Reykjavik

17.8.13

When I set off for Iceland, I wholly expected to fall in love with the landscape and scenery. Iceland is inhabited by around 320,000 people - some 120,000 of those live in Reykjavik, the capital city, while the rest are found in smaller settlements or farmland scattered around the coast. This leaves vast areas of the country free from human life - unspoiled and untouched, waiting to be seen in all of its natural glory - and I was totally prepared to be enamored with all of it.

I must admit that it came as a bit of a surprise, however, when I found myself falling head over heels for the city of Reykjavik.


I am not a city girl at heart. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a few days taking in the sights of a new place (and Glasgow will always be special to me), but the constant busyness can get old really quickly and I'm much more at home in quieter, smaller towns or out in the country.

Perhaps because it's really more of a glorified town than a city; or because its coastal location and working harbours reminded me of home; or because of the distinct absence of companies like McDonalds and Starbucks that are landmarks in so many cities; Reykjavik really stood out from the crowd and captivated me.

The city is incredibly simple to navigate and finding my bearings didn't take long at all. Reykjavik's main landmarks, along with the busiest shopping and dining streets, are close enough that they can be walked through in a single afternoon. But don't think that means there isn't plenty to see!


Hallgrímskirkja
When it comes to finding your bearings, Hallgrimskirkja is an ideal compass point. At 244ft, the concrete tower of this Lutheran Parish church stands high above most of the city. Striking (but definitely Marmite-like) from the outside with its basalt-styled design, the inside is impressive in its own right and is open for visitors from 9am-9pm every day, with regular organ recitals throughout.

For a small fee (700 ISK - approximately £3.70) you can also ride the elevator to the top of the tower for spectacular views across the city. 
 


Lake Tjörnin and City Hall
Easily identifiable from the tower is Lake Tjornin (literally, "The Pond"), which provides a pleasant setting to feed the birds, people watch or read a book in the sun. Beside it - appearing to sprout out of the pond itself - is Reykjavik's City Hall, home to an intrinsic topographic model of the whole country which is worth a look.

Beside the pond, the statue of 'The Unknown Bureaucrat' is particularly eye-catching, while the Lutheran Cathedral (Dómkirkjan) and the very modest Parliament House are both nearby.


The Harbours
A short walk from there and you find yourself looking out to sea from the old and new harbours. Before tourism, fishing was one of the most important industries in Iceland and both are evident here between the fishing fleets and the squad of vessels providing whale or puffin-watching tours.

There are also a number of places to eat and drink near the harbour, from expensive seafood restaurants to the quirky and less costly Hamborgarabúllan (The Burgerjoint) -- Yum!


The Harpa
Jutting out into the sea beside the harbour sits the Harpa, Reykjavik's concert hall. An impressive glass-fronted structure, it captures the summer's never-ending sunlight brilliantly and while I'm not entirely sure whether the whale resemblance is deliberate or not, I know that I like it anyway.  Inside, a cafe, restaurant, bar and a number of shops provide the perfect excuse to gain an alternative perspective on the glass and I think there might be an organised tour too.



Sólfar
Just along the shoreline from the Harpa sits Solfar (the Sun Voyager) - a sculpture by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason which conjures up images of whale bones and Viking longboats, reflected in its own glassy "sea". There seems permanently to be local people fishing here and it's a nice spot from which to watch the sun set briefly at the end of the day.



What I loved more than these landmarks (and the others which I've missed), however, was the overriding feel of the place. Once you've checked those points off your list, there is still plenty to admire and explore in this small city. 

From the pastel-painted, corrugated-iron of the buildings, to the bold, statement-making graffiti in parks and down side streets; from the coffee and book shops open til 10pm, to the bars bustling until 5 the next day; from the distinctive raw food eateries, to the record stores proudly boasting Icelandic music and free coffee; from the views off the coastline, to the cleverly pedestrianised shopping streets with their bicycle-gates; from the Lopi-clad tourists, to the fashion-conscious locals; there is something to capture your attention wherever you look. 

Reykjavik, for me, was like a subtle blend of the urban and rural rolled into one. Full of character and charm, it captured me, pulled me in and made me fall unexpectedly in love with this beautiful little city!



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