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Stuart Messham
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From its constant reinventions to its glorious architecture and right-on cultural happenings, Reykjavik is one of the most achingly cool capitals in Europe. So let’s get hip in the Nordics…
3, 2, 1… Hallgrímskirkja has lift off!
Instagram Hallgrímskirkja

Reykjavik is a city very much on the up and the skyward-pointing, rocket-shaped Hallgrímskirkja is an appropriate, ever-present feature of the city’s skyline.

It was conceived in the early-1940s by State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson who is said to have designed it, not to look like a vessel destined for the moon, but to echo the trap rocks, mountains and glaciers of which Iceland is so well-known.

It took 41 years to complete, finally being consecrated in 1986, but the landmark tower was completed a long time before the whole church was finished.

There’s a cool statue of Leif Eriksson – the Norseman who was the first European explorer to walk American soil in the 11th century – out front of the church. And you really should check out the Johannes Klais’ almighty organ inside, measuring 15-metres high and weighing 25 tonnes. If you can hear it in action, even better.

Oh, and Instagram fanatics, you can pop up the tower for ISK1000 for some really rewarding/shareable panoramics.

Viðey Island: "Close to the shore, but a world away"
Give peace a chance on Viðey Island

Best known as the home of Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower – and within touching distance of Reykjavik’s stunning waterfront – is Viðey Island: a place where art, history, and nature lie just beyond the city shore.

You can search out Viðey House – Iceland’s first structure to built from stone – by bike or on foot and lazily traverse the island spotting age-old churches, taking artful snaps and gently pondering Yoko Ono’s aforementioned light installation which, between 9 October (Lennon’s birthday) and 8 December (anniversary of his death) is also visible from the mainland. It’s beam rises about 4km on a clear night, so you don’t need a keen eye to spot it.

On the west side of the island is another important – and acutely Instagrammable – artwork called Milestones by Richard Serra. It’s an intricate piece inspired by Iceland’s basalt topography and it’s rather lovely.

In the summertime, there are daily ferry departures to Viðey Island both from Skarfabakki pier and Ægisgarður harbour. The winter service runs on Saturdays and Sundays from Skarfabakki to Viðey. It takes 20 minutes and is free with a Reykjavik City Card.

It’s close to the shore, but as they say on the tourist website, “it’s a world away”.

There's nothing quite like the Northern Lights.
Discover the Northern Lights

We’ve all seen pictures of the Northern Lights, but there really is nothing quite like witnessing them for yourself – and Iceland is one of the best places in the world to do so.

You will need to make some effort and have a bit of luck on your side though: you’ll need to research and plan your trip around the aurora forecasts, you’ll need a clear night and you’ll most likely need to be on a boat, on the coast or in the countryside to avoid the light pollution of the city.

My gosh, it's worth it.

If you do miss out on seeing them live though, you can watch some incredible displays captured beautifully on film at the Aurora Reykjavik. It’s an information centre that can help you experience the Northern Lights in all their wonder set up by some of Iceland’s best-known photographers: Grétar Jónsson, the ‘Aurora Forecast Master’ and Jörður Finnbogason, the ‘Wizard of Lights’.

Art and nature combined.

There's graffiti, and then there's Wall Poetry. Reykjavik does it better.
Poetry for the eyes

The Northern Lights illuminate the sky above Reykjavik and street artists and musicians decorate the town below.

This is not your common or garden "graffiti" though: this is Reykjavik. This is “Wall Poetry”.

Take a trip down to the Old Harbour and Grandi and you’ll be treated to a new dimension of street art. A collaboration between the Iceland Airwaves music festival and the Berlin-based Urban Nation art initiative has used the buildings as a canvas with murals that take on a way more meaningful dimension.

They are not only inspired by songs from the likes of Mercury Rev and John Grant, they are created in collaboration with them. And the results really are quite joyous.

It’s all commissioned and above board and its complimented by big-scale photo-realistic offerings from incredible artists such as Guido Van Helten (pictured) and Sara Riel.

We told you it was cool here.

The most interesting conference centre in the world.
Be dazzled by a "Conference" centre

When you’re done ogling the rhymes and rhythms of the Old Harbour walls, it’s imperative you pay a visit to Harpa: the sounds-dull-but-totally-dazzling conference centre on the Reykjavik waterfront.

It’s another building inspired by Iceland's famous basalt landscape and another that has done a truly majestic job of it.

Designed by Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects, it has an ethereal, borderline mystic presence that really befits this incredible city.

Visit the shop and restaurant, watch the 15-minute, 360-degree movie about how ace Iceland is and book your tickets to see the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera or the achingly hip Sónar Reykjavík festival in March.

It’s another bastion of cool in a city that oozes culture and feels very “now”.

Get involved.


Be cool. Fly to Reykjavik with IcelandAir.
It's one of Europe's gems and it's only a few clicks away.