Seemingly sandwiched between a cosmopolitan European capital and a serene Nordic seafront village, the first thing you notice when arriving in Reykjavik is how everything feels compact, accessible, vibrant, and safe.
The city is the world's Northernmost capital city, and is home to around 123,000 people. Compare that with London's estimated 10 million, and you'll get a good idea of Reykjavik's suburban atmosphere.
The seafront is a good place to start when exploring the city. Facing out towards Mount Esja, this a great place for photos or to soak in the vastness of the mountain. It's surreal to stand with your back to the busy city, with such stunning natural beauty in front of you, and I think that's what gives the city its sense of calm and tranquility.
When I first explored Reykjavik it was early January, and about 3pm. During Icelandic winters the sun never really rises - it peaks just above the horizon and kind of stays there until it gets dark, meaning the light is like a permanent sunset. If you catch Esja during this time it's particularly striking, and will probably glow bright pink when covered in snow.
Also near the waterfront is the Harpa concert hall, or, if your budget or sophistication won't stretch to a concert venue, Kex hostel is just down the road and has a much-welcomed happy hour and a great bar that often has live music (you can visit the Kex bar regardless of whether you're staying there or not).
Reykjavik's main shopping street, Laugavegur, is home to a mixture of restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and shops selling all your typical Icelandic goods (think wool, sheep and puffins). Exhibit A:
If you're travelling on a budget, this would be a good time to pick up food and other essentials from Bonus - Iceland's budget supermarket chain. Around the main shopping district is Reykjavik Roasters (one on Kárastígur and another on Brautarholt), a popular and trendy coffee shop which is amazing for an afternoon coffee & pastry.
I think Reykjavik in general has great coffee culture - the city has plenty of coffee shops and each has its own distinct vibe. On more than one occasion I chose afternoon coffee & cake over a proper lunch - which cut down a lot on cost, since I've heard main meals in the city are expensive. Enjoying yourself is all about prioritizing, and coffee is always high on my list of priorities.
Now, I've heard tourists say that Reykjavik is boring or too expensive. I've heard born-and-bred Icelanders say they hate the capital. But despite the negativity, it's still one of my favourite cities. It has it's own natural beauty, and I get the sense that it's cultural standpoints (inc. art, music, nightlife) are bubbling just beneath the surface, and will expand massively in the near future.
It feels so welcoming. It feels like home.