7 Ways Reykjavík Perfectly Combines Nature & City Life
If you’re looking for a place that effortlessly intertwines the conveniences of city life with the restorative powers of nature, look no further than Reykjavík.
The progressive city culture, exciting art scene, delicious cuisine, and abundance of outdoor activities have gained Reykjavík a reputation for perfectly combining its raw natural surroundings with cosmopolitan comforts.
1. A Gorgeous Skyline that Surrounds the City
As you drive into Reykjavík you‘ll notice the majestic mountains framing the skyline of commercial buildings and houses that make up this little big city. Esja mountain range and the sea that hugs the shore in Reykjavík serve as a reminder to residents and travellers that wild nature is just a stone’s throw away.
A mix of modern and traditional architecture gives Reykjavík a mysterious yet inviting charm that works so well with the surrounding nature. During winter, Esja dons her winter coat and complements the snow-covered streets of the city that transform it into a winter wonderland. As the vibrant green flora that comes with the summer season wraps around the mountains, it highlights the colourful houses dotted throughout the downtown area.
2. Easy to Navigate Reykjavík on Foot or Public Transport
Reykjavík’s size might be small, but it packs in enough activities, accommodations, food, and natural spaces to accommodate people of all ages and interests. The very centre of downtown, which has the coveted 101 area code, clocks in at 3.6 square kilometres (1.4 square miles) but if you take in the immediate nearby neighbourhoods, that size more than doubles.
This compact cosmopolitan city is easy to navigate by foot, bus or scooter. While you can drive and pay to park too, the amount of parking spaces greatly diminishes the closer you get to the downtown area. Plus, walking or hopping on the bus allows you to relax while you take in the sights and possibly discover new places as you explore.
3. Access to Nature within Minutes
Reykjavík perfectly shows how it’s possible to have a bustling city and still have easy access to nature. Whether you travel by foot or a vehicle, you can bask in natural surroundings within minutes. Here are some of the lovely natural surroundings that Reykjavík has to offer.
Adjacent to City Hall in the downtown area is a gorgeous pond called Tjörnin (the pond). Swans, ducks and other bird varieties hang out here year-round. During winter, the pond sometimes freezes over, which allows locals to ice skate on it. In warmer months, you’ll find people walking and sitting around the pond as the sun’s rays bounce off the water’s surface to create a glistening light show.
Grótta Lighthouse on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula is a picturesque spot on a small island just off the coast of the mainland. During low tide, you can walk to the lighthouse for a great view of the mountains and beaches nearby. On a clear day, you can see Hallgrímskirkja church in one direction and Snæfellsjökull glacier in another.
To many visitors' surprise, a river named Elliðaár runs through the southwest part of Reykjavík. Surrounding this river is a gorgeous recreational area named Elliðaárdalur. There you can find walking, hiking and bicycle paths.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, there have been reforestation efforts in this valley with birch, fir, and pine trees. As a result, you‘ll enjoy an oasis of trees as you walk around – something that’s hard to find in most parts of the country.
With just a hop, skip and jump from the city centre, you can enjoy the beauty of living plants in the Reykjavík Botanic Garden located in the Laugadalur neighbourhood. Established in 1961, the role of the garden is to conserve plants for education and research, and to delight visitors. You’ll find about 3,000 plant species in the eight plant collections in the garden, which showcases the large amount of diversity that’s possible in a northern temperate zone.
Along with plants and bird life, a short walk in the garden reveals an old greenhouse that was transformed into a café that operates during the summer. There’s also a turf house and remnants of the area where Icelandic women came to wash their laundry in geothermal hot springs
4. Renewable Energy Powers the City
A mix of geothermal and hydroelectric energy provides heating and electricity in Reykjavík, which puts the city at the international forefront of using renewable energy. Iceland’s location above a mantle plume with diverse and complex volcanic activity provides a constant supply of renewable energy sources that can be harnessed in a variety of ways.
Not relying on fossil fuels for power allows Reykjavík to maintain sustainable growth in accommodating the increasing number of visitors while staying in harmony with residents and nature.
5. The City Most Famous Church Was Inspired by Icelandic Nature
Hallgrímskirkja church is one of the most prominent buildings that make up Reykjavík’s iconic skyline. Its size and shape tower over the surrounding structures as if it were guarding the city. This Lutheran church was named after Hallgrímur Pétursson, an influential Icelandic poet and cleric that authored the Passion Hymns in the 1600s.
If you look closely at the facade of the building, you might notice that the cascading columns down the sides look familiar to a formation found in Icelandic nature. The State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson was commissioned to design the church in 1937, and he was inspired to incorporate columnar basalt rock formations on the outside of the building. Columnar basalt rock happens naturally when lava cools at a certain rate.
This ode to Icelandic nature in the design of one of the city‘s most notable landmarks shows just how the top of mind the harmony between city life and nature is in Reykjavík.
6. A Mix of Modern & Traditional Cuisine
It’s impossible to talk about Reykjavík’s connection with nature without mentioning the unique food culture. Packed within the narrow streets of the city are a wide variety of restaurants that cater to practically every food lifestyle available. One thing the most popular modern eateries have in common is integrating locally grown ingredients while experimenting with internationally known flavours.
If you fancy a traditional Icelandic food experience, there are plenty of places that will have you travelling back in time through your taste buds. Staples of Icelandic traditional food include lamb, fish, fermented shark, special pieces of bread, skyr and other dairy products. Modern takes on these dishes breathe new life into time-honoured traditions that were created for survival in centuries past.
7. From Music Festivals to Viewing Live Minke Whales
How many cities can offer you the opportunity to jump on a whale watching or puffin viewing tour that departs from the city centre and the chance to dance the night away at a music concert all within the same day?
Reykjavík’s old harbour is perfectly situated for you to enjoy the exciting city life and awe-inspiring nature without ever needing to jump in a car. There are numerous music venues, art shows, and performances happening in the downtown area throughout the year. During summer, you can view puffin colonies on nearby islands or witness gigantic whales breaching the surface of the water before diving deep into the ocean.
Winter brings a certain kind of enchantment. When the conditions are just right, you can look straight up and see the northern lights dancing across the sky.