The city where nature meets culture
When looking towards the far North Atlantic in search of adventure and beauty one is certainly expecting something beyond the norm, an enchanted way of life that boldly bears the brunt of difficult weather and far-flung conditions. Upon arriving to Reykjavík, Iceland’s blossoming capital, one will not be disappointed by the unmistakable presence of arctic nature, which highlights every structure and street in this city. The remoteness of Iceland in its geographic situation make of it a harder place to reach than most, but just like a treasured vintage, the greater the effort to attain something so reserved, the nicer the payoff. The island nation occupies quite a bit of space and for the adventurer there are just miles of remote and inviting explorations. For most of us however, tourism is the main draw and time is of the essence. Not to worry, Reykjavík offers the perfect setting of amenities and nature in which to explore the best of what the country offers in both spheres.
Probably the first thing one will notice about the capital and the country in general is the relatively small population. The capital is the largest city with around 200,000 inhabitants. It sits on a natural alcove of land that is somewhat shielded from the harsh ocean, but still has adequate harbor access and plenty of bone chilling winds. The most striking feature upon arrival by air and even on foot is the vast array of brilliant colors, which define the houses and neighborhoods. Besides being traditional, it makes sense with the effects of cold and dark conditions in the bleak winter months.
Getting into Iceland is most obviously accomplished via flights. The most common being Iceland Air which flies to many cities worldwide and one could even make the trip across the Atlantic in two legs should one think about stopping in Reykjavík for a few days. Upon arrival to Keflavík International Airport the best option to the city is the 45 minute bus ride in FlyBus. The first stop is in Reykjavík at the BSI bus terminal which is within easy walking distance of the city center. The bus departs every half hour and tickets can be purchased on site or online before hand. Once inside the city one will find that it is very walk able and in summer months especially the air is fragrant and the views sensational. The city has numerous cycling and pedestrian paths that not only cross active areas of the city but wind out and around the many natural parks, lakes and natural areas which so gracefully make this capital a haven of nature.
As part of the city’s natural heritage it boasts many parks and public spaces are essential for family time and enjoyment of the outdoors. Two parks which are a must see are Tjörnin (the pond) and Klambratún. The former is a small lake just near the city center that has many outdoor facilities for music, lounging and calm afternoons on the water with a lot of ducks and birds, which are happy to be fed. This park offers nice wide panoramas of the city and borders on the scenic City Hall. The latter is a park that is connected with the long history of the city and it is a wide space for all kinds of festivals and activities especially in summer months. The Reykjavík Botanical Gardens are a great way to come in contact with some of the unique and certainly hardy specimens of plants, which grow in Iceland. The entrance is free and it is a pleasant place to admire the flora. There are many other chances to connect with nature in its pure state if you are willing to move out of the city a bit. There are many excursions like horseback riding, cycling, whale watching and hiking. Chief among these hiking is spectacular. The entire city of Reykjavík lies in the shadow of the imposing mount Esjan. Take the number 57 bus from the city to its base and in about a five hour trek you can reach the summit. It is a fairly easy climb with a few steep spots.
Not only is nature something you can climb and trek, but you can dive into it as well! One of the most alluring of all outdoor adventures in this part of the world is certainly a geothermal pool. These natural steam and mineral baths can be found all around the capital and it is an essential Icelandic experience. Pools are open from early to late and entrance fees are minimal. There are many to choose from but be sure and check out Laugardalslaug which is near the national stadium and serves as the city’s biggest pool with extensive facilities. Also Sundhöllin is another good spot in town and is the most centrally located pool in the city.
It is certain that here one is uniquely enveloped in nature, more than most cities, but don’t forget that it is a city too. In fact Reykjavík is quite an eclectic and diverse city as well. The town celebrates many summer and winter festivals and as well has a large appetite for music and art in all forms. The culture is very progressive and so tastes, lifestyles, arts and hobbies of all sorts often find colorful expression in parades, festivals, museums and even in tourism information. As far as the performing arts go, the city is home to several theaters such as Harpa and Nordic house. Museums like the National Museum of Iceland and the Museum of Photography present unique depictions of Icelandic life and lure through the ages. Finally the city is an epicenter of innovative and boutique shops with intricate handicrafts, designs in clothing and furniture and much in the way of music and literature as far as books go. The most prominent display that embodies both the history and creativity of the city is without doubt the Hallgrímskirkja. This church with its fantastic design and stunning, skyward appeal is an icon of the city. It showcases the innovative and artistic talent of the Icelandic people and its tower is the best way to view the entire city from within its boundaries. To find out more about the great opportunities and sites, be sure to check out the site of the informative tourism board.
Reykjavík is truly a unique city. It is tucked away in a part of the world where nature has a big personality and the inhabitants and visitors alike realize that they are welcome guests of this outspoken and animated display of the environment. Even in such a raw setting the city has become an inviting place where culture, art and life itself flourish with civilized comfort. Nature and culture go hand in hand, shaping life here to be something both vibrant and inviting.
Images are courtesy of the Visit Reykjavik image bank