In many ways, comparisons between Reykjavík and other European capitals are best left alone. The city boasts no castles, skyscrapers, grand squares, or monuments; the oldest house dates from 1764. Reykjavík's grandeur resides in its people, landscape, and culture: the museums, the music, the burgeoning restaurant and bistro culture, the geothermal pools, the style and attitude, the bustle and nightlife, and the cultivation of civic space.
As you survey the sights, keep some architectural notes in mind. Many Reykjavík buildings, largely from 1910 to 1930 but extending to the present, have corrugated iron siding, a distinctly Icelandic architectural trademark. Whatever its aesthetic merit, it was born of necessity: wood is scarce and rots in the driving wind and rain, and iron is more stable in earthquakes. Since WWII, residents have brightened the cityscape with sidings and trims in cheerful reds, blues, and greens. Almost no traditional turf structures survive within city limits.
Other Icelandic style innovations date from the Nationalist Period of architecture, roughly 1920 to 1950, and often have to do with utilizing native materials and invoking native landscapes. Look for interior and exterior walls made from solid or crushed Icelandic rock varieties, such as gabbro, rhyolite, basalt, and sometimes lava.
The Reykjavík City Card
This little gem can save you a bundle. The card includes admission to most major museums and galleries, along with access to public transport and all of the city’s pools. Cards come in three varieties: 24-hour (3,800kr), 48-hour (5,400kr), and 72-hour (6,500kr), activated the first time you use it. To calculate how soon you’ll break even, consider that museums are routinely 1,400kr, pools 600kr, and buses 350kr. Most museums are free 1 day of the week, so patient and flexible schedulers can do without the card. Cards are available at the Tourist Information Office, BSÍ bus terminals, the City Hostel, and the three branches of the Reykjavík Art Museum, but not online. (Check www.visitreykjavik.is/travel/reykjavik-city-card for the full list.)
Reykjavík with Children
Children in Iceland are noticeably well integrated into adult life, and you’ll feel welcome bringing them almost anywhere. They are often seen feeding the voracious waterfowl in Tjörnin pond by City Hall. The Volcano Show at the Volcano House has enough geological violence and destruction to be entertaining, even if the film quality is outdated. Whale-watching, puffin-watching, and the Reykjavík Zoo & Family Park are all pretty foolproof. The most engaging museums are the open-air Árbær Museum and Whales of Iceland. Perhaps best of all are the outdoor thermal pools, a family institution throughout the country. The deluxe Laugar Spa can entertain your children while you pamper yourself, and the Kringlan Mall offers a child-minding service while you shop.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.