As the epicentre of Icelandic cultural life – and the world’s most northerly capital city – Reykjavik is small, but charmingly formed and buzzes with quirky chutzpah. Nearly half the country’s population reside here, but even so there are barely 123,000 inhabitants, ensuring that the city’s streets remain refreshingly uncrowded.

The Sun Voyager sculpture surrounded by snow in the harbour of Reykjavik cruise port

Sun Voyager - Reykjavik harbour

While Reykjavik may not match the grandeur of other Nordic capitals when it comes to grand, statuesque buildings, its spectacular setting and abundance of clean, fresh air is a constant reminder of the unspoiled wilderness that lies just beyond the city limits.

Its style is more eclectic than classic, with a hotch-potch of different designs inspired by Norse roots and avant-garde trends thanks to a thriving collection of high-brow museums and art galleries, lively nightspots and a hip music scene that exudes a distinctive cosmopolitan air.

People walking into Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik cruise port in Iceland

Hallgrimskirkja Church

The city centre is pleasingly compact, making it easy to explore on foot with a focal point being the distinctive Hallgrimskirkja Church, all white concrete which towers on the skyline, while charming Old Reykjavik is full of narrow streets lined with colourful tin-roofed wooden houses that lend themselves to historical-themed walking tours.

The capital’s working harbour has also become something of a tourist haunt with defunct fish factories replaced with high-quality restaurants and museums, while boats offering trips to spot whales and puffins chug to and fro.

As the self-proclaimed gateway to Iceland’s famously rugged hinterland, Reykjavik’s key strength comes from its position as a springboard from which to explore Iceland’s myriad natural attractions.

A puffin standing on a cliff edge in the popular cruise destination of Iceland

Steam rising from the geothermal Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik cruise port

The Blue Lagoon

The most famous is arguably the geothermal Blue Lagoon. Set among the lava fields of the Reykjanes Peninsula, its steaming mineral rich waters are a popular draw among locals and tourists for their reputed healing properties.

It is a potent reminder that while Reykjavik relishes its lively metropolitan appeal, beyond the mountainous backdrop, Iceland’s untamed natural spirit is never far away.

Top tip

For a museum trip completely out of the ordinary, head for the city’s penis museum or, to give it the proper name, the Icelandic Phallological Museum containing more than more than 200 specimens from whales, seals, land mammals and even a polar bear!

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Sara Macefield
Sara Macefield
Sara Macefield is an award-winning travel journalist of more than 20 years standing, and has spent the last decade writing about the cruise industry – exploring the world's oceans and rivers on ships of all sizes. Having notched up more than 100 cruises, her most memorable trips have been to Alaska with its superb wildlife, and sailing along Burma’s remote Chindwin River to villages far off the tourist track. She writes regularly for The Times and Daily Telegraph and has written for the Daily Mail, The Guardian, Daily Express and Woman & Home Magazine.

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