With one of the most stable economies in the world, Iceland has had little trouble avoiding the financial crises of their European cousins. And this is good news for tourists as well, who are often enchanted not only by Iceland’s expansive topography but by the overall laissez-faire attitude of its residents. The capital of Reykjavik has a charm of its own, but many tourists here often overlook some of the more interesting and culturally significant attractions.
A visit is not complete without spending at least a day touring the lighthouse of Grotta – the ancient lighthouse is on the most westernmost side of the city, and a walk there from your hotel or hostel will let you glimpse the daily activities of the capital, and you might even be greeted with a wave. The lighthouse itself looks out on Flaxafloi Bay and actually exists outside of Reykjavik, and is considered to be in the adjacent village of Seltjarnarnes – however, the way the two communities are butted up against one another, there is almost no distinction.
Next, it’s worth checking out the Hallgrimskirja (if only to be able to say the name of the ancient church out loud) – the Lutheran cathedral is one of the tallest in Iceland, and the unusual white architecture rises to a point that also serves as a lookout point. Inside, you might also hear someone at the massive organ, which was built by Johannes Klais of Bonn.
Inside the city the amazingly well-maintained and extensive Árbæjarsafn, or museum, which houses a wide variety of exhibitions ranging from the modern day to Reykjavik’s more ancient past – a new display has also opened recently detailing the archaeological history of the region. Many of the individuals who work at the museum, including volunteers, are eager to explain (and embellish) on some of the more colorful traditions of the capital city, including the milking of the resident cow.
If you get tired of walking around the town, one of the better ways to get out of the city is by horse. There are several companies but Islenki Hesturrin is one of the better ones available, and the owner Begga is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to the native Icelandic horses. Most tours will pick you up right at your hotel and take you to the stables, but what makes Hesturrin’s tours stand out is their small number, often in groups of two to five, which lends itself to a more intimate atmosphere. It’s also a great way to explore some of the more rural areas around the city, and drink in the Nordic landscape that so inspired bards and Viking conquerors alike.