When is the best time to visit?
Reykjavik’s climate is considerably milder than Iceland's location just south of the Arctic Circle would suggest. This is the result of the Gulf Stream that flows along the southern and western coasts of the country and greatly moderates its winter temperatures. As a result these are just a few degrees Celsius below freezing at their lowest in December and January. However there is no disguising the city’s position during the summer months with the average highs in July and August reaching just 14 degrees Celsius.
The peak season here extends from June to August when there is close to 24 hours daylight per day. July is the best time to book flights if you want to experience whale and bird watching tours. Various festivals and celebrations also draw visitors to the city, among the most popular are Culture Night in August, the Winter Lights festival in February and the Festival of the Sea (celebrating the sea and the sailors) in June.
Culture Night was both created and enjoyed by the city residents which brings thousands of people together in the city of Reykjavik’s city centre to enjoy a night of cultural activities such as traditional shows, exhibitions and further cultural goings-on. Culture Night was introduced to encourage participants to get involved in a number of diverse cultural events.
By September, prices of accommodation and flights begin to fall and the days start to get much shorter, but the city is the perfect starting point for further excursions and there are a fantastic choice of day tours you can book which can pick you up and return you to the city.
Although the Northern Lights are best seen between September and March, December is probably the height of the off-season not only because of the relative cold but also because the days are just four hours long, as a result flights are at their cheapest during this period.
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and its position close to the Arctic Circle makes it the furthest north seat of a national government anywhere. However, its climate is not nearly as harsh as its location would suggest. Winter temperatures average just a few degrees Celsius below freezing.
Although the area has been populated since the 9th century, Reykjavik was not founded until the late 18th century making it a relatively young city by European standards. Today its population of about 120,000 enjoys a thoroughly modern city with many natural amenities at its disposal.
Although Reykjavik is sometimes considered to be an expensive city, it’s worth spending some time browsing its shopping areas and you’ll be surprised at how reasonable the prices can be. Visit the Kringlan Shopping Centre for everything from traditional souvenirs and the patterned jumper (lopapeysa) to designer stores. Apart from the shops, Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavik City Museum and Videy Island are all essential sites to jot down on your must-see list. A night out in the city is particularly special when daylight hours are at their peak. Most Icelanders don’t head out until past midnight and the party doesn’t get started until the early hours. It feels natural because it doesn’t get dark which is strange at first, but also very enjoyable. Taking a flight to Reykjavik transports you to another world, one which you will never forget.
Getting around Reykjavik
You can save some money by using the city’s public transport. The bus system, Strætó, will take you around the city and the suburbs cheaply and quickly. They don’t run all day, but there are some night buses.
Watch your budget when you’re out late at night because taxis can be expensive. It’s easy to walk around Reykjavik, so most people don’t rent a car. There are plenty of bike rental companies to be found, so consider a two-wheeler to get around.
Getting to the city
Keflavik International Airport (KEF) is located around 31 miles away from the city. There are regular bus services operating from the airport which take about 45 minutes to reach the centre of Reykjavik. Pre-booking is essential. Taxis are also available as are car rental companies.
Reykjavik insider information
- At 2, 999 ft high, Mt Esja is Reykjavik's most outstanding feature and is also a popular hiking area among the locals. There are a number of routes to the top to choose from but regardless of how you get there, be sure to take in the stunning views of the city below.
- Best known as the site of a summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 that effectively ended the Cold War, Hofdi House, built in 1909, is among the most beautiful buildings in Reykjavik. It was initially home to the French Consul in Iceland but has since hosted a number of famous guests including the Queen, Winston Churchill and Marlene Dietrich. These days it is used for official receptions and although it is not open to visitors, it can be viewed from the outside.
- Hallgrimskirkja church is Reykjavik's most prominent landmark and is visible from just about anywhere in the city. Designed by Gudjon Samuelson, it aims to resemble volcanic rock formations and took 40 years to build before the grand opening in 1986. At the front of the building is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson, also known as Leif the Lucky, who was the first European to discover America some time around the year 1000 AD. Needless to say he was a native son.
- A few minutes from the city by boat, a visit to Videy Island is a must for all travellers. Inhabited since the 10th century, the island was a destination for pilgrims during the middle ages and was the site of the local port and a government seat before its last inhabitant left in 1943.
- The Pearl is a curious glass structure perched on top of a series of tanks that store the natural hot water of the area that in turn is used to heat the city. The dome houses a restaurant where the fine cuisine competes with the panoramic views of the city for visitors' attention.