Hygge places: Reykjavik, Iceland

Before I went to Reykjavik this week for the second time, I had plans for writing a post on my return about all the hygge spaces in the city. But I can’t really do that, because Reykjavik is the total and utter epitome of hygge, everywhere, in every way.

I first visited in 2011, and I fell in love with it. I don’t tend to make a habit of returning to the same place, because my list of places to go is endless. But I would go back to Reykjavik every single month if I could. It is the most exquisitely beautiful place I have ever been.

I could wax lyrical about it, but I took so many photos that I feel like they should do the talking. I can’t even pretend to be a photographer (I don’t even have a big camera!), but the fact that I got photos like these on a standard phone camera speaks volumes about the south east of Iceland. You can find nice, filtered versions of some of these on my Instagram, but everything in this post is a raw image taken directly from my phone.

Jetting off to Reykjavik with Icelandair
Taking off from London Gatwick, en route to Reykjavik with Icelandair

The first night was, as first nights always are, about getting my bearings and refreshing my memory of the city. Reykjavik is tiny, so it wasn’t difficult. I had also inadvertently booked a hotel literally 50 metres from the apartments I stayed in last time, so finding my way around was a piece of cake.

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The second day was another day of exploration, including pelting down to the harbour early in the morning to see the Sun Voyager.

Sun Voyager sculpture, Reykjavik
Sun Voyager sculpture, Reykjavik

I went back to see Prikið, which is apparently Iceland’s oldest café. Last time I was there, I’m pretty sure there was a drug deal going on, or some other dodgy happenings. Not that I minded. How can you mind anything when you’re in Reykjavik?

Prikið café, Reykjavik
Iceland’s oldest café, Prikið, in downtown Reykjavik

One of the things I love about other cities is seeing the houses. The architecture of homes is fascinating, and there are few places with houses prettier than here. I’m sure the interiors are hygge honeypots too. If I have any Icelandic readers, firstly, can we be best friends, and secondly, perhaps you’d like to tell me more about a traditional Icelandic home?

A yellow house in downtown Reykjavik
A house in downtown Reykjavik

You can see lots more of these houses from the tower of Hallgrímskirkja.

View from the tower of Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik's iconic Lutheran church
View from the tower of Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik’s iconic Lutheran church

And for reference, here is Hallgrímskirkja in the daytime. It cuts a pretty imposing shape at the top of its hill, but that’s kind of why I like it.

Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik
Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik

In the afternoon, it was off to the Is Hestar riding school, based just outside Reykjavik, for a two-hour riding tour of the lava fields. We rode Icelandic horses in the biting wind, sleet and hail, and we even went for a little canter. My horse was called Glacier and he was lovely – if a very greedy boy, stopping wherever he could to nibble on the branches and hedges lining the route.

Icelandic horse
Glacier the Icelandic horse and me, the English girl. Orange is most definitely not the new black.

A post about hygge in Reykjavik wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Litla Jólabúðin. It’s a shop dedicated to Christmas which is open all year round. There are lots of decorations inside dedicated to the 13 Yule Lads, the cheeky little creatures who get up to mischief in the run up to Christmas in Iceland. I know it’s February, but when it’s snowing and the windows are glowing, of course I’m going to go inside for a very early (or very late?) dose of comfort and joy.

Litla Jólabúðin, the year-round Christmas shop on Laugavegur, Reykjavik
Litla Jólabúðin, the year-round Christmas shop on Laugavegur, Reykjavik

Thursday was Golden Circle tour day. This is the absolute must-do tour for anyone visiting Reykjavik. I did it last time, but I was never going to let that stop me going again. Our first stop was a new one to me – we visited Friðheimar, a little greenhouse powered by geothermal energy, growing vines and vines of organic tomatoes. This was a true hygge hub, with the owners serving their own tomato soup and bees lazily bumping around in the warmth while it snowed ferociously outside.

Friðheimar greenhouse in Iceland
You say tómatar, I say tomahto

As you can see, it was snowing just a touch throughout this stop. It made the warmth of the greenhouse even more welcome.

Snow in Iceland
Tomato or tomasnow?

The first ‘big’ stop of the tour was at the Geysir National Park, where the Geysir and Strokkur geysers live. Geysir doesn’t erupt so regularly anymore, but trusty old Strokkur blows out a jet of boiling water and steam into the freezing air every five minutes or so. This is an area of incredible geothermal activity, and there are little pools of frenzied water dotted throughout the park, like tiny cauldrons.

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The next big stop was Gullfoss, which translates as ‘golden falls’. It’s a giant, two-tiered waterfall on the canyon of the Hvitá (white) river, and it’s pretty much agreed to be the number one tourist attraction in southern Iceland. I don’t believe that photos can really do Gullfoss justice – you really do need to be there to experience the terrifying force of the water and the smoky spray as it hammers down into the canyon below. The weather couldn’t have been better for this stop. The snow was glittering in the sun.

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The final stop was Þingvellir – a great name in so many ways, not least because of that prominent Icelandic runic letter. Þingvellir was the meeting site of the old Viking Parliament, and it is also located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge rift valley, where the tectonic plates are slowly moving apart. The tour takes you from the Eurasian plate to the North American plate – though apparently the land around Þingvellir could be considered a teeny tiny plate of its own now, which is very cool. It was snowing violently by the time we arrived here, and one Icelandic lady called me ‘the frozen queen’, because my coat was white with snow by the time we had walked to the top of the valley.

Þingvellir, Iceland
Looking over Þingvellir
I can't even begin to explain how bitterly cold it was here
I can’t even begin to explain how bitterly cold it was here

By the time we came to return to Reykjavik, the road conditions were treacherous, and our guide pointed out the vehicles stranded at the side of the road. We couldn’t see anything other than white out of the windows. It was bizarre.

Unfortunately the Northern Lights tours were cancelled every night of my stay because of the snowfall and cloud coverage, but worse things have happened at sea. I hope to see them during my trip to Lapland in December. It would have been the icing on the cake, but the whole trip was so delightfully hygge-centric that it’s difficult to get too het up about it.

Of all the places I have ever visited, Reykjavik is by far the most hygge-friendly. But I must warn you: if you want to go to Reykjavik, go sooner rather than later. Tourism has exploded in Iceland, and there are hotels going up left, right and centre. Go now while it is still perfect. I pray it won’t ever become overrun, but just in case, go now before it’s too late, and enjoy it in all its hygge glory.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. aileenyanks says:

    I could have written this exact statement myself! “I first visited in 2011, and I fell in love with it. I don’t tend to make a habit of returning to the same place, because my list of places to go is endless. But I would go back to Reykjavik every single month if I could. It is the most exquisitely beautiful place I have ever been.”

    I’ve been 3 times now, first in 2009, and thinking about my 4th. The warm cosy cafes, the glowing windows from all the bars, it’s the most ‘hygge’ place I know.

    I would also recommend hiring a car, it’s easy to get around and well signposted to all the places you’ve mentioned, plus you can go further afield. Not sure about driving in the snow however!

    I’m away to look up flights….

    And thanks for the spotify list, subscribed!

    1. There aren’t many places I could see myself living, but I think Reykjavik makes the cut! I’m going back for my third visit in February (again) – hoping to see the Northern Lights this time! I’m looking at venturing down towards the south coast this time, and one day I’d love to make it over to the active volcanoes!

      Thanks so much for the comment (and for subscribing to my Spotify playlist! Always happy to take recommendations 🙂 )

  2. Lasse says:

    Hi. Interesting “report” from this strange island. Why do you go in the winter time? I have never been in Iceland myself, but I would think it would be best to visit in summer, to avoid getting stuck in bad weather and all that?

    1. Hello! Winter gives you the best possible chance of seeing the Northern Lights (I haven’t been lucky the last two times I went, but hoping it’ll be third time lucky when I go next February!), and it all looks so pretty in the snow. It’s a huge difference from the UK, where the transport stops when the first snowflake hits the ground. I would love to visit in the summer sometime too in the hope of spotting some puffins 🙂

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