Reykjavik is the world’s most northern capital and a popular travel destination. Over 2 million people visit Iceland annually, most of them come to Reykjavik, and the amount of tourists is growing 20 % every year. This is a massive number of people if you bear in mind that Iceland has only around 300 000 inhabitants. Reykjavik is interesting, quirky, a bit of a paradox in many ways. It is a tiny town with big ideas and world-class endeavours. It is ice-cold from the outside, but bustling warm from the inside. It is freaking expensive, and yet very cozy, welcoming and approachable. In Reykjavik, people cover their houses with corrugated iron against the rude weather. Very practical, you might think. Well, the same people decided that they want a sunny beach of their own, no matter that the average temperature is + 4 degrees Celsius in Iceland. So the Icelanders ended up importing white sand from Morocco and building an artificial beach just near the capital. They even decided to heat the sea water up to 20 degrees to ensure almost Greece-like atmosphere. So this is Iceland, a bit crazy with huge ideas. And this is also most definitely Reykjavik!
I started my first travel day in Reykjavik. We had a quick sightseeing tour around the town and saw the most popular monuments. It is impossible to miss Hallgrímskirkja that is visible everywhere in Reykjavik. The church resembles a rocket that is ready to be launched to the outer space (a bit like Icelandic imagination). The interior in the church (free entrance) is very plain and simple, which is really common in Lutheran churches. Iceland used to be one of the poorest countries in Europe all the way to the 1950s’, and not even the church had a lot of funds or riches.
So, the most Icelanders are Lutherans but the second largest religion is paganism. Many locals have turned their backs to Christianity and started serving old pagan gods and the mother nature. Just in front of the church you will be greeted by a statue of the most famous pagan, Leifur Eiriksson, a viking who discovered America hundreds of years before Columbus. It might be a bit odd to have a statue of a pagan just next to the largest Christian monument, but I guess it is just a sign of the strange Icelandic sense of humour.
Another crazy project is the concert and conference centre Harpa. The construction work started just before the banking crises in Iceland, and actually the building was first meant to be a headquarters of one of the banks. Just when the foundations were laid, banks started going into bankruptcy one after another. Taxpayers ended up paying for the whole project, which ended up costing three times more than the estimate. The Icelanders were not happy then, but now the centre has proven to be really popular and it is fully booked for over a year. Make sure to step inside this architectural gem of Reykjavik. Remember also check out a beautiful Solfar, Sun Voyager sculpture resembling a viking ship.
I learned more crazy details about the Icelanders. I learned that they adore ice-cream, despite the fact that they live in one of the coldest countries in the world. Ice-cream shops are open till late, and many locals drive there to have their ice-cream evening snack before the bedtime. No one will lick their treat in the freezing weather, though. People won’t even turn off the engines of their cars, they turn the heater to the maximum and enjoy their scoops inside their cars.
The weather in Iceland is what it is. Horrible, even dangerous at times. That won’t stop people from doing things, going out and living their lives. When Icelanders go to a football match, they stay inside their cars. When their team scores a point, they just honk the horn. Rainy and windy weather is no reason to skip a single match. When the weather is good for once (20 degrees is super rare luxury), it is generally acceptable that banks, offices and shops close their doors so that everyone can go out and enjoy the sun.
That is Iceland. Freezing cold weather, and 27-degree warm homes, cars and thermal pools to keep the cold away. A country that calls its president by her or his first name, just like everyone else. A country that tackled the banking crises against all odds and well before the European Union. The Icelanders don’t just preach, they also act. If they fall, that is cool, then you just know what didn’t work. They believe in themselves, their skills, uniqueness and their country. And they are just perfectly crazy.