[Reykjavik] Downtown Guide Part 1
Reykjavik, Iceland's not-too-large capital, is a beautiful and eclectic city that’s showered in colors and packed with vigor. Merely 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle, the city receives only 4 hours of sunlight during the darkest Winter days and bakes in sunlight for almost 24 hours a day in the Summers. As Iceland’s most populous city (~120,000 inhabitants), it is also the country’s most exciting urban playground. Here you can find first-rate restaurants, large shopping malls, interesting museums, queer shops and a “legendary” nightlife that the Icelanders are proud of (which apparently is now gaining reputation as one of the most fashionable and chic European party city).
After roving around the Icelandic countryside for 6 days straight, I felt a little displaced to be back in the city again but relieved as well. I probably saw more cars within 20 minutes roving around Reykjavik than I did altogether for the past week outside of the town.
I stayed at Hlemmer Square, a boutique and cozy hotel located near the edge of downtown Reykjavik. It is conveniently situated—walking distance from all the necessary landmarks or a 2 minute drive from just about everything. There’s no on-site parking but it never took me long to find street parking around the area.
Laugavegur 105, 105 Reykjavik, Iceland
+354 415 1600 | http://www.hlemmursquare.com/
Strolling around the streets is highly recommended. The sidewalks and roads are nicely paved and drivers are usually passive-friendly. The houses and shops are painted in jolly bright colors and you'll find street art printed on the walls easily. Walking around aimlessly is an adventure by itself!
Harpa Convention Center and Concert Hall
Austurbakki 2, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland
+354 569 6700 | http://harpa.is/
The Harpa is built along the shore where the city touches the sea, on the east side of the old harbor. Reykjavik’s conference center and home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, the Harpa is an amazing modern Nordic architectural achievement. Deploying light, color, movement and their interactions, the Danish-Icelandic leading architect and artist Olafur Eliasson used panes of clear and color-coated glass to design a building that seems to shimmer and glitter with the reflections of the surrounding sky and sea. Doesn't it remind you of a kaleidoscope? There are usually many exhibitions and concerts available to the public, but even if you do not attend an event, be sure to come and check out this gorgeous piece of art and check out their gift stores.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsu
Tryggvagotu 1, Reykjavik 101, Iceland
Very close to the Harpa is Iceland’s famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsu (aka “the best hotdog in town”). What? Yes. Dubbed by Forbe’s magazine as the “world’s most famous hotdog vendor,” this little establishment has been here since 1937. Even President Bill Clinton stopped here during his visit. Cutting straight to the chase, the iconic item on its menu is the “ein með öllu” hotdog or the “one with everything” as it is affectionately referred to as by the locals. It is a lamb-based hotdog covered with a variety of condiments like ketchup, mustard, fried onion, raw onion and remoulade, a type of sweet mayonnaise dressing made with capers, mayonnaise, herbs and mustard.
A bite into it and I understood why some claim it to be the best hotdog in Europe and why it is good enough to be part of Iceland’s traditional cuisine. Different from pure beef or pork hotdogs, the lamb is tender and juicy. However, my favorite part of it was the surprisingly pleasurable crunch of the crispy fried onions. It perfectly complemented the scrumptious sausage and sauces. Iceland does not allow any the import of any meat or animals, so naturally all the meat sold here is free-range, grass-fed, organic and hormone-free. That probably partially explains why meat is expensive here (like everything else here) but also why they're especially tasty.
Last but not least, the loaded hotdog only costs 280 ISK ($2 USD), which is cheaper than anything else you can find in Iceland. Please do not leave Iceland without trying this place. Although hotdogs are almost ubiquitous in Iceland, you'll regret not having tasted a true Icelandic hotdog the way locals eat it until you’ve tried this messy goodness.
Skólavörðustígur 101, Reykjavík, Iceland
+354 510 1000 | http://www.hallgrimskirkja.is/
Installed at the top of a hill in downtown Reykjavik, this tall white Lutheran church is the largest church and the sixth tallest structure in Iceland (at 73 meters). It is a major Icelandic landmark and its roaring stature can be seen anywhere from downtown Reykjavik and even from miles away from city center.