Every Question You Have About Reykjavik Answered

By Kathryn Walsh

Light up the night on a visit to Iceland's capital

Every Question You Have About Reykjavik Answered

Iceland is like no other place on Earth, so it's hardly surprising that its capital is like no other capital city. Visit a dormant volcano by day and take in a breathtaking aurora borealis by night, then spend the next day drinking craft brews and seeing a modern art show. Reykjavik has plenty of big-city charms, but it's the rugged natural beauty of the place that truly makes it a one-of-a-kind destination.

Q: How do you pronounce Reykjavik?

A: Most non-natives pronounce it RAKE-yuh-vick. However, Iceland natives may pronounce Reykjavik with a rolled "R" and more of a "veek" sound at the end. But if you stick with RAKE-yuh-vick, you'll fit in just fine.

Q: What is the weather in Reykjavik?

A: Visitors who are accustomed to warm weather may find Reykjavik a shock. While it's not as perpetually frozen as the name Iceland might suggest, the city does tend to be either very cold or fairly cool. Even in the height of summer, the average high temperature is around 55 degrees F. Luckily for those visitors planning wintertime trips, the city's temperatures don't drop dramatically lower during that season. Winter highs are in the mid-30s, which is equivalent to the conditions in many northeastern American cities. And like Boston or New York, Reykjavik has snowy winters. The city is also quite windy and can be sleety during cold weather, but rain is minimal during summer.

Q: When is the best time to visit Reykjavik?

A: Weather-wise, summer is the most mild season for visiting. However, many visitors flock to Iceland in winter for one very important reason: the northern lights. Seeing this incredible atmospheric phenomenon is a bucket-list experience, and you can't get it done in summer. The northern lights are only visible in Reykjavik and the surrounding area between September and April, because that's the period when the sky gets darkest and the air is clearest. Try to visit during that period to see this natural phenomenon.

Q: What is there to do in Reykjavik?

A: Tour a dormant volcano. Check out galleries and museums. Take pictures of the Sun Voyager sculpture. And, of course, gaze in awe at the northern lights. Reykjavik has a mix of rugged beauty and urban cultural institutions, and visitors should see both. The city's highlights include the Hallgrímskirkja church, the Harpa Concert Hall and the Laugavegur, a popular street lined with shops and restaurants.

  • The Solfar Sun Voyager is a massive steel sculpture shaped like a viking boat. It's located along the Sæbraut road, near the Harpa. Follow the Sculpture and Shore Walk trail to see the Sun Voyager up close.
  • Hallgrímskirkja is Iceland's largest church. Its tower is 240 feet tall and can be seen from throughout Reykjavik. Visitors can ride an elevator to the top of the tower and enjoy 360-degree views of the city.
  • Harpa is a concert and conference space, so a variety of events are held there, including classical concerts, comedy shows, music festivals and dance performances. Even if you're not interested in any of the events happening, you can take a guided tour.

Q: How much is a beer in Reykjavik?

A: Reykjavik is a city that loves its beer, and you can try local lagers and Icelandic stouts in Reykjavik that you can't find at home. Compared to other major European cities, Reykjavik's beer prices are average. Expect to pay $5 to $7 for a brew in a bar or restaurant.

Q: What should I wear in Reykjavik?

A: Even in the the warmer summer months, bring long pants and long sleeves to Reykjavik. Your visit may coincide with a warm spell, but you probably won't need more than a few warm weather pieces in that case. The rest of the year, staying warm and dry is your primary objective. Bring plenty of warm socks, clothing you can layer and a full set of cold-weather outerwear. That means an insulated coat, boots, hat, gloves and a scarf. You'll need them when you're standing outside late at night admiring the northern lights.

Q: How do you get from Reykjavik airport to the city center?

A: Keflavik International Airport is located more than 25 miles from the center of Reykjavik, so taking a taxi into the city is a pricey option. Unless you're planning to rent a car for the length of your stay, your best bet for getting from the airport into Reykjavik is taking a bus. The city's public bus line goes all the way to the airport, but makes limited runs each day. Flybus and Airport Express are the main shuttle companies that transport passengers between the airport and the city, and their buses are scheduled to coincide with all arriving flights so you don't get stranded at the airport even if your flight is delayed.

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.