When we talk about Reykjavík, we talk about the great nightlife, the culture, the concerts and the mountain Esja.
Reykjavík can be charming, as a (very) small town. Beautiful? No.
Just look at one of the main streets in downtown Reykjavík, Hverfisgata: a disaster.
Hlemmur, the bus terminal square, where Hverfisgata starts, should get an international award for ugliness. The designers must have studied in DDR or DPRK—it’s so bad.
Bits and pieces of 101, the postal code for the city center, are OK, but nothing more.
Reykjavík does not have any old European style historic buildings. Just ten buildings in the capital are older than two hundred years: two prisons, one souvenir shop, and some small timber houses which miraculously survived the twentieth century.
Reykjavík is windy, dark in the winter, and spread out. The world’s worst capital for bikers or bus riders, Reykjavík is a city for cars.
But there are a few great buildings in the capital.
Harpa, the new concert hall by the old harbor is magnificent. I also like the City Hall, Supreme Court, Sundhöllin (Reykjavík’s oldest swimming pool) and the University of Iceland’s main building.
Next door you have the most beautiful building in the country, the Nordic House, designed by Alvar Aalto (1898 - 1976), the Finnish master architect. Opened in 1968, it was one of his last works and is a hidden gem, a masterpiece. The Nordic House is the only building in Iceland designed by an internationally acclaimed architect.
But Bæjarins bestu hot dog stand—just a shed, really—on Tryggvagata is Reykjavík: small, ugly and not properly designed. But it has charm, but the greatest charm is battling the elements, the sleet and the wind, and at the same time eating a lukewarm hot dog, that taste is so good.
Here you meet all walks of life, from criminals and lawyers (often eating together, the District Court is next door), football stars, journalists, ministers and bus drivers.
Reykjavík at it’s very best.
Páll Stefánsson - firstname.lastname@example.org