City Guide: Reykjavik

Hallgrimskirkja church Reykjavik

Mix business with pleasure over a few days in the quirky, stylish metropolis Reykjavik, located just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle

Where to stay

‘Funky’ isn’t always the first adjective one wants to hear about accommodation – but Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina pulls off the description with taste and panache. The sculptures by local artist Aðalheiður S Eysteinsdóttir dotted around reception are a lovely touch. The rooms are compact – a fact humorously alluded to in the public notices – but clean and comfy, while Slippbarinn, the in-house restaurant and bar overlooking the city’s bustling marina, is as congenial a setting to hold an informal business meeting over a beer as any in Europe.

Other appealing options include Iceland’s largest hotel, Fosshotel Reykjavik – standing imposingly in the business district – and Hotel Borg, which looks out on Austurvöllur, the square that houses the Althing, the country’s parliament.

dishes at matur og drykkur reykjavik

Dishes at Matur og Drykkur, Reykjavik

Where to eat

The most outstanding dish Director experienced was a halibut soup with mussels, apples and raisins based on the owner’s grandmother’s recipe at Matur og Drykkur, a restaurant which works from ancient Icelandic recipes using local ingredients.

To enjoy the kind of shellfish meal requiring a toolkit, do so in the jaunty, nautical surrounds of Vitinn restaurant in Sandgerdi, minutes from the airport. If locally reared lamb, beef, trout, quail, skyr (an Icelandic cultured dairy product comparable to yoghurt) are more your bag, visit Grillmarkaðurinn (Grillmarket), back in central Reykjavik.

The Northern Lights, which can be seen from Reykjavik

The Northern Lights

What to see

The famous Northern Lights tours are a good bet if visiting between November and February. Summer visitors can take advantage of the 20-hour daylight with whale watching trips, which depart the Old Harbour in Reykjavik and the fishing village of the north, Húsavík. Buggy tours offer an intimate experience with the country’s uniquely haunting landscape, while a more comprehensive experience of the island’s glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls is best gleaned with a helicopter ride. Meanwhile, you’ll learn more about Iceland’s Nordic culinary tradition through a food tour – which takes in 13 different local cuisines over four hours in central Reykjavik – than you will over a couple of days of restaurant hopping. And you can’t fail to spot Hallgrímskirkja – standing 73 metres tall, it is the largest church in Iceland and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.

Etiquette and customs

An Old Norse tradition sees Icelanders identify themselves by their father’s or mother’s first name rather than surnames – hence, Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir, a women’s liberation and women’s suffrage champion, would have been called Bríet Margrétardóttir had she been identified by her mother’s name.

Icelanders, thanks to their standing in the world – disproportionate for their meagre numbers, though still small – relish strangers knowing things about their homeland, and this fact is a good place to start. That, along with the country’s extraordinary feat of becoming by far the smallest nation ever to qualify for football’s European Championships in France where the national team outperformed and humbled England in the process. On the business front, punctuality, transparency and meticulous planning are valued, while formal dress is considered a triviality and present giving – if invited to a contact’s home – is imperative.

For the flight

Icelandair’s infotainment system has a stunning documentary about the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption, which caused the largest air-traffic shutdown since the Second World War. The literary buff may want to check out Independent People, the epic novel by 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Halldór Laxness.

The obvious choice of music, in terms of invoking the desolate, moody drama of the landscape awaiting you is Sigur Rós (1999 album Ágætis Byrjun features the band’s most famous recording, Starálfur). Björk’s 1990 recording of traditional Icelandic songs, Gling-Gló, is another option, as is the lesser known but more conventional rock-pop from singer-songwriter Ásgeir Trausti.

Reykjavik: Useful info

To read Director’s article on doing business in Iceland – click here

To read Director’s Icelandair flight review – click here

About author

Nick Scott

Nick Scott

A former editor-in-chief of The Rake and deputy editor of the Australian edition of GQ, Nick has had features published in titles including Esquire, The Guardian, Observer Sport Monthly and Rolling Stone Australia and is a contributing editor to Director magazine. He has interviewed celebrities including Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig and Elle Macpherson, as well as business people including Sir Richard Branson, Charles Middleton and Nick Giles and Michael Hayman MBE.

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