5 things that make Reykjavík super easy to visit

Last weekend the family and I went on a little weekend trip to London (England, not Ontario) to decompress after a insanely busy summer of building an empire. We had a jolly good time (one of my favorites was this walking tour we did with Alternative London) but I couldn’t help but compare it with my little Reykjavík and what it’s like to be a tourist in both those cities. Although Reykjavík of course pales in comparison when it comes to shopping, variety of food on offer, cultural melting pots and so forth  I am going to claim here and now, without any hesitation, that it’s much easier to visit than London. Here’s why:

The size

The view from Hallgrímskirkja tower

Reykjavík is a spread out city compared to the number of inhabitants (around 130.000). A couple of reasons is the height (or lack thereof) of the houses and lots of single family housing. Thankfully though most of the things that are of interest to the visitors in Reykjavík is concentrated to a tiny area in the city center. In London we had to walk 10 minutes or so to the nearest tube station to go anywhere (although we discovered that walking places was actually quicker and nicer) but here in Reykjavík you can basically walk from one end of the downtown area to the other in 20 minutes or so. It’s a VERY walkable city.

If you decide to save a little by booking a hotel outside of the city center (like the Hilton Nordica or the Grand Hotel for example) you can be in the center in 15 minutes if you take a bus. Or even quicker with taxi. Because of its size it’s also relatively easy to figure the city out. The streets don’t have multiple names and they are fairly straightforward. If everything else fails, all roads lead to Hallgrímskirkja anyway.

Safety

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Reykjavík is probably one of the safest capitals in the world. There’s no place in the downtown area where I wouldn’t walk alone at night and I’m never worried about my belongings. That doesn’t mean you should be stupid and leave your stuff unattended all over the place but you definitely don’t have to worry about pick-pocketing or anything of that sort.There are no taxi scams or “friendly” locals leading you into dark alleys (I mean, during summer we don’t even have dark alleys).

I think solo female travelers maybe worry about this aspect of their travel the most. They don’t need to in Reykjavík.

Lack of choices

I know lack of choices is normally not a positive thing but hear me out. In London the family and I wandered aimlessly between restaurants forever one day, so hungry that we were probably secretly contemplating snacking on each other, as we couldn’t decide on where to go. There were so many restaurants, so many places selling exactly the same things and they all cost approximately the same. We were completely lost and ended up eating bland pasta with a side of rude waiter. We punished him by only giving him the standard amount in tips. We sure did show him!

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Also, attractions. London has so many attractions. We couldn’t possibly cover them all in one go, actually we probably couldn’t have covered 1% of them during our little weekend getaway. Choices and variety are a great thing when you live somewhere but it just makes the life of an over-analyzing decision-phobic more complicated during a short visit (wait, you’re not all like that?).

Reykjavík is simple. There’s a handful of good Indian places, one Ethiopian place in Flúðir if you are willing to drive the distance for your food and the restaurants are either fancy and pricey or not so fancy and slightly less pricey. There’s also a plenty to see but not too much. If you like history museums you can go to the National Museum or the Settlement Exhibition. If you like penises you go to the Penis Museum. Simple!

Did I just mention cannibalism and my family in the same sentence?

Number of tourists

hallgrimskirkja

 

Once upon a time the national sport of Iceland was hot dog eating. Nowadays it’s complaining about the number of tourists in Iceland. Said Icelanders should go abroad more and experience Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon. Or anywhere in New York. People running around like ants everywhere. Although there’s quite a bit of tourists around in Reykjavík at the height of summer, especially when there are several big cruise ships at the harbor, it’s nothing compared to the Charles Bridge in Prague. Or the Piazza San Marco in Venice.

The fact of the matter is that outside those three months a year, or when the weather is unusually good, there’s not a lot of people around in  Reykjavík. You have space for your thoughts and your shoulders don’t get a beating every two minutes when somebody brushes past you, muttering they are sorry like it means something.

Lines and queues

As we were traveling around London on a Saturday afternoon we noticed people standing in impossibly long queues all over town. First we thought that there was something special going on that particular day but later we discovered that people were simply waiting to enter popular attractions. The National Gallery had a line. St Paul’s too. The the house opposite Big Ben, that none of us could figure out what was, also had a line and ushers doing their usher things.

Then on the Sunday we took the princess to Madame Tussauds because she was really excited about it (us: less excited) but we had booked a ticket online which gave us an allotted time slot to make the entrance speedier. When we got there we waited in line to get in with everyone else allotted the exact same time slot. Then we waited in line to get a photo with basically any wax figure. We then waited in line for the  Scream attraction. And for the Marvel comics attraction. The only place where there was no line was the gift shop.

tumblr_mkhdz4SigP1qlgmgfo1_1280 I think I can say with some certainty that you’ll never encounter a 500 meter long queue to enter the National Museum. Or the Penis museum. Or even Bæjarins Beztu although the line there is unusually long for Icelandic standards and you might have to wait 5-7 minutes (gasp!) for service.

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6 thoughts on “5 things that make Reykjavík super easy to visit”

  1. Carol says:

    I’m impressed you even know about London Ontario. My dad lives there and I am always saying “Ontario, not England” (unfortunately). My daughter and her friend went to Iceland for the music festival and they were at a venue when someone shouted “Bjork’s here!” and they abandoned their phones and bags and backpacks and RAN to catch a glimpse. When they came to their senses they returned to all their stuff just sitting there as before.

  2. Katharine Kroeber says:

    Exactly why I love visiting Reykjavík! I spent many years in NYC (and believe me, living there without money is VERY different from passing through for a visit with cash to spend), and while I always loved the diversity, being in Rvk feels so much better, for me, for safety and size and all sorts of things. Still tons of stuff to see — just walking around, let alone in museums etc! — but not millions of people jammed together, and not nearly so much trash or dog-poo (NYC before the pooper-scooper laws… shudder). I also lived in LA when the only public transport , over vast distances, was a somewhat iffy bus system. There is, for me, such a creative vibe to Rvk… I have no idea what it’s like to actually *live* there — especially without much money — but it sure is a wonderful place to visit.

  3. Lisa says:

    I’m with you, I’ve been to both cities twice and while London has more history and is more cosmopolitan and I do love it, Reykjavik is much more enjoyable and feels much homier. Can’t wait to go back again

  4. Claudia says:

    I read your article and I loved the idea of visiting Reykjavik at once. As London (UK) ist too busy for me. I love the sights, but… well, I prefer more quiet cities like London (Ontario) where I passed by by hazard once. Well, there’s a train station and I had some time to spend, so I made a stopover 😉
    I am not sure when to travel to Iceland, but the more I learn about Iceland the more I am sure that I want to have a look for myself.
    Thanks for your blog and all the information!
    Claudia

  5. Gary says:

    I absolutely loved Reykjavik.
    A bonus is it’s surrounded by water, if you like the sea (which I do), and sunsets in November were amazing.
    Not much traffic, ideal for bikes and walking.
    Lovely local people.
    And, lots of really friendly cats too (cats rule the town!).
    Cannot wait to return, and will book a tour in advance, missed you this time due to awkward friend in tow.

  6. Tika says:

    I want to add some:
    – everybody speaks english (even little kids and in the countryside of Iceland), except some tourists – i guess
    This is quite important and everybody is very helpful. I love Paris, Roma, Madrid and many other places. Though i do speak those languages, sometime i feel a little loss still.
    – children friendly!!! An example: Laundromat cafe in Reykjafik was a great suggestion after your tour. There is a child friendly room downstair and i could breastfeed himr without concern (not that i would feel weird to do it in public there — another plus for these Icelanders).
    Also, if you would like to compare it with other countries that are culturally self declared or famously known as children “adorer” like in the Mediterranean countries in europe, asia, and latin america, Iceland (& Reykjafik) gave us as a family tourist with a baby a secure and relax feeling. Lots of places with play corner, restaurants and bars with high chair, diaper changing table, and the famous “people leaving their babies in the prams outside”, locals who give tips on where to find things, and many more.

    I am asian, married to an italian. I can assure you asians and italians love children. We adore them. However, for a place to be child friendly is a different thing.

    Miss Iceland!! We’ll definitely come again.

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