Explore: Six Cities | Reykjavik
Community Issue | Exploring Six Cities
Reykjavík is a vibrant international city. While this northernmost capital of the world may seem like a remote outpost to many, it is inexorably tied to the rest of the globe, both taking and exerting influence.
The financial crisis of 2008 hit Iceland hard. As the nation’s capital and financial center, Reykjavík saw contentious protests, the collapse of national banks, and the removal of the prime minister. As a result of the economic downturn, the city’s residents have learned to do with less. Colloquial conversations no longer include stocks or corporate sponsorship and opulent displays of wealth are frowned upon and referred to as “so 2007.”
While the country recovered from the crash, the number of tourists visiting Iceland has steadily increased in recent years and the evidence is all over downtown Reykjavík. The city’s downtown centers around Laugavegur St, one of the oldest streets in the country. By day it is bustling with shops, restaurants, and cafes that have managed to maintain their quaint charm and kept Laugavegur a historical shopping street. After sunset, Laugavegur transforms into a nightlife hub, as locals and visitors alike seek refuge from the elements by imbibing local spirits and brews well into the early hours. Laugavegur St. is also home to many festivals throughout the year, including a Bacon Festival that features bacon parachutes thrown from rooftops and Reykjavík’s LGBT Pride weekend, complete with a sequined Swan float.
Take another look and you will see Reykjavík is a city steeped in music and the arts. Situated at the end of Laugavegur St is the Listasafn Reykjavikur (Reykjavik Art Museum). Housed in a renovated fishing warehouse, this world class contemporary art museum features exhibits from local and international artists that range from pop art to digital displays. Down the street from the Listasafn is the Harpa Concert Hall. Owned and operated by the city, this modern opera house is a center of culture for the city. There is also a thriving independent music community in Reykjavík. Given the size of the city, artists from different music scenes often share performances in the same venues and drink at the same bars afterwards. This sharing of spaces and ideas has created unique sounds with global appeal. Icelanders are proud of their musicians and will happily tell you about their local run-ins with Björk, or being friends with the mother of one of the members in Of Monsters and Men. The vital arts scene in Reykjavik is a reflection of the passion of its people.
And then there’s the island. Iceland is home to some of Earth’s most uniquely varied landscapes of otherworldly beauty. Literally. From Westeros of Game of Thrones to Viking legends, Iceland’s barren highlands and lush green fields have provided the backdrop for many fantastical stories, both ancient and modern. However, even the pristine wilderness of Iceland is not immune to the outside world. Locals here are keenly aware of the steady and increasingly severe effects of global warming. It is impossible to ignore the effects of rising temperatures when you can hear and see the glaciers melting beneath your feet.
The allure of Iceland is undeniable. Icelanders have taken on both the mantel of showing the rest of the world their nature and history, as well as making contributions to arts and culture. As such, Reykjavík is a city continually asserting its well deserved place on the world’s stage.
See the 6-page photo essay on Reykjavik in the Print Edition.
Photos by Siyu Song and Alexander Winter