VIKING RUINS & CAPITAL VIEWS
Everyone visits REYKJAVÍK at some point on their trip to Iceland, but despite this being one of the smallest capital cities in the world, it handles the crowds well, managing to retain a low-key, friendly vibe. Over a third of Iceland’s population lives here, an indication of just how wild and remote the rest of the country can feel.
Most of the city’s attractions are gathered in a compact central area just behind the harbour. Begin where Reykjavík began, at the SETTLEMENT EXHIBITION on Aðalstræti 16 (open daily from 9am | 1650 ISK, under-17s free), just off Austurvöllur square. Buried beneath the street here, the stubby remains of a Viking longhouse hall include parts of a boundary wall that date back to 871 AD, making this one of Iceland’s oldest known buildings. Older children will enjoy exploring the 3D virtual longhouse and swiping away at a couple of touch-screen tables that detail items discovered within the hall, while there are also Viking robes, helmets and shields for younger ones to try on.
Reykjavík is a very walkable city, and it’s just a 15-minute amble past the main square of Lækjartorg and up Skolavörðaustígur to the HALLGRÍMSKIRKJA church (open daily until 9pm, till 5pm from October to April; tower closes 8.30pm, Oct–April 4.30pm | free, tower 1000 ISK, under-17s 100 ISK, under 7s free). This is Reykjavík’s best-known landmark, visible from across the city, but despite its striking design – the staggered steeple top and frontage is reminiscent of the basalt lava columns you’ll see throughout Iceland – there’s not much to actually see inside. Instead, take a lift up to the top of the steeple for fantastic 360-degree views of the little red and orange corrugated roofs below, and of the harbour and the sea and the brooding mountains just beyond the city’s suburbs.
TOP TIP If you’re here in winter, you stand a very good chance of seeing the NORTHERN LIGHTS, even in Reykjavík. Elding (10,990 ISK, under-15s 5495 ISK, under-7s free) run evening boat cruises out into Faxaflói bay (so away from the city lights) or to Viðey Island in search of the Aurora Borealis. It’s difficult to overegg how wonderful the Lights are – seeing the night sky streaked with luminous green zigzags and shimmering waves of purple “stardust” is surely one of nature’s greatest spectacles. Tours are open to all ages but leave at 9 or 10pm and can last up to 2.5 hours; younger travellers might prefer the trip to Viðey, which is a bit closer to Reykjavík and also has a cottage in which they can keep warm (with a hot chocolate) whilst waiting.
THE LIJOMA LOWDOWN
Delve deeper with our tips on what to read and watch before you go, foods and drinks your kids must try, and some key cultural advice
From historic cottages to contemporary hotels on the edge of the Interior – our pick of the most memorable places for families to stay in Iceland
NEED TO KNOW
A handy overview of Iceland’s weather and climate throughout the year, with recommendations for the best time to visit
Pre-trip practicalities, including getting there, visas and passports, health and safety and how to get around
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