it has been turned into a kind of village, complete with volunteers in costume that practice traditional crafts. This museum is only open in June, July and August.
The most famous geyser in the world is the one where the word is derived from: the Geysir. It's located east of Reykjavik and is not very active anymore. Active geyser Strokkur lies adjacent to it, this one spits up a fountain of hot water every five minutes. These geysers are part of the Thingvellir National Park. Further east you will find the spectacular Gullfoss waterfalls, that are frozen in the winter months.
Just south of the airport is one of the biggest attractions near Reykjavik: the hot water lake Blue Lagoon. The admission price is slightly high, but almost no one will want to miss out on this. The shallow lake is surrounded by black lava rocks. Take a steam bath in one of the caves, or a refreshing showering under the waterfall.
North of the Icelandic capital lies the mountain Esja. It is a popular hiking area and the different routes towards the summit are well marked. Hafnarfjörour is a suburb southwest of Reykjavik. From may to september boats leave from the city harbor to see the whales and dolphins in the open sea.
With a rental car you can cruise the ring road starting from Reykjavik, which encompasses the entire island. Close to the ring road (on the south coast) lies the highest mountain of Iceland, the volcano Hvannadalshnúkur, part of a vast and impressive glacier area. The ring road is drivable year round, but if you deviate from this route you can end up on poor, unpaved roads. In order to drive on the roads in the mountainous interior a four-wheel drive is essential.
Accommodation for budget travellers is hardly available in Reykjavik, with the exception of the large camping site Laugardalur east of the center. The city attracts more and more tourists, so we recommend booking your accommodation well in advance. Do also note that some hotels are closed for the winter months.
Reykjavik has the highest number of cars per capita in the world. That indicates that Icelanders are a car-loving nation and the capital takes this into account.There is ample parking both on the street and in parking garages. And where many things are pricey in Iceland, parking fees are not, especially compared to the fees in other European Capitals.
The airport of Reykjavik is located forty kilometers southwest of the capital. Keflavik International Airport is easily accesible by rental car using the main road 41 (Reykjanesbraut).